Agile came about as a response to the extreme standardization of software development process that was popular through the early 2000s. That standardization mostly came in the form of waterfall and Rational Unified Process (RUP).
The principles of agile suggested the exact opposite of processes like RUP and waterfall. Instead of a one size fits all approach, we now have extreme customization. There is no common starting place and every team applies the principles just a little different — some use scrum, some use kanban, some TDD here, and a CI system there.
Managers noticed that loosening up on standardization got software done faster and want to spread that goodness through their company.
There is a problem though, agile doesn’t scale.
Back in 1993, I performed my last show as a professional musician. This had been an endeavor that I had pursued, quite doggedly, for the better part of a decade. I had a number of successes and failures along the way, and I learned a lot of skills that would serve me well in my future career as a software tester.
The past few weeks have brought me full circle, in that I accepted an opportunity to perform with a band once again. One of my former band mates reached out to me and told me about a project that he was working on, and asked if I’d be interested in coming “out of retirement” to sing once again. After considering the time commitment and the logistics, as well as the technical challenges involved, I said “Sure, let’s do this!”
I have always believed that my time as a musician, as well as performing in a band, was critical to my success as a software tester and my ability to work in IT in general. That may sound like a strange way to come to an IT career, but in truth, the two disciplines (music and Information Technology) are surprisingly compatible. Both are creative spaces. IF you have never considered IT a creative space, think about the way that problems are often solved, and the way that solutions are derived. Very often, the logical and first planned approach doesn’t work the way that you anticipated it would. Musicians are taught to improvise early on, and often a performance can go sour rapidly if they cannot think on their feet if a problem occurs.
While I was in Postdam, Germany for Agile Testing Days 2015, there was a blizzard of options for talks and workshops I could attend. With close to one hundred speakers, there was no way I could attend everything I wanted to, but one workshop in particular stood out to me. It was delivered by George Dinwiddie and Stephan Kämper regarding The Three Amigos Principle.
I figured I’d learned everything I’d need to know about this concept years ago. It’s pretty simple. A programmer, a product owner and a tester walk into a room… and no, this is not a set up for a joke, that’s what they do. They get together and discuss the details of a story, so that everyone can be on the same page. In my company, we most often have this interaction when a story is “kicked off”.
The idea behind the Three Amigos principle is that software testers and programmers can get involved in the process of defining, developing and testing stories earlier. What often happens, though, is that a story is reviewed from a high level, some questions are asked, and the general consensus is that we can get into the details as we progress.
As I was listening to George and Stephan share their experiences and some examples that they put together for us to work with, they shared an idea that I felt was quite powerful, and made a lot of sense. It’s called “Example Mapping”, and was developed by Matt Wynne.
Last week I introduced a story about what bad corporate communication can look like. I talked about the post, and the experience that lead up to it, with my colleague and co-blogger here on Uncharted Waters, Matt Heusser. He made me realize that that past was two in one, it was a story in a story.
The juicy part of the story is about how development managers come to be, and the problems that creates. There is also the matter of how I dealt with this phenomenon as a newly minted software practitioner and what I’d try do different a second time around.
Let’s get to it.
A friend of mine got this line in an email from the corporate office last week:
As part of a corporate effort to improve our ability to assure high-quality software is undertaking a study to determine the corporate capability of our Quality Assurance teams. Factors under review include: resource alignment, technical skills, technical skill gaps, tools in use, and testing techniques.
That email looks like a mashup of half the business lingo we learned in undergrad. The weird part is that no one knows what any of those words mean. The people reading it are usually left confused and probably feeling some anxiety about their position in the company. The people that wrote the email were probably trying to make the wording vague enough so that anything that actually happens will still fit the original story.
I’m not convinced this is how business emails should go.
Michael O’Church first came to my attention for his blog commentary on the gervais principle. Later I learned that the prolific blogger had worked for a google and other tech titans. Last week, he published an expose on the early-stage Silicon Valley funding works, titled Y Combinator and Paul Graham are bad for the world. I thought the world deserved to hear a different view.
It’s time for me to tell my story. Continued »
Some agile and lean people like to use the phrase ‘fail fast’. That slogan is usually a call to be brave and try new things that might not work out. Looking a little deeper, there is an encouragement to find what doesn’t work early rather than later when the stakes might be higher. I’ve never been a fan of the saying. Failing isn’t my idea of a good time whether is happens now, or later. And aside from that, I think it encourages the types of behavior that slow a company down instead of drive it forward.
Let’s take a closer look on what it means to fail.
Every time I have started a new job of the fully employed at a company type, one of the first things we do is go over the organizational chart. An HR person and maybe my new boss sit down with me point to the bottom of the page and say “See, you are right there. No, not there, further down. Yeah down there in the bottom corner.” And then tell about how other people in my position are now VPs of something or other.
I always hated those meetings. Careers aren’t linear, most people don’t go in a perfectly smooth path from junior to senior to management and whatever is after that. Even if progression was linear like that, the organization chart offers no help or suggestions for how to actually get there.
I want to talk about how I do it. My career is a work in progress, it will always be, but maybe this will be helpful for someone out there.
Did you hear about the woman who faked pregnancy in order to get financial support? She’s headed to prison for 18 months. The crime is larceny by trick: She convinced people to give her money based on a lie.
Back in IT, you don’t have to look far for a similar story; it might be as simple as the guy down the hall who claims a fake degree, a fake certification, or experiences he did not have on his resume in order to get a job.
Let’s start there. Specifically, someone who claims on LinkedIn to have the Project Manager Professional, or PMP designation, but doesn’t show up in the registry. Now it is possible the person’s registration expired, or he has the name spelled wrong. You want to be careful, so you contact the Project Management Institute Directly.
Then things get weird.
The damaging effects of multitasking in Software are no huge surprise; they’ve been covered by gurus like Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood. Atwood references the multitasking research of Gerald Weinberg, the consultant’s consultant. One common ‘fix’ to eliminate multitasking is to reduce Work In Progress, something we talk about at my company in presentations, in our courses, and yes, right here at Uncharted Waters.
So when I see a tweet like the one below, you can image it causes a strong reaction.
After a fair bit of back and forth with James, I have a bit of the context and I can at least agree that minimizing WIP can limit creativity for certain kinds of work, and could be toxic to certain kinds of creativity.
Let’s talk about what those might be, starting with my own work.