Previously on A Knowledge Worker’s Tale: A large bottleneck appeared in the exploratory test column of team X’s kanban board, but only Rick and Jane, the testers, seemed to give a damn about it working hard to unblock it. Gus saw the problem asked the team to take off their headphones, go to a room and get instructions from the testers on how to unblock the flow of work.
And the story continues…
Team Xers reappeared in their open space with renewed energy. Rick and Jane had explained what they needed to get their work unblocked and soon people started working in pairs. Rick and Peter were debugging together an issue that seemed difficult to track with the assistance of Fritz the business analyst that seemed positive he remembered something important that could help them. Jane was showing to Mike and Jimmy how, what she thought was the correct customer journey, was not what Zach the customer thought it was.
It was great to watch, a group of skilled professionals working in groups, using all their skills and knowledge to troubleshoot a complex problem.
As expected, the pairing and collaboration gave its fruits, defects were getting fixed and retested and the bottleneck was reducing fast. Flow was being reestablished thanks to the team swarming and focusing on the biggest problem in the system, it was great to observe.
Once things got back to normal Mike called the team to the board and said “Folks, it has taken only 3 hours to fix that bottleneck that had basically stopped our flow for two days, I think we have learned a very big lesson today and the lesson is that when we see a bottleneck, we all have to chip in and help unblock it!”. The other guys nodded with satisfied faces finally seeing their work getting to completion again. “Well done all!” Rick the tester added “without your help, we would still be where we were 3 hours ago, collaborating has been fantastic” and the lads gave themselves a small round of applause.
“Let’s go back to work!” said Mike.
“Hang on, hang on” intervened Gus, that had been lurking from distance. “It is great that you guys found a way to reestablish flow, I was delighted to see how you collaborated and forgot about your roles for the good of the customer, I say well done for that”. He continued “The fact is, if we go back to work without addressing the problem that created the bottleneck in the first place, it will be only a matter of time before it happens again, don’t you agree? Now that we have it fresh in mind, I suggest we try to understand the real problem that created the bottleneck, let’s do a quick retro, who’s with me?” The team nodded and followed Gus in the retrospective room.
“So WHY do you guys think the bottleneck formed at exploratory testing?” asked Gus. Immediately Peter jumped in “Because we need more testers!” to which some of the other team members nodded in unison. He added, “Rick and Jane are always super busy, they never have a minute free and at the same time they are always behind with work, the guys need help, we need more testers!”
“Adding more testers is a potential solution, but we haven’t identified the problem yet” said Gus. “I am going to ask a tester now, Jane, WHY do you think the bottleneck formed at exploratory testing?” Jane, slightly caught by surprise turns to Rick, mutters something, then says “Because exploratory testing was taking too long”. “Ok this sounds like a reasonable problem, and WHY was it taking too long?” added Gus. “Well, running tests would have been fast, but we found a lot of defects that needed fixing and that created a never ending back and forth with the developers and Zach” added Jane.
“Very good Jane, thank you, we are getting somewhere now” said Gus, and continued “so it appears we had too many defects in the stories you were testing, so WHY were we having so many defects?”. A long silence ensued.
Peter broke the silence and said “For my user story, it turns out I didn’t understand clearly what Zach (the customer) wanted, so I had to change it four times”. Jimmy added “Yes, the same for me, this feature is complex and the work me and Mike were doing had to be changed many times, every time Jane or Rick would find something wrong because they’d ask Zach and he changed his mind, yet again”
Gus smiled and went “Oh Oh Oh, I think we might be getting somewhere here folks, what do you think Mike?” Mike was deep in thought, head down. He stood up and said loudly “I get it! It looks like a communication problem early in the process presented itself as a visible problem in exploratory testing. It’s got nothing to do with testing!” He was truly excited by the revelation, then he added “The root cause of the problem is the bad communication between the team and the customer and the symptom shows up in exploratory testing.”
Gus said “That’s an excellent observation Mike, do you guys think that if you clarified your doubts with the customer before you started working you would have saved the time you have spent reworking?” Everybody in unison went “Yeah!”. Well, now we know what the real problem is, I’ll chat to you tomorrow morning at the stand-up and we’ll find a solution together, it’s getting late now. Great work everybody and well done for getting to the root of the problem with only four why’s, I normally need five…”
Gus stood up to leave but stopped mid-track and asked “Guys, so do we still think we need more testers?” Peter was first to answer “No Gus, you’re right that was a knee-jerk reaction, thinking about it ,we need more clarity, not testers”
Asking why enough times to get to the root cause of a problem is a great technique, thought Gus while leaving the office and heading to the pub.
A defect is anything that threatens the value of the product.
Before we start, let’s agree that:
we don’t want defects that threaten the value of our product
we want to give our customers as much value as possible at all times.
If you don’t agree with 1 and 2 then, don’t waste your time and stop reading now.
Testers are normally associated with finding defects. Some testers get very protective with the defects they find and some developers can be very defensive about the defects they wrote. Customers don’t like defects, developers don’t like defects, product managers don’t like defects, let’s be honest, nobody likes defects besides some testers.
Why would that be? The reason is that the focus of a lot of testers is on detecting defects, and that’s what they get paid for in a lot of organisations. If you are a tester and love your defects, you might find this article disturbing, if you decide to proceed, do so at your own peril.
Defects are waste
Let’s be clear from the start: defects are waste. Waste of time in designing defective products, waste of time in coding defective routines, waste of time in detecting them, waste of time in fixing them, waste of time in re-checking them. Even writing this sentence took a good while, now think how much time it takes you to produce, detect, fix, recheck defects.
Our industry has developed a defect coping mechanism that we call defect management. It is based on a workflow of detecting => fixing => retesting. Throughout the years it has become best practice (sic) to have defect management tools and to log and track defects. Defect management approaches are generally cumbersome, slow, costly and tend to annoy people no matter whether you are a tester that gets his defect rejected, you are a developer that gets a by design feature flagged as defect, or a product manager that needs to spend time prioritising, charting and trending waste.
Another dangerous characteristic of defects is that they can be easily counted and you will always find a pointy haired manager that decides he is going to shed light on the health of his product and on the efficiency of his team by counting and drawing colorful waste charts.
But, if we agree that defects are waste, why are we logging and tracking waste, creating waste charts seems even more ridiculous, wouldn’t it be easier to try to prevent them?
Oh, if only we could write the right thing first and reduce the number of defects we produce! I say we can, be patient and read on.
Software development teams have found many ways of being creative playing with defects, see some examples below.
Example 1:Reward waste
Some years back I was working on a business critical project in one of 5 scrum teams . Let me clarify first, that our scrum implementation was at best poor, we didn’t release every sprint and our definition of done was questionable.
Close to an important release, we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to fix a lot of defects before going into production. We had 2 weeks and our teams had collectively around 100 defects to go through. Our CTO was very supportive of the defect killing initiative and he was eager to deliver with zero defects. He put in place a plan that included free food all day and night and some pampering for the developers that needed to focus 100% on defect resolution. Then he decided to give a prize to the team that would fix the highest amount of defects.
I remember feeling frightened of the possible future consequences of this reward. I spoke to the CTO and told him that I would have liked more a prize for the team that produced the lowest amount of defects rather than the one that fixed the most. Our CTO was a smart guy and understood the value proposition of my objection, he changed his approach and spoke to the teams on how not introducing defects in the first place is much more efficient than fixing them after they have been coded. Soon after the release, we started applying an approach that focussed on preventing defects rather than fixating on detection. We never had the problem of fixing 100 bugs in 2 weeks again.
Example 2:Defects metrics
In my previous waterfall life, I remember when management introduced a performance metric directly linked to defects. Testers were to be judged on the Defect Detection Index calculated as (Number of Defects detected during testing / Total number of Defects detected including production)*100. An index lower than 90 would mean nobody in the test team would get a bonus. Developers were individually judged on the number of defects found in their code by the testers and business analysts were individually judged on the number of defects found by the testers in their requirements.
Welcome to the battlefield!
The bug prioritisation meetings were battles where development managers argued any bug was a missed requirement, product managers argued that every bug was a coding error or a tester misunderstanding and the test lead (me) was simply shouted at and criticised for allowing his testers to go beyond the requirements and make use of their intellectual functions outside a scripted validation routine.
Going to that meeting was a nightmare, people completely forgot about our customers and simply wanted to get their metrics right. The amount of time we wasted arguing and defending our bonuses was astonishing. Our customers were normally unhappy because instead of focusing on value delivery we focussed on playing with defects, what a bunch of losers we were!
Our customers were very unhappy.
Example 3:Defects as non-conformance to requirements
In the same environment as Example 2, testers, in order to keep their Defect Detection Index high used to raise large amounts of minor or non-significant “defects” that were in reality non-conformance to requirements. Funnily enough such non-conformances were generally improvements.
Testers didn’t care if they were requirements, code defects or even improvements, to them they were money, so they opened them. Improvements were filed as defects as they were in non-conformance to requirements. In most of the cases, these were considered to be low severity and hence low priority defects to make the testers happy and had to be filed, reviewed, prioritised and used in trends, metrics and other useless calculations.
This activity could easily take 30% of the tester time. Such defects would not only take testers’s time, but would also affect developers, product managers, business analysts and eventually clutter the defect management tool.
Waste that creates waste, exponentially, how wonderful.
Example 4:Defect charts, trends and other utter nonsense
Every week I had to prepare defect charts for management. These were extracted from our monstrous defect management tool and presented in brightly coloured useless charts. My manager got so excited at the prospect of producing useless information that she started a pet project to create charts that were more colourful than the ones I presented. She used 2 developers for 6 weeks to create this thing that was meant to wow the senior executives.
In the process of defining the requirements for wowing the big guys, she introduced a few new even more useless charts and consolidated it into an aggregating dashboard. She called it the product quality health dashboard, I secretly called it the dump.
Nobody gave a damn about the dashboard, nobody used the numbers for any reason, nobody cared that they could configure it, but my boss was extremely proud of it. A legend says that she got a big raise because of it. If you play with rubbish, then you will start measuring rubbish and eventually you will end up doing data analysis and showing a consolidated view of the rubbish you store in your code.
How can we avoid this?
1. Focus on defect prevention
Many development teams focus on delivering features fast with little consideration for defect prevention. The theory is that testers (whose time is sometimes less expensive than developers) will find the defects that will be fixed later. This approach represents a false economy; rework disrupts developers activities and harms the flow of value being delivered. There are many approaches available to development teams to reduce the amount of rework needed.
Do you want to prevent defects? You can try any combination of the below:
With BDD/ATDD/Specification By Example or other test first approach, delivery teams test product owners assumptions through conversations and are more likely to produce the right feature the first time.
The ability to have fast feedback loops also allows for early removal of defects, automated unit and integration tests can help developers quickly identify potential issues and remove them before they get embedded into a feature.
Tight collaboration between business and delivery teams helps teams be aligned with their real business goal and reduce the amount of unnecessary features. This means less code and as a consequence less defects. Because, your best piece of code is the one you won’t have to write.
Reducing complexity is very powerful in preventing defects, if we are able to break down a complex problem in many simple problems we are likely to reduce the amount of defects we introduce. Simple problems have simple solutions and simple solutions have less defects than complex ones.
Good coding standards like for example limiting the length of a method to a low number of lines, setting limits on cyclomatic complexity, applying good naming conventions to help readability also have a positive impact on the number of defects produced
Code reviews and pair programming greatly help reduce defects
Refactoring at all times also reduces defects in the long run
Moral of the story: If you don’t write defects, you will not have to fix them.
2. Fix defects immediately and burn defect management tools
If like me years back, you are getting tired of filing, categorising, discussing, reporting, ordering defects I have a very quick solution. Fix the defects as soon as you find them.
It is normal for a developer to fix a defect he finds in the code he is writing as soon as he finds it without having to log it, but as soon as the defect is found by a different individual (a tester for example) then apparently we need to start a strict logging process. Why? No idea really. People sometimes say: “if you don’t do root cause analysis you don’t know what you are doing, hence you need to file the defects”, but in reality nobody stops you from doing root cause analysis when you find the defect if you really want.
What I am suggesting is that whoever finds a bug walks to a developer responsible for the code and has a conversation. The consequence of that conversation (that in some cases can involve also a product owner) should be let’s fix it now or let’s forget about it forever.
Fixing it now, means normally that the developer is fresh on the specific code that needs to be fixed, surely fresher than in 4 weeks, when he won’t even remember he ever wrote that code. Fixing it now means that the issue is gone and we don’t have to worry about it any longer, our customer will be thankful.
Forgetting about it forever means that it is not an issue worth fixing, probably it doesn’t threaten the value of the project and the customer won’t care if we don’t fix it. Forgetting about it forever also means that we won’t carry a stinky dead fish in a defect management tool. We won’t have to waste time re-discussing the same dead fish forever in the future and our customers are happy we are not wasting time but working on new features. If you decide to fix it, I’d also recommend you write an automatic test for it, this will make sure that if the issue happens again you’ll know straight away.
I have encountered huge scepticism when suggesting to burn defect management tools and fix just in time. Only very few seem to think this is possible. As a matter of fact all my teams were able to do this for the last 6 years and nobody ever said, “I miss Jira and the beautiful bug charts”.
Obviously this approach is better suited for co located development teams, I haven’t tried it yet with a geographically distributed team, I suggest you give it a try and let me know how it goes.
Playing with defects waste index:
Epidemic: 90% – The only places that don’t file and manage defects I have ever encountered are the places where I have worked and have changed the process. In the last couple of years, I have heard of two other places where they do something similar but that’s just about it. The world seems to have a great time in wasting money filing, categorising, reporting, trending waste.
Damaging: 100% – Using defects for people appraisal is one of the worst practices I have ever experienced in my long career, the damage can be immense. The customer becomes irrelevant and people focus on gaming the system to their benefit. Logging and managing defects is extremely wasteful as well, it requires time, energy and can among other things, endanger relationships between testers and developers. Trending and deducting release dates from defect density is plain idiotic, when with a little attention to defect prevention defects would be so rare that trends would not exist.
Resistant: 90% – I had to leave one company because I dared doubt the defect management gospel and like an heretic I was virtually burned at the stake. In the second company I tried to remove defect management tools I was successful after 2 years of trying, quite resistant. The third one is the one where people were happy to experiment and as soon as they saw how much waste we were removing it quickly became the new rule. I have had numerous discussions with people on the subject and the general position is that defect management must be done through a tool and following a rigid process.
A classic problem for testers in agile contexts is the fact that they feel they are not listened to by developers. Testers, often rightly, warn developers from doing stuff because the consequences could be very bad, but developers in many cases don’t listen to them.
This is very upsetting, testers find themselves lonely within an agile team because of this. They get frustrated and if they keep on asking and screaming their needs they risk being alienated by their team members becoming completely ineffective while growing dissatisfied with their job.
But, but, they are right in telling the developers what to do! WTF?
When working as a tester in an agile team you’ve got to develop a skill that before you really didn’t need that much.
It is called influencing. Before when you worked in your separate QA department/test team you didn’t need it because there was a test manager that was fighting the battles for you and deciding the test strategy to be applied.
Things have changed, you’ve got to become good at influencing.
This is what Gus did when he moved to an agile team as a tester many years ago.
First I tried barking orders, screamed and shouted, but it din’t work at all, so I decided to adopt a different approach.
I started to really listen to what developers said instead of listening for finding gaps in their thought
I listened and listened and listened a bit more
Third I started asking questions showing real interest in what they were doing. Being mindful of their fears and feelings. I made sure they knew I was there to help and that we were all in the same boat
I started praising them when they did something good, for example thanking them for adding testability to the application. Things like “without Roberto’s design I would have spent weeks doing what I can do now in 10 minutes, thank you so much Roberto, you made my life better”
I started coaching them on how to test by testing with them. When they saw what testing really involved, they understood its importance and challenges and started asking interesting questions about it.
Who will developers listen to?
Now compare the developers’ reaction when faced with a suggestion raised by Gus to the one that Jack gets. Jack is a tester that uses the classic approach of “what the hell are you talking about? This is going to explode in production!”
Who do you think will be able to influence developers actions when something important for testing needs to be done?
Me? Often, I always got the developers at least to listen to me and a lot of the times we did it my way unless somebody in the team had a better idea.
So, do you want to be Jack and keep on moaning about developers that don’t understand anything about testing?
If I were you I’d take Gus’s approach and build your influence within your team, start now, start listening.
In my last stint as a tester from October 2012 to Jan 2014, I helped my organisation at that time moving from delivering once every month, to delivering multiple times a day.
Let me first clarify that we didn’t move to multiple deliveries per day just for the fun of it, but because we needed it.
Your organisation might not yet know it needs this level of agility but more than likely it will at some stage in the future.
How did this transform the role of the testers within the organisation?
When I joined I found scrum teams that delivered either once a month or once every 2 months. The teams had 3 different defects management databases full with old and new defects. Testers were doing the following activities:
exploratory testing (~50-70&)
The batches were big, the exploratory sessions were long and found a lot of defects. The automation was not effective, as it was slow and unpredictable, its value was negative.
When I left
When I left, we were using kanban, delivering multiple times a day, defects were more or less a myth of the past, no defect management tool existed. Testers were doing the following activities:
Three amigos BDD sessions with customers and developers
Exploratory testing (1~5%) – never longer than 10 minutes per card, more often than not reporting no defects
Pairing with developers
Coaching developers on testing
Writing automation (0%)
Talking to the customer and the team
Improving the system
Designing the product with the team and the customer
Helping define what to monitor in production
Any other valuable activity the team needed them to do
As you can see the activities that before occupied 100% of testers time, now occupy from 1 to 5% of testers time.
Were testers busy before? Yes, absolutely
Were testers busy after? Yes, absolutely
Were testers complaining because they weren’t doing automation or enough exploratory testing? No, believe me. Most testers I worked with saw the new activities in the role as a learning activity and an opportunity to broaden their skills and become more valuable to any company.
If a tester didn’t want to adapt to the new reality and embrace the change and new ways of doing things, he would have been busy for 10 minutes a day (~2%) and he would have not been useful to the team.
Did we get there with the touch of a magic wand? No, the end stage was the result of many experiments. It was, back then, a good recipe for that context at that time (it is continuously changing)
So, tester, what’s your strategy for working in a company that releases multiple times a day?
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.
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.
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.
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.