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Sunday, March 5, 2017

First timer at STPCon 2017 in Phoenix

In few hours I will be flying to US for STPCon 2017 which will be held in Phoenix, Arizona between 14 - 17 March.  Obviously I am excited by the opportunity of speaking and delivering a workshop at the conference.  If you are around, I would be glad to see you there at my workshop and then at my talk session. I am also excited to get some time off before and after the conference to visit different parts of this beautiful country. So, if you are unable to meet me in Phoenix, we may still have an opportunity to talk in LA before the conference, or after 18 March in NYC or Orlando. I will be there until the end of the month at least.

Both my sessions are about an important subject: you! You as in people, humans; who are at the centre of all activities. Technology does not work or develop on its own. People do it. For themselves.

People in our craft often get confused by technical developments around them or by methodological changes (notice that I did not call them developments).  I have been meeting and coming across so many testers who have technical skills, but cannot even explain their work to others. My session talk will cover the aspects that help you become better at skills that matter.

My workshop is indeed a detailed experience report. Why would you attend it then?  You should because then you will learn about skills and techniques that have helped me excel and may help you too. I am sure you would love to learn from someone else's experience than learn hard way.

I will see you at STPCon 2017 in Phoenix between 14 -17. Meanwhile, why not listen to my radio interview with Mike Lyles. This link also has details of my session and workshop:


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Agile hasn't failed you..

Agile has been touted by people (who understand it) as an approach, a value centre, a mindset and philosophy. I wrote a short spiel on Agile some time ago in an effort to clarify how I see it.

For quite a while I have been observing some interesting posts and discussions going on LinkedIn.

One of the topics that I recently noticed was Agile failing organisations. If we regard Agile as a tool that a team or organisation might choose to use, then perhaps we can understand the failure of Agile for that organisation, as we might understand and critique the failure of any other tool the organisation might use. A hammer can certainly fail a carpenter if it breaks during carpentry work. But, if the carpenter does not know how to use a hammer, it is not the hammer’s fault, or is it? (Just so you know, this analogy does not represent Agile as a tool).
Let’s not jump too prematurely to any conclusions. Instead, let’s try to cognitively analyse if there is a problem here. Jerry Weinberg’s Rule of Three* states that if you can't think of at least three different interpretations of what you have received, you haven't really thought enough about what it might mean. Another version of this rule that my friend Jari Laakso suggested was, “If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.”

When someone says that Agile has failed them (in other words, their Agile way of working was not successful), the actual problem might have been:
  1. We don’t know enough about Agile and we tried to “do Agile” rather than “be Agile”.
  2. We thought we knew about Agile and we implemented it the way we knew it. What we did didn’t work..
  3. We thought Agile was predominantly about specific practices and conventions: using post-it notes, having daily standups, having sprints and not much else. We couldn’t deliver anything..
In some contexts, any (or all) of these cases may have been a key contributor to the failure of Agile.

What troubles me is that many people who blame an approach or a methodology, do not in fact try to first understand that approach or methodology.** There was a mention of waterfall methodology somewhere and most people in the discussion did not know about waterfall’s origin. Someone mentioned Winston Royce and disappointingly it turned out that even that person had selective take of the paper and decided to conveniently forget about the last few sections of Royce’s paper which are very important.
More often than not, Agile methodologies are implemented incorrectly. Some implementers don’t realize that there are Agile values and principles (Jari reminded me about ScrumButs). Some have not taken time to look at and understand the Agile manifesto. I have done this experiment of asking anyone who mentions Agile whether they have actually read the manifesto. A large number of those had not. Many of those who had read the manifesto, did not try to  understand it well. Sadly those who understood it, could not implement what an approach as outlined by the Manifesto, because their organisations weren’t ready.
It is indeed often easier to blame a methodology or an approach. Agile (mindset) adoption and implementations of related frameworks can fail for many reasons. What is important is to investigate what went wrong and whether that could be avoided. Even more important is to understand an organisation’s culture and whether the organisation and the approach are good fit for each other. Jerry says in his second rule of consulting, “No Matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.” A good Agile coach might be able to help bring a mindset change if not the culture change.

So, as often the case may be, Agile hasn’t failed you, you may have failed Agile.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Paul Szymkowiak and Jari Laakso for their feedback and recommendations.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Quality Index : Fooled by Measurement

STPCon published this article on their website. I am happy to share it on my blog as well. 


The software industry seems to have an obsession with metrics and measurement. We want to quantify everything. Once upon a time everything was about counting lines of code (KLOC). Managers ran around asking, “How many lines of code have you written? How many bugs per KLOC are there? What is the size of project in KLOC?” etc. Then we started counting everything else that was left from quantifying KLOC and managers started asking, “How many requirements are there? What is the number of test cases? How many bugs did you find? What is the defect density? How many test cases are passed? What is the requirement coverage?” etc.

The obsession with quantification is often an influence from the manufacturing industry where you can count things that are physical and are visible to eyes. However, counting things in the software industry appears to have helped consultants who sell the premise that charts, graphs and measures based on invalid constructs are meaningful. The problem is often the misinterpretation of these metrics.

At one of my former workplaces, the testing team used to generate a report which had a metric called “Quality Index” (QI). The objective with this measure, that the team explained to me, was to have some indication of quality and performance. The managers needed an indicator to assess development performance (for example, are there any issues with understanding, communications, requirements, process, and so forth). The QI measure was considered a yardstick. That is, every time a new build was tested, QI could tell managers how good (or bad) the build was.
However, there is a problem with using yardsticks. They can’t be used for measuring something that is subjected to interpretation or is subjective in nature. Often they are good heuristics and can be useful as a first order metric, but mostly for physical measurement only.
A metric, like quality index, may be used as an indicator to ask, “is there a problem here?” In that case it becomes a heuristic. Because it is fallible. It may help you find a solution, but it may never guarantee one. Using heuristics for assessing your key employees performance is dangerous. You may lose their trust and respect and they may eventually leave (unless that is what you actually want).
Metrics are a powerful tool but they can always be misinterpreted and can be skewed to show favorable (or otherwise) results. Without context they are very much meaningless. Quantitative measurement can lead to a false sense of control. It creates an illusion that we can understand and control something because we can count it. Someone mentioned in an online forum about quality that if you can’t measure it, you can’t have it. I guess this person was referring to Tom DeMarco who wrote in his book “Controlling Software Projects, Management Measurement & Estimation, (1982), p. 3.” that – you can’t control what you can’t measure. In a recent discussion Michael Bolton reminded me that few years ago Tom renounced from the opinion that he has held. His recent views can be read here.
As I mentioned earlier, metrics are often used as a sales tool by consultants to gain more business. I was recently invited for dinner at a 5-star hotel by the testing group of a large bank in Australia. I wasn’t aware that the dinner was actually hosted by the bank’s testing vendor, a huge I.T. outsourcing firm. This vendor’s introductory presentation included the data of efficiency they brought to their banking client. These details included automating 3500 test cases, reducing test preparation time by 70% and so forth. As James Christie said in his blog post, “100 is bigger than 10. 10,000 is pretty impressive, and 100,000 is satisfyingly humongous. You might not really understand what’s happening, but when you face up to senior management and tell them that you’re managing thousands of things, well, they’ve got to be impressed.” This vendor certainly impressed their na├»ve client.

What is this beast called Quality index?

The QI index that was used by the teams I worked with had this definition:
The QI has been defined as a measure of defect density, such that the percentage of defects as a proportion of the total number of test cases executed is defined.
This is a measure of company’s software quality delivery to testing as opposed to company production quality.
Lower QI is better.
The report used to have statements like:
171 test cases executed successfully and 93 defects detected, providing a Quality Index (QI) = 54% (this is within the 1 – Unsatisfactory level).
There were graphs like the one below which explained what and how the quality of the build has been:

“So what’s the problem here?”, you may ask.
This seems to be a valid question, especially when you have been told about these indices and were presented with data that seemed accurate. We see such indices on TV every day where some eminent economist is presenting his view on the economy and predicting which way the markets will go, and later convincingly explains why the markets did not go the way he predicted. The simplest answer is that no one, including Nobel Prize winning economists, can predict the future. Humans simply do not have the ability to predict. You may say that you can predict that you will read the next word on this post – but even that is unpredictable. What you would actually mean is, “I predict that I might be able to read the next word provided the boss doesn’t call right at that moment, or the monitor doesn’t lose power or the sky doesn’t fall or..!” The list can go on.
I studied Statistics as one of the subjects during my Masters degree. While that study did not make me an expert in statistics, it did improve my knowledge of the subject though. And I think it will also help us examine what is the problem with this quality index. Let’s start by looking at definitions.

What is “quality”?

Jerry Weinberg defines quality as “value to some person(s)”. James Bach and Michael Bolton added ‘…who matter.’ to this definition. So the definition that I like is, “Quality is value to some person(s) who matter”.
Michael Bolton suggests that decisions about quality are always political and emotional; made by people with the power to make them; made with the desire to appear rational and yet ultimately based on how those people feel.
Let’s have a look at the overall definition once again. “The QI at Company X has been defined as a measure of defect density, such that the percentage of defects as a proportion of the total number of test cases executed is defined.”
What catches our attention is the term “defect”. Although I prefer calling them bugs.

Is there a point in defining defect density?

James Bach says that a bug is anything that threatens the value of a product – something that bugs someone, whose opinion matters (this last part was added by Michael Bolton). This definition automatically makes the benefits that someone may be seeking from quality index highly questionable. Like predicting the future, humans do not have the ability to find and explore all bugs that might be there in a system. Michael Bolton notes that “the idea of a “bug” is subject to the Relative Rule meaning a bug is not a thing that exists in the world; it doesn’t have a tangible form. However, a bug is a relationship between the product and some person. A bug is a threat to the value of the product to some person. The notion of a bug might be shared among many people, or it might be exclusive to some person.” So, there may be little point quantifying something that does not have a physical existence. Once people start counting bugs, they start falling in love with them. They feel that they own these conceptual non-physical things. Psychology defines this as reification, the perception of an object as having more spatial information than is actually present. Is it worthwhile defining density of an abstract concept or of something that is subject to relative rule?

The wild world of test cases

The definition of QI also talks about deriving a percentage as a ratio of number of test cases. What is your definition of a test case? My team stopped writing lengthy, step-to-step test cases or scripts in a deliberate move away from the idea that testers should develop test cases based on a requirements document. What I have observed is that many testers take a requirements document and create a number of test cases for each requirement like positive, negative, sedative, nonsense-itive and so on. These testers wrongly believe that these test cases provide complete coverage1 for the requirements. They create a Requirement Traceability Matrix (RTM) which is usually a table with test cases on one axis and requirements on the other. If all requirements have a mapped test case, then coverage is complete. The managers believe that these detailed test cases help their tester perform complete testing. Managers get upset when coverage metrics are not there or the RTM is missing.
What they don’t realize is that when they say test, what they really mean is check. Then, a single requirement may mean more than one assumption, proposition or assertion. A business analyst who writes business stakeholders requirements may interpret them entirely differently than the stakeholder herself. A developer may interpret them differently and similarly a tester may interpret and intersect the requirements in a very different fashion not understood or agreed by others. Hence writing a test case per requirement or multiple test cases per requirement sounds completely incorrect. If that is incorrect, then the ratio based on an incorrect number would be wrong too. And therefore, that makes the concept of Quality Index meaningless.
So what do you think of this claim now:
This is a measure of Company X’s software quality delivery to testing as opposed to Company X production quality.
Lower QI is better.
The QI as it is defined is not a measure of anything of value about the software or its quality – and is easily gamed (e.g. just split test cases into smaller test cases and hence immediately reduce the QI for exactly the same piece of software under test with exactly the same number of defects!). The QI itself even tells you that the testing it relates to (and the way it is being measured) is not great, by saying “Lower QI is better” – this means you are striving to make test cases that don’t find defects, why would you do that? Ethically we should not.
As skilled craftsmen, we should not waste time counting and showing percentages when we could best spend our time talking to our stakeholders about the things we see, the things that interest us, things that looks suspicious, the risks we observe, and the overall quality as we perceive it.
So, the next time you are counting test cases or bugs, working on a RTM or looking at percentages in reports, ask yourself, “Am I simply counting and giving statistics or am I helping our organization to deliver a quality product with the lowest risk of failure?”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Helping those on the spectrum / Information radiators - TEAM meetup #13

The very successful Australian Testing Days 2016 conference helped the TEAM gain tremendous respect in the community. Many conferences offer meaningless gifts to speakers, instead we made a large donation on the speaker's behalf to BeyondBlue. So, when Epic Assist approached me for support in spreading their message about hiring employees on the autism spectrum, I was excited to have the opportunity to help. I was in the process of planning the 13th TEAM meetup, and I had Aaron Hodder presenting his strategic mind-maps to the attendees. Aaron was visiting Melbourne for a speaking session at Agile Australia and he was eager when I approached him with the idea of him delivering his well received Australian Testing Days 2016 talk again at our meetup.

On 21 June, the 13th TEAM meetup took place at Robert Half Technology. Richard Neville from Robert Half has been very supportive at sponsoring our meetups at his centrally located office in the city. As always Robert Half arranged plenty of food and drinks for the attendees arriving at a cold and wintery night.

Paul Crimmins was the emcee for the night. He introduced TEAM and the agenda for that night to attendees.

The first talk was from Zach Zaborny of Epic Assist. Epic Assist is a not for profit organisation that works with people with both visible and invisible disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum. It assists people on the Autism Spectrum to find meaningful employment. The organisation not only helps people in finding employment, it also trains and educates them so that they can be successful during their employment. People with Autism may find it difficult to operate in a corporate environment and may require extra support. Epic ensure that someone from their team stays with the employee until their assistance is no longer needed. Their engagement also helps employers in understanding the needs of their new employee.

Zach shared his own story with the attendees. A prolific speaker, Zach was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at 8. How he went through the struggle, many of us can't understand. His presentation was hilarious, heartfelt and touching.
Zach said that the individuals on the autism spectrum are loyal, like structure, are hardworking and focused and can be great employees. He shared some tips for interviewing someone with ASD and also explained the employment barriers for people with ASD.  Zach's talk was a very informative talk and it was received well.

After a short break, it was time for Aaron's much anticipated talk. Many attendees had not attended ATD2K16 and therefore were excited to hear Aaron. His talk was about using Mind mapping software as a test management tool.

Aaron started his talk by sharing his story of becoming a skilled tester and joining the CDT community. When he started in testing, he found himself a misfit among other testers he worked with, mostly because others believed that there was a single right way of doing things. Aaron's talk was engaging and educating. He spoke not just about his subject matter, but he also demonstrated how he does what he was talking about. His mindmaps, which he rightly calls information radiators, were truly informative and valued. One of his slides explained why testing is not just about creating and following steps. It said,"Testing is NOT a series of steps; it’s a multithreaded series of activities that are mutually supportive".

This meetup was one more successful event for the local testing community. While we inch closer to TEAM's first anniversary, we have already planned for some really interesting meetups in the next few months. Check them out at http://www.meetup.com/TestEngineeringAlliance/.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why I attended RST and why you should too!

Ever since we (Test Engineering Alliance Melbourne) started our meetup in June 2015, both Dr. Lee Hawkins and I have spoken about the great experience we had learning from James Bach and Michael Bolton through our direct interactions with them and also by attending Rapid Software Testing class (RST). So, when we organised an RST course in Melbourne for May 2016, there were many questions from people who wished to attend but were confused about the course and wanted to know more. Some people had genuine financial concerns and needed ammo for their business cases; for that I would suggest you read this post.

Since I had been planning to write a blog post after I attended the 3-day course in Sydney last year, I took these questions as an opportunity to complete that post by expanding the mindmap that I created while in the class.

What is Rapid Software Testing?

RST is a mindset, a methodology created and taught primarily by James Bach & Michael Bolton. You may wonder whether it is similar to other training courses which offer you a certificate. Simple answer is no, it is not a certification course and it goes far beyond any other training courses that are offered in Melbourne. Although the organisers may provide you with a course completion certificate to show that you attended the course.

RST does not teach you about testing through reading and memorising from a catalog or glossary. There is less emphasis on theory and more on learning by doing. Imagine learning to cook by reading a cookbook and passing an exam to prove your competence. You may learn some terminology but unless you really cook, experiment with food, make mistakes and probably also burn your hand, you may not learn cooking. RST takes a different approach; you learn or improve on your testing skills by performing tests on the software. You are asked to apply cognition while doing testing. The course is based on Socratic method. That is, you understand the concept by answering questions or through arguments & dialog with the teachers.

What makes RST different?

As I said earlier, unlike other testing courses this class is not just about teaching testing through theory. The RST class is based on learning through experiments, practicals, discussions and hot-seat exercises.

There is a lot to learn and 3-days (or 1-day for managers preferably after taking 3-days RST class) are probably not enough. But an important aspect of the RST mindset is self-learning. The information available online helps in continuous self learning. This course equips testers with critical and lateral thinking skills that most other testing courses do not. Testers learn about testing through heuristics and oracles.

The course teaches:

  • test modelling & designing

  • how to test when time is limited

  • what to look for when you are testing a new product and you are not sure of what to do

  • questioning skills, judgement, observation, conjecturing and much more

  • improved cognitive abilities through games of critical & lateral thinking

The list above is not exhaustive. There is so much more in the training if an attendee is willing to learn and comes with an open mind. The course aims at making you a better tester and lifts you up from having a shallow understanding of testing to having a deep comprehension.

Another important aspect of this training is to teach attendees about the distinction between testing and checking. If you have not heard about the discussion of testing and checking, a starting point is here.

You learn more about focusing on your mission, on your client, asking questions, risks and most importantly, cheating.
Testers learn about time saving techniques like mind-mapping which not only helps them build their test ideas, but also reduces time instead of writing a magnitude of documentation. Another important thing that one learns is bug and test reporting (no, your automated reporting tool does not do what you learn here).

As managers, bug reporting and coaching testing techniques to our testers are important skills. Knowing when to do MIPing (mention-in-passing) and when to do black-flagging certainly goes in testing team’s favor. It is worthwhile attending the 1-day manager’s course which also focuses on test management aspects.  

One of the questions that someone recently asked me was why they should attend RST in person while all the material is available online and there is also an online training. This is true. These days almost everything is available online. Not just for this course, but also for performing surgeries to bomb making. Would you become a surgeon by watching videos online? The other one might be easier although (but the end might not be).
The online RST course information is concentrated. Unless you have read all written work of James and Michael, and have discussed those with them, it is often not as easy to assimilate the content.

The online RST course is a refresher or an advanced study course for those who have already attended detailed RST class. The online class runs for few hours and is online. The RST 3-day class is face to face and is delivered in a classroom setting. The manager’s class is for 1 day and it is recommended that they attend the 3-day class before attending the manager’s class.

Here are some other blog posts that talk about RST and why you should do it: