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Software Testing, Craftsmanship, Leadership and beyond
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So, I went for the board

Sun, 06/14/2015 - 22:01

End of August two years ago, I announced that I was going for the AST board. I kept my expectations pretty low, and I am glad that I did. Two years have passed, so I figured let’s revisit that decision from back then. Long story short: I won’t go for another two years. Read on to find out why.

The secretary

For two years, I have been the secretary of the board of directors of the Association for Software Testing. Pretty nice sounding title, eh? Well, there are three in-person board member meetings a year. We also went from bi-weekly calls to monthly ecoms during my term.

Usually the in-person meetings are done over a weekend from Saturday morning until Sunday noon-ish. That’s where most of the decisions are made for the ongoing course. In between, we tried to get work done.

Well, we tried at least. Part of the problem is when you depart from the in-person meetings, and get back to your daily routine, many of the good intentions to move something forward are eaten up by daily business. That’s happened to me, that’s happened to other board members, and many of them admitted it. It’s bit of a tragic situation, considering that folks get elected for having a loud voice on twitter or in the community, but you don’t know for sure if they get anything done in a group of volunteers.

So, for anyone out there wanting to go for the board, keep in mind not to set yourself a too high target. Remember that you will be dealing with a totally mixed set of volunteers, and it’s very hard to predict if and how you can work together. Folks from different directions have different opinions about different things. It might be that you will totally rock the place. But in hindsight, after two years, I think that the context-driven testing community is set up with many opinionated people, that can make the “getting something done” side of business hard at many times.

So, why I’m stepping down?

Besides all the things that we kept rolling, over the course of the last year, I figured that being the first European board member is causing me much of stress. Usually I took Fridays to fly into board member meetings, and returned early mornings on Mondays when we had an in-person meeting. That worked to some extent with my schedule, and I think that’s based upon the company I work for, and the freedom that I could take there.

And I think after two years, I have seen enough to recognize that it’s way harder to participate in online discussions with the timezone difference. It’s way harder to contribute to the board discussions that we have online or in email, and so on.

In September, I also became a CST which made me life with keeping track of online discussions harder. When you’re in class for two or three days straight, you don’t return to your hotel room to read the updates from the day.

So, over time, I figured that I couldn’t put in the amount of time that I felt would be necessary. I also recognized, that it became harder and harder for me to contribute. That’s when I decided that the AST would be better off if someone else had the chance to step in.

It’s not all bad

But it’s not all bad. During the last year we made the decision to update the BBST course material, to move the website to a new system, and to form a group working on standards and certifications. I think these are good steps, and they were long overdue.

That said, I look forward to the new elected board members, and how they will continue the work of 10 years of board members that came before them. I leave the group with a whining and a smiling face.

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Categories: Blogs

Why you should go to CAST

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 21:21

Last year, when the Association for Software Testing announced the location for their next annual conference CAST 2015, Grand Rapids, MI, there was an up-roar happening on social media and back channels like Skype and private conversations. To my own surprise, I saw members of the context-driven testing community falling short of their very own principles. Rather than observing and interacting with people, it seemed that some persons preferred to derive their knowledge about Grand Rapids based upon a prior CAST conference there. Experience may be a good resource to start looking at, but I found that I should trust the folks from the local area that I knew to put together an awesome conference – more so since they could explain to me why the past experience was not so well received. When it came to the October 2014 AST board member meeting, Pete Walen, the conference chair, the guy who managed to send in a proposal prior to CAST 2014 so that the AST board could decide upon it, invited us to the conference location, so that it was easy to see for us where we were going with the proposal. Here is what I learned during my two nights in the conference venue – and why I think you should attend.

The Venue

The conference hotel is located right down-town in Grand Rapids. There was an art exhibition during my time in October there with many tourist flooding the halls. The conference hotel itself was huge – not as huge as those Gaylord hotels, but quite huge. There were several meeting rooms on various floors. Pete made sure to drop all of us arriving at the airport, and giving us a round at the hotel.

There are at least 15 floors with bedrooms, if I remember correctly. The main entrance hall had a chandeller hanging in the middle, with meeting rooms on the first floor. There was also a Starbucks, a restaurant, where I ate the most delicious food in my short life so far, and right across the reception was a bar that kept open even quite late into the night.

The first floor – I think in American counting it’s the second floor – appeared to be for all the conferences happening there. There is enough room to hold three CAST conferences there at the same time – but I think we just booked enough conference rooms for one event. In the evening, there was a wedding happening where I believe will be the main hall for CAST. It was a huge wedding, so was the main hall.

I found the conference hotel pretty awesome. Especially I like conferences where you stay with speakers and attendees at the same spot rather than spreading across the city. Thereby you can hang out with most folks without the “I need to get back to my hotel” crap, even if tester’s night or the challenges or whatever you have runs late into the night.

The location

When you fly into Grand Rapids, you can certainly check out the famous park calc parking lot. But the location of the hotel is actually right downtown. Close to the hotel, right across the street are two or three restaurants with any food you can think of. There is a brewery close by, and also museums. If that’s not enough, I am sure that some of the locals like Pete or Matt Heusser will be happy to point you to sights that you should visit if you haven’t used all your energy up for the conference.

In stories and rumors I heard that Grand Rapids was a boring spot with nothing to do, and so on. Certainly, I saw a totally different city back in October.

The program

Oh, year, there is also a program for CAST. The main theme is “Moving testing forward”. Monday usually is tutorial day at CAST, and we are happy to offer tutorials from Fiona Charles, Christine Wiedemann, Rob Sab, and Dhanasekar Subramaniam. Fiona will deal with transporting difficult messages, while Christine will be doing a tutorial on how to questioning rules and overcoming your own biases and conventions. Rob Sab has the basics for you if you want to become an experienced tester, and Dhanasekar will deal with mobile app testing. Usually tutorials fill pretty fast. So if you want to join any of these, make sure to sign up soon.

Karen Johnson will talk about how to move testing forward in her Tuesday’s keynote. The keynote on Wednesday will be held by my old fellow weekend tester Ajay Balamurugadas. In it, he will explain why the future of testing is already here.

Just in case, make sure to check the schedule online. Oh, and I probably also should mention that this Friday, June 5th 2015, the Early Bird will end, meaning that the prices will be higher if you wait longer.

As a closing to this blog entry, let me transpose the context-driven testing principles – deliberately – to conferences:

    The value of any conference depends on its context.

  1. There are good conferences in context, but there are no best conferences.
  2. People, working together, are the most important part of any conference’s context.
  3. Conferences unfold over time in ways that are often not predictable.
  4. The learning is a solution. If the wisdom isn’t solved, the conference doesn’t work.
  5. Good software testing conferences are a challenging intellectual process. Only through judgment and skill, exercised cooperatively throughout the entire conference, are we able to do the right things at the right times to effectively further our community.

If you plan to attend CAST 2015 with these in mind, I am certain you’ll get value out of the conference.

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Categories: Blogs

Not so fast food

Sun, 05/10/2015 - 23:04

A while ago I considered adding some new type pf posts to my blog. There are many things that I notice in my leisure time at all the different spots that makes most folks wouldn’t think about, yet I see a relation to some of the stuff that I learned while diving into Agile software development. This blog entry kicks off these new type of posts.

I am not sure about other places on Earth, but in Germany the McDonald’s corporation recently started to re-design their restaurants. (Yes, I admit that at times a McDonald’s is one of my choices to take something to eat while switching trains.) They are now offering two types of counters together with a self-service counter using credit cards or bank cards. The in-person counters a split by the counter where you order and pay for your meal, and the counter where you can then pick your meal. Based upon subjective experiences, I think this move is a dramatic move away from customer friendliness.

What’s the problem?

My observation into many of these encounters was, that I needed to wait way longer to get food than it was the case before this re-design. Waiting times used to annoying to us customers even in the old design, but now with the new design, things got worse according to my personal experiences. Of course, it’s not much of a problem if there are few other customers. But imagine the situation when a full train arrives with hundreds of passengers during lunchtime at a local train station. Some of them at least will walk into the nearest McDonald’s to grab some food.

In the old workflow design, there were usually three to five counters open during such high times. There were several queues forming in front of these counters, you would be waiting in line for your turn, order, pay, wait for your meal to be prepared, and then leave. Overall this had been between 5-15 minutes at times for me.

Now let’s take a look at the new workflow design. You enter the restaurant, see two open counters with lots of folks waiting there, and you see the full list of already ordered meals on the screen above the counter for the pick-up. If you’re like me you check the self-service machines in such case. Funny thing is that in 95% of the times I ran into such a situation, these were out of order.

So, we get in line in front of the in-person counters. We wait until it’s our turn, order, pay, and receive a receipt with a number for the pick-up counter. There you queue up until it’s your turn to pick up your meal. But wait, there is only one guy serving the pick-up counter. So, all the customers from the two in-person order counters end up in a single queue to get their food. It would be even worse if one or more of the three self-service machines worked.

What’s happening here?

As Mary Poppendieck taught me a while ago, whenever there is a queue, there is certainly sub-optimization happening. What’s the sub-optimization here? McDonald’s seems to optimize for cash-flows and sparing personell costs from my point of view. Two in-person counters, and one guy serving the meals is three quarters of the salary they used to pay before the re-design.

Of course, people wouldn’t buy into that without some benefits. The self-service machines and the new fancy restaurant layout seem to be the selling points here. But it seems that they have under-estimated the demand and the necessary queues for such a move.

So, what’s better about the old system?

Did you notice the hand-off between the two counters? Yeah, I think this is the major culprit. On face value, you saved one person’s salary with the new workflow. On the other hand, you made it way harder for people to support each other.

Consider this situation that I observed last week. The pick-up counter was heavily under stress with 5-10 items still in line. At some point one of the in-person counters clerks decided to help them out, move from the counter, and got into the kitchen. Unfortunately the other cashier also had to leave for some reason I didn’t get. I observed five new customers stepping into the restaurant totally confused about where to get food, since none of the cashier stations was served.

The problem is that the new workflow makes it close to impossible for other people in the restaurant to help out the current bottleneck in the overall system. In the past I have observed folks from McCafe stepping in to help out others if there was a need. Now, it’s impossible.

All of this came with the specialization that slipped into the workflow from separating cashing and food preparations. The one additional hand-off made it less likely for me personally to enter a McDonald’s restaurant if I want to use my 15 minutes train switching time to grab something to eat. Maybe my wife will like this in the long, but on face value, I think McDonald’s harmed their overall business more than necessary with this one additional hand-off and specialization that happened alongside.

I certainly don’t know any business numbers from McDonald’s, but I imagine that client happiness with the new workflow restaurants dropped dramatically probably resulting in fewer returning customers.

Now, think what happened when the software industry introduced hand-offs between Analysis, Design, Architecture, Coding, and Testing.

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