Blog posts in English

Are you playing the Russian roulette? Learning from failure

I think most (if not all?) testers have witnessed situations like this: A new feature of the system put into production, only to crash weeks, days or just hours later.
”Why didn’t anybody think of that?!”
Truth is, quite often, somebody did actually think about the problem, but the issue was not realised, communicated or accepted.
Below is the story about the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.
Twentynine years ago, space shuttle Challenger exploded seven minutes into the flight killing the seven astronauts aboard.
Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was a member of the accident commision. During the hearings he commented that the whole decision making in the shuttle project was ”a kind of Russian roulette”.
The analogy is striking. Russian roulette is only played by someone willing to take the risk to die.
I don’t know anyone who deliberately want to play the Russion roulette, so why did they play that game?
Feynman explains: [The Shuttle] flies [with O-ring erosion] and nothing happens. Then it is suggested, therefore, that the risk is no longer so high for the next flights. We can lower our standards a little bit because we got away with it last time…. You got away with it but it shouldn’t be done over and over again like that.
The problem that caused the explosion was traced down to leaking seals in one of the booster rockets. On this particular launch ambient temperatures were lower than usual and for that reason the seals all failed. The failed seals allowed very hot exhaust gasses to leak out of the rocket combustion chamber, and eventually, these hot gasses ignigted the many thusand litres of higly explosive rocket fuel.
Challenger blew up in a split second. The seven astronauts probably didn’t realise they were dying before their bodies were torn in pieces.
It was a horrible tragedy.
Chapter 6 of the official investigation report is titled: ”An accident rooted in history.”
The accident was made possible because of consistent misjudgements and systematically ignored issues, poor post flight investigations, and ignored technical reports. The accident was caused because three seals failed on this particular launch, but the problem was known and the failure was made possible because it was systematically ignored.
The tester’s fundamental responsibilites
As a tester, I have three fundamental responsibilities:

  1. Perfom the best possible testing in the context
  2. Do the best possible evaluation of what I’ve found and learnt during testing.  Identify and qualify bugs and product risks.
  3. Do my best to communicate and advocate these bugs and product risks in the organisation.

The Challenger accident was not caused by a single individual who failed detecting or reporting a problem.
The accident was made possible by systemic factors, i.e. factors outside the control of any individual in the programme. Eventually, everyone fell into the trap of relying on what seemed to be “good experience”. The facts should have been taken seriously.
A root cause analysis should never only identify individual and concrete factors, but also systemic factors which enabled the problem to survive into production.
Chapter 6 of the Challenger report reminds me that, when something goes wrong in production, performing a root cause analysis is a bigger task than just finding out the chain of events that lead to problem.
Many thanks to Chi Lieu @SomnaRev for taking time to comment early drafts of this post.

Photo of the space shuttle Challenger accident Jan. 28, 1986. Photo credit: NASA
Photo of the space shuttle Challenger accident Jan. 28, 1986. Photo credit: NASA

Blog posts in English

The Context is Copenhagen #CPHContext

#CPHContext 2015 opened today at the Tivoli Hotel & Congress Center. I couldn’t make it today, but judging from tweets, it has been good. I’ll be there tomorrow morning at 8.00 for the main day of the conference.
I’m really looking forward to it!
Frankly I’ve had very little time to study and prepare myself for the programme, but I know I’ll be meeting some of the world’s greatest testers there. I expect to listen, share and learn.
Kudos to Morten from PrettyGoodTesting for setting up this conference – great job done!
PS: I’ll bring my camera, so expect photos on my flickr photo stream after the event.

Blog posts in English

Let's Test Oz changed me

It’s Friday afternoon, September 19th 2014 and the Boeing 747 from Thai is full to the limit with children, teenagers, parents and businesspeople.
I am sitting in a middle seat in the window row on the right side of the airplane just in front of the wing. I have my Bose noise cancelling headphones on and I’m thinking.
I am leaving Sydney, flying home from the first Let’s Test Oz.
The Jumbo accelerates along the runway, then takes off. With engines whining, babies crying, people chatting and teenagers cheering, we head for the skies. The sounds are damped inside my Bose’s.
I’m alone with my thoughts, but not alone in the World.
I catch a glimpse of the pacific and the Sydney skyline. Then, the plane turns in over the Australian continent.
Australia and Let’s Test Oz has changed me.

Picture form Let's Test Oz workshop with Fiona Charles on test leadership.
Picture form Let’s Test Oz workshop with Fiona Charles on test leadership.

In democracy, debate changes politics

I participated in a political workshop a few days ago. It was organised by the Danish minister for social affairs, who is seeking input to his political campaign. We’re facing a parlamential election in 2015 and the danish democracy is waking up. I’m not a candidate or even a member of a political party, but I’m going to work hard to put social politics on the agenda.

Participating in the workshop was interesting. I shared some of my knowledge, learnt a bit and even got a few new contacts.

Let’s Test Oz was like that, except it was three days of sharing, learning and connecting about my profession: Software testing.

Innovation in testing

I think most people in the Context Driven Testing communicty percieve themselves as innovators. But not everything going on in the projects, companies and organisations we’re working in, is innovative. A lot is standardized, dull and repetitive work controled by machine bureaucracies.

Some testing is even political.

Politics is about power, and knowledge is power.

Testing, being a knowledge producing performance, is therefore a political instrument. Testing is more than that of course, but it’s always potentially a political instrument, and sometimes it’s even used as one.

Politics is applied psychology, and whenever there are humans, there is politics.

In public politics, the political processes are more or less visible and open. In projects, politics is often hidden or kept away from testers and tech people.

I’d like to see more testers (and tech people) getting into the political games. We shouldn’t just trust managers who know little about testing to control us. The game is just too important to miss.

That was, more or less, the message of my presentation at Let’s Test. James Bach, who was presenting at the same time as I was, saved me from having a large audience, but the room was well filled and we had a good discussion afterwards. I shared and learnt.

I’m in love with democracy and I have always and will always vote. Yet, voting is just the smallest part of our political democracy: It’s the debates that really change the world.

And to me, the most fantastic thing about the Context Driven Testing community is the debates we’re having. Through these debates, we’re changing ourselves, each other, and the world. To the better.

Leaving home for a conference

My family depends on me. That’s the short story. The slightly longer story is that I have four children and a wife, and neither of them fit well in our society. We struggle with a daily fear of stress, anxiety, depression, paranoia and even psycosis forcing it’s way back into our lives.
The Danish welfare system supports us, but I’m indispensable to my family. I’m not that stress sensitive.
Before I went to Sydney, I had decided not to feel guilty that I was leaving them for a week. I knew that, my wife had deliberately not thought about MH 17 having been shot down over the Ukraine a few months earlier carrying people going to a conference in Austrailay, and while I was away, she had also deliberately ignored the terror threats in Sydney.
So had I.
I enjoyed myself enormously at Let’s Test Oz and in Sydney.
The problems in our family are symptoms of autism but they’re also symptoms of society’s reaction to the collective anxiety over the post cold-war world:
Everything is possible if you dream it, yet diffuse threats surround us everywhere.
Fears and anxiety
I was a teenager in the 1980’s and back then we knew that the civilised world would cease to exist if war broke out. We were living with the fear.
Compared to anxiety, fear is easy: You can talk about it.
Fear and conflict unites us against something or someone.
Anxiety is a demon that slowly sucks energy out of you. Anxiety seperates people from each other. Collective anxiety kills humanity.
No doubt, there’s anxiety in Austrailia, but there’s a human side to the culture, which I sensed very strongly. I wrote a long essay about it in Danish which has been very well received. Returning home, I have found hope that Denmark could be changing to the better: A less anxious and more humane culture.

Struggeles for testers

However, the problems testers in Austrailia and New Zealand are struggeling with seem to be the same as here. Managers require enless rows of silly estimates, defects are counted, information is kept away from people needing it, and software quality is something everyone is talking about, yet few are doing anything seriously about it.
It’s not surprising that workers in our industry suffer. Some are working in hell-machines, and while we can have a civilised discussion about it over a steak and a sip of quality Austrailian redwine, or even a row of beers, many in the instry still need to calm themselves on a daily basis with hard exercise, alcohol or just lots of coffee. Or medicine.

The Context Driven Testing community is trying to change all this.

We debate. And we are becoming political performers.

Thank you

Let’s Test Oz had a track of ”testing influencing management”, which I shared my thoughts on, but also gave me lots of inspiration. The whole conference was a blast!

I’m very grateful that the programme commitee accepted my proposal and challenged me with the invitation to Sydney.

The trip around the globe changed me and gave me a deeper understanding of our testing community and humanity as such.

Thank you Let’s Test Oz and everyone there!

Sydney Skyline
Sydney Skyline