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Reinventing Testers and Staying Sane in New York

I did a bonus talk/workshop on Tuesday on Test Masters Academy‘s conference during the Reinventing Testers week. Title was: “Reinventing Testers, Reinventing Myself, Staying Sane.” The talk was an introduction of explorative, valuable, and supportive conversations.
Imagine you are at the scrum meeting. You’ve reinvented yourself as a tester and feel fit in the new team. But today, a senior manager has joined the meeting: The release is in testing and “go live” is today.
The problem is that you are facing some very odd issues. How are you going to manage talking about them?
Testers are often under pressure. We have to stay cool – and sane.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” – Mark Twain

(It was Jess Ingrassellino who tweeted this quote a few days ago.)
An experienced tester on my team recently mentioned that a sudden change in schedule had caused him to fear he would loose sense of himself.
I am very passionate about providing testers with ways to remain true to themselves, even under pressure.
In the talk, I introduced the type of philosophical conversations I practice as often as possible with team members and friends: Protreptic dialogues.
(I have written and talked about it before.)
We formed a circle and I spread Dialoogle cards with pictures on the floor for us to pick from: Pick a card that relates to testing.
Picking a picture of something and associating it to testing requires you to use your intuition better and think creatively about yourself and what you do.
The thoughts enable protreptic conversations in which I as the “guide” and facilitator listens and ask questions. The conversation is personal, but never intimidating as it is always only about assisting you in reflecting positively about your thoughts, ideas and values.
Sane comes from latin sanus, which means healthy, sober, sensible.
Being sensible, sensing, sensemaking and staying sane is linked. The kind of sanity I seek, is that where we seek to understand who we are, and stay true to our values.
I shared this slide in PDF with five helpful principles that you can follow to perform explorative, valuable and supportive conversations with colleagues and friends.

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Morning sun reflecting in the rivers as seen from the insanely tall Empire State Building. Far out in the horizon, the Atlantic is barely visible. New York is beautiful in its own ways.

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Don't shoot Sparrows with Cannons: Reassess Yourself

This is the second blog post sharing inspiration from the Reinventing Testers week.
The WITS Sunday peer workshop that preceeded the conference on Monday and Tuesday had some very interesting discussions over this subject. The first I’ll blog about is one Simon Peter Schrijver started.
What he said sparked my mind on contrasts about “reinventing or reassessing ourselves” in new contexts.
At one point in the workshop, I think we were getting high on our fantastic combined abilities around the table to adapt and reinvent Context Driven Testing. Fortunately Simon brought us back to earth, so to speak, as he shared with us that when changing jobs, projects, organisations and contexts, he found that he is really only reassessing himself.
I challenged him on that, after having looked up stuff online about the meaning of the words, but I later realized he was right: We often “only” reassess ourselves. Only is in quotes here, since it is not trivial.
Let me share my understandings of reinvention and reassession.
Reinvention must have something to do with creativity, which is fundamentally about giving up our preformed solutions and starting over from scratch. The only thing we keep is a guiding image, something we wish to achieve, a problem to solve.
But first we have to return to our newborn states of mind, and listen carefully for new and original solutions our minds could be suggesting.
I have an introspective image of how it works: First I relax, give up on everything I know, and accept that I am vulnerable and fragile. In the next moment, I regain a sense where I am, who I am, and what I’m up to. And that’s when the flow of ideas begins.
Reassessment must be totally different.
Originally, assessment had to do with accounting, where an assessing the accounts involving verifying their validity.
Thus, if I am reassessed, I am reverified. Revalidated could be synonymous.
My introspective image of reassessment of myself in a new context is one of me entering my minds’ inner archive of carefully labeled, preformed solutions, finding those that seems to bear the name of the particular testing problem I have, and then apply them, validating (assessing) in the process that this still works.
It does depend on me having experience, but it also depends on my ability to assess whether the knowledge and experience I dig up works in the particular context.
My experience and knowledge is applied, and I assess it. I don’t apply it mindlessly.
Simon is a great tester and thinker with enormous experience. He reminded us that – in many ways -, changing contexts does not mean throwing overboard what we know.
It is often only the pieces that make up the context, which appear different. They aren’t necessarily really new.
Reinvention certainly has its place, and I’ll get back to that later, but Simon reminded me that we shouldn’t shoot sparrows with cannons.
 

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The WITS workshop was run in LAWST format: personal ERs (experience reports) from the participants, followed by an ‘open season’ – a facilitated group discussion. Simon wore a very nice t-shirt at the workshop.

 

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If You See Something, say Something

I have been back in Copenhagen a few days now after Anna Royzman’s excellent fall 2016 testing conference Reinventing Testers in New York during the week of September 25th to 29th 2016. This is the first of probably a few blog posts sharing thoughts and inspiration from the conference.
I am a test consultant. Helping solving clients testing problems efficiently and in meaningful ways is crucial to me. Reinventing and reasserting myself as needed, and staying critical to both my own preformed ideas and towards others’ is necessary.
I need to go to testing conferences. It allows me a break out of my daily social obligations so that I can better stay true to what I believe in.
It is about getting new inspiration, learning and sharing, and eventually about maintaining my performance as a tester and test manager.
During the Reinventing Testers conference, I had some very interesting discussions with James Bach about freedom. He and I agree that personal freedom is fundamental in testing.
“The human spirit should not be put under a hat,” he said at one point during the conference, and I fully agree. But freedom is also about relation.
I walked around Lower Manhattan on Wednesday, and in the window of a bank or insurance company of some sort, I saw a message on a poster: Feeling free is not worrying what your neighbors think.
The message disturbed me as I feel underlying it is a reassertion to the lonely and insecure that other people should not matter: That one is only free, alone.
This is obviously wrong.
True freedom depend on us becoming ourselves, but certainly also on relations towards other people: Shared and differing talents, perceptions, opinions, values, moral codexes.
People are different, but we’re tied together in so many ways.
In technology, freedom relates to safety and quality. I started writing this blog post on the way home on an SAS Airbus A340-300 which was at the time flying more than 900 km/h through the thin air, 12 km above the North Atlantic.
The flight was good and safe, and I was free to think there.
But only because people had worked to make it safe.
And this is important: A good deal of the work needed to make systems safe involves careful testing and as testers we relate to people: Clients, users, stakeholders etc.
We help make them free.
The conference had a special nerve, I think, and I think I can label it.
If you see something, say something, signs say in the New York subway. New Yorkers don’t have to all like each other, but it was obvious to me, that they know that they are only free, together.
And that is a pretty cool attitude to freedom, I think.
 

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James Bach inspecting a piece of abstract art. Could it represent freedom? 🙂

 
 
 
 

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Wanted: Test Leadership (or why verbs can be better than nouns)

The exceptional testing performance requires something from everyone of us: We are performing in teams, but as individuals we need to be experts in our craft, tools and methods.
That is not all, though. We also need to be expert ourselves.
How can I be myself? That is a question, which philosophers have discussed for thousands of years.
We have to talk and think more about our personal values to become ourselves. I find that knowing and acting on our values is key to our professional performance as testers, and even more as leaders. It requires a rich language.
The problem, I think, is that in the processes of perfecting our software and technology development, and manage our projects, our language has become dull, technical, command-and-control-focused and valueless. Am I right?
Language scientists believe that in the earliest languages, there were no nouns. Verbs existed before nouns.
This indicates that that our ancestors talked about our relation to the world and people around us long before they started naming things in it.
Today we spend almost all our working hours defining and naming things. We discuss whether one noun is better than another. Which is the correct noun to use in a situation. What noun names the best practice.
I find there is far too little talk about what to do with the things named by all the nouns. And more importantly: What comes out of doing stuff, in the world around us.
Naming things isn’t leadership. It is optimization of communication. I want to see more leadership in testing.
We should somehow go back to the roots of our language and start talking about testing values using less nouns, more verbs.
I am running a series of protreptic workshops with my friend Karen in Copenhagen. We bring together a very diverse group of people and talk about values. The setting is informal, but Karen and I facilitate it closely.
The experience is awesome.
One participant wrote to me that it requires a great deal of “brain work”, but is rewarding: “I have met people who are different from me, and that makes the experience interesting because you start thinking: why do I have the attitudes and opinions I have?”
We don’t do psychoanalysis or discuss reactions. We don’t talk about models of the brain either. There is, in general, no cause-and-effect-thinking in the workshop. Only lots of inspiration.
And we inspire each other to talk about worth and personal values. Asking “why do I have these attitudes and opinions?” is one way of discovering them.
Leadership is about the team taking responsibility together, but that is not something that is monopolized with the constituted leader anymore. Taking responsibility is on everyone’s shoulders today, even you and me, the individual team members.
“To lead others, first you have to lead yourself”, my friend Maibritt Isberg Andersen says.
And now, that we are all test leaders, I really hope we will all start talking more about our attitudes and opinions, and why we have them.
It is about inspiring test leadership.

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What I learn listening to myself

Years ago, I was hired as a tester on a large project. After a week or so, my manager came to my desk to hear how I was doing. 
I wanted to explain her all the details about the tests I had carried out, what I had found, and my plans for what I should test next week, but she asked a question which totally surprised me: 
“What is your gut feeling about this software?”
I realized that my mind was so filled with details that I had completely lost track of what I was up to and how my feelings were. Thankfully, her question brought me back to my senses, so to speak. 


Stressful life with autism and ADHD
My two oldest and my youngest son have diagnosis in the autistic spectrum. The third of my four sons has ADHD. 
Family life with neurological disorders can be stressful, and I have been living on the edge of stress and in periods even nearing depression for years. 
Exercising is a daily practice to me to stay healthy. Coaching works too. I find, the most important thing is to remain true to my senses.
So I have learnt to listen to myself: My thoughts, ideas and what I say and do. I sometimes write it down in my diary and make mental notes. 
And I ask the question: Why do I think like I do?


Acceptance and appreciation
It is not about analyzing myself, self-therapy or dissecting my mind, feelings or personality.
But the “why” is important: Asking myself, why I have certain attitudes and opinions directs attention towards what’s shaping me.
Fundamentally, I learn to accept and appreciate my thoughts, ideas, and actions, and thereby appreciate myself. It is, as Kierkegaard has reminded us, a daily activity. It is something that somehow has to be relearnt every day. I’m not starting over from scratch, but remaining true to my gut feelings is a daily choice.

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Say "Yes, but…" and remain true to your values

Testers sometimes have to make compromises. We have professional values and beliefs, but they may conflict with values in the contexts we act in.
Isn’t there always someone who matter who has an opinion about what testing is and how it should be performed? 
I remeber a few situations, where I have felt I was tasked to do something in a way that I didn’t agree with. How can I make a difference, then?
This feeling points to something which is a dilemma for every skilled professional: We can sometimes feel that our personal and professional values are challenged, but there is still a job to be done.
How can a I make the compromise, accepting a challenge, while staying true to my values and beliefs? 
It’s about learning and improving.
 
Social responsibility
To me, one of the most important things about being professional and a context driven tester is taking social responsibility. This is an important value to me.
Social responsibility is not about self-critique. As a professional, my personal doubts and worries are valuable.
Instead it is about trying to give customers what they need by understanding their situation and helping them get better with what we are doing together.
That requires what I call personal leadership. But foremost, it requires conversation and negotiation.
 
“Yes, but…”
In his “Improv(e) your testing” talk at Let’s Test 2016, Damian Synadinos @dsynadinos reminded me of a simple and efficient strategy to opening conversations. In improv, a golden rule is to start replies with with “yes, and…”. This helps adding to whatever is happening on stage.
In professional situations we sometimes have to subtract instead:

Yes, I will perform the test and report to you about it, but please explain me how the test case and bug count metrics you ask me to do will be useful?

The “yes“-part is about accepting the challenge. The “but” implies that I’m going to stay true to my knowledge, experience, values and beliefs and raise professional doubts about methods I’m asked to use, things I’m asked to report, processes I’m asked to follow.
I’m not asking rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions shut windows to the world and enclose me in my own thoughts and ideas.
So I keep thought in the back of my mind when I’m asked to do something in a certain way: “Is this really in the best interest of the people who matter: The project stakeholders?”
Replying “yes, but…” enables me to act on my personal values in contexts which have values of their own.
 
Masterclass in New York City
On September 26th, during Test Masters Academy‘s REINVENTING TESTERS WEEK in New York City, I will be doing a workshop titled: “Act on your values!” on values and personal leadership.
As testers and IT-professionals we have to quickly recognize and adapt to ever changing contexts in order to produce value for our employers, clients and various diverse customers. This can be challenging, both on the personal and the professional level. As leaders, team members and individuals we often have to lead ourselves.
The workshop will focus on how our personal and shared values can guide us. It will be based on the principles of protreptic dialogue, which is a philosophical facilitated conversation revolving around the values embedded in what we say, do and think. First described in ancient Greece in the fourth century, professor Ole Fogh Kirkeby of Copenhagen Business School has revived protreptic dialogue as both a concept, a leadership tool, and a coaching principle with the objective to “turn us towards ourselves”.
I plan for the workshop to be a safe space for exploration and learning. Participants are expected to share opinions, thoughts and ideas, and to treat others’ opinions, thoughts and ideas in a respectful and appreciative manner. No prior knowledge of leadership, dialogue, philosophy, or protreptic dialogue is required.
Key takeaways

  • Consciousness about personal values and values of the contexts we work in
  • Strategies for dealing with the dilemmas we face as testers
  • An introduction to protreptic concepts and dialogue

Get tickets here.
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Value centered dialogue at CPHContext

I’m beginning to get quite excited about speaking at CPHContext about ”Value Centered Dialogue in Context Driven Testing”. It’s not the first time I speak at a testing conference, but I am going to demonstrate a type of dialogue for which there is no firm recipie and I can therefore only plan for mentally. And that is of course a bit exciting 🙂
To settle my nerves, I’m writing this blog to reveal something about what I’m going to tell people.
Recently, a good friend asked me: “What is leadership is to you?”
My answer came quicker than I thought it would: “It is about setting people free to do their best,” I said.
We were talking about personal leadership values.
Heuristics and values
There are many ways to lead people – we could call them leadership heuristics – and while you and I can attend the same courses or read the same books and therefore learn the same leadership heuristics, our personal values shape our actions and therefore the way we apply these heuristics.
Everything I’m going to say in the session will be about basic human values and how I have found a special type of dialogue can bring new energy into context driven testing leadership.
I have my slides ready, and I hope it will be a good experience for everyone attending my session.
A protreptic dialogue
I’d like to give show something about how a protreptic dialogue between me (the guide) and you would start out. I might start with a question to you:
What does it mean to be context driven?
I’ll listen carefully to your answer and depending on what you answer (there is no right or wrong here as it is about you) I might tell you something about the origins of the word context. Words are important in protreptic dialogue.
The word context is orignally latin and comes from contextus which means joining together. The danish word for context is sammenhæng, which means the same, so context is something we are joined to, or maybe even woven into, as the latin origins actually indicate.
Then, what does it mean to be context driven: Can something that we are joined to or even woven into drive us? It might if there is motion in it, so if we want to understand something about how the context is driving us, we should look at the dynamics in it. But perhaps the driving could be reversed: Can our testing set the context in motion?
This question was for you, and again I’ll listen carefully to what you say. If it was me, I might answer myself like this:
Of course we can set the context in motion, and we do, as testers. After all, testers discover stuff other people have not yet discovered, we build trust, create business value, spoil illusions and other things that send motion back into the context.
This is interesting. As a guide, I’ll listen to your value laden words: discovery, trust, value, illusions. In a human value-perspective they have meanings related to the four basic human values: The Good, The Beautiful, The Just and The True.
In the ongoing protreptic dialogue, we will explore these values together, getting very close to what they really mean to you. We might talk about your work or other things in your life, but only if you want to and bring it up. This is not a therapy session.
Protreptic dialogue is meant to be a nice and respectful experience for both. There are no roles to play, we are both ”ourselves”, but we are taking a journey together to discover something about ourselves, in this case about context driven testing.

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Why you should do your job better than you have to

Software testers evaluate quality in order to help others make descisions to improve quality. But it is not up to us to assure quality.
Projects need a culture in which people care for quality and worry about risk, i.e. threats to quality.
Astronaut and first man on the moon Neil Armstrong talked about reliability of components in the space craft in the same interview I quoted from in my last post:

Each of the components of our hardware were designed to certain reliability specifications, and far the majority, to my recollection, had a reliability requirement of 0.99996, which means that you have four failures in 100,000 operations. I’ve been told that if every component met its reliability specifications precisely, that a typical Apollo flight would have about 1,000 separate identifiable failures. In fact, we had more like 150 failures per flight, substantially better than statistical methods would tell you that you might have.

Neil Armstrong not only made it to the moon, he even made it back to Earth. The whole Apollo programme had to deal very carefully with the chance that things would not work as intended in order to make that happen.
In hardware design, avoiding failure depends on hardware not failing. To manage the risk of failure, engineers work with reliability requirements, e.g. in the form of a required MTBF – mean time between failure – for individual components. Components are tested to estimate their reliability in the real system, and a key part of reliability management is then to tediously add all the estimated relibility figures together to get an indication of the reliability of the whole system: In this case a rocket and space craft designed to fly men to the moon and bring them safely back.
But no matter how carefully the calculations and estimations are done, it will always end out with an estimate. There will be surprises.
The Apollo programme turned out to perform better than expected. Why?
When you build a system, it could be an it-system or a space craft, then how do you ensure that things work as intended? Following good engineering practices is always a good idea, but relying on them is not enough. It takes more.
Armstrong goes on in the interview (emphasized by me):

I can only attribute that to the fact that every guy in the project, every guy at the bench building something, every assembler, every inspector, every guy that’s setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, “If anything goes wrong here, it’s not going to be my fault, because my part is going to be better than I have to make it.” And when you have hundreds of thousands of people all doing their job a little better than they have to, you get an improvement in performance. And that’s the only reason we could have pulled this whole thing off.

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Why the dichotomy of testing versus checking is the core of our craft

Please note: This post is being updated.
In his Why the testing/checking debate is so messy – a fruit salad analogy, my good friend Joep Schuurkes posts an absurd dialogue in which two persons become confused because they cannot distinguish between apples and fruit. He claims the dialogue could still happen if apples is replaced with checking and fruit with testing.
He is trying to show that in the same way that apples are a sort of fruit, checking is a sort of testing. And that discussing testing *versus* checking is bullshit.
I think Joep is wrong, and I shall discuss why and how here.
A little “versus”
The core of the discussion is the little “versus” between testing and checking, which Bolton and Bach insists on. And I insist on it too: It introduces a dichotomy, which is not only important, it is even necessary.
And it is necessary because it shapes our thoughts about testing.
To be precise, it leads us to think on a conceptual level instead of just an activity level. Once we accept the little ”versus” between the two, accept the dichotomy, we can start thinking about our craft. We are no longer forced to only think about the activites we do.
And just as important: We can distinguish our craft from something that it is not.
It’s like the way more and more people discriminate between leadership and management. Once you accept that the two are conceptually different, something interesting happens: A whole new understanding of the act of playing ”the boss” reveals itself.
In the same way, when we start discriminating between testing and checking, the way we talk about what we do as testers, change. And we change.
A humanistic and value producing view on testing has revealed itself to us through this dichotomy:
Testing was, but is no longer…
Testing is no longer a necessary evil, only done because programmers are sloppy, don’t read requirements and make mistakes. Instead, testing has become a craft, carried out by humans. A craft that adds value to the product, the organisation and society as a whole.
We are no longer little machines working under detailed instruction. We are testers, and therefore everything we do, our job satisfaction and even the value we produce, depends on this very dichotomy.
I will not let the confusion confuse me
So why the confusion? Well, I think the confusion arises because we confuse concepts with activities when we talk our daily, ambigous language.
As a tester, I carry out checks when I test, but when I do, the checks I am doing are elements in the testing and the whole activity is testing, not checking.
But if, on the other hand, I program a computer to run through a number of input combinations to a software program, have my program verify the results by comparing them to something ”expected”, and produce a report of boolean results on the basis of this, the whole activity of running that and distributing the report from the computer program is checking, not testing.
However, letting this confusion lead us to discard the difference between testing and checking would be a pity. The dichotomy is core to Boltons and Bachs testing philosophy. If I reject it, I have to reject more or less everything they say about testing.
And worse: I will have to give up my profession.

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On the Value of Interested, Dedicated, and Fascinated People

Some test managers and test consultants are very busy pointing out the right processes, organisational structures and methods to use in software testing.
But no methods, processes and structures can assure great testing. Great testing is created by people.
This quote by Neil Armstrong, which I came across a couple of years ago, is worth remembering whenever we lead people in testing:

“The way […] that made [the Apollo project] different from other sectors of the government to which some people are sometimes properly critical is that this was a project in which everybody involved was, (1) interested, (2) dedicated, and, (3) fascinated by the job they were doing. And whenever you have those ingredients, whether it be government or private industry or a retail store, you’re going to win.”

To me, his message is that as leaders, our aim should be to do whatever we can to make people just that: Interested, dedicated and fascinated by the job we are doing.
Source: Transcript of Neil Armstrong Interview with Stephen Ambrose and David Brinkley

Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. Photo: NASA.
Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. Photo: NASA.