Category Archives: value

New Article – Things Change (And So Should Processes)

I wrote an article for Better Software magazine for the July/August 2013 issue about innovation in processes. The PDF of the article is available here: Things Change (And So Should Processes) and you can download the entire magazine here: Better Software July/Aug 2013.

Many teams struggle when a process lets them down because their unique situation and mix of people, technology and target market don’t fit a generic process. It’s also surprising to find out how old many of the popular processes we are trying to follow are. The technology we are creating has changed a great deal since the 1990s, so why are we surprised when processes created in the ’90s let some teams down?

Instead of feeling guilty that they aren’t following the crowd and doing what the experts tell them to do, I encourage teams to take pride in their innovation not just in technology, but in how they create powerful processes for themselves.

How do I Create Value with my Testing?

I wrote an article for EuroStar last year about creating value with testing. Some of you have asked for more specific ideas about determining whether your testing is creating value or not. In the article, I talk about getting feedback from stakeholders, but that isn’t always easy or possible. One of the most important stakeholders on any project is you, so how do you go about satisfying yourself with your testing value?

The easiest way to get feedback is from other stakeholders. What does your manager think about your testing? How about the programmers, business analysts and customers (users) of your software?

The hard part with that answer is you may not be able to talk to all of those stakeholders. Or, they may not know what good testing looks like so they won’t have answers that satisfy you. In some cases, the stakeholders around you may have such low expectations that their feedback might not help you at all. They may expect you to provide testing work that you might consider shoddy and negligent. In that case, you have to show them what great testing looks like. When that happens it’s like graduating from a cheap box of wine to the good stuff. Once they’ve tasted the good stuff, it’s hard for them to go back to expecting poor testing.

Even if you have good direction from other stakeholders, I recommend asking yourself some questions to help determine if you are creating value or not. This is hard to do, and will result in work for you over the long-term, much like personal growth endeavours. Don’t expect quick fixes, but if you work in these areas over time, you will see changes in your testing. Here are some things to think about:

  • Is my testing work defensible? (Cem Kaner talks a lot about this.) Think of a court case. What would a jury think if you testified and described what you did as a tester and why. How did you determine priority? Why did you test some things and not test others? (100% complete testing is impossible, so you have to make decisions to optimize your work. Are those decisions well thought out, or more subconscious? What sorts of things might you be missing that you haven’t thought of?)
  • James Bach talks about how important it is to have thought out and varied approaches to testing. What kind of approach do I have to testing? Do I consciously choose to have a varied approach using as many models of coverage as I can to discover important information about the product? Do I make the best use of tools, testing techniques and management approaches that I can? Or do I just do what the programmers or someone else tells me to do?
  • In the absence of getting real feedback from real people on my project, what would happen if a well-known consultant came to visit me? Could I answer their questions about why I chose to test this way? What kinds of holes might they spot in my thinking? Would they see weak spots? More importantly, would I be proud to have Cem Kaner or someone else I look up to see what I actually do? Have I used ideas from testing thought leaders in my work and found out what works well for me and what might not work so well? Could I communicate my work to an expert outsider clearly and thoughtfully? If so, what might they think?
  • Do I adapt my test plans and strategies from project to project based on the risks and rewards our project environment has at a particular point in time, or do I just copy and paste what I did last time, and repeat the same thing over and over?
  • Do I track down and find repeatable cases for important intermittent bugs, or do I just file them and forget about them?
  • Do I feel energetic, creative and proud of my work as a tester, or do I just feel like I am doing the same boring things over and over and filling in paper work and forms to please a manager?
  • Can I look at a released product and identify ways in which my testing has improved the product experience for our end users?
  • Do others on my team feel better with me around? Do they miss me and my creative input when I am away, or do they welcome the break from my negativity? Do they request that I work with them on other projects?
  • Is my testing service in demand? Am I the person team members come to when they need help solving a particular problem that I am really good at helping solve?
  • Am I aware of other approaches to testing that challenge my favorites? Do I understand approaches that I may not favor or I may even dislike, or do I just dismiss anything unfamiliar and threatening out of hand? Do I have an open-mind and look to challenge my ideas in testing to help improve?
  • Am I learning about different ways I could improve my work? Am I aware of recent changes in testing techniques and tools? Do I know where to find information to learn from?
  • Do I consistently try to do better than I did last time?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself regularly. I don’t always have the best answers to my own questions, but as time goes on, I feel much more confident about both my own answers to those questions, and more importantly, the value I know my testing work provides.

Content Pointer: The Next Wave: Valuable Products First, Process Second

I wrote an article for Modern Analyst that describes some of my process thinking over the past several years. They asked for a piece on post-Agilism, but I prefer talking about value now, so I wrote this piece for them instead.

I introduce my thoughts on a trend I have witnessed for a while now where people move from software ideas (let’s build this killer app!), to process (let’s go Agile!), to value (let’s ensure our application blows our customers away, and everything we do feeds that effort.)

Three years ago, I didn’t hear people talk about value that much at all. It was all process, process, process, and how following an Agile or other process would lead us to success. Now, I am seeing the “value” word pop up more and more, and more teams are using an overall vision to help focus their efforts (process and otherwise) towards creating value for their customers and themselves.

Testing Values

I was thinking about the agile manifesto, and this blatant ripoff came to mind. As a software tester, I’ve come to value the following:

  • bug advocacy over bug counts
  • testable software over exhaustive requirements docs
  • measuring product success over measuring process success
  • team collaboration over departmental independence

Point 1: Project or individual bug counts are meaningless unless the important bugs are getting fixed. There are useful bug count related measurements, provided they are used in the right context. However, bug counts themselves don’t have a direct impact on the customer. Frequently, testers are motivated much more by how many bugs they log than they are by how many important bugs they found, reported, advocated and pitched in to help get fixed before the product went out the door.

Point 2: We usually don’t sell requirements documents to our customers, (we tend to sell software products) and these docs often provide a false sense of all that is testable. Given a choice, I’d rather test the software finding requirements by interacting with customers and collaborating with the team than following requirements documents. At least we can start providing feedback on the software. At best, requirements docs are an attempt to put tacit knowledge on paper. At worst, they are out of date, and out of touch with what the customer wants. Only test planning off of requirements documents leaves us open to faults of omission.

Point 3: I find the obsession with processes in software development a bit puzzling, if not absurd. “But to have good software, we need to have a good process!” you say. Sure, but I fear we measure the wrong things when we look too much at the process. I’ve seen wonderful processes produce terrible product too many times. As a customer, I haven’t bought any software processes yet, but I do buy software products. I don’t think about processes at all as a consumer. I’ll take product excellence over “process excellence” any day. The product either works or doesn’t work as expected. If it doesn’t, I quietly move on and don’t do business with that company any more.

I have seen what I would call process zealotry where teams were pressured not to talk about project failures because they “would cast a bad light” on the process that was used. I have seen this in “traditional” waterfall-inspired projects, and interestingly enough, in the agile world as well. If we have some problems with the product, learn from the mistakes and strive to do better. Don’t cover up failures because you fear that your favorite process might get some bad press. Fix the product, and make the customer happy. If you don’t they will quietly move on and you will eventually be out of business.

Point 4: The “QA” line of thinking that advocates an independent testing team doesn’t always work well in my experience. Too often, the QA folks end up as the process police at odds with everyone else, and not enough testing is getting done. Software testing is a challenging intellectual exercise, and software programs are very complex. The more testing we can do, and the more collaboration we can do to do more effective testing, the better. The entire team should be the Quality Assurance department. We succeed or fail as a team, and product quality, as well as adherence to development processes are everyone’s responsibility.

Conventional Testers on Agile Projects – Values

Values Are Key

Good conventional software testers can potentially offer a lot to a team provided their working attitude is aligned with that of the team. One of the most important aspects of agile development is the values that many agile methods encourage. A team focus rather than an adversarial relationship is important, and testers on agile teams tend to agree with the principles guiding the development process. A conventional tester should at least understand them and follow them when they are on an agile project. Understanding the values goes a long way to understanding the other activities, and why agile teams are motivated to do the things they do. What is important to an agile team? For one, working software. It isn’t the process that is important, it’s the product we deliver in the end. Agile methods are often pragmatic approaches to that end.

A good place to start to learn about values on agile projects is by looking at the values for Extreme Programming. These are the values that I personally identify the most with.

Independence

Many times I hear that testing teams should remain separate from development teams so that they can retain their independence. Even agilists have different opinions on this. This might be due to a misunderstanding of what “independence” can mean on a project. Testers must be independent thinkers, and sometimes need to stick to their guns to get important bugs fixed. To be an independent thinker who advocates for the customer does not necessitate being in a physically independent, separate testing department. Agile projects tend to favor integrated teams, and there are a lot of reasons why having separate teams can cause problems. It can slow down development processes, discourage collaboration, encourage disparate team goals, and impede team communication.

Testers who are integrated with a development team need not sacrifice their independent thinking just because they are sitting with and working closely with developers. The pros of integration can far outweigh the cons. If your project needs an independent audit, hire an auditing team to do just that. Then you should be guaranteed an independent, outside opinion. In other industries, an audit is generally done by an outside team. Any team that does a formal audit of itself wouldn’t be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean the team can’t do a good job of auditing itself, or doing work to prepare for a formal audit isn’t worthwhile. What it means is that a formal audit from an outsider overcomes a conflict of interest. If your team needs independent auditing, prepare for it by testing yourselves, and hire an outsider to do the audit.

I personally would rather be influenced by the development team and collaborate with them to do more testing activities. I get far more testing work done the more I collaborate. If I become biased towards the product in the process, I will trade that for the knowledge and better testing I am able to do by collaborating.

Do What Needs to be Done

A talented professional who cares about the quality of the product that they work on, and believes in the values of agile methods should be able to add to any team they are a part of. This isn’t limited to those who do software development or software testing, but also technical writers, business analysts and project managers. If the team values are aligned, the roles will emerge and come and go as needs arise and change. “That’s not my job!” should not be in an agile team member’s vocabulary.

On an agile project it is important to not stick slavishly to a job title, but to pitch in and do whatever it takes to get the job done. This is something that agilists value. If you can work with them, they can work with you, provided your values are aligned.

Understand the Motivations

The motivation behind the values of agile methods are important. Read Kent Beck’s Extreme Programming Explained for more on values. Read Ken Scwaber and Mike Beedle’s Agile Software Development with Scrum to get insight into how an agile methodology came about. The first couple of chapters of the Scrum book really provide a picture for why agile methods can work.

My favourite line in the Schwaber/Beedle Scrum book is:

They inspected the systems development processes that I brought them. I have rarely provided a group with so much laughter. They were amazed and appalled that my industry, systems development, was trying to do its work using a completely inappropriate process control model.

p. 24, Agile Software Development with Scrum, 2002, Prentice Hall.

This book provides a lot of insight into what motivated people to try something new in software development, and the rationale behind an agile methodology.

The values behind agile methods really flow from these early motivations and discoveries of pragmatic practitioners, and are well worth reading. When you understand where the knowledge of delivering working systems was drawn from, the values and activities really start to make sense.

Continue reading the series >>