Courage in Exploratory Testing

Exploratory Testing takes software testing skill. It also requires the tester be courageous. Let me explain.

Exploratory testing is an approach, not a technique. Exploratory Testing is simultaneous learning, design and execution. What information we learn about a product, helps dictate our tests providing us with information that we can share with people around us.

Exploratory Testing is tester centric, meaning the tester is central to the testing taking place. The tester has the autonomy and the responsibility to make decisions about what to test, how to test, how much to test and when to stop. This may seem blatantly obvious to some, but its surprising the number of test teams where this is not the case.

Its all powerful stuff, generating an environment where the tester must constantly reflect upon the changing project and product environments, enabling the tester to be engaged and mindful as they test.

I honestly can’t think of a better approach to software testing.

But there is a catch. Exploratory Testing also demands great courage.

When you start to take responsibility for your testing it’s not done in isolation. Testing requires interaction with many different people such as developers, project managers, scrum masters, product owners, customer support and business people. We share information that’s not always good news. Its in the form of bugs found and the possible impact of this information on business. The resulting consequences of the information we share often leads to delays in releasing, changes in work load, context switching and revising strategies.

In scripted testing, testers have artifacts which they measure and count giving an illusion of of certainty but really this is smoke and mirror reporting and generally offers little genuine information. “We have reached 78% test coverage, with a DDR of 85%”

Exploratory Testing doesn’t have ‘dutch courage’ to rely on. It requires us to have conversations about our information in potentially hostile environments. Sometimes we can feel like the lone fish swimming against the tide of the silent majority. It can be tough and as testers we need to learn to develop how to speak about our testing, how to tell a story (James Bach and Michael Bolton have both written on this). courage in Exploratory Testing

Here’s a list of ways that have helped a quaking knock kneed tester like myself discover her backbone:

Speak to someone you trust about your concern. Vocalisng a fear helps to make it tangible and sometimes gives strength when you discover its a shared concern.

Be coached or mentored on how to speak about testing with confidence

Take small steps. Speak to people sympathetic to your cause, sound out ideas. See if other people can help.

Try not to lose faith, be persistent. Keep your eyes on the goal, even if sometimes you fail to speak out.

Emotions are your toolbox. Anger and frustration can be very useful emotions! Use your emotion to give you courage to speak out. (I learned that at PSL this year..thanks to Jerry, Johanna & Esther)

Sometimes you need help. Be humble enough to know that sometimes change is out of your capabilities. See if you can find help through the testing community or see if you can bring someone in to help affect the change.

But mostly, its about practice. Courage breeds courage. Standing up to little things helps give you courage to stand up to greater things in the future. Be brave. Be strong.

What drives me most of all is that I want to be able to walk away from a situation with my head held high in the knowledge that I may not have changed the world, but I’ve had my say.

Now that’s a good days work.

 

 

 

 

Growing your own

So, I’m sitting here in my office on a beautiful  Australian spring day. The sun is shining brightly, the air is slightly fresh sending wafts of scent from the spring flowers. Its a good time to be alive and its a good time to be thinking of growth and change.

Potatoes in Spring

True to form, I trotted down to the local garden center and bought back a truck load of seeds and ideas on what I can do in the garden. I feel good this year, the potatoes are growing well, and I’ve managed to grow snow peas for the first time. Having invested a good amount of time in the garden, I feel content enough to sit in my office and allow myself to explore ideas on software testing and training.

And I’ve come up with the crazy idea, wonderful idea. For some time I’ve wanted to invest in online training in software testing. Its a model that I think will suit me well. I live far far away from the rest of the world and as much I as enjoy meeting new testers from around the globe, continuous travel is not for me.

To date, I’ve struggled with the concept of online learning. When I learn, I like to get my hands gritty, experience the stuff I’m wrestling with. With my online coaching, I make sure I include a task of some sort but thats one on one. Is it possible to offer online experiential learning to many people?

And then I read about these guys at Venture Lab. The courses are highly experiential & require collaboration to succeed. I sniffed a model that I could possibly work with.

But I’m taking it one step further. I want to make the students the designers of the course. Its the students who will work out what needs to be learned and how that will be achieved, and how they will know they achieved it. There will be some external structure, perhaps in the form of exercises, some philosophies to abide by, but basically, its the students who will dictate the content & the pace. In fact a lot of these ideas are from the coaching model James Bach & I have worked on holding onto the concept that learning requires real desire from the student, and to do that the student needs to dictate the learning (with the teacher offering space and direction to learn).

I see this courses as being a permission giver. We’re so drilled to think of learning as something we have to sign up for, like its impossible for us to learn outside a course. In this way, I’m helping overcome that little hurdle and get into some real meaty learning.

I’m very excited about these ideas and what will come of them. I’m not sure where they will lead and I guess that’s half the fun! If you want to join me on the crazy, wacky journey, feel free to contact me on Skype at charretts, or else add a comment below.

I’ll be adding information on this model as it progresses.

You little beauty

We Aussies are a pretty laid back lot but a software testing event in Adelaide this November has a whole heap of software testers tapping their toes in anticipation for the first Australian Workshop on Software Testing (OZWST) to be held 8th & 9th November in Adelaide.

I’m one of the few invitees to this event and its looking to be a couple of days of extreme learning.

I see this as an historic event in Australian Software Testing Calendar. For what I believe is the first time ever,  Australian software testers are coming together with these objectives:

They want to learn to become better software testers
Sure, many testers want to become better in their craft, but how many are prepared to pay their own to Adelaide to do so? Unlike conferences or summits where companies pay for training, most testers attending are self funded and they’re doing it because they know that this is a unique opportunity to learn and improve their software testing skills through experiential learning.

They want to actively promote skilled software testing
Lets face it, on the whole software testing has a bad image in Australia and we need some serious champions out there who are willing to stare down the grey faceless masses, that either through ignorance and/or stupidity promote mediocre testing. The testers at OZWST mean business; they want to persuade and influence others – and they’re looking to OZWST to help them gain those skills.

They want to build an community of thoughtful testers
Software Testing is a poorly understood skill in Australia, and here is a bunch of testers who want to change that. Its no surprise this event is run by and for Context Driven Testers. By working together as a community, software testers can share war stories, learn from experiences and encourage each other.

 

 

 

Upcoming Software Testing Courses

I’m heading to CAST 2012 this year (July 16th – 18th) and so I’ll be in the San Jose/ San Francisco area if anyone is looking for an impromptu workshop on Exploratory Testing or Coaching Software Testers around that time.

I’ll also be near Albuquerque for PSL in August this year (August 24th -August 31st), so if anyone is interested in workshops in those general locales contact me on annemarie@mavericktester.com or Skype me at charretts

 

In pursuit of coaching excellence

When you coach a tester you’re working in an environment that dynamically changes as both the student and coach work through a coaching task.  If you look at the diagram below you can see all the different attributes that might change throughout a coaching session.

Coaching Space Bach & Charrett

Also, throughout the coaching session, the student and coach have a mental model of the coach and themselves. They constantly re-evaluate these models as the coaching session progresses.

The coaching I do (and James Bach does) requires that the coach has a testing syllabus that they use to help the student. This is different to life coaching which is non domain specific. Also, our coaching is lot more directive. The relationship between the coach and student is more coach->student than the traditional peer-to-peer relationship you find in life coaching. I see our coaching more like sports coaching, where a coach outside of a game, runs you through drills and challenging exercises to help you improve, often without realising your in need of improvement.

Personally, I’ve experienced good and not so good sports coaches. In my school days I was a bit of a field hockey superstar (I joined the grade A hockey team two years ahead of time, making me the youngest player). My coach however was incredibly overbearing, shouting and yelling at us and telling us how hopeless we were. I’m not sure if we were hopeless or not, but I know we failed to win many games and left the season completely demoralised to the point I gave up hockey for four years. I was persuaded to pick up hockey again and this time we had a different coach. She was quiet, never said too much and let me play my free style. One day she came up to me and be a quietly suggested I move back 10 metres to be able to better angle my shots ( I was in a midfield position). Very quickly I realised the power of such a move, I was in a better position to be able to control the game. I was 16 when that happened and I’ve never forgotten the power of that one statement.

For me that’s what coaching is about and its the type of coach I aspire to be. Its directive but the direction is about the skill and how the student is performing that skill. Where its non directional is that I challenge the student to think for themselves. It’s paradox at play but one that works.

Its also powerful because it’s watchful, ready to tap into what a student is doing at an appropriate time, using pressure and energy as tools to make direction powerful to the student (just like my second sports coach did). The aim is to help the student feel empowered to achieve more.

But the energy is not only in one way. The coach is getting energised by the coaching session too. I’m constantly evaluating my coaching and testing ability. I become a better coach by doing this. My aim is to become the best coach I can be.

I can only do this by coaching lots of testers, evaluating the transcripts and also working with colleagues who inspire and want to become better coaches too. I’ve been doing that this week with James Bach. We’ve been working on our book on coaching, identifying ways in which we coach, syndromes that both student and coaches encounter (we need to do more of this) and also finding ways to better evaluate coaching transcripts.

I think an aspiration of excellence in any field is such a worthy goal. I was watching Ron Ben Israel who is a master baker of sugar dessert flowers. You can see his passion the how is pursuit of excellence has led him to create masterpieces in sugar. Who would have thought that you could become excellent in such a small field?

Excellence I think is different to perfection. Perfection to me sounds more absolute, perhaps a little unrealistic. Excellence however, is within my grasp but also always one step ahead of me. I can be excellent at one point in time, but I can always strive to be more excellent. I think this is a worthy pursuit and a good use of my time and energy.

What are you in pursuit of?

(if you want a coaching session on software testing, please contact me on Skype. My id is charretts, please include the word “coaching request”. I offer free skype coaching to testers as long as you’re willing to allow your transcripts to be used in my research and perhaps in the upcoming book. This means the transcripts may be published, though I do conceal the second name and any potentially sensitive data).

Training Testers

I’m having a complete blast at the moment adding the finishing touches to my upcoming workshops in Dublin,Belfast and London.

The Dublin and Belfast Exploratory Workshops sold out in a couple of days but there are still some seats on the coaching testers workshop in London. This is shaping up to be a great workshop – its jam packed with exercises and I’m very excited to be able to share with other testers the approaches that James Bach & I have honed over the past years.

Then its off to the inaugural Lets Test Conference in Stockholm where I’ll be giving a talk on coaching testers.

The Lets-Test conference is shaping up to be a huge event and personally I’m thrilled to be making part of history by speaking there.

Hope to catch up with you at one of these events!

Mary Mary Quite Contrary…

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Its an old english rhyme that goes eons back. In fact, its actual meaning is disputed over time. Meaning change over time, don’t they? A bit like quality I guess.

Closer to today, in the early 1990’s people so enamoured with the concept of a *mobile* phone ignored the fact that half the time calls dropped out. After all, compared to a fixed line, the freedom was incomparable  so why not put up with being cut off through a tunnel?

Roll forward twenty years later, and Vodafone lost a plethora of customers due to call drops outs. Why? We as customers have changed our concept of quality. What people viewed as acceptable soon became intolerant.

Testers need to be aware of this. In particular when they focus on regression testing. Do your old tests actually add value? Have stakeholder opinions changed over time?

Testers also face a problem that Mary didn’t have to deal with. For Mary, everything was laid out in row, nicely lined up, easy to count.

But bugs don’t do that, do they? They grumpy, recalcitrant and downright impossible to find. Thats why we as testers can’t rely on the expected, the norm, the process. We need to be clever. We need to be sleuths. We are the Sherlock Holmes of the IT world, finding clues where no-one thought to look.  We need to think harder, deeper and broader than everyone else on the team. We need to catch the peices others haven’t thought of.

Here’s my 21st century version of the poem.

Mary Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow
Until the testers have a look,
To be honest, I really don’t know.

 

Jumping to conclusions

Good testers continuously ask questions about the product, the customer and the project environment and invariably on themselves.

No question, no test.

When were satisfied with the explanation we stop asking questions, we stop being inquisitive. For testers, its essential to keep asking questions for as long as possible.

On the other hand, a test manager deals in conclusions in response to deadlines and an expectation from stakeholders.

This puts a test manager in the unenviable position where on one hand they need to encourage their testers to question, but on the other they need to be able to satisfy their stakeholders with conclusions.

A test manager has to deal with this conflict of inquiry and conclusion in the testing they deliver. If a test manager focuses only on deadlines and delivery, the desire to reach conclusions quickly will filter into the testing they manage. Testers will start feeling the pressure to deliver answers instead of ask questions.

Test managers need to be conscious of the impact deadlines and being project driven can have on a tester’s ability to find bugs.

If you’re a test manager, be mindful of the impact that deadlines & resulting conclusions may have on your testers. Avoid the temptation to drive testing with the goal of delivering ‘the simple answer’ because stakeholders expect it.

Strive for open mindedness and inquiry in testing. Avoid easy explanations and quick conclusions.

Or even better, encourage stakeholders to reach their own conclusions about the testing that’s being performed. Now that would be a real victory!

Please don’t hire me

If you want perfect software
If you want me to break your code
If you want to measure me by the number of test scripts I write
If you want me to tell you its ready to ship
If you want 100% of your product tested
If your looking for a tester to only “check” if things look ok
If you want your testers to mindlessly follow test scripts
If you want training on a test process
If you feel you can’t test without requirements

But if you’re looking for a tester who prides herself on the work she delivers, offers as much value to her clients as she can, and has a reputation for excellent testing, then yes, please hire me!

I’m available for coaching testers, training testers, consulting and testing.

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The Buzz On Testing

We’re witnessing a revolution my dear comrades. The tide is turning on drone testing  The word is out. Skill Matters!

Classes such as Rapid Software Testing (developed by James Bach and Michael Bolton), Just in Time (Rob Sabourin) and Elizabeth Hendrikson Exploratory Testing classes are becoming more popular.  They say “Test is Dead” but I say “Bad Test is Dead”.  Hurrah!

Slowly the realisation that tester’s need skills as such as bug recognition, critical thinking, the art of questioning, influencing and developing strategies to help them effectively test software.

I have a theory that the majority of tester training has been focused on process and documentation because its easy to teach that way. Instead of having to working on skill you simply point to a structure and say “follow that”.

Its much more challenging to develop a tester’s skill.

Skilled people earn respect and rightly so. We admire a skilled musician – even if the music doesn’t appeal to us. Developing skill is hard work. It’s the accumulation of understanding, practice and application. This takes time and effort.

As someone who has worked in the industry for twenty years, I know how hard it can be to allocate time for training. We’re deadline orientated and rightly, a Test Manager’s goal is to complete ‘good enough’ testing with the time and resources available.

Coaching is the antidote to this. It allows the tester breathing space to reflect and work on their skill.

The coaching I perform focuses on developing skill through understanding & practice. It takes into account the testers skill base, context, aspirations and the challenges a tester is facing in their current work.

As opposed to arbitrary training, coaching complements a working environment, and often the problems worked on are those that exist at work.

In conjunction with James Bach, I’ve developed systematic approach to coaching a tester’s skill. This approach is a result of coaching hundreds of students, evaluating transcripts and refining the coaching model.

It’s this model that I will be teaching in my workshops on coaching testers. I’ll be holding a workshop in London on the 4th May, and one in Sydney on the 29th May (with James Bach).

Come and join me!