Sunday, 8 January 2017

Writing a book

For a while now, I've thought about writing a book.

I've seen it as an intimidating endeavour. A blog post might take an hour or two, but a book is a long term commitment. I didn't think it would be impossible, but I wondered whether I had enough to say or whether it would be of value to others.

For a while now, I've really wished there was a book about testing in a DevOps environment.

My current organisation is starting this culture shift and the material available for testers is limited. I have formed opinions on how to approach testing in DevOps, based on my own experience and heavily influenced by following the experiences of others in the industry. I thought that I could coach my team toward my thinking, but I wished for a book. Something that looked official and had weight. Something that aligned to my views and expanded on them. Something written by an authoritative source.

The New Year rolled around and a friend of mine, Lisa, posted about New Year's Resolutions. Her resolutions were brave, humorous and shared openly on social media. "What about you?" she asked, which made me realise that I hadn't made any.

Lisa got me thinking, and as I thought I remembered how a former manager, Noel, used to challenge me to dream in bold goals. I thought that it was time for a bold New Years Resolution: "the thing that you don't really want to voice because there's a risk you won't achieve it".

I decided to write a book. I decided that if I wanted a book on testing in DevOps, then I should write it. I decided to make myself accountable by telling people that I was going to do this:

And now it's happening.

I am still in the honeymoon phase of deciding to write a book, but so far it has been unexpectedly positive. People have been very supportive, both in my personal and professional life. I've worked out how to navigate LeanPub. My brain is cooperatively serving up plenty of material that I want to include, although occasionally at unhelpful hours of the day:

I'm less nervous about failure too. Will I have enough to say? As I start to write, I've realised that I'll stop once it is enough for me. Will it be valuable to others? If no one else, I hope it will be useful to my team, which is why I wanted a book.

I've also remembered that "if you want something to exist, you should create it". This is a mantra I've used in the past. I wished there was an a discussion-based testing community, so we made WeTest. I wished there was a quality testing magazine for New Zealand and Australia, so we made Testing Trapeze. I wished there was a book about testing in DevOps, so I'm writing one.

It's scary to make a bold goal, but its also rewarding. I've already learned a lot, in just a few days, and I'm excited to see what the rest of this adventure will be like.

Writing a book. That's my New Year's Resolution. What about you?

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Testing Pendulum: Finding balance in exploration

How detailed should exploratory testing be?

I spotted this question in the Cambridge Lean Coffee topics that James Thomas collated in his blog. It's a question that I'm often asked, and I consistently use the same analogy in my response: the testing pendulum.

The Testing Pendulum

Imagine a pendulum at rest. The space in which the pendulum can swing is our test approach. At the left apex we are going too deep in our testing and at the right apex we are staying too shallow. Initially, the testing pendulum sits directly in the middle of these two extremes:

The Testing Pendulum

When a tester starts in a new organisation or a new project, we apply the first movement to our testing pendulum. Think of it as lifting the pendulum up to the highest point and letting go. The swing starts from the shallow side of the spectrum to reflect the limited knowledge that we have as we enter a new situation. As our experience deepens, so too does our testing.

Starting the pendulum

"When given an initial push, [the pendulum] will swing back and forth at a constant amplitude. Real pendulums are subject to friction and air drag, so the amplitude of their swings declines." [Ref]

Similarly in testing, the pendulum will swing backwards and forwards. When our testing has become too intensive, we switch direction. When our testing has become ineffectual, we switch again.

Pendulum changing direction at the peak of its swing

The skill in knowing how detailed testing should be is to recognise the indicators that tell you when the pendulum is at the top of its swing. You need to be able to identify when you've gone too deep or stayed too shallow, so that you can adjust your approach appropriately.


Indicators help us determine the position of our pendulum in the testing spectrum. I see three categories of indicator: bug count, team feedback and management feedback.

Bug count

If you are not finding many bugs in your testing, but your customers are reporting a lot of problems in production, then your testing may be too shallow. On the flip side, if you raise a lot of bugs but not many are being fixed, or your customers are reporting zero problems in production, then your testing may be too deep.

As a caveat, the zero problems in production measure may not apply in some industries. A web-based application may allow some user interface problems to be released where the economics of fixing these does not make sense, but a company that produces medical hardware may seek to release a product that they believe is perfect no matter how long it takes to test. Apply the lens of your own organisation.

Team feedback

Whether you're working in waterfall testing team or an agile delivery team, you are likely to receive feedback from those around you. Be open to those opinions and use them to adjust your behaviour.

If your colleagues are frequently adding scope to your testing, questioning whether you've spent enough time doing your testing, or perform testing themselves that you think is unnecessary, then your testing may be too shallow. On the flip side, if your colleagues are frequently removing scope from your testing, questioning what else you could be doing with the time that you spend testing, or do not perform any testing themselves, then your testing may be too deep.

On the point of colleagues doing testing, this is a particularly useful indicator in agile teams. In the extreme case, if no unit tests are being written and your developers are outsourcing their testing to you, or if the business trust you to do their user acceptance testing, then it's likely that you're testing too deeply. If you want to cultivate an environment with shared ownership of quality then you have to allow room for that to happen.

Management feedback

If your testing pendulum is sitting at a point in the spectrum where your team are unhappy, it's likely that your manager will have a direct conversation with you about your test approach.

If you're testing too much your manager will probably feel comfortable about telling you this directly. If your testing is too shallow, you might be asked for more detail about what you're testing, be questioned about bugs reported by users, or have to explain where you're spending your time.

Indicators are heuristics, not rules. They include subjective language, i.e. "many", "not many", "frequently" or "a lot", which will mean different things in different situations. As always, apply the context of your organisation to your decision making.

The indicators that I've described can be summarised by opposing statements that represent the extremes of the pendulum swing:

Finding equilibrium

Eventually, most testers will end up at an equilibrium where the pendulum hangs at rest, halfway between the two extremes. The comfort of this can be problematic. Once we have confidence in our approach we can become blind to the need to adjust it.

I believe the state that we want to strive for lies slightly towards the left of the spectrum, or too deep. In order to keep a pendulum positioned off-center, we have to regularly apply small amounts of pressure: a bump!

Pushing the boundaries

If you've been testing a product for a long time and wish to avoid becoming stale, give your testing a bump towards greater depth. Apply some different test heuristics. Explore using different customer personas. Alter your test data. Any variation that could provide you with a fresh crop of problems to explore the validity of with your team.

You can use the outcome of a bump to calibrate your test approach within a smaller range of pendulum movement. Which changes are too much? Which are welcome and should be permanent added to your testing repertoire? Continued small experiments help to determine that you are in the right place.


The testing pendulum is a useful analogy for describing how to find balance in a test approach. When entering a new team or project, it can be used to illustrate how we experience large initial swings in the depth of our testing as we learn the indicators of our environment. For those who have been testing the same product for a while, it can remind us to continuously verify our approach through bumps.

There is no one right answer to "How detailed should exploratory testing be?", but I hope the testing pendulum will help you to determine and describe the right level of detail for you.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Take control of your test environment

As CAST 2015, Ioana Serban delivered a talk titled "Take control of your test environment". It's an entertaining and animated tale of her experiences with test environments. I'd encourage you to watch the talk if you haven't seen it previously.

I chose Ioana's presentation as the basis for a recent online testing knowledge sharing session in my organisation. As we are still working as a dispersed team, it currently isn't practical to bring all the testers together in one physical location to share ideas. Instead I asked them to watch Ioana's talk in their own time prior to a discussion session where we met for an hour in an online group chat to talk about the ideas that she raised.

Though our discussion was a little difficult to follow at times, on account of the many people typing in parallel, there were some very interesting points raised. We covered four topics: our build stability, techniques for test automation triage, the keys to our environments, and the people we work with in our own test environment quests.

Build Stability

Ioana spoke about techniques for encouraging stability in automated builds. She contrasted an approach where punishment is a deterrent e.g. wear a funny hat or pay a fine if you are the person responsible for a broken build, to a more positive outlook e.g. a counter on the wall that tracks the number of days since the last time that the build failed. Rather than amplifying mistakes, celebrate success.

We started by talking about how we currently encourage stability in our teams and tribes.

The initial response was that we don't focus on the stability of our master code base but rather the stability of what we are merging to it. The testers are careful to only push change from their branches when it has been peer reviewed and executes reliably. If bugs do end up in master, the tester will take ownership of investigating the automation failure, talk to the developers in their team, and collaboratively create a fix. The testers commented that "most of the time our build is stable compared to other places I have worked" and "in other organisations, it takes days to resolve problems, but in [our product] it takes hours".

But we also had one delivery area where things weren't so rosy. One tester said that their builds are usually broken "to the point where most people don’t have a reaction to a failed or unstable build". There was interesting discussion around the approach to resolving this that touched on the willingness of capable individuals to take ownership of the problems, allocation of time to build-related activities, incorrect configuration in our continuous integration server, failure fatigue and aging infrastructure.

We talked about using the time since last failure that is recorded in our continuous integration server to track stability of our builds. We haven't historically put much focus on this metric, but this may need to change if we move to a model of celebrating success.

The current method to keep attention on stability is to push build failure notifications to a team chat channel. Repeated messages make it difficult to ignore instability. Some of the testers also run their automation every time that a developer deploys into their test environment, which keeps both the automation and the environments stable.

Finally we talked a little about how instability can be a positive thing too. If the tests pass all the time, is there any point to them? There was a comment that "a test that never fails never gives you good information". However, we want our failures to be on branches and not on master. It also shouldn't be the test code itself that fails but rather a problem in the application or configuration that is highlighted by the test.

Test Automation Triage

Ioana spoke about separating her test automation into categories and treating each set differently: a suite of known bugs, a suite of flaky tests, and a suite that works reliably. We don't use an approach like this to triage our automation and I was curious about what the testers thought of it.

It's fair to say that opinions were mixed.

In one of our products we have a relatively old automation suite that has created some stability problems in the past. Testers in this tribe were eager to try Ioana's approach, though some investigation will be required to determine whether it's possible with the tool set that we use.

In our other products instability is either extremely rare or completely pervasive. Where instability is rare, we generally have the luxury of focusing on and resolving a single problem. There is little benefit to segregating this work from our master code repository. Where instability is pervasive, we would effectively be tipping the entire suite into the flaky bucket, which negates the benefit of having a separate category.

Though we are familiar with flaky tests, the idea of having an automation suite of known bugs was not something that we'd considered before. Some people thought that it might be useful to highlight known problems and give the developers a resource to target their code changes. But there was also a viewpoint that it would be an expensive waste of time to code a suite that always failed.

Finally, we diverged slightly into discussion about failures beyond our automation. We realised that we don't have visibility of which bugs are part of our product backlogs or a centralised register of known issues with our release test environments. Both were taken as areas for action.

Keys to our environments

Ioana talked about keys as a metaphor for access to aspects of her test environments. The four keys that she mentioned were access to code, access to the database, access to monitoring, and permission to deploy. Our next discussion topic was about the keys that the testers have for our test environments and the keys that they are missing.

Through this conversation I learned that many of the testers have limited access to our release testing environments. Some can examine server logs and query the release environment database, but others cannot. In theory, every new tester who joins the organisation is granted identical permissions. In practice, it seems that there are inconsistencies in the access that has been configured for individuals. Now that I am aware of this, I've started asking questions.

The other keys that the testers identified weren't specifically about test environments. Instead they were keys to information that will help focus their testing. One tester asked for improvements in device usage analytics to better target their native mobile application testing. Another requested access to customer feedback to get a better understanding of how our customers are using our products.

The idea of keys made people think broadly about areas that were locked to them and who they would need to speak with to open these doors.


Ioana finished by talking about the relationships that she'd built with people across her organisation who helped her to take control of her test environments. The last discussion topic focused on sharing the go-to people that the testers would call on for help when facing their own test environment challenges.

I was expecting people to name individuals but the most common response was that the testers direct their questions to a group. One commented that asking a group opens the opportunity for someone who you perhaps wouldn't ask directly to respond. I think the order in which the groups were named in our discussion reflects the order in which people would ask them for help.

First, developers. This was overwhelmingly the immediate response. I like that the testers have built relationships with their developers where they feel completely comfortable asking them questions, even those that aren't directly related to the code. I think developers as a first response is a symptom of healthy delivery teams.

The problems that the developers cannot solve are usually resolved by a solution coming from outside the expertise of the delivery team. The next group mentioned in the discussion were "all of the testers". As a collective that spans across multiple teams and tribes, we may not always know the answer but we are well-connected to people who might. Someone else said that they would choose an appropriate online chat channel to ask their question to.

Finally, one tester commented that testers should try to build our capability to identify the problem with our environments instead of simply saying that one exists. As with raising a bug, it's easier to resolve if more information is provided. Particularly when we turn to a group for assistance, asking the question with appropriate details is important.


Ioana's talk is interesting in its own right, but I would also recommend it as the foundation of a team discussion about test environments. We found a lot of scope for deep conversation about applying Ioana's ideas in our organisation.

I finished our session by asking the team to share one thing that they would think more about or take action on. The points that came back were indicative of a presentation that covered attitude, approach and technical techniques, including: 
  • Keep asking questions, be polite, and build relationships with your colleagues.
  • "We are the processes, they are living agreements."
  • Learn what keys are available for your test environments and work to get them. 
  • Do your research and send good information to the support team when asking for help.
  • Create a failing test to make a bug fix easier for a developer.

I hope that this session will encourage the testers that I work with to be more mindful of build stability, techniques for test automation triage, the keys to our environments, and the people we work with in our own test environment quests. Ultimately, we'll take control of our test environments.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Stop fighting. Start participating.

In her editorial for the October edition of Women Testers, Karen Johnson talks about change in the testing profession, particularly the increasing demand for test engineers and automation. She concludes her thoughts by saying: 

"...we had to fight for our profession in the beginning and, as it turns out, we might need to fight the good fight yet again."

I find the rhetoric of fight relatively common in the testing community. It's strong language to use in a professional context. To encourage people to fight is to encourage them to "take part in a violent struggle to overcome, eliminate, or prevent". It seems at odds with the type of environment that many of us work within or would choose to create with our colleagues.

In my experience, the quickest way to be removed or excluded from a collaborative conversation in the workplace is to focus solely on fighting for your viewpoint. If you are seen as aggressive or stubborn, people will probably choose not to talk to you. Decisions start to happen around you, rather than with you. Change still occurs, but by fighting you've removed your ability to influence it.

I don't believe that we should approach change with an attitude to fight it. 

Instead, I would like testers to focus on being part of the conversations that create evolution in our roles. We need to invite ourselves along, contribute with enthusiasm and pragmatism, and shape change that includes our perspective. Our mindset is not to fight, but to participate.

How can we do that?

I believe that any tester, regardless of their experience or position in an organisation hierarchy, can develop the skills and relationships required to effect decision making. But it's not easy and the scope of what you can influence will vary.

Start by developing your understanding of where change comes from in your organisation. As testers our roles may be shaped by test managers, or software development managers, or managers in the wider organisation. How far away from you are the decision makers? 

What forum are decisions being made in? Could you attend? If you're not sure, don't assume that the meeting is closed. Speak to the organiser. If you're unable to attend as a contributor you may be permitted to observe. 

Regardless of whether you can be present, try to find your closest advocate in that forum. This is probably the person whose views most closely match your own. It could also be the person who is most receptive to alternate perspectives. If your manager is in the forum and you believe your best advocate is someone else, use extra care and diplomacy as you navigate future conversations!

Try to develop a connection with that person. Take time to understand their viewpoint and how they've come to develop it. What problems do they believe will be solved with proposed change? What do they understand to be the potential benefits and drawbacks of their choice? 

Think beyond information to the context that it originated from. How much do you know about the environment that the decision maker is in? What pressure is being applied to them from other areas of the organisation? What is their personal history in the organisation? Empathy will help you feel the weight of their context in their choices.

Only after all this groundwork do you start thinking about your own contribution to the conversation. Can you broaden understanding of the existing problems? Can you offer additional information about the options being considered that may alter the final choice? What new alternatives can you suggest that still resolve the specific concerns of the decision maker?

Then, how can you present your viewpoint persuasively? Successful participation is not just about what you say, but also in how you deliver it. Can you control the pitch and pace of your voice? Can you demonstrate positive body language and illustrate your message with appropriate gestures? If you need to, practice first. You should appear confident in your ideas.

Finally, be comfortable with the outcome, whatever it is. Even when you feel some disappointment in a decision, participating in the discussion will have improved your understanding of how it was made. And remember, the goal is not to "overcome, eliminate, or prevent". The goal is to be involved. 

I've described a high-level approach to contributing to change that illustrates a collaborative mindset rather than a combative one. Behind each step is a depth of knowledge to uncover and new skills to develop. It may be harder to be a diplomat than a warrior, but I believe this path will focus your energy in a constructive way.

There is no doubt that the testing profession is evolving. If you want to help shape the changes that affect you, then contribute in your own organisation. Stop fighting and start participating.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Finding the vibe of a dispersed team

Recently there has been an unexpected change in my work environment. Just after midnight on the 14th of November, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck New Zealand. The earthquake caused significant damage across the upper South Island and lower North Island, including in Wellington where I am based. My work building is currently closed due to earthquake damage.

I work with over 30 testers who are spread across 18 delivery teams. In a co-located environment that's a challenging number of people to juggle. Now that everyone is working from home, there are new obstacles in trying to lead, support and coach the testers that I work with.

In the past fortnight I've been doing a lot of reading about distributed teams. Though some of the advice is relevant, most of it doesn't apply to our situation. We're not distributed in the traditional sense, across multiple cities, countries and timezones. Though we're set up for remote work, it hasn't been our go-to model. We're still close enough that relatively regular face-to-face meetings are possible.

Instead of distributed, I've started to think of us as dispersed.

The biggest challenge so far, in our first fortnight as a dispersed team, has been in determining the vibe of the testing community. The vibe of the team is the atmosphere they create: what is communicated to and felt by others. The vibe comes from feelings of the individuals within the team.

In a co-located environment, there are a lot of opportunities to determine the vibe. The most obvious is our weekly Testing Afternoon Tea. This is a purely social gathering every Tuesday afternoon at 3pm. We have a roster for who provides the afternoon tea, all of the testers meet in the kitchen area, and spend around 15 minutes catching up. The meeting is unstructured, the conversations are serendipitous.

When everyone turns up to afternoon tea, stays for the entire 15 minutes, and there is a hum of conversation, the vibe of the team feels happy and relaxed. When it is difficult to detach people from their desks, people grab food then leave, and the conversations are mostly cathartic, the vibe of the team feels stressed and frustrated. Often, there's a mixture of both.

But even when the testing team are not together, I am reading the vibe from our co-location. For example, I'll often wander the floor in the morning when stand ups are happening. I look at how many people from outside the team are attending. When I spot multiple delivery managers and product owners with a single team, that may be a sign that the team is under pressure or suffering dysfunction. If it seems like the testers are not contributing, or they have closed body language, that may be a sign of frustration or despondence.

The vibe helps me determine where to focus my attention. It's important to be able to offer timely support to the people who need it, even if they may not think to ask. It's important to determine whether it's an appropriate time to think about formal learning, or if it's better to give people space to focus on their delivery demands. It's important to recognise when to push people and when to leave them alone.

Facing the reality of coaching a dispersed team feels a little bit like being blindfolded. The lack of co-location has removed one of my senses. How do I find the vibe of a dispersed team?

I find working at home quite isolating, so the first action I took was to try and reduce the feeling of being far away from everybody else. Though our communication is now primarily through online channels, we are only dispersed and not distributed.

At the start of this week, I asked the testers to check-in to tell me which suburb of the city they were working from and whether they had all the equipment they needed to work effectively. Through the morning I received responses that I used to create a map of our locations. We are now spread across an area of approximately 600 square kilometres or 230 square miles:

Working locations of testers before and after the earthquake

The information in the map is specific enough to be useful but general enough to be widely shared. Markers are by suburb, not personal address, and are labelled by first name only. Tribe groupings are shown by colour and in separate layers so that they can be toggled so that it's possible to see, for example, where all our mobile testers are located.

Creating the map was a way to re-assert that we are still a community. I felt this was a pre-requisite of keeping the testers connected to each other and mindful of the support available from their peers.

The check-in format that I used to gather the information at the start of the week worked well. It meant that everyone contributed to the discussion. I plan to start each week with a check-in of some description while we remain dispersed.

Next I started to consider how to create an environment for the informal gathering and conversation that would usually happen at our weekly afternoon tea. November is traditionally a busy time of year for our delivery as we work to release before the holiday period. Even when we're co-located, it can be hard to get people together. Any distraction from delivery had to have an element of purpose.

Communication was emphasised in everything that I read about distributed teams, with the message that more is better when people are working remotely. I wanted a daily rather than a weekly pulse, but it had to be designed for asynchronous communication. It wasn't feasible to attempt to book a daily appointment and gather people together.

I decided to make use of a book of objective thinking puzzles that I purchased some time ago but never completed. The puzzles are relatively quick, have a purpose in expanding thinking skills, are well suited to remote asynchronous communication, create enough interest that people participate, and offer the opportunity for some conversation outside of their core purpose.

The hardest Puzzle of the Day so far!

I've started to share a puzzle each morning with the testers via an online chat channel. This is keeping the channel active with conversation, which is essential for me to determine the vibe. I'm yet to determine importance within the patterns that I see. I don't assume that silence is bad. I don't assume that people who are active aren't under pressure. But I hope that encouraging informal conversations will start to provide rich information about how people are feeling, just as it did in the office.

Finally, I've started to attend meetings that I would usually skip in our co-located environment. This week the coaching team that I belong to attended two of our product tribe gatherings. These focus on sharing information that delivery teams need to succeed and recognising achievements in what we've already released to our customers.

The content is not directly relevant to me, but these events were a great opportunity to determine the vibe of those tribal groups and the testers within them. Having the ability to sense the atmosphere was worth the hassle of arranging transport and balancing calendar conflicts to attend. It was also a way to be visible, so that people remember to call on us for help too.

It's still early days for our dispersed team. These are just a few things that I've done this week to try to lift the blindfold. I'm curious to hear from other people who coach across dispersed or distributed teams. How do you determine the atmosphere of your team? Where do you discover opportunities to support people? What suggestions do you have that I could try to apply?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Can we remove a tester from our agile team?

In my role, I work with over 30 testers who are distributed across 18 different agile teams. If you do the math on those numbers, you'll realise that we don't have the same number of testers in each of our teams. Some have one tester, some have two, and in exceptional cases there can even be three testers working together.

We generally try to match the skills of a team with the type of work that we're asking that team to do. This can mean that as the nature of work changes, the teams shifts in response. I was recently asked for my views on whether a team could reduce the number of testers they had. I found that I was quite unprepared for the conversation.

How do you know whether you can remove a tester from an agile team?

As with most things, I don't think there are definite rules here. However, having though a lot about how you'd decide whether to remove a tester, I think there's value in a general set of questions to ask. I see five areas to consider: team dynamic, support for quality, context beyond the team, measurement and bias.

Team Dynamic

You never remove a tester though, you remove a person and that person is unique.

The first thing to do is make the question personal. You want to consider the real people who will be impacted by the decision that you're making. There may be multiple faces to removing a tester: think about the team that they leave, the team that they move to, and the experience of the individual themselves.

How many testers do you have in the team? Are you removing the only tester?

Are you removing the tester role or testing as an activity? Are there, or will there be, others in the team with testing experience and knowledge, even if not testers? How will other people in the team feel about adopting testing activities? What support will they need?

Are you replacing the tester in the team with another person? What will their role be? How will the change impact specialist ratios within the team?

If the person is being moved to a new team, what opportunities exist for them there? How will their skills and experience match their new environment? What impact do you expect this change to have on the team that they are joining? How will the people in that team have to change their work to accommodate a new team member?

Support for Quality

If you remove a piece from a Jenga puzzle, will it fall? The impact depends on what it supports.

The quality of your product doesn't come from testing alone. There are many activities that contribute to creating software that your customers enjoy. It's important to determine the depth and breadth of practices that contribute to quality within the team that you're looking to change.

What level of test automation is available to support the team? Is it widely understood, regularly executed and actively maintained?

What other practices contribute to quality in the team? Pair programming? Code review? Code quality analysis? Continuous integration? Business acceptance? Production monitoring? To what extent are these practices embedded and embraced?

What does the tester do outside of testing? What sort of impact do you expect on the social interactions of the team? Agile rituals? How about depth of product knowledge? Customer focus? These things may not specifically be test activities or skills, but do impact quality of the product.

Context beyond the team

It would be interesting to understand their motivation behind asking that question.

The wider context to the change you are making will have significant impact on how people feel about it. You should consider what your underlying reasons are, how people will feel about those reasons, and how far-reaching the implications of your change could be.

What’s the context of the movement being made? In Dynamic Reteaming, Heidi Hefland talks about five different scenarios in which you may want to change a team:
  1. Company growth
  2. The nature of the work
  3. Learning and fulfilment
  4. Code health
  5. Liberate people from misery
Is one of these applicable? If not, can you succinctly explain what your reason is? How is this wider context being viewed by the team(s) involved? Are they enthusiastic, cautiously optimistic, or decidedly negative?

What is the composition of surrounding teams? Similar or different? How will that impact the outcome? If I’m part of the only team without a tester, or the only team with a single tester, what impact will that have?

If there are governance processes surrounding release, is the person who approves change to production supportive of the change to the team? Will that person still have confidence in what the team deliver?


How do you know what quality is now? 

As with any change, it's important to understand how you'll track the impact. Changing the way that a team approach testing could impact both the quality of software they create and how they feel about the work they do, in a positive or negative way.

What metrics help you determine the quality of your product? If quality decreases, how low is acceptable? What is your organisation’s appetite for product risk? How many production bugs can the reputation of your organisation withstand?

What metrics help you determine the health of your team? If productivity or morale decrease, how low is acceptable? What is your organisation’s appetite for people risk? What impact will the change have on happiness and retention of other roles?


How would someone else answer these questions? 
Remember the bias we have that impacts our answers.

The final point to remember is that you don't want to consider these questions alone. A manager who sits outside a team may have quite different answers to a person who works within it. The tester who is being moved will have opinions. Whoever is ultimately responsible for the decision should also think about how other people would respond to the previous prompts.

When I'm asked whether or not we can remove a tester from a team, I often have an immediate and intuitive response that is either positive or negative. Now that I've thought about what contributes to this decision, I will be able to articulate the reasoning behind my instinct. Team dynamic, support for quality, context beyond the team, measurement and bias; five pillars that I'll be using in my next conversation.

Thanks to Remi Roques, Kathy Barker, David Greenlees and everyone who responded to the initial thread on Twitter for helping to refine my thoughts on this topic.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Stay Interviews for Testers

Recently one of my colleagues sent out an article about stay interviews. Basically, a stay interview is the opposite to an exit interview. Instead of waiting for people to resign then asking them why they are leaving the organisation, you try to determine what is making them stay.

Stay interviews are primarily a retention tool. They're a means of staying connected with the people who work with you, and maintaining an environment that they're happy to be contributing in.

I was interested in this idea, so I decided to try it out. I met one-on-one with every permanent tester in my department to ask a set of questions that touched on motivation, happiness, unused talents and learning opportunities. The answers that I collected provided me with a pulse of the team as a whole, and valuable insights into the individuals who I coach too.

The Questions

I pulled all of my stay interview questions from across the internet. There are a lot of articles around that will give you examples. Some that I read as I researched the concept of stay interviews were:

The ten questions that I chose as being most relevant to my organisation and the purpose of my discussions were:
  1. The last time you went home and said, "I had a great day, I love my job," what had happened?
  2. The last time you went home and said, "That's it, I can't take it anymore," what had happened?
  3. How happy are you working here on a scale of 1-10 with 10 representing the most happy?
  4. What would have to happen for that number to become a 10?
  5. What might tempt you to leave?
  6. What existing talents are not being used in your current role?
  7. What would you like to learn here?
  8. What can I do to best support you?
  9. What do you think is the biggest problem in [our testing team] at the moment?
  10. What else should I be asking you?

The Answers

All of these individual conversations were in confidence. However I did create a high-level document to share with other leaders in my department, which summarised key themes through illustrations, graphs, and anonymised comments. What follows is a subset of that, suitable for sharing.

I took the answers to the first two questions, categorised the responses, then created word clouds that demonstrated the common topics. An awesome day for a tester was one in which they are discovering new things to learn, have released software to production, or are simply enjoying the momentum of completing their work at a steady pace:

"I had a great day, I love my job"

An awful day for a tester is one in which their delivery team is in conflict or has a misunderstanding, where they’re in the midst of our release process, or when they’ve encountered issues with our test environments.

"That's it, I can't take it anymore"

What I found particularly interesting about these responses was how general they were. There were not many comments that were specific to test alone. Rather, I believe that these themes would be consistent for any of our delivery team members: business analysts, developers, or testers.

The question around happiness prompted for a numeric response, so I was able to graph the results:

How happy are you working here on a scale of 1-10 with 10 representing the most happy?

This data was interesting in that the unhappiest testers were mostly from the same area. This was a clear visual to share with the leadership in that particular part of the department, to help drive discussion around specific changes that I hope will improve the testing habitat.

When asked what would improve happiness, salary was an unsurprising response. But other themes emerged of almost equal weighting. Time to deliver more automation, a consistent workflow for testers, and the ability to pick up and learn new tools.

In response to existing talents that are not being used, the most prevalent skills were those that sit within the Testing Coach role: automation frameworks, leadership and training. This was a strong indicator to me that I need to delegate even more frequently to provide these opportunities.

Frustratingly, but not unusually, the requests for learning were fragmented. The lack of a consistent response makes it difficult to arrange knowledge sharing sessions that will appeal to a wide audience. But it does allow people to specialise in areas that are of interest to them rather than pursuing shallow general learning.

Overall I found the activity of stay interviews very useful. The structured set of questions helped me to have a purposeful and productive conversation with each of the permanent testers that I work with. I learned a lot from the information that was gathered, each set of responses were interesting for different reasons. The results have helped me to shape my actions over the coming months. I'm hoping to create outcomes from these conversations that will continue to keep our testing team happy.