mysoftwarequality

Breaking people's balls since February 1970

Common Sense – episode 1

 

 

Talk to me for God’s sake

If you remember this, you're old

If you remember this, you’re old

E-mail is a great tool, it was the first killer app of the Internet, that directly demonstrated the intrinsic value of the network well before the web became useful.

Before e-mail, people that lived far away could communicate through slow traditional mail, expensive phone lines or simply travelling and meeting each other somewhere. The competitive advantage of e-mail was huge and as a consequence its adoption was fast and furious.

It was a no-brainer for any company to use it. We can save time and money with little or no effort, yippeee!

Being an e-mail salesman was the easiest job in the world, I was one.

But, hang on a second, why the hell would you use e-mail if you have to ask a question to your team mate sitting next to you?

A conversation is cheaper than e-mail, a conversation is faster than e-mail, a conversation includes much more information than e-mail, a conversation will finish there and then with a solution.

Let me try to sell my new product: Internal e-mail For Lazy Asses©

Send mail one more time

Send mail one more time

Dear co-located colleagues,

Internal e-mail For Lazy Asses© will allow you to avoid getting up your arse all day while you’re comfortably coding and watching the deep youtubes

In the likely event you suddenly lost your tongue or had your mouth welded by accident, you will still be able to communicate with your team mates and be productive!

You will be able to demonstrate you are working on something while actually not giving a shit about it, because, let’s be honest, if you did, you would go and talk to your colleague and not sit on your arse for days waiting for an answer that you haven’t got in 3 days.

You will be able to avoid troubleshooting or even bother thinking about a problem if you forward it to your full team!

You will be able to conceal your body language so that nobody will know you haven’t got a clue about what you’re talking about; when suspicion arises, you can attach old confusing and obscure threads that will implicitly demonstrate you have known the topic all along

Somebody else will eventually do your work, yippeeee!

So, are you buying it?

Mind maps as a testing tool bug me a lot

I use Mindmup.com for my mindmaps

I use Mindmup.com for my mindmaps

There is one thing that bugs me about mind maps as a testing tool, it really bugs me a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I find mind maps a great collaboration tool to get ideas out of people’s heads and put them on paper. They are great for designing a test plan, a few testers can sit down, brainstorm and create a map that can be efficiently used as a complete plan.

So what bothers me so much?

This: “Why don’t we do the same exercise together with the developers before the code is written?”

Are we so obsessed with finding bugs that we cannot share our thought process and help PREVENT (yes prevent) the defects instead of catching developers out and wasting customer’s money and time?

I really hope that somebody out there will give me a valid reason why we shouldn’t shift left the mind map creation and prevent the defects instead of detecting them.

Otherwise we should start doing it now, no excuses.

CIAC – Certified Ignorant And Curious

Madrid Is a beautiful city

Madrid Is a beautiful city

Speaking and learning about other people’s ideas at a conference is an incredibly energizing activity for me. The reason, I believe, is the fact that I am naturally very curious; people’s thoughts and ideas generally satisfy my curiosity at least for a few hours.

On Wednesday evening, in Madrid, I was involved in the ExpoQA “Great debate” where speakers, sponsors and the conference goers discussed various topics in an open session.

Inevitably the topic of “Professional Certification” was touched.

I briefly made my point by saying that I am not one for certifications because I believe that what the Greek philosopher Socrates said: “I’m the smartest man in Athens because I know that I know nothing”. For me learning is a continuous activity and the most important element is the acknowledgement of ignorance rather than the certification of knowledge.

The discussion went on with the sponsors making some good points pro certifications and some interesting insights from the conference participants.

On the flight back from Madrid I thought about it a bit more and eventually decided I am going to start certifying Ignorant people. What I mean with ignorant people, is:

people that are aware that learning is a continuous activity and can never end. People that, no matter how much they know about a subject, have the humbleness to listen to all voices, including the ones that they don’t like, because they believe there is always a chance they might learn something. These people, know that they don’t know and are driven by curiosity in their continuous search for knowledge.

The certificate

I started by certifying myself

I had a quick chat with with Socrates on Skype, he liked the idea and that’s why I am here presenting to you the CIAC certification.

Do you want to become a Certified Ignorant And Curious professional?

Add a comment to this post or mail me directly with one sentence where you clearly demonstrate you are a humble ignorant in search of knowledge. You can also tweet your sentence using the tag #IknowThatIdontKnow including my twitter handle (@augeva)

If you are successful, you will receive a prestigious certificate signed by me and Socrates.

No industry benefits, no costs associated, it doesn’t need renewal, you can print the certificate, frame it and proudly display it in your office!

Little Tim and the messy house

The messy kitchen

The messy kitchen

A cute little boy, Tim, lives in a messy house.

In the morning Tim’s mum, Tina, spends an hour looking for rubbish in the house, when she finds some, she writes a note on a piece of paper where she describes the steps that she followed when she found it, and sticks the note in one of 5 different drawers. Each drawer is labelled “Severity 1”,  “Severity 2” and so on down to “Severity 5”.

Tina and Tim’s uncle Bob, meet every evening to discuss the daily findings and after arguing for a good while they agree on how to file the notes written during the day into 5 folders with labels “Priority 1”, “Priority 2” and so on up to “Priority 5”.

Tim’s father, Oleg, every morning picks the folder with label “Priority 1” reads the notes Tina wrote, follows the steps, finds the rubbish and throws it in the bin. He then writes an extra note on the piece of paper saying that he has thrown the rubbish in the bin. If the Priority 1 folder is empty, Oleg picks the Priority 2 folder and follows the same process. Some times Oleg cannot find Tina’s rubbish even when following her written steps, in this case he adds a note saying “there is no rubbish there!”. Sometimes Tina takes it personally and Oleg sleeps in the spare room. Oleg barely ever opens the folders with Priority 3 to 5. Such folders are bursting with new and old notes from many years back.

Tina spends an hour a day rechecking the Priority folders to see if her husband has added his notes. When she finds one, she will follow her own steps to make sure that Oleg has removed the rubbish from where it was as he said he did. If he did it, she will shred the original note, if the rubbish is still there she will add a note at the bottom saying, “the rubbish is still there, please go and pick it up!”. She will spend some more time adding some extra information on how to find the piece of rubbish. Sometimes, while she is tracking some old rubbish she finds some new, in this case she creates another note and adds it to a drawer.

Each piece of rubbish was filed neatly

For each piece of rubbish, a report was filed neatly

From time to time uncle Bob calls around asking for rubbish reports and rubbish removal trends. In these occasions Tina and Oleg spend the night up counting and recounting, moving sorting and drawing before they send a detailed rubbish status report.

Strangely enough, no matter how hard Tina and Oleg work at identifying, filing, removing, reporting and trending rubbish, the house is always full of shit and uncle Bob is always angry. Tim’s parents are obsessed in finding new rubbish but they don’t pay much attention to family members dropping chewing gums on the floor, fish and chips wrapping paper in the socks drawer, beer cans in the washing machine and so on. After all Tina will find the rubbish and following their fool proof process they will remove it!

One day Tim calls her parents and Uncle and sits them down for a chat. He suggests to stop throwing rubbish on the floor and messing up the house so that they can reduce the amount of time spent finding, removing filing and trending the rubbish. He also suggests to get rid of the folders labelled Priority 3, 4 and 5 as nobody has done any work on them and after all the existence of a minuscule speck of dust on the bathroom floor is not going to make their life uncomfortable. He also suggests that Tina calls Oleg as soon as she finds some rubbish so that he can remove it straight away, without the need for adding notes.

Uncle Bob tells Tim that what he says is nonsense, because the family are following a best practice approach for rubbish management and in agreement with Tina and Oleg locks him up in a mental facility.

Everybody lived unhappy ever after.

Have I eventually gone bonkers and started talking nonsense?

No, I haven’t suddenly gone crazy. I am Tim and I want to change the world.

BDD is – BDD is not

socrates11_2074496c

Hang on, this is not the real… Ah, OK, it’s a joke :-)

 

“I’m the smartest man in Athens because I know that I know nothing.” —Socrates 470-399 BC

BDD stands for Behaviour Driven Development

What BDD is (for me)

1. Conversations

BDD is about conversations

The conversations help us understand what we are trying to build and identify the behaviours of our application

The conversations help us share the knowledge about what we are building

Through the conversations we deliberately discover the behaviour of what we are building and remove some of our first order ignorance

BDD uses continuous feedback for deliberate discovery

The discovery helps reduce the unknowns and deliver software that matters

2. Documenting the behaviour of an application

BDD scenarios (or tests) help document the behaviour of the application we are building as they document the outcome of the conversations

3. The tools

There are a number of tools that allow automating the execution of the scenarios.

4. Testing

BDD tests assumptions through conversations, no other relationship exists.

My conclusion:

“BDD is about conversations and collaboration to generate software that matters”

that means: the conversations generate the software that matters

“Wherever it makes sense, describing the the behaviours in business language through scenarios and automating them will help you produce fast feedback and maintain the application as it grows.”

that means: using scenarios and good engineering practices you can be more effective

If you don’t do point 1 (the conversations) you can produce as many scenarios as you want, automate and run them continuously in a server farm bigger than Google’s but you are not getting much value and in my humble opinion you are not doing BDD.

Liz Kheogh, whose contribution have strongly influenced the evolution of BDD puts it very simply saying:

22havingconversations0aismoreimportantthan0acapturingconversations0aismoreimportantthan0aautomatingc-default

What BDD is NOT (for me)

A recurring problem I have encountered with teams starting to use BDD is the emergence of fallacies where teams conflate the problem that BDD is trying to resolve with other concerns, in particular, tools, artefacts and testing.

I am going to come clean straight away, I have been culpable of this for a good while and learned on my own skin how mixing up concepts can be extremely dangerous. See some of my lessons learned below.

 #Fallacy #1: BDD is Testing and automation

This is a very common problem. Often it originates when somebody (usually a tester) hears or reads something about BDD and starts using Gherkin and BDD scenario style to write their tests. This has usually a honeymoon period in which benefits are reaped because tests are now written in business language hence readable/understandable by everybody. This seems to help communication, but in the long term it actually makes it worse because testers and developers start communicating through scenarios written in Gherkin and stop talking. I have personally done this many many years ago. Hands up I screwed up my team communication badly!

In some cases a decision is made to use BDD scenarios to replace automation tests. This creates a confusion around what scenario should be written for developing some behaviour (BDD) and what scenarios should be written for testing the application. Using all boundary, invalid, special scenarios for development is not optimal, we are not looking for bugs, we are building an application based on its behaviours.

Very often, testers will push for having the scenarios automated through the UI and run in an end to end full integration environment. This generally creates a large slow and non predictable automation suite that is not suited neither for BDD fast feedback loops and discovery nor for end to end integration tests.

When conflating BDD with testing we create unnecessary confusion and end up with things that are neither regression tests nor BDD scenarios and are unusable for their original purpose (development of software that matters).

Do you want to avoid all these problems? Separate BDD from testing. They are 2 solutions to 2 completely different problems. Use the appropriate tools for each domain. Live happy.

#Fallacy #2: BDD scenarios are a communication tool

In some shops I have seen business analysts and product owners that had heard or read of BDD decide that they were going to formalise the requirements into BDD scenarios. I have seen this approach, suggested by a few people that do BDD training, but it is a recipe for disaster.  The most important part of BDD is completely ignored and the PO will elegantly formalise his assumptions in BDD scenarios. Once a developer gets the BDD scenario, she will deliver the PO’s assumptions into elegant code.

Tests for their nature cannot be ambiguous, there is no need for questions or conversations if requirements are defined in the form of tests. This is brandished as a great advantage by some people, instead it is the death of deliberate discovery, and the birth of Assumption Driven Development(*).

Do you want to avoid this? Use 3 Amigos conversations as communication tool. After you’re done, you have all the information to formalise the findings of the conversations into BDD scenarios

#Fallacy #3: We use Cucumber we are doing BDD (Feel free to replace Cucumber with Jbehave, SpecFlow, et cetera)

This is a non sequitur.

Some developers get very excited by neat tools and the ones I mention above are quite cool. Using a tool and writing software through BDD scenarios in the absence of conversations is different from doing BDD. Again, in the absence of conversations, inevitably we end up doing Assumption Driven Development(*).

A similar non sequitur fallacy: “We use Jira, we are agile!”.

 I am looking forward to the day in which I will feel ashamed of what I wrote above, because that day I will have learned something.

(*)Assumption Driven Development (ADD) = A person single handedly builds a set of unquestionable assumptions about the behaviour of an application in the form of tests. Normally this approach fails late, when at exploratory testing, somebody questions the PO’s assumptions now built into code.

Playing Lean – A fun way to learn Lean Startup

Playing LeanYesterday, I was lucky to be in a group of people playing a great new educational game, Playing Lean.

Helped by Raomal and Tore we engaged in a fun and exciting strategy game to sell our product to more and more customers, starting with innovators, moving to early adopters and eventually conquering the masses.

To do that we had to run experiments and build features. While doing that we talked about validating problems, customers interviews, A/B testing and other very interesting Lean Startup topics. Our experiments were run in a Build Measure Learn cycle and customers feedback was used to build our features.

One other thing I liked was that the game rewarded the player that chose a lean approach to build his product, by delivering only the features necessary and in some cases less features meant more customers!

I can see a bright future for the game as a training platform for the Lean Startup methodology and if I could i would organise games in Paddy Power right now. I am looking forward to be a supporter at the new Kickstarter that Playing Lean are running soon and look forward to using the finished product in the future.

If you are interested, join the community @ http://community.playinglean.com/

Executable specifications – what would you do?

Can you help?

Executable specifications are used in BDD/Spec By Example as a mean to describe an application behaviour in business language. They are executable because they are linked to tests that exercise the behaviour of the application itself.

Let’s imagine we want to develop the solution to the FizzBuzz problem, Which one of the following solutions would you adopt and why? If you have a different better solution than the two I list, please add it!

1. Specific examples:

Given we are printing numbers using FizzBuzz
When the number is <number>
Then we will print <answer>

|number|answer|
|      1      |     1    |
|      3      | Fizz    |
|      5      | Buzz  |
|      6      |  Fizz   |
|      10    | Buzz   |
|      15    |FizzBuzz|

2. Generic Rules

Given we are printing numbers using FizzBuzz
When the number is a multiple of 3
Then we will print Fizz

Given we are printing numbers using FizzBuzz
When the number is a multiple of 5
Then we will print Buzz

Given we are printing numbers using FizzBuzz
When the number is a multiple of 3 and 5
Then we will print FizzBuzz

Given we are printing numbers using FizzBuzz
When the number is a not a multiple of either 3 or 5
Then we will print the number

Thin Vertical Slices of Value

I recently had a conversation with two colleagues where I was trying to explain the advantages of frequently delivering thin vertical slices of value, versus working on separated components and integrating at the end.

I have been familiar with this concept for so long, and generally take it for granted, but while explaining it, I found myself at a loss and only after a good while I was able to make my point. That conversation prompted me to write this article so that myself or anybody else can use it in the future for this purpose.

Let’s imagine a typical web application with a UI layer, a service layer and a database layer. Let’s consider the very common case scenario, where our developers are specialised and can either do UI or services or databases, no cross skills exist.

There are generally two approaches to deliver this application:

  1. Create component teams that define interfaces between the components and deliver each component in isolation
  2. Create a team that contains all the 3 skills required and deliver small increments of value, i.e. small deliverables that include the 3 layers and are releasable.

The first option, believe it or not is the generally preferred one by most developers and traditional software development managers. It gives the first ones the ability to use their main skill, and the second ones the illusion of efficiency as they think they are using the right skills for the right purpose.

Component Teams

Component Teams Model

Usually the dreams of component teams are shattered at integration time. Let’s imagine they deliver monthly sprints. Each team at the end of a sprint will believe they have their sprint done, because everything works in their context. What happens in reality is that at integration time, what seemed to be perfectly defined in the interfaces generally is proven incorrect. Things don’t work, teams defend their component design and implementation, blame other teams for the integration failures and nobody takes responsibility for the most important thing of them all: the customer can’t use the value.

By the second sprint, generally the teams decide that they need an “integration testing sprint” [sic] to fix the issues that the teams couldn’t prevent by using predefined interfaces.

This is generally the sign of the start of a slow death of the company ability to deliver customer value.

Time goes by and teams become more entrenched in defending their component and blaming the other components for any failure. Integration testing becomes lengthy and painful and the customer becomes less and less important than defending the status of our component team.

Have you been there? I have, and I bet you have too.

Components Integration Explosion

Components Integration Explosion

There is a solution.

The secret is to shift, from delivering a component, to identifying a thin slice of value that cuts through all components and the customer can use.

It seems easy, and once you get used to it, it actually is. The problem is the mind shift from system to value. People are used to delivering systems and not to resolving problems, if you want to identify thin slices of value to deliver you need to focus on resolving a problem for your customer abstracting yourself as much as you can from the underlying systems.

The first thing you need to do is to have teams that have all the skills required for the full stack of technology so that each individual team can deliver customer value independently. Like this:

Team Delivering Value

Team Delivering Value

Each user story will deliver a thin slice of value, developers will collaborate and pair instead of communicating through interfaces and the ownership will be on value being delivered instead of software components.

Working like this, the integration issues will appear immediately, as soon as we connect the layers with the first slice of value. This in turn will help us not to build too much software based on wrong assumptions. The first thin slice might be challenging and take some time, but it will contain a huge amount of learning that will be used to reduce the time to build the subsequent slices.

We can expand this same concept to product development.

Let’s imagine our company is an international online wholesale store where clothing shop owners can buy their stock. We now have an opportunity to expand our market by introducing jewellery to our products. The business owners are very excited because they believe that the new product could increase our revenue by 30% and they have identified the suppliers to get cheap stock.

The project Jewellery is starting! Everybody is excited.

After a short period of research we find out that customers living in the Democratic Republic of Regulationstan have some restrictions over the quantity of jewels that can be bought by an individual shop in a period of time. The amount varies depending on the jewels type (gold, silver, platinum). Also, other 10 countries don’t allow watches to be bought in bulk and to make things worse, in the country we live in, Paranoidland, regulation exists for jewels sellers to obtain and store Know Your Customer information for up to 10 years for jewels that contain diamonds.

We could design a complex system that is able to comply with all the limitations and the regulations, implement it and deliver it to be consumed by the whole world in 6 months. Or we could take one category of articles that don’t need to comply to our own country’s regulation and target a rich market that doesn’t impose regulation and deliver it in a week.

The choice will depend on so many context specific factors that I cannot possibly imagine, so I won’t make it.

What I know for sure is that, if we use the second option, there will be a massive difference in the output, the difference is that after one week, our product will receive feedback from its customers. With the customer information available we discover unknowns and making decisions on what to deliver next becomes much easier.

What’s this got to do with component teams and vertical slices teams you might say.

Everything.

By delivering a vertical slice of value in a short period of time, we are able to evaluate it meaningfully, and use the feedback to decide what and how to build in the next slice. More than likely the first slice of value will give us enough information that makes less important or even completely irrelevant some of the slices we were planning to build in the future.

By doing so, we are deliberately discovering the unknowns and using learning as our guide.

The feedback we receive after each thin slice is our compass, every time we release, we get new directions and make sure we are never too far off the path to success.

Do agile organisations need a Test Manager?

I have had this discussion a few times in the last few years, the question whether or not agile organisations need Test Managers keeps coming up. Now that the agile transformation wind is blowing stronger over traditional software testing departments, more and more Test Managers have their role challenged.

This blog post is not about the need of a Test Manager during a transition to agile, this blog post is about the need of a Test Manager within a mature agile organisation.

As software development professionals, the first thing that we should do when somebody is asking us to build a software product, is to ask “what problem are we trying to solve with this product?”.

Software products are financed and built for the same reason people are hired and paid, that is “to resolve a problem”. Software products are built to resolve a problem for users and people are employed to resolve a problem for organisations.

If we look at traditional software development organisation with phases, gates, siloed development and test departments, a Test Manager resolves the following problems:

1) Communication/Negotiation with other silos
2) Schedule/Resource allocation
3) Process improvement
4) Quality signoffs
5) Test strategy
6) Skill and Resource Development
7) People leadership

Now let’s think about a mature agile software development organisation.

Problem 1 disappears with the existence of a cross-functional team where people with all skills are sitting together and don’t need an intermediary to communicate.

Problem 2 ceases to exist because testing, in an agile team, is a continuous activity, there is no need to schedule anything. On resource allocation, testing is a shared activity and everybody in the team will help; the team itself will know if one or more testers are needed. Through retrospection the team will identify skills shortages. No need for somebody to call the shots from outside.

Problem 3 evaporates. Continuous improvement is a team activity, again, retrospectives will trigger changes, not an external entity.

Problem 4 gets sucked into a black hole and implodes, agile teams don’t need quality signoffs, quality is owned by the team, the team is accountable for it and a high five is all they need.

Problem 5 is not relevant. The test strategy is part of the development strategy and is defined by the team. Let’s remember that we are talking about a mature agile organisation where teams have the necessary skills.

Problem 6 can be resolved by a Test Guild or Test Community of Practice that don’t need a Test Manager for functioning, it simply needs people passionate about testing and software quality.

Problem 7 is still a problem we need to resolve. We need a people leader, so let’s solve the problem and hire a people leader then!

I was a Test Manager, I had a choice, fight the system and create problems that didn’t exist anymore so I could justify my role or embrace the new challenge, learn new skills and start resolving real problems for my organisation. I chose the latter and never looked back.

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