Posted on January 31, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Elisabeth Hendrickson has this ‘thought for the day’ to day on twitter: if you’re doing Agile and asking how to track tasks assigned to individuals in a sprint, your doing it wrong..

This started the wheels turning. Specifically around the word ‘assigned’. There is a really two type of task assignment: explicit and implicit.

An explicit assignment is one where a task has a specific name written on it; ‘check new login for for xss – Adam’ for instance. But if Adam is the xss detection guru, there can be an implicit assignment (and agreement) among the team that he is doing that task.

I’ve seen implicit assignment a tonne of times. I’ve done it myself when presented with a list of tasks to distribute (to the wagile team I was leading at the time).

Implicit assignment originates I think when people get comfortable in their roles and do not stretch beyond their increasing specialty. It might also be a result of ‘that is always what I have done’ syndrome as well which is related to comfort but subtly different.

I realized the reason this idea struck a chord was that I listed to a sports podcast on the way into work where they were talking about fighting in hockey. This is a big issue as someone died as a result of a fight on the ice (who happened to play on my town’s team but has become a regional / national issue). On Wednesday night there was a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. It should have been a good game but when the first team (I don’t remember which) submitted their starting lineup they put their ‘enforcer’ at center for the face-off. Well, enforcers go out for one reason. To fight. They are not told ‘go take so-and-so out’ explicitly, but they know their role. Of course when the other team saw this they didn’t put their star center out, put their enforcer out too. Again, no one said there was going to be a fight, but everyone knew their was going to be one. And their was.

Another sports example which coincidently involves ‘enforcement’ but this time lacrosse. Last year we were at a Rock game and a Sting player decided to get more than a little rough / dirty with his stick against Rock captain Jim Veltman. Veltman may not be the Gretzkey of lacrosse, but he is absolutely going into the hall of fame and was without a doubt the star of the team. He is literally in the ‘thou shalt not touch’ category. So he goes off the floor at the end of his shift and out goes the next one with a slight tweak. There is someone who we haven’t seem much of yet and rather than run down into the play he ran at the player who was roughing up Veltman and we had a ‘tussle’. Again, did the coach say ‘go get him for Jim!’? I would wager not, but when they were told to go on the floor after that they knew their role. We in the stands also did.

Explicit vs. Implicit. It is still assignment regardless of the method.

Back to testing though, assignment by either method violates the spirit of shared code ownership and lack of specialization silos. If assignment is happening, you are certainly doing Agile wrong. And in the situation where there is specialized knowledge as the basis of assignment, Elisabeth suggests that others should be pairing with the ‘expert’ to improve their knowledge. I agree.

Posted on January 30, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

At last year’s ETech they did an Ignite session. Ignites are a series of 5 minute talks (similar to lightning talks) that are supported by slides that tick to the next one at 15s intervals. They were, of course, recorded. It ends with a very, umm, unique short story by Scotto Moore called intangible method, but that is not one that I really paid attention to. That one was Deborah Schultz‘s ‘Stop Yelling, Start Weaving’.

And the most important slide is the second last one in which she lists the ‘Skills of the Weaver’. They look like a pretty good answer to the question that pops up every so often on ‘what attributes do you look for in a tester’.

  • Listener
  • Connector
  • Critic
  • Partial geek
  • Detective
  • Catalyst
  • Diplomat
  • Juggler
  • Approachable
  • Intuitive
  • Inquisitive
  • driven by relationships

Here is the full deck from the presentation

But because it is highly visual, you can see her on youtube doing the talk at a different event.

Posted on January 28, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

My wife is a horse person, which by definition means she is a bit nuts. But she tempers her insanity around people / things that are not close family or the bank account because she also happens to work in the industry. The horse community is even more reputation and credibility oriented than the testing one so she needs to handle all situation with (outer) calm and grace and professionalism regardless of how much someone doesn’t deserve it.

This year she got a horse (Willy) off the track at the end of the season and sent him off to a trainer we had used in the past to get him into taking English queues (instead of racing ones). So anyways they were at the trainer’s barn around dinner last night and she had a friend of hers ride the horse for an opinion on how he was coming along. This person is not a trainer, just someone whose opinion she trusts.

The trainer was using a bungee to keep the Willy’s head down but he didn’t seem to want/need it so her friend took it off. Well, the trainer took offense to this and exploded, grabbing the bungee out of my wife’s hands, storming into the barn from the arena kicking water buckets and swearing. She then got into her truck and left. Apparently they were insulting her l33t training skillz by removing her training implement. Anyways, they put Willy back in his stall and came home — only to return with a trailer later to take him to a new barn where he is now settled in nicely.

I don’t care if her feelings were hurt, or that she might have been offended somehow. She is marketing herself as a professional and should act like one. Always. (Even accounting for the horse-people-are-crazy fact.)

And so should you.

Your first job is landed primarily through your schooling with a dash of who-you-know. All other jobs from there have a large degree of reputation involved. It is safe to say that the trainer’s hard won credibility is in tatters at most of the major barns in the area and it has only been 24 hours. Credibility is sneaky like that; hard to earn but easy to destroy.

Posted on January 27, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Today’s Rick Spence article in the National Post is all about communication and messaging. Whether you are a team lead or CEO, there are some important bits in it. He spends a lot of time heaping praise on Obama and his leadership skills (like all media these days), but those parts are not what I draw your attention to.

As I wrote last March, business owners have to “make growth a team effort. If you gain the trust and support of your employees, you have a better chance of coming through the storm with a stronger, more focused business.”

That is not hard to do if you have a plan and a clear message to communicate. In fact, it is probably easier now than it will be any time again in the next few years.

Let people understand where your company stands during this downturn. What are its strengths? What are its biggest challenges? What objectives does the business need to reach?

Then explain to your employees how you expect to meet those objectives, and what role everyone will play as you move forward. Make your objectives ambitious, but attainable. Everyone must feel like a winner as they work together for success.

Be honest. Talk to the people you lead about what the team is doing well and what challenges we think might be coming.

Your employees probably want to accomplish amazing things, too. But it’s not enough to give people new objectives: You have to give them licence to think for themselves, permission to run with new ideas and the freedom to fail, without recrimination, if things don’t work out.

Leadership is all about trust and scale. Michael Lopp has a great post on the role of management today as well. Trust and scaling play a prominent role in it.

One more quote.

Many business leaders don’t articulate a clear message often enough: They make the point once or twice, then move on, thinking their job is done.

Yet advertising experts agree it takes multiple exposures to the same message before your target audience absorbs what you’re trying to say. And when you’re trying to change the culture, the messages need to be even more frequent, and expressed in creative new ways.

Strategy is a long-term item. It is not jumping from shiny object to shiny object. Find the strategy and hammer it home. A well defined strategy should be almost mantra-like for those tasked with implementation.

Posted on January 26, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

If your job requires you to be responsible for the Quality of your organization as a whole and not just a product or six, then the current issue of Fortune has a pretty good checklist for you. In How to Manage your Business in a Recession, Geoff Colvin lists 10 things that people who run companies should be considering in order to weather the recession and a lot of them can be things you should also be looking at.

  • Reset priorities to face the new reality – Change hurts, but the economy is hurting, so you’d better change
  • Keep investing in the core – Products and People
  • Communicate like crazy, balancing realism and optimism – Silence makes people (investors, customers and especially employees) worry
  • Your customers face new problems, so give them new solutions – redefine value for your customers
  • Don’t rush to cut prices – really understand your price sensitivity and elasticity
  • Focus on capital — how you’re getting and where you’re using it – you must earn a return on capital that exceeds your capital’s cost
  • Reevaluate people — and steal some good ones – reward your best workers well and then steal your competitor’s best performers as well
  • Reexamine compensation — what is it offering incentives for? – encourage long-term thinking
  • Think twice about offshoring
  • Be smart about mergers and acquisitions – Even though this activity peaks when the markets do, things are cheaper now
Posted on January 23, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

The big test for usability is whether you find yourself thinking ‘this is annoying’. It doesn’t matter how killer your ‘Killer App’ is, if people don’t find it usable they will go out of their way to not use it.

Via Bruce Schneier comes a great example of system avoidance and it’s consequences. So who are the annoyed users? Oh, just the Queensland police department.

They are reluctant to make arrests and they’re showing a lot more discretion in the arrests they make because QPRIME is so convoluted to navigate,” Mr Leavers said. He said minor street offences, some traffic offences and minor property matters were going unchallenged, but not serious offences.

I feel like I should add a ‘not yet’ or ‘that they know of’ disclaimer to the end of that quote.

Not that I am against the authorities using their discretion, but it should be based on the context of the offence, not the reluctance to use the post-arrest information system.

Posted on January 23, 2009 in Uncategorized by adam1 Comment »

How to Become a More Effective Learner is another post found via Guy Kawasaki. It’s not bad list, so here is the repost.

  • Memory Improvement Basics – This should actually be item 0 in her list as it just redirects you to another article.
  • Keep Learning (and Practicing) New Things – Essentially, Use it or Lose it. Another mention of pruning when I first encountered here.
  • Learn in Multiple Ways – If something is tucked away in different parts of your brain by learning it different ways there is a greater chance you will be able to recall it when needed
  • Teach What You’ve Learned to Another Person – In addition to the extra money, this is the main reason why I teach. If I can teach something, I know I have it figured out.
  • Utilize Previous Learning to Promote New Learning – Do the mental mappings when learning something. For instance, if you are an English and you are learning French, do the language conversion in your head before you speak. Once you don’t need the conversion anymore you really know the subject.
  • Gain Practical Experience – If only learning were as easy as reading a book. I’ve read close to a dozen lacrosse books, but I only get better by practicing.
  • Look Up Answers Rather Than Struggle to Remember – Put a timeout on your attempts to answer a problem.
  • Understand How You Learn Best – Even though I know both the organizers of PSL and a number of people who have loved it, I also know that I don’t do well in the immersive, experiential learning that happens there. Everyone is different, and only you will know best; don’t let your boss bully you into taking a course or training which doesn’t suit your learning style.
  • Use Testing to Boost Learning – Tests apparently boost recall. The article implies a written test, but even being challenged in the community should could I think. Teaching (above) is also a form of testing. If you don’t think so, go teach a course.
  • Stop Multitasking – I’ve noticed this myself recently. When I am learning something I can’t be too distracted; music is very throw-in-background, etc. On tasks I know well I can have all sorts of distractions thrown at me. I think distractions are the biggest source of multitasking for knowledge workers these days; especially in bad open-office configurations.
Posted on January 23, 2009 in Uncategorized by adam3 Comments »

Maybe I am late on the bandwagon to this idea, but the idea of touring around and embedding yourself in other teams is pretty cool.

The first tour I heard about was Corey Haines’ Journeyman tour. Basically he is driving around, crashing on people’s couches and pair-programming with them on whatever they are building. Naturally it is summarized with blog posts and video interviews.

And now Brian Marick (who hosted Corey on his first tour) has announced a tour while he treks to a conference.

Both these tours are very developer-focused. But what about a testing tour? I think it would be great if someone trekked to various types of companies in various geographic locations and tested with them. The testing community is very fragmented philosophically so fly-on-the-wall sessions could be a healthy thing if done with the right frame of mind.

Posted on January 22, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

We as software testers could be renamed software observers without anyone’s job being impacted. The big difference between a new tester and one who has been doing it awhile is that the experienced tester knows what to observe. And which areas of the application require that observation. This observation skill is both the trained intuition discussed in Blink and what needs the 10000 hours of practice mentioned in Outliers (both by Malcolm Gladwell).

The earliest memory I have around observation[1] is when I read the book Fatherland back in late public school or early high school. In it a detective finds a body and determines it was dumped because it was missing its glasses by he bumps on the bridge of the nose.

The network television world seems to have jumped on this idea this year. In the fall it started running The Mentalist which appears to be a crime drama where the lead character observes stuff that everyone else misses. In this week’s ad he sees a corpse and immediately realizes that he was a jazz guitar player based upon the scars on his fingers. I have yet to actually see an episode, but I don’t have to in order to bring it up. 🙂 Premiering last night (at least in this market) is another show based on observation; Lie To Me. The premise of this one is the lead character is essentially a human lie detector through his skills of observation of non-verbal communications.

Observation is a double edged sword though. Once you start being an obsessive observer it is really hard to turn it off. Watching tv or a movie with me can be pretty painful if the producers have not paid attention to continuity between scenes or even within the same scene. I’ll notice it more often than not, and of course have to share it. Can you imagine watching a movie with The Mentalist?

One final note on observation today is that this would seem to be the argument for not fulling crazy long shifts while trying to test. I know that I don’t do my best observation exhausted (mentally and/or physically) as my brain often cannot pull the interesting or relevant bits of information out of what I am seeing.

Anyone can see, but it takes a professional to observe.

[1] Okay, now that I think about it was likely also the Encyclopedia Brown books in grade 2 or 3, but those were more puzzle books and I could never figure them out and doesn’t fit the narrative right so we’ll just gloss over this, k?

Posted on January 19, 2009 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Having just made the trek through the park with my son on the way to school, some more things popped into my head.

  • When with someone junior to you, you need to factor in some extra time for the task. And that factor will likely be wrong. (We were 5 minutes late for school.)
  • You will inevitably go deeper on a problem than someone junior. My footsteps go down to the ground; Remy’s only through the fresh snow and onto the crusty layer beneath
  • The periodic easy stretches (cleared sidewalks) let you recharge for the rough patches (the uncleared sidewalks)
  • You need to sloooow down and take smaller steps.
  • Let people fail, then assist them to get pack on track. It is far easier for Remy to walk in the trail I was making, but he kept wandering around into the deep snow until tired. I pointed out that it would be easier to follow my path which is how he (eventually) got the through the park. (of course, he could then walk right behind me and pelt me with snowballs, but…)
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