Quality Workshop

Quality Workshop

One sure way to liven up a meeting is to ask attendees for a definition of quality. My experience has been that this is most entertaining particularly if you have both devops and testing in the room.

It turns out that many people feel very passionate about Quality. It also turns out that many have different ideas on what quality actually is. Who knew? Diversity of ideas are not bad but it can impact a teams understanding of quality. The consequence is that it could possibly hinder a team’s ability to delivery quality product.

To help people understand the challenges around quality and to try clarify what quality might be in their context, I developed the following quality workshop.

Purpose of Quality Workshop

a) to get a working definition of quality that most people are comfortable
b) to outline a manifestation of quality in terms of quality attributes
c) to identify ways in which we can these quality attributes can be acted on

Who should attend

Depends on what your trying to achieve, but if you’re a team delivering product, I would suggest your key stakeholders come along. That may mean product owner, developers, testers, Ops. If you can get your business there too that’s a big plus.

Tools for Quality Workshop

  • A set of Quality Attributes (I’ve known these also to be called Quality Characteristics, or CFR’s – Cross Functional Requirements) printed out and placed on a wall.
  • PostItNotes (of course!)
  • some pens.

Process for Quality Workshop

  1. Ask people to write down on a post-it note their understanding of quality
  2. Place the definitions on the wall and ask people to read them (or read them out)
  3. Note the diversity (if it exists, it typically does). Bring up the subjectivity of quality and how difficult it is to agree on and quantify.
  4. Ask what the implications of this might be throughout the delivery lifecycle (e.g Design, Development, Ops)
  5. You can dot vote to try and get some sort of agreement on a working definition of quality*.

* My working definition of quality is the Jerry Weinberg one “Quality is value to some person”.  If no-one puts this definition up on the board, I like to add it as it encourages a discussion on the subjectivity of quality. 

If you’ve got this far without some major outburst or spat, congratulations! Next step is to try and parse what quality might look like.

  1. Ask people to read the quality attributes on the wall
  2. Ask them to dot vote 3 what they consider to be the most important quality attributes
  3. Collect the top 3 quality attributes and put them on a whiteboard
  4. Ask the group to identify 3 tasks for each particular quality attribute and to write them on a post-it note.*
  5. Place the post it notes on the whiteboard along side the quality attribute
  6. Run through the post-it notes. Discuss the viability of these and how to make these tasks happen.
  7. Visualise and share this information to the broader organisation.

* I avoid using the word ‘testing’ as I want people to think about other factors that influence quality. Testing is important, but testing helps us evaluate quality.  Unless its acted upon, it doesn’t help us build quality. Sometimes I like to prime people by providing a couple of non testing examples such as Code Reviews,  Monitoring and Security by Design. 

I’ve found these sessions generate a lot of discussion and can become quite heated.

I wouldn’t run a quality workshop all the time, but its really useful iron out at perhaps an epic or feature level, what quality might be and how a team can work together to implement that vision.

(Learn more on this topic by attending my Quality Matters Workshop)

Let me know how you get on!

Photo Attribute:  Quality by jason Taellious https://www.flickr.com/photos/dreamsjung/

In search of perfection

I knew Flynn was in trouble the moment he created a program Clu 2 as his doppleganger. You see, the purpose of Clu 2 was to create the perfect system.

Flynn, a programmer failed to understand the struggle between perfection and quality. I’m guessing he didn’t spend a lot of time in the test team!

Of course, none of this makes any sense unless you have watched TRON the Legacy.

Warning!  I’m giving a bit of the plot away below…

In Tron Legacy, Flynn a programmer realises that he can’t spend all of his time in(yes in) his computer, so he creates Clu 2, a program that will create the perfect system for him. Unfortunately, the perfect system starts to wipe out everything that it sees as imperfect and pretty soon our world as we know it is being threatened. I know, its a pretty silly storyline, still the effects were great and it got the thumbs up from the 7 & 9 yr old critics.

What is perfection? Perfection, as I understand it, is  to be without fault or defect. A pretty tall ask for software. And Quality? Well, that is value to some person.¹

Both Quality and Perfection are subjective if you think about it. For example, art critics describe the Mona Lisa smile as the perfect smile. But in my mind, that small measly semi grin is far from perfect.

So, what is the difference between Quality and Perfection? Perhaps quality is more realistic, more humane?  They appear to be related in some way. When  some-one says something is perfect, are they perhaps saying that the quality is perfect?

Maybe perfection is a state in the quality model? A Utopian ideal that perhaps is something to aspire to as opposed to achieve?

At the end of the movie, Fynn realises that perfection(his son) was in front of him all the time (I told you the storyline was dodgy). I guess at that moment in time, blinded by emotion, his son was perfection to him. I suspect though, like any parent with inattentional blindness that moment quickly passes.

So perfection and quality  are dependent on time too. I think Markus Gärtner tweeted about that once.

How do we deal with these concepts in software testing? Here’s how I think about it:

Perfection is a great goal to aspire to, but my expectation is quality.²

I think this is a healthy way to look at it. For one thing, it stops me from asking for unrealistic demands from myself and others.

I do this by expecting good enough testing³.

I guess we all fall into this trap of perfection sometimes. its easy to demand perfection in other or systems yet excuse the imperfect in ourselves. In software testing, we expect perfection from developers yet don’t accept or recognise our own  failures.

“What do you mean its not a bug? Of course it is!”.

Expecting perfection in yourself is another trap and can set you up for some major life disappointments. A more realistic approach I think is to aspire for perfection but try to expect something a bit more realistic?Well, I try anyhow!

We need to combine this reality with a good dose of humility about our own failures and failures in others.

Then we will begin  treating  people with respect, a little more understanding, and perhaps then, our software will be more about the people, less about ourselves.



¹ Weinberg: “Quality is value to some person(s)”

² Read Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar” for more on this.

³“Good Enough testing is the process of developing a sufficient assessment of quality, at a reasonable cost, to enable wise and timely decisions to be made concerning the product..