Saturday, September 30, 2017

On Conferences, Again

I've written more than one post with tips for people going to conferences, usually aimed at those who are going for the first time or rarely have the opportunity to go.

Normally, these consist of things I think of as "good ideas" for conference attendees. Ideas like:
  • Be well rested before the conference (many will keep you very busy physically and mentally so be prepared for short sleep and very long, albeit packed, days);
  • Bring business cards, even if your company does not issue them to you (this is less important than it was a few years ago given the continued increase in social media, still, I bring them because I find them handy);
  • Bring an open mind willing to discuss topics you might not normally discuss (you're there to learn, after all - so LEARN);
  • Comfortable clothes in general and comfortable shoes in particular;
  • Devices for taking notes - note pad, laptop, tablet, smart phone - THEN USE THEM!;
  • Courage to walk up to people and introduce yourself - particularly if the person you are walking up to is someone "famous" in our world;
These came from watching people look rather lost and sit like bumps on a log while conference stuff was happening all around them and they were not engaged in any way.

This post is not aimed at those people. It is not aimed at first time conference attendees or even first time speakers. Instead, I direct my words to colleagues who speak fairly often at conferences on testing or... anything else.

Hey folks, I'm Pete. I'm sure we've met before. I know I have seen you around and some of you I've heard present. How ya doing today? Conference going well for you?

So, I have a question. How many new people have you gone out of your way to meet here? I don't mean the folks who come up looking a bit star-struck and in awe of meeting you. I mean how many people have you walked up to and started a conversation with?

It doesn't need to be about anything really serious. It might be something really mundane like, oh, the food in the buffet line or the quality/quantity of coffee or tea.

It MIGHT be something like "I must have that t-shirt! Where ever did you get it!"

It could be something more direct like "I thought that was a great question you asked in the session on.... can we walk about that idea a little bit?"

I know MANY of you are a little shy walking up and starting a conversation with a complete stranger. Still, maybe step out of the comfort zone a bit and see what happens.

Related to that, I know I tend to sit with laptop open looking something up or reading something or trying to write something, maybe an email or finishing a live blogging post or maybe just get some notes in order. I might suggest this (as one of the things I need to work on myself) - Try not having the laptop open quite so much. Instead of isolating from the activity around you, maybe work for a "pleasant observing face" while sitting with a coffee or tea and look up - actually watch the folks interacting with each other.

I know my "pleasant observing face" sometimes makes me look like I am about to inflict great bodily injury on someone, or some group or people (I am working on changing that, really - terrifying small children without trying is not something I aspire to... really) - and I am strongly suggesting people try and do the same. (Not the bodily injury thing or terrifying small children.) Make yourself available so people don't need to work up more courage to walk up to you than it takes to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute the first time. You never know who you might meet that way.

One other thing. I know many of you, like me, have friends we get to see in person ONLY at conferences. It is great to catch up with them and laugh and tell jokes and stories and talk about what we're working on now and what is next. The challenge I see is, when you get so wrapped up in who you are with RIGHT THEN, most of us close down the opportunity for other people to approach us.

Make sure there is always room for one more to join the conversation.

Right, That is it for now. Thanks for your time and I'll see you at the next conference.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On Leadership, Power, Authority & Bullies - pt 1

Maybe you've heard or read some version of this:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
                                                                    John E.E.D Acton, 1st Baron Acton
Most of the time I've heard it, or read it, the first clause tends to get mangled or at least changed, to "Power corrupts..." Instead of shifting from a possibility it becomes an absolute. Perhaps that is part of the reason I disagree with the generalization.

Avoiding the question of the definition or nature of "power," which is less a tangible thing than a description of a relationship, I prefer to examine why people seek, or do not seek, power, authority or the trappings thereof. (For now, and for simplicity, I will refer to these things as "power" while recognizing the ambiguity.)

Do people aspire to positions of power because that is the natural order of things? Are they a "born leader?" Or, do they seek positions of power, or authority, for some other reason? Maybe for their own ends?

I suspect there are plenty of examples of each of these. There are other examples of people being in the "right spot" at the "right time" and being pushed into a position of authority or power.

I tend to think of "power" and "positions of power" as being something akin to Tolkein's character Aragorn, speaking of Galadriel and the forest of Lothlorien.
There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself.
                                 J.R.R. Tolkein, "The Fellowship of the Ring."
I do not believe it is power that corrupts. I suspect, strongly, that the individual's nature is exposed more readily when they have the opportunity to exercise that power, with little or no oversight.

That may be unsettling to some people. The idea that their favorite manager, athlete, TV-personality or politician has actually been an ass all along, and has been hiding that reasonably well, can be a tad off-putting. Simple fact is most people working in some form of entertainment really like the positive response. From personal experience, it is fantastic to get a standing ovation and called back for an encore or two or three. It is a huge boost to the ego. Feel the endorphins rushing through the body? Great, isn't it! Loads better than playing to polite applause.

Musicians and actors live on those moments. Yes, I know - art matters.The challenge matters. Still, while the money can be good (or really crappy) it is the applause and approval that drives many people.

Politicians are fairly similar. They really like talking in front of friendly audiences who cheer madly and read huge importance into the slightest thing. People who are critical or asking really uncomfortable questions? Not so much.

I once read somewhere that the greatest problem with hereditary monarchies is you sometimes get a reluctant monarch. The greatest problem with democracies is the people WANT the job. Always ask yourself "why?" when someone talks about public office. The "5 Whys" work depressingly well with politicians and their motives.

These examples are pretty obvious, right? People seek stardom or "higher office" usually for their own ends. They are often couched in grand language about being an artist or serving the public interest. Having met and dealt with many, I don't buy it so willingly as I did 40 years ago.

And don't get me going on athletes or "TV personalities". SPEAKING of self-aggrandizement and self-importance... right.

And Managers

If you are fortunate, you have had a manager or supervisor or two you could count on to always have your back. That same manager probably also found ways to inspire you to heights and feats you never dreamed of being able to achieve. If you were really lucky, that manager also looked out for your development as a professional craftsperson and, in some unique cases, as a more-developed person.

If you are really, really lucky, you've had managers like that without having to deal with other, less desirable managers in the office.

You know the type.

The ones whose employees flop back in the chairs at their desks after meetings. The same "resources" go through the motions as they are told to with no variation. Because if they do, they will get in trouble, whether the variation is important or not - it is a variation.

These managers have determined that positional authority is a justification for "motivating" their "resources." They demand people do stuff RIGHT NOW. They insist that they have the answers to the questions and don't ask them questions because doing so means you were not paying attention. The ones that belittle people in meetings.

The ones whose "resources" are terrified of losing their jobs.


I've seen both types of "managers" in the same company - in the same department, no less. They both claim to be working toward the good of the organization. It is possible they are and simply have different views on that "good" is. However, in the instances in my memory, at least one type was working for his own glorification.

While the idea of a "servant leader" is certainly not new, a fair number of Managers I can recall would reject that concept out of hand. Their job was to direct actions, our job was to make them look good. Period.

You saw that readily 30 or even 20 years ago. From my experience, 10 years ago they tended to be more nuanced. All velvet to people they needed something from, and were out of their direct zone of influence, and crass and abrasive to others.

When confronted, their job was to "get things done." At least twice I caught one of these folks in outright lies - and called him on it. In a meeting. With other managers. And the VP they all reported to. That afternoon, when no one was around, it was yelling, ranting, profanity streams, threats on my job.

That was probably the first time I did the "scary big white man" thing. He backed off.

I out bullied the bully.


That is what those "leaders" are - bullies.

If threats and management by intimidation is your leadership style, you are a bully, if not a dictator.

Positional authority in any context is not absolute. There come certain trappings with those positions. These are part of the "power" fears people have. This authority, this power, in the vast majority of situations should be limited. It appears to be unlimited, or "powerful" only when no restraints are present either by watchful oversight or by concerted, proper resistance.

It is not a writ to make people's lives miserable for any reason, and corporate profits are probably the worst reason to make the lives of people who make the product that drives those profits miserable. People who are in fear of losing their positions and the means to support themselves and their families will rarely speak out, until the pain becomes unbearable. This is where the trade union/organized labor movement grew from - the refusal to be beaten down (quite literally in many cases)

Being "in charge" does not give you the right to be an ass. Ever.

Being "in charge" does not mean you are the one who "has all the answers." In the "over 30 years" I've been in software development, I have NEVER seen a software project where one person knew all the answers absolutely. Never.

Leadership, Power and Authority can be used for good or ill. They are not inherently one or the other. The good or evil, comes from the individual people themselves who hold them.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Community, Conferencing and a Call to Action

Over the last ten weeks I have had a series of conversations that I never expected to have. This does not mean I should not have had them, but some two months and more ago I did not see the topic as one that was observable around me, and was something I could do nothing about.

I was seriously wrong on both of those counts.

Boorish Behavior and Code of Conducts

At one time, I read the many calls for conferences, professional organizations and other groups that existed as a well-intended but ultimately futile effort to direct behavior. It seemed to me the hope was this would control or redirect boorish behavior - the frat-boy-esque shenanigans that I saw people engage in when I was working at large Universities. You could pick them out fairly easily by a couple of things - Money was never a serious problem (their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) and their utter rage at not getting their way on something that should have been trivial.

It is akin to some folks who lived across the street from me, briefly, when I asked them to turn down their music, just a tad - just enough so I could not hear it in my house over the television... with the doors and windows closed and the central air going... at midnight.

Utter rage. DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!?!? No, I don't. Frankly, I don't care. DO YOU KNOW WHO MY DAD IS?!?!?!? No. I don't. And, unless he is in the house with you right now, it is completely irrelevant. YOU'RE GOING TO WISH YOU HADN'T PICKED THIS FIGHT! Not picking a fight. I'm asking nicely. Really. This is me being polite. YOU'RE BEING AN ASSHOLE! YOU'RE NOT POLITE! YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE! That may be true, however, that is also irrelevant.

He was really mad at me. He was even more mad when my friends from the local police department knocked on his door.

Why was he mad? I'm not sure he started out really mad. I had the impression he as show-boating for his friends - showing off to show how he could "deal" with the locals. Then when I was not scared or intimidated, then he really got mad.

In this case there was a "code of conduct" to fall back on. It was the local ordinances. When I went, politely, and asked that the behavior change or stop, things got a bit silly. The next step was to call the keepers of the code of conduct, in this case, the local police department... non-emergency number. There had been no overt threat of violence and no suggestion there would be immediately. So, not an emergency.

It was just a guy being a jerk.

Sadly, this is the kind of thing where most "conflict resolution and incident deescalation" training and programs stop. (Some of my current drumming students are police officers. They complain about the same thing. Theory rarely survives on the street.)

When there IS a code of conduct one can point to, that makes the interaction less personal, and in many instances, less judgement based. Instead, it is a case of "Your behavior is in violation of the code of conduct on these points..."

That is fine. In fact, it is great - as long as the code of conduct (or local ordinances) are specific enough, and explicit enough, to leave little to no room for disagreement.

Do X and Y is the result.

Sadly, many of the published "Code of Conduct" documents and/or web pages I have read in the last two weeks are of the very hand-wavy, let's all just get along ilk.

That does not cut it.

(That is a warning I am about to go on a rant...)

Nah. I edited out most of the rant. I've been tinkering this post for a long time, mostly trying to avoid sounding like I'm yelling incoherently through my keyboard.

Instead I'm going to write about a really old-fashioned idea.

The sad fact is, there are people who act as if they are more important than anyone else. They act as if there is something special about them where the rules don't matter. I have seen this at the office (I bet others have as well). I have seen it occasionally at conferences.


Yeah. I know, right? Knights in armor. Damsels. Dragons.

Well, maybe not dragons.  Frankly, not that other stuff either. The real point to chivalry was, and continues to be this:

The strong protect the weak at all costs.

That's it. That is the gist.

What does that mean?

The powerful help the powerless. The stronger ones protect the weaker ones. Women and children first. Save the most vulnerable. Really. Yeah.

The core tenet to a society governed by what is called the "Rule of Law" is that the Law is King. The King is not dominant in society, the Law is.

Simply because a person or group of people are capable of doing a thing, they do not have the right to do so. Simply because a person or group of people CAN do something, as in they have the physical ability to do the thing, does not mean they have permission to do so.


It does not matter if someone is being "inappropriate" in any way with a woman or a man. It does not matter if someone is being "inappropriate" in any way with a person of color. It does not matter if someone is being "inappropriate" in any way to a person of a different religion or ethnicity of the majority of the people at the event. If something is wrong, DO something.

What can be done?

There's a thing called "situational awareness" - being aware of what is happening around you and understanding how information, events, your own and other people's actions will have an impact immediately and in the near future.

It might be simple.

If you happen to notice something, say something. It can be as simple as "Is everything alright here?" Or maybe, "Everyone OK?" - with a significant smile.

You don't need to be the "behavior police." But PLEASE, be aware of people around you. Most of us have been in a situation where we felt really... un-good. Remember that? That feeling of wanting to be anywhere but where you were and that sick twisty feeling in your stomach that things were likely to get really, really bad? THAT?

Keep an eye out for folks who might be in a similar situation, with that kind of "I want to be anywhere but here" look on their face, then offer a word and a smile.

Safety Pin

Remember the Safety Pin thing that was around the UK shortly after the Brexit vote? I don't know if that is a thing or not any more. I've seem a few in random places in the States, but I don't know how widespread it is. I also don't know if it is still a thing in the UK.

The idea behind it is simple - People were being jerks, asshats and worse to obvious immigrants or people who did not look like them or prayed to a deity they did not pray to. A fair number were justifiably frightened, if not terrified. People stepped up and offered themselves as helpers, as havens - that is what the safety pin was for, to identify those who would help.

What we can do

Be the Safety Pin Person.

Be the person willing to help.

Don't engage in violence even when provoked.

I've told people I am very good at being a Big-Scary-White-Guy. I am. I don't like doing it, but I've done it more than once. I will admit I am extremely good at frightening people who are trying to frighten or intimidate others.

Violence is a terrible option and tends to be self-defeating. I'm not advocating punching people in the nose. Violence does not help, self-preservation not withstanding.

Standing up and preventing someone from inflicting violence on someone else is a different story, in my mind. Protect those who are in trouble and need to be protected.

Help people have the fun and open, positive learning experience we expect conferences to be.

Be aware.

Be a helper.

Shelter others.

Friday, December 30, 2016

On the Coming of 2017

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

I know a fair number of people who see the coming year as a portent of doom. I know others who think it means there is new hope. I know others who are looking about at other signs and portents and think something is coming, but they don't know what.

Simply put, I suspect this near-random marking of a new rotation around the sun will be what each and everyone of us will make of it.

Work wise, I have skills I need to learn, others I have let get rusty I need to clean, polish and oil. There are some things I need to think deeply on and consider further. I feel the need to become better at what I do. Not because of any external pressure, but to make myself better.

I am teaching drums again. I am playing in a pipe band again - two of them, truth be told, but one is mostly to help train the newer members until they are up and functioning enough where they don't need me.  I am looking at a handful of music performance opportunities with both of these bands.

I will be speaking at at least one conference, Agile Testing Days USA in Boston, in June. I'll be doing a workshop on "growing into Exploratory Testing" - an expanded version of the talk I gave at Agile Testing Days 2014.

I am considering submitting to proposals to a couple of other conferences. I haven't made up my mind and still have time.

Life goes on.

The daughters are each doing well. The grandchildren are growing. The cats are being cats. Clover the Garden Kitty, our oldest, went to "cat heaven" this last December. The other two indoor cats still sometimes look for her in her favorite places.

Do I have a sense of dread? Do I fear the future?


Each of us are tasked with working to make the world a better place, every day. We may not be able to reach out and shake the towers of the mighty, but we can certainly improve our small corner of the world. Do that with all the strength and good will you can muster.

Go forth boldly.

Do not fear the night. Be a light bright enough so the night fears you.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thoughts on Agile Testing Days 2016, Pt 2

I've been watching the continuing twitter feed as people unwind, download, and organize thoughts around the week in Potsdam at Agile Testing Days (ATD). I wrote one set of thoughts, mostly stream of conscious - a mind dump.

This one is different. I've been thinking about what makes a conference something where people go attend sessions, go to the "official" events (mixers, networking events, etc.,) and go back to their rooms for the rest of the time, and conferences that are events in themselves. Agile Testing Days  is one of the very few conferences I've been to that fit the later description - an event.

Loads of learning - Some decent presentations, keynote sessions, workshops and tutorials. No session will be to everyone's taste and that is probably a good thing. I'd personally like to see more nuts and bolts, practical "apply this idea" sessions and have begun considering what I have in the hopper that would fit that bill. Now, not every keynote presentation will impact people the same way. By the end of the week, I can see a need for a difference in tone and timbre.

Idea... People are tired. Mentally exhausted. I think of this as brains leaking out their ears. Looking to issue a "call to action" in the last plenary session is a challenge. I like the idea of a retrospective - a "what did we learn?" Less a clarion call to DO SOMETHING and more a gentle glass of something warm sitting by the fire.

Other Learning - I tweeted about how "people talking" was a favorite part of ATD. Yup - I did... here:

Why is that a big deal? In hallway conversations and breaks and quiet chats in quiet areas, people are free to delve into thoughts and concepts that interest them, or considerations on a topic that were triggered by a presentation. While this can be social, I find many of these are part of deep learning. They allow people to explore partially formed or considered ideas and help shape them by talking them through with other people. This is a key component to learning for many people, including me.

That ATD has breaks between sessions of a nice length, with snacks, coffee, fruit, etc., between each session, AND a quiet area (like, really, a designated quiet area) AND plenty of quiet nooks and crannies to sit and talk helps people do exactly that.

Social - Part and parcel of the "other learning" are social activities. A visit to the Potsdam Christmas Market before the official start of the conference, the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person Award dinner (MIATPP - this year's winner was Maaret Pyhäjärvi - @maaretp - extremely well deserved. Congratulations!) The "Sponsors Reception" and "Agile Games Night" - AND a Cabaret-type event after the Games - AND Lean Beer and Karaoke - AND a Women's Summit...

That was just the "organized" functions.

Meeting and talking and drinking and walking about the town and talking and going for dinner and talking and meeting in the pub/bar later and coffee and lean coffee and talking and beer and talking and whisky and laughing and telling stories and listening and listening and watching and thinking.

I know the organizers did not "make" that happen. What they did was work with the venue to allow it to happen. This is hugely critical and often overlooked. Getting people to interact is easy when everyone knows where everyone will be.

My personal learning - Don't over commit. Yup. That sums it up.

This year, in addition to all the conference stuff I normally do with ATD, and all the stuff I promised people we'd "talk about in Potsdam," I was also desperately trying to finish some testing on critical tickets for the day-job. Yeah, there was a deadline. There is always a deadline.

The result was, time I usually used to allow information and ideas to distill or settle, was spent working on projects that also required deep thinking. Result was even less sleep than normal for a conference (One morning I woke up after just over 4 hours and felt like a million bucks for having had "so much sleep"... yeah. Nuts.)

So. Don't do what I did. The recovery time took way too long this year.

Allow time to decompress. Allow time to sit and sip a coffee or tea or juice or water and enjoy the flavor and taste of it. Allow time to taste the beer or wine or whisky you are drinking. Going full speed all the time actually diminishes your ability to fully enjoy the experience around you.

I ended up doing that Thursday afternoon. Walked away so I'd be rested and restored enough for the tutorial on Friday. There were good things, fantastic things all around related to the conference. I was full. That was enough for now. That way, I could finish the week strong. I could do what I had committed to for the conference AND for the day-job. (I actually finished testing at the SAS lounge in Stockholm on Saturday.)

Give yourself the choice to step away from the world so you can enjoy and appreciate all that is around you.

With that...

I return to finish shoveling snow deposited over night.

To Jose, Madeleine, Uwe, Sabine, Stefanie and everyone else who worked so hard to make this experience happen - Thank you.

I look forward to Boston, Agile Testing Days USA, in June - and, with luck, the 9th installment of Agile Testing Days in Potsdam, next November.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Thoughts on Agile Testing Days 2016, Pt 1

This last week I was in Potsdam, Germany for the 8th instance of Agile Testing Days. Thinking about how to describe it, I find myself struggling to describe the week.

I found this year's instance a bit of a challenge on multiple levels. I had a fair set of expectations coming in. This is the fourth iteration I've participated in. All have been awesome. This year, I was involved in the Software Testing World Cup, helping with moderating videos, interviewing teams before and after the contest, judging the team reports.

I also helped with some of the interviews the conference organizers lined up - both as an interviewer and doing interviews. Loads of fun - and still, time consuming. In some ways, it interrupted the flow of the conference. This isn't a bad thing - just a thing.

I presented a new session as a track talk. It was a challenge in some ways. I had roughly an hour's worth of material - pared it down to 35 minutes, allowing some time for questions - except for one minor little point. I should have pared it to 30 minutes. Ah well. I think, in general, it went over fairly well. Some folks looked blankly back. Others, I think, got something out of it. The simple fact is, when you are speaking at a conference, that is the best you can hope for - that people walk away something to act on or at least think seriously about and take home to discuss.

I also spent a lot of time live blogging the conference. Every session I was in I tried my very best to represent what the speakers were presenting. Frankly, I am not sure I ever achieve that. But, I give it a solid shot. (not grape or chain). One thing I was very excited about, was the number of people who ALSO were live blogging the conference since I was here the last time. I know of 2 or 3 who took up the challenge.

The interesting thing is, people ask me why I do it? Simple. I take notes - I might as well share them. That's it. I write as fast as I can and capture as much as I possibly can. I know I miss a fair amount, but, there you have it.

Friday I assisted my friend and colleague, Matt Heusser on Agile Leadership. It was an interesting session, I thought. Frankly, I would have been interested in participating if I wasn't helping present it. ;)

The core ideas were similar to those that had been floating around all week. Leaders are to help others excel. Plain and simple - get the junk out of the way to let people be awesome. That is a paraphrase of the "working definition" that was set out. The lessons and exercises presented were variations on that theme. I think it was worthwhile.

The social events were, in a word, astounding. LET'S SEE -

A Christmas Market - yeah. Little booths with food, beer, mulled wine- a HUGE bonfire - a BAND - all in front of the conference center. Yeah. Americans might go, "huh?" But the German tradition, which has a strong base in my home town, still shows up from time to time. It is loads of fun. Then there was the "Awards Banquet" - A costume party with winter and Christmas themes behind them - Oh wow. What fun.

Wednesday night saw a "Sponsor's happy hour" - where there was a pile of grilled food - yeah, bonfires out front again cooking food, followed by a Games Night. I ran a table there - but there were a PILE of folks running similar tables. And loads of people having fun. AND THEY WERE EXERCISING TESTING SKILLS. It was awesome. Really, really fantastic.

Conversations. Oh man. Smart people. The folks I named in the blog posts from the week. And there were others that stand out. The organizers - Whoa. Loads of work to make an event with 600 people participating come off with out a hitch. The usual host, Jose Diaz, was down with the flu for most of the week - he surfaced on Friday. Madeleine Griep, Uwe Gelfert, Stefanie Reusner and all the rest of the crew. Exceptionally well done. The lot of you picked up the slack from Pepe being down and looked like a flock of ducks - serenely floating on the water, and paddling like mad where no one can see. You all put on a clinic. Well Done!

Let's see.

Lisa Crispin, Janet Gregory, George Dinwiddie, Huib Schuits, Alex Schladebeck, Maik, Meike, Lalit, Carin, Karen, Sam, Ang, Santosh, Gil,Mike & Michael, Stephan, Eddy, Gitte, Diana, Sabine, Claudia, and, and, and - so many people. So many deep thoughts. So many things I need to ponder from them yet. Great conversations from "whole team" and "3 Amigos" to stories and... "tell me how you met" and ... everything.

I found myself sitting with, at one point 5 or 6 women talking about the world. Someone asked it I was uncomfortable - Nope. Absolutely enjoyed it. Open conversation and sharing of ideas on nearly every topic imaginable.

In short, this was an astounding event. I slept little and did much thinking and learning. Less drinking this year (good thing) but fantastic conversations that have impacted my thoughts more than any week I can recall in years and years. The information flow was non-stop. Oh, and there were really good conference sessions, too.

There is one thing I can say with absolute certainty. Do NOT make the single major mistake I made this year. I had work to do for the day-job and I foolishly thought I could finish "the last few tickets." The problem is, my moments of quiet time that I use to assimilate the information I've received that day, or at least up to that point since the last time. Look. When you are conferencing, conference. The little rest you get is needed. Nothing to do with hanging and drinking with folks. It has everything to do with absorbing what has happened so you can take it back to the day-job.

Right. Anyway.

There have been so many things I am still trying to assimilate. Look for a Part 2 when I find the right words.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Live! From Agile Testing Days! Day 3!

Yeah. Here we are in Potsdam, Germany for Agile Testing Days 2016. We are starting Day 3! Loads of people here! It is great to see this amazing community grow so much!

Thursday December 8 dawned, sort of... I guess... cloudy over cast and cold. That is kind of a theme here this year. Of course, Potsdam in December, what should I expect?

Last night's Sponsor's Reception was amazing. Wonderful food prepared - grilled & barbecued - wurst & salmon & brisket & pulled pork with a lovely selection of vegetables, roasted potatoes, salads - fantastic food last night (maybe I did not get enough for breakfast this morning...)

The Games Night went really, really well - loads of people participated. I brought stickers to give out as prizes - for people who solved the puzzles I had. I revamped a "Tester Quote" game - a selection of quotes all from the same person - name the person and get a prize. Then, there was "Instant Insanity" - a game where the object is to get each of the five cubes in line with colors showing only one time on any side of the cubes, when lined up end to end. Then, there were variations on observation an interrogation games - Look for the "hidden in plain sight" type - along with "Here's enough information to get you started, now, ask questions about the items." AND "magic rings - simple little things to show how the obvious can sometimes be so far away and hidden from us.

Loads of fun was had - as people said "Got any more?" I pulled out variations on dice games, pen games and other "are you paying attention" and "are you looking for patterns" games. By the ending time of 10:00 we were not quite ready to pack it in, so we wrapped up the last few cycle and packed everything away until next time.

The Cabaret night seemed to be going over very well, by the time I got back down from packing away my games, the Cabaret room was packed with no sign of letting up. So, I headed over for a quiet pint in the other hotel bar.

Had a fantastic series of conversations with new friends and old. Alas, it came time tohead up to the room and try and do a little work for work before climbing into bed.

I am so looking forward to today's sessions. There are so many good ones coming up! As it is, I really need to do some work for the day-job and get it done today. So, here is what I plan on checking out.

The opening Keynote for the day is by Jessica DaVita (tweets at @UberGeekGirl). Her talk is Baking Safety into Infrastructure Testing. I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

Then, while there are many talks lined up in the next slot, including my colleague and friend Matt Heusser's (tweets at @mheusser) talk on How to Talk About Coverage, I need to spend that time doing work stuff (Matt, I'll try and catch the recorded version this afternoon!)

I would be remiss if I did not come down to catch Ash Coleman's (tweets at @AshColeman30) session. Ash is another of the "New Voice" speakers - meaning they are new to speaking and are becoming known in broader circles. Ash has also been doing many interviews this week of people who are presenting or otherwise engaged at the conference - I had the great pleasure of interviewing her (and turning the tables a bit. She is presenting "Expectations, Adaptation and the Battle for Quality."

Melissa Perri will be presenting the keynote after lunch, "Designed to Learn." I read the abstract and am looking forward to this - hoping I can actually be there as my team will be in the office by then and I will possibly need to spend some "quality time" with them.

AND the painfully cheerful Michael Sutton is starting morning announcements - so we are about to start! (I so need more coffee...)

Right - made it back JUST in time for Jessica's start.

Her position is Technical Evangelist, which she describes as a person bringing new light and information to other people and organizations. She describes herself as a student of human behavior, and how people interact.

Software is eating the world. It is everywhere. She popped a tweet from Lisa Crispin that she's terrified of flying because she knows there is software in those planes. There is also software in motorcycles - yeah - cited a motorcycle race where the defending champion was about to win, and smoke began billowing out of his bike, he pulled over and lost - because of a software error on his bike. Oops.

And she talks about DevOps - and how there are conflicting needs - Change and Stability. Before DevOps, there was a "wall of confusion" between development and operations. Except sprinkling pixie dust, agile magic & unicorn happiness does not really fix anything. So, we need to work on this.

So, why does safety matter? Because there is crappy software everywhere.Cites John Allspaw (CTO at, @allspaw)  - that we never really know (as much as we would like) why our software works or fails on any given day. Security matters - they don't intend to be a roadblock - they are trying to protect customers and the company.

Aaaaaaannnd - Patching - yeah - everyone loves when patching gets borked, right?  THis patch was pushed 8 years ago, except for this ONE server. Oops

AAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnd - Regulations! YEAH! Regulations - PII, PCI, HIPPA, auditors. yup

Why do so many orgs hate dealing with auditors? Mostly because it is done so poorly. So archaically. And given the scandal with the VW emissions masking, what has become clear  is the only real way to know what is going on is to look at the code. And not just the code we are interested in - but EVERYTHING that happens and interacts with what is of interest to us.

THis brings us to Fear and a culture of fear. People will react with fear given how so many companies react to change & impose controls. Many companies make use of fear as a  control tool - where intimidation is the norm, perpetual fear of punishment or retribution is the norm. She describes these as pathological companies.

Google has a concept of Psychological Safety - that it is the most powerful predictor of safety teams

There is a notion of a basic agreement that there is coordination , joint activity around intentions.

Common Ground in Joint Activity -
Signals & cues
Conversation - effective coordination

Common Ground is about, at it's heart, who knows what.
Interdependence - if what we are doing as a tester has nothing to do with what the developers, we are not really working together - we are siloed.
Common ground is not a thing - it is not a state - it is a process.

Communication is always proceeding on 2 tracks - Team work (what we do to keep each other up to date) and Task Work (what we are working on)

Signalling is an idea around communication - letting each other know what is going on. When you are heads down & working in depth on something. The challenge is to know if a person is in a state where interruptions will disrupt the work. In person, it can be fairly easy - for distributed/remote teams - this is way harder. The problem is that even asking "Do you have a moment?" can disrupt the mental work that is in progress. The result can be ungood.

(Pete note: she's going crazy fast - all the morning keynotes have challenged me to even be close to keeping up)

Coordination is about managing dependencies between activities. It CANNOT be manufactured through procedures and explicit guidelines.

One simply does not just do coordination.

Common ground is not "everyone knowing the same thing" - it is instead based on pertinent mutual knowledge.
Common Ground depends on mutual knowledge, beliefs and assumptions.

When each person on your team has different roles and functions - different forms of expertise.The problem is these can be compromised if we try and force.

Common ground can be compromised or lost during hand-offs (eg., stuff goes to production or "downstream" processes, etc.,)

Why do teams lose common ground?
No (or limited) experience working together;
Access to different data;
No clear rationale for directive;
Different stances;
Unexpected loss of communications - unskilled at repairing disruption;
Failude to monitor confirmation of messages;
Confusion over who knows what - fundamental breakdown...

Joint action ladder - 
1. Attend (make sure the person is aware of a communication attempt)
2. Perceive (be aware there may be a communication attempt)
3. Understand (does this make sense to the reciever)
4. Act (can this be acted on)

Common ground is not binary - it is organic and ongoing. It needs to be supported and sustained through out.

The fact is, no matter how much care is taken, the wheels will fall off from time to time. CG muste be nurtured.

Safety -

Safety is conveyed through actions.
And Automation? can we help make automation a "team player?" Sure - but it takes a great deal of work
We need a common language so everyone can understand what this stuff means (mentions INSPEC - a human readable language for automating continuous testing and compliance...)

Make things a plain language as possible - make sure everyone can understand what is being presented, explained - "what does the code do?"

Cites Justin Arbuckle - you can prove a companies compliance if it is expressed in their code.

So, where do testers fit in with an ever changing world?

Mentions a "large company" that made a cute video saying they had eliminated the testing funtion. (sigh) She says "this is a huge mistake."

Challenge for testers - help others understand the way testers think. Involve developers in what you are doing, involve developers in working on automation- This will help them write code that is more testable.
== Q&A ===
Psychological safety is based in making things OK for people to make mistakes. This is not carte blanche for a loose attitude.

And with that - there is a break. I need to do some day-job work. I'll be back for Ash Coleman's session!
OK - PRogress on work stuff, FANTASTIC conversation with Jane Gregory & Lisa Crispin on stuff people from the office asked me to ask of them. and NOW - in Ash Coleman's session - REALLY looking forward to this!
(Oh, and sitting next to THE @teewanz - yeah him...)
Right  - Ash laucnhes  and - BOOM! technical stuff - no mic, flaky internet... and she's doing a great job adapting and "going with the flow."

We can set expectations - no problem! Except ... documented "plans" tend to gather dust. If people read it once - that is pretty much it for most plans... and most teams.

As testers, we have ideas around how things should go. We can help teams be successful by focusing on  what we can do. Things like...

What do I test? What CAN I test?
How do I keep track of stuff - questions, bugs, tests I'm working on, stuff like that
How can we communicate so we are ALL comfortable.
--Pete Note -  Ash is hitting on what seems to be an underlying theme in a lot of talks this week - Communication is key. If you have crappy communication, don't expect to produce good work,

The greatest joke in life is making a plan. (Pete Note - nice variation of the "No plan survives first contact with the enemy.")

Customize -

How do you identify whether your plan needs alterations? (AWESOME question)

"So, we've been having a lot of problems on this team, are you sure you're up to it?" Yup - loads of teams trying to transition to Agile have said that to people joining the team. Ash heard it a LOT.

As she puts it, she was so happy to be there, it was only after joining she realized she had... a situation.

The Situation - and how to evaluate it
What does your tracking look like?
How are your plans panning out?
Are you able to deliver or bring features to completion?
Is everyone happy?

These were the questions Ash learned to ask - after seeing an environment that was ... troubled. Client is mad, testing is a mess - development is a mess - people were soooooooo unhappy no one wanted to talk about anything cuz they were already really depressed and found that talking about it didn't help.


Details in the fabric -Look for what is being said underneath the comments. What OTHER forms of communication/venting are in place.

Fine Tuning - Look for what IS working - if people are willing to look for some bright spots, there is hope. If you can FIND stuff that is working - and are good! - Then the rest might be turned around.

Ever notice that when a project is in trouble, more meetings get scheduled to "fix" it - so people then get stuck dealing with what people who are upset about not maling progress & communicating and more meetings and stuff doesn't work and meetings and... yeah.

What does SUCCESS look like FOR YOUR GROUP? NO - Really!

So, if you are looking at a bunch of stuff - and people are writing bugs - WHAT are the criteria for determining what the problems are? DO you have a clear, shared understanding of what the intent is? Do you have any ground rules? Ash mentions multiple bugs written - which were contradictory - based on people's expectations since there was no clear direction or signs of intent (related to the thing Alex & Huib did yesterday - people will fill in gaps with their own narrative - that thing.)

With time, by celebrating small success, and helping people see there was hope -

Avoid sacrificing quality when experience changing conditions.

But what is quality?
related - What is the Definition of Done?
related - What is the Definition of Ready?

Getting something "done" for the sake of getting something done - without knowing what things should look like - is NOT HELPING! STOP! JUST STOP! Figure out what things are supposed to look like - and agree.

If people have some understanding of what is wanted - what is the ask - then you have an opportunity to make things better, if not great. Reset expectations when possible - make sure people understand what they are responsible for in getting things in place - the ground work - like what IS meant by ready? What ARE the endpoints we can hit?

Tension is not always a bad thing. Ask "IS this good or bad tension?" (Pete - are you a good witch or a bad witch?)

Sometimes, like flying a kite, tension can be good or bad - a certain amount is waht you need to conrol how the kite moves. Do it wrong, or over react to the ebb & flow in wind, etc., and you will have "less than optimal" results...

Like, scheduling EXTRA meetings in order to "fix" projects that are in trouble. People will do it, and go to meetings, but it will be grudgingly and will be resented. People will be less happy - then look for quality to drop.

The time I feel I want to hold on
the tightest is the time in which
I am under the most pressure.
So, how about MVPs - the most valuable players/people?
--- {Pete Note - HAH! Ash is a funny woman - Her team uses MVP to talk about Minimum Viable Product AND the people! - I muffed the transition - Sorry Ash!}
the thing about distinguishing the forest from the trees.
Yeah - creat call out - that metaphor works BOTH ways.

What is the MVP?
What does the forest look like?
Is there room for more trees?

This brings us back to quality - what IS that - what DOES success look like?

Defining that for your team will help define the team's expectations - will help ALL the players contribute tp MVPs ({Pete Note: Minimum Viable Product this time} yeah - the team members all contributing uniquely to success.) THIS will help then realize the CAN be successful.

Encourage humility among the "leaders" Encourage honesty and openness.

Doing so will help you gain the small successes that you can build into larger successes. As a group, collectively, we can build these things.

Ownership - yeah - that gets misused a lot - AND! This can be shared to expand what the team can do.
LUNCH TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Back from lunch - awesome food.

Right now, I'm sitting in Melissa Perri's (tweets at @lissijean) keynote "Designed to Learn."

Company had a beautiful app - awesome stuff and no one used the app.  So, they tried an experiment. Instead of doing all this huge development effort, what if you tried a minimal change and see what happened. Her first experiment was like.. umm... successful in showing this was a terrible idea.

So, she suggested that at the next place she worked that... the do an MVP.


"We don't do that here."

Minimum Viable Produce is a concept that, even the "experts" who popularized it, has changed over time. (she had loads of slides with quotes, I bet they are on twitter... not putting htme here - takes too long)

Question -
Do customers have that problem, really?
What are they doing to solve it now?
Where will the yuse the solution?
What do out customers expect to gain?

So, maybe we need to forget the term MVP and instead look at how we learn - all of us
and consider these as experiments to discover something.

#1 Consider problem-solution fit - Does this problem exist and can I solve it?
#2 Product Market Fit - Is my product desirable enough to be profitable in the market?

Most people look at #2, not #1.

So, some folks argue that the issue is one thing when it is often another. Do you really have a problem? EG., you have people trying a product and not actually repeating? Or, do you have people getting so far in the process and then dropping out?

What is it that you can do to learn?

Design ways to learn more?

How can you learn from people who are experinceing issues? For example - People get to a screen and drop out - The reasons may be totally different than you think

Example was a food delivery service. Loads of people look at stuff,  website looked great and people are dropping out. added a chat window asking what they disliked.Biggest reason was people had no idea that the product included - what was available. The website was pretty but had no information.

Get your stuff together -

Remember that even successful experiments will fail. First efforts nearly always fail. ON average, 1 in 20 will fail.

Product Strategy is not the solution - that is a description of what you have learned BY experimenting.

Then you can describe what you can do to fill needs and make the company a ton of money.

Product strategies describe current state - what do we have now?
We need to establish in initial step - the "target condition"to work toward. When that has been achieved, take the next step. Because, the new "target condition" is now the current state.

By expanding, shifting the state from the current to a more desired state, you can move forward. The challenge is keeping the target condition easily achievable. These should be steps toward the big "strategic" goal.

Product leaders provide vision, goals and guardrails.

The challenge is "when do we think big? How do we achieve the goals we want to achieve?" So, the challenge is to remember that HUGE goals are likely NOT to be achieved in a single step. Take small steps to get the - Increment!

Things like, HiFly - a small airline used to support other airlines. If, for example, there are people booked to fly from City 1 to City 2 on an airline. That airline, for whatever reason, might not have a plane available. So, in Europe, they might have a HiFly aircraft fly those passenges to whereever they need to go. Delta also used HiFly to experiment with new airroutes - cheaper than buying new aircraft - it was a short term experiment.

Solve BIG problems for users - that will create BIG value for the business.

Value & Features are NOT synonyms. We are here to solve a problem. Focus on THAT.

You are always in this balance between clear leadership and chaos; in fact that's where you're supposed to be - Ed Catmul - President of Pixar.

Your brand is how people feel about your product or service - Bill Beard (@writebeard)

So, experimenting will help you determine a successful route. Get stuff out fast, then iterate.
Umm - you are not "agile" if you are not iterating."

Remember - Agile does not have a brain - Scrum is a process, it will not tell you what to develop.

Focus on solving problems, by experimenting.



You may have noticed I stopped live blogging following the afternoon keynote today. Yeah. I kinda hit the wall. I ran into a couple of things that needed my attention at work, then the lack of sleep caught up with me and I needed to get out of the conference center for a while.

Don't get me wrong. The Dorint Sansoucci is a fantastic venue. I've seen few better, and many, many less good. I just needed to decompress, recharge the batteries with a walk about town and visit the amazing Christmas Market get some air and walk more than from one room to another.

For the North Americans who have never seen a Christmas Market, it is astounding. Pretty decorations, grilling sausages, mulled spiced wine, loads of variations on pastries, gifts galore - amny looking like they came straight from Santa's workshop.

Got back to the venue and realized I did not have the energy to try and keep up with Gojko's keynote on Snow White and the 777.777.777 dwarfs.

Instead, I sat with Ash Coleman, Matt Heusser, Diana Larsen, Carin Eaton and many more, just chilling and talking about our conference experience. Many of us then retired to get some supper at the hotel bar - enjoying a supper of chips (fries) & wurst or hamburger & beer.

Many great conversations today with George Dinwiddie (@gdinwiddie), Samantha Lang (@samlaing), Fanny Ptak (@StudienratFanny) and far too many to remember now. We talked, shared ideas, hopes for the future ... Oh, and we talked about testing.

I'm to bed early tonight as I have one more day to go, presenting a workshop with my friend Matt Heusser on Agile Leadership.

Good Night, Potsdam!