A Changing Mindset

Experience Reports, Software Testing

Ever since I left my short stint at the meat factory, I’ve been a Software Testing Consultant for all of my modest career. Until a few months ago, when fate threw me into a Product Owner role.
5 months in, I feel my priorities, my thinking, my mindset… change.

This is not necessarily a good thing, but it is a necessary thing. First, I was Product Owner of Test Automation. But as that team disbanded due to too much overhead for a reasonably small team, I became Product Owner of a 8-headed SCRUM team of developer-architects, a tester, a test automation specialist, a DevOps specialist and soon a new junior developer.

My previous two blog posts were about helping a relatively small team learn more, move them forwards and become confident.
My new role is again different and it’s providing me insights about myself, how I adapt to these dynamics.

Mindset

My mindset has changed drastically. Where I was focused on risks, oversights and possible problems before, I am now looking at ‘good enough’ and going forward with the things ‘that matter’. Because of my Testing background and my now PO role, I realise that those two things are very different for me than other team members. I don’t know the risks well enough, I don’t know the scope too well (as the product is very new to me) and I can only guess at the value our changes bring.

Yet, this doesn’t seem to stop me forming opinions and making decisions.

It frightens me to take steps forward into this vast uncertainty of unknown unknowns knowing that I’m probably on top of the Dunning-Kruger ‘Mount Stupid’.
I caught my self disregarding several risks people mentioned, just because they intervened with my plans…
I have critisised many Product Owners before, when I was a tester, that I could see they had no clue what they were doing or where they were going.

 


I’m beginning to believe that this uncertainty is a big part of the role.
I need a tester to keep my feet on the ground.
I need this done as early as possible.

My priorities lie with keeping the team happy and delivering business value to the stakeholders. Not in risks, maintenance or changes…

Because of that, I’m not thinking of 3 out of 4 types of work.


Four Types of Work

When you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know enough or feel inadequate, start learning, reading and discussing. That’s what I do at least. I needed to ‘up my game’.

One extremely important finding for me were the four types of work featured in ‘The Phoenix Project’: Business Projects, Internal IT, Changes and the highly destructive Unplanned Work.

This connected several frustrations of mine into one model.
My current customer is quite good at pinning down Business Projects. At the very beginning, we do a three-amigo kind of thing where we lay the fundamental vision for the project and immediately try to cut down all the surrounding waste.

Internal IT is handled reasonably, though the responsible people seem to live on a well frequented island. We have two Admins who seem to troubleshoot and fix several major problems a day.

Changes are frequently happening, but are largely unmanaged. I’ve added a blank User Story in our sprints to capture ‘surprise tasks’. This should create a good baseline to see where these change requests come from and how much time they soak up. From there on out we can create procedures to mitigate, ignore, prioritise, escalate… What exactly we’ll do with the data, I don’t know yet, but we’ll have a better idea on how to tackle these changes.

I finally can put into words why I as a tester was often a source of frustration for a Product Owner: Unplanned Work. This type of work disrupts your whole flow, motivation, plans and ultimately, can destroy your project. Call it, bugs, risk, oversights,… it’s everything that suddenly requires someone’s attention and who can therefore no do anything that was planned. It eats your plans. It tears apart your flow and energy. It makes sure people get frustrated.

When Work In Progress is often called the silent killer, Unplanned work is the loud bloody zombie apocalypse that comes to exterminate your project. It terrifies me.
… enter the jolly testers who tell us we forgot about something important.

We just had two sprints torn up by the walking dead. Project management: ‘oh, we forgot to include these highly crucial features that need to be in production by the end of the month.’
Nor I, nor the team, was amused.

A Change in Thinking

A year ago, when I was a tester in this situation I would raise many bugs, make them visible and be loud about the frustrations I could notice in the team.
In similar occasions, I’d have given up and watch the train ride into a wall (again) to then see what we could make of the pieces.

Being in this situation as a Product Owner I try to make the best of the situation. Hope for the best and try to plan for the worst.
As a contingency, I put machinations in place that will bring more insight:

  • We will capture the ‘surprise tasks’ that weigh on the team to manage Changes
  • We will analyse the bugs found after development (and initial testing) from the past 6 months to build a checklist that can help us identify Unplanned Work
  • I need to keep a buffer to allow for Unplanned Work

The data in 1 will be a baseline to come up with certain Change Procedure(s).
From the data in 2, we can build automated checks, monitoring, alerts and ‘have you thought about/talked to X’-checklists for management.

I’m now in a role where I don’t have to be the 20-something-year-old screaming bloody murder anymore. It might sound strange or unfair, but my words have more impact these days. I won’t complain.
This phenomenon has given me the power to actually strategise and bring change while being very obvious about it. I’m not trying to persuade people to follow my ideas anymore. I’m gathering them by being direct.


I want to avert future disasters like we’re now in. I want the team to be on top of things. Maybe in the future, we’ll simulate our own disasters, while we’re still in control. Just for fun. And learning.

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Product Owner of Test Automation 2

Experience Reports, Software Testing

In my previous post, I explained the strategy I envisioned for the team. Comparing it to a boardgame.

What this post lacked thoroughly, was a clear focus on team learning. I feel like an idiot for not noticing this earlier.

Learning Objectives as part of the sprint

What has become abundantly clear to me is that the Team Members are the heart of your team. They need to be nurtured, grown.
In our team, we’ve been actively investing into people to become more confident and knowledgeable. ‘Learning objectives’ have become about 50% of our sprint stories.

I add in: Spikes, Proof of Concepts, Blog Posts, Challenges,… to have people work through material and produce reports, concepts, demo’s or anything that reproduces the acquired knowledge. After that, they ask feedback from other team members, discuss or teach. The aim is to achieve two things: new learnings and something valuable for the team, project or product. This keeps our stakeholders happy and our team in learning-mode.

But 50% is a lot of time… how do you explain this to stakeholders?
Test Automation is a valuable endeavor. Though in uncertain conditions it can be rendered useless, time consuming or time wasting even. That’s where we are now with the team. Many different things are changing. The application, the architecture and the development teams are all getting a good shake. This is not a good moment to heavily invest in UI or even API checks. Instead, I shift the focus of the team in a different direction.

Whereto now?

I see a lot of opportunities to coach, train and pioneer automation strategies, as a team.
Once the dust settles from all the management decision-making and architecture workshops it’ll fall on the automation people to strongly improve our release pipeline.
To achieve this, we need to become better at what we do, need to become more confident in what we say and become more respected for the value we bring.
As a team.

Instead of building more automation, our focus shifts to coaching, training and knowledge sharing. The issue, however, is that we first need to do knowledge gathering and train ourselves. The good thing is, we’re more of a team now than before and we can help each other out. We also have some time to invest in ourselves, which will pay off tenfold in the future. Hopefully.

In congruence to the team building up their skills, I’m monitoring progress of these changes and looking for opportunities to help out. Whether it’s now or in the future, I want to know where we can add business value fast. Additionally, I’m collecting examples of good practices in our context and using those as a basis to build an automation strategy.

Changes are coming our way, but we’re preparing to deal with them.

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The Automation team, at sprint kickoff

Applied heuristics

Experience Reports, Software Testing

This is an experiment. I’m trying to figure out my understanding of what the word ‘Heuristics’ means to me and whether it’s helpful to me and my craft: Testing.

Therefore, I’ll rehash an old story of how I found a bug and annotate the heuristics used in Bold and see what I can analyse from that afterwards.

Any guidance, ideas, intuitions, sources are very much appreciated.


Finding a Memory Leak

It was past noon. I’d been testing an application that wasn’t too complex for quite a long time. I knew it’s ins and outs and I felt myself getting bored.
I remember going through the customer files rather methodically one by one, click,… click,… click , without a clear aim. You could say I was randomly exploring.

Until something didn’t feel right. Call it surprise, intuition, something was wrong.
I noticed a pattern of loading times slowing down almost unnoticeable. I can’t put to words what triggered it for me. Was it an Observer-expectancy effect? Was it my negative mindset that sharpened my senses? I haven’t got a clue, but I felt I had to focus, zoom in.

I chose a tactic that was less boring than meticulously clicking my way up. Selenium IDE isn’t the best of tools, but it fit my purpose perfectly. I recorded my click and copied it a thousand times. I monitored the behaviour with developer tools, pressed ‘play’ and went for a coffee. After a while, I could identify that it went terribly slow because I could see the latency increase. Eventually I saw it ramping up until it crashed. Pairing with a developer we could conclude that there was a serious memory leak.


Implicit and Explicit heuristics?

A heuristic is “A fallible approach to solve a problem”

The teachings of RST and BBST and possibly how ‘heuristics’ were meant in the science books would identify all the bold phrases as some variation of a heuristic. I’m sure many other heuristics played in my mind that I don’t have words for yet.

However, notice how the first part of my story is almost completely based on hunches and feelings. Something directed me to find this bug and it wasn’t intentional.

In the second part, I took matters into my own hand. I had a goal, I chose a tactic and was able to measure my results. Other tactics, could have been clicking the button myself for the umpteenth time and miss out on a coffee. I might have asked a developer to look into it straight away and maybe had time left for two or three coffees.

I can’t know for sure whether I chose the correct heuristic or tactic for that situation and I’m sure as hell “# of cups of coffee drunk” isn’t the correct way to measure that success.

We can’t go back in time and compare results of heuristics used vs. the ones not used. Though I’m pretty happy with the results of the one I set up.


The Question Remains

Are the ‘Implicit heuristics’, (i.e. feelings, patterns, biases, hunches) which can’t really be controlled, measured,… useful to call heuristics? They fail, yes. They help you notice things, yes. But do they solve problems?

Are ‘Explicit heuristics’, (i.e. repetition to find boundaries, monitoring for abnormalities, pairing to increase understanding) worth a dime without their implicit counterparts?

 

It’s not up to me to answer these questions. Yet I find it intriguing to ponder over the matter.

 

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The BBST Foundations course: Week 4

Experience Reports, Software Testing

The Final Week

It’s the monday of the last week of BBSt, I flunked the last assignment and that had angered me.
In fact, this released a lot of the frustrations I had towards the course in one moment.

I had a short discussion with the instructor and this cleared up a few things. I hadn’t quite understood in what way I had to explain my answer and the instructor hadn’t found what I wanted to say.

We had a long google-hangout session and cleared a lot of things out. Apparently, there were a few videos and pages I missed that were key to answering the exam successfully.

For example, there’s a list of keyword. If the question contains “List X” you give 3 examples of that list. Number 4 and number 5 will be ignored, unless they contain errors; in that case, they’ll subtract marks.
Another, If it says “Describe”, you have to paint a picture. “Describe the Weibull curve” becomes: “A fast surge in the beginning, a flattening until it reaches the peak and then a deep plummet down until its pace declines and steadily, but slowly falls down to 0.

So yes, you need to know these things to be successful in the course. No, it has nothing to do with testing, apart from the fact that “precision reading” is a core skill of a tester.

I eventually got to fill out all the exam questions and discussed several answers of the other students.
I tried to be everywhere and discuss everything worth discussing.
In the end, there was a lot less activity this week than all the others.


The Exam

The exam was a three day, closed book exam. The instructors count on your honour not  to cheat. But it’s really easy to cheat. Really, really easy…. And we’re testers.
Testers cheat.

I had everything stored locally. All my answers, all other people’s answers, all the quizzes…
My book is full of post-its with all the definitions and important information on it.

I really like cheating, I do.
Yet somehow, I was able to fight the temptation. My honour is unscathed. This is probably because I didn’t really need it. I had answered every question already before and I had done this meticulously. I was pretty confident in my answers.
Apart from that, during the exam, you experience sparks of brilliance. You think of things you weren’t able to before.

Gabi, the instructor, had told me that might happen. I didn’t believe it, but paid attention to it none-the-less. He was right.

After the Exam

Ru, another instructor, and me went over my exam questions in a Skype meeting. She had lots of feedback and gave me an appreciation for my answers.
Even-though there was a question in the pool which I had answered similarly wrong as the practice question, Ru gave me the chance to defend and change my initial answer.

The conclusion in the end was:

  • I have successfully completed the course
  • My exam met expectations
  • I was one of the most active students across many foundations courses.

Aftermath

I have already stressed how interesting the material is and how much I’ve learned from the course. It’s good. The course is by far the best testing course I’ve learned about by now.

If you’re looking to send your testers on a course, take this one.
Really.

There’s a few things I didn’t really like though, but I can see why they are the way they are and how they each have their own function.

  1. I disliked my experience of the online component.
    While I really like functioning in diverse teams, I absolutely disliked it in this format. Don’t get me wrong I really liked the people I met and got to know. Maybe someday, we’ll meet again. But generally, I felt it was a distraction. Every task is focused on the individual, with the option to give feedback on others.
    Most of this feedback is about questions. “Why did you say/do it like that?”. You ‘lose time’ explaining your words and ideas, rather than have an in depth discussion.
    Sure, this is how it works in the real world. But I get enough of that in the real world already, here I want to learn and learn in depth.
  2. I disliked the Exam format.
    To me, the exam is not a good representation of “did I make the course or not”. It serves two functions: One; it’s a learning opportunity. A way to further process what you’ve learned. Two; it’s a measure of how well you completed the course.
    I felt it focused way too much on precision reading and precision writing than on what you’ve understood from the course.
    It’s very academic. I understand why, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
    I would really like to know how many from my class got their ‘certification’. That way I could take a guess at how high I should hold it in esteem.

I have felt frustrated throughout most of the course, but I have learned a ton.

Thank you, Cem, Altom, Ru, Gabi, the other instructors and all my fellow students for your efforts and knowledge sharing. I imagine I wasn’t the easiest student, but I’m grateful for the chance of learning with you.

The BBST Foundations course: Week 3

Experience Reports, Software Testing

I have the feeling I took the week off.
Did about 15 hours of work towards the course, but there were too many other things going on, rendering the experience of the course a bit too the background.

A lot has happened though. All the assignments are completed, all quizzes are done and all deadlines passed. Next week is a straight line to the exam.

An online meeting

Last week started off with a Google hangout session where about 10 people gathered, including the instructors and Cem. It was interesting to see how this format was handled. The value from the session was that I could finally see and interact with the people apart from a forum setting. I got to know how some people talked, looked and generally carried themselves.
I found that I really benefit from having seen people in order to understand their communication better.

This was an hour to ask anything to the instructors directly.
There were less questions than I expected and the explanation to them couldn’t quite go as much in depth as one would like. It’s probably very hard to divide the time among the relevant questions and make sure the important things get covered without going too much into details.

Next up: practice exam question.

All the exam questions are there. All twenty of them have been sitting there from the beginning of the course. I’ve understood that we’ll get a subset of those for our final exam. So everything can be prepared perfectly in advance.

However, one of the final assignments is prepare a bogus exam question. This exercise is meant to practice how we should tackle the questions. It is designed to teach us how to format our answers and explain them in a clear and structured way.

I didn’t do well on this exercise. I could’ve put more structure in there, worded it more precise and more elaborate.
It’s definitely a skill I have to practice if I would pursue the other BBST certificates.

One week to go.

I’ve got more than enough time to work trough the exams. Hell, I’ve completed 3/4’s already.
I hope the other students and instructors have enough energy left to make this last week one for the ages.