Agile Testing Days 2012 – Day 3 – Agile or agile?

Another early start for my last Lean Coffee of the conference, and again it was not wasted. We had some really interesting discussions around how to determine what test automation is useful, if agile is not faster, why do it? and a rather existential discussion on whether unicorns exist!

First keynote of the day was entitled “Fast Feedback Teams” by Ola Ellnestam. Again this relates nicely to the releasing faster talk on day 2, and something that we are looking at and some teams are actively trying. Introducing the notion of feedback, Ola describes a game he wrote for his eldest child. It was a simple game where every time he clicked a button, it displayed “You’ve Won!”. He then changed it to be a Win-Lose-Win-Lose pattern and watched the feedback from his son who then twigged the pattern and got his younger brother to play, alternating turns… genius! (must do that with my children). The idea behind this was that you need that feedback loop to learn and progress. If you are not getting the feedback you need to close that loop.

An interesting point Ola made was to solve problems BEFORE writing software. It may be that you don’t have to write anything at all, perhaps it’s a communication/training issue? Perhaps the problem can be solved another way. Writing software, although it’s the business we are in, is expensive, and this should be taken into account.

He again mentions frequent releases, and how they should be made as soon as stuff is ready to be released, don’t leave stuff on the shelf cause it’s not earning you anything, money or data. I totally agree with this and it’s something that we will be aiming for moving forwards.

Exceptions, Assumptions and Ambiguity: Finding the truth behind the story” by David Evans started off very promising by making references to ‘Grim up North’ referring to the north of England. Not sure it was appreciated by most of the audience, but it made me laugh! David explained how there are always risks associated with exceptions, giving the example of a one-way road near where he lives, with an exception sign giving rights to coaches to go the wrong way. Therefore you could merrily swing around the corner of the one way road straight into a coach!

David showed the danger in making assumptions with lyrical quotes from Lola by The Kinks “I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola” and with a picture of a toilet flush that needed instructions to operate the full and half flush. With this particular flush, you pulled the handle all the way down to half flush, and half way down to full flush! hmmm, a bit of a crappy user experience methinks!

Then through a clever use of a passage from the Jabberwocky, David then went onto show how mis-translation/ambiguity is the can completely distort the original meaning of something, and this is a real enemy of software development.

This was all helping to demonstrate that the term Story is often heavily overloaded in the Agile world, and should really be stripped back to what it is really for, stating a business problem, and offering a technical solution. Therefore a story could be worded as “In order to {make some improvement}, we will { do something}”. The first ‘in order to’ statement is stakeholder neutral, and states the problem through requesting an improvement to the software/process etc. The second part of the story is the verb, the doing bit. So to achieve the ‘improvement’ which is not currently true, we will do something to make this true in the future.

My PM is very interested in this, and he’s observed some of the problems of overloading stories so I’m hoping between us we can use some of David’s suggestions to help clarify our stories better.

The second keynote of the day (and our last) proved to be the most entertaining and exhausting of the conference for me. “The ongoing evolution of testing in agile development” by Scott Barber. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Scott before… OMG I would love to have even half of the energy he has!

What struck me during this presentation was Scott’s explanation of how testing has become the role/job that it is (largely) today, and how this has led to the need for ‘methodologies’ to make dev and test work!

The argument that we should be trying to converge the roles again is a very valid one, and one that a couple of the teams at work are actively doing with great results. Making developers as responsible for quality as testers is something that has been lost over the years, but something that we are now striving to achieve. The idea that we (testers) should be testing experts/specialists, not testing ‘union members’, supports this idea so the entire team works on all aspects of a feature/product, with the ‘specialists’ taking the lead and advising/coaching the others. This leads to better propagation of information around the team, a greater holistic understanding of the project and it allows the team to continue functioning if some of it’s members are off sick, for example.

Feeling somewhat drained from Scott’s keynote (but at the same time excited that alot of the points he raised supported actions we are taking at work), I headed into my last presentation for Agile Testing Days 2012 before having to make my way to Tegel to catch the flight home.

Thinking and working agile in an unbending world” with Pete Walen was a talk I was not going to miss! Having spoken to Pete several times during the past few days, I was looking forward to hearing what he was going to say, and I was not disappointed.

Pete started off by trying to separate the definitions of ‘Agile’ as in the methodology, and ‘agile’ as in the adjective by pronouncing them the ‘english’ and ‘american’ ways. So Agile pronounced (Ajyle) and agile pronounced (ajul). There was much confusion around what the hell he was talking about, although I thought it was quite clear.

Agile – Software development methodology agile – Marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace; Having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.

Anyway, that aside (although it provided a few laughs during the presentation), the point was that many teams that claim to be ‘Agile’ but are not, in fact, ‘agile’ by nature. Implementing ‘Agile’ methodologies that are so prescriptive actually goes against the very nature of Agile development where a team should anticipate, adapt and explore.

Pete made a valid point that very few companies intentionally put up roadblocks to impede work, so if work is being blocked/delayed, why? This is where being agile as a team pays off because the team can inspect what’s going on, explore options and adapt their processes. It is through experimentation (and that means trying and failing as well as trying and succeeding) that a team will improve and grow leading to focussing on what really needs to be done to achieve X.

So, that was it, the last talk of our conference. I was gutted that we had to miss the closing keynote from Matt Heusser, as Matt was another person I had spoken too a few times during the conference, but the flight would not wait, and just as well we left when we did because the traffic was a nightmare!

My Takeaway Triple from Day 3:

  • Release often and release small – don’t leave stuff on the shelf
  • Keep the meaning of the word ‘agile’ in mind when working in ‘Agile
  • Look at testing as more of a skill than a role

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