Today's Big Picture

December 20, 2010  10:40 AM


Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

I will be pulling questions from IT Answers and try to address them here in my blog. Come back to read the Q&A section.

December 15, 2010  1:30 PM

Learning From Our Lessons

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

Post audits, retrospectives or post mortem.. companies give it different names and meanings. Some look at it as a means to blame someone else or wash their hands of the problems or use it to talk about everything that went wrong. The idea behind post audits, retrospectives or post mortem should be learn from the lessons. Our actions, reactions, process, events, logs etc are opportunities we can learn from.

I hate the word post mortem so I am going to refer to it as post audit for discussions here. Post audit is really a end of project activity or meeting to review the project. Look at things that worked, things that didn’t work, things that could be made better and then things that worked really well. The teams get together and go over the events and activities and categorize them into sections – good, bad, could be better, etc.

Here are some things the team can do to make post audits add value to the future releases of the product. Its really about learning from the lessons

  1. Problem centric not people: Its not about people its about problems.
  2. Its about learning: Even though the whole process of post audit itself is about learning, we need to look at the activities and see what we can learn from each of them?
  3. Involve everyone and their perspective: There could be events that we think caused issues to our team. We need to work upstream and down stream to see what the root of the issue was and how it impacted others. People may have different perspective of the same issue.
  4. Make it formal: Make this process formal and document it. This will make people take this seriously and give genuine inputs.
  5. Good and Bad: Focus equally on good and bad. Sometimes we get so caught up on complaining about all the bad, we miss the good.
  6. Action Plan: There has to be action plan and take ways. It shouldn’t be another meeting where people come and talk and go. Improvements have to be made to show impact from this meeting. Have some dates in the action plan to revisit the post audit results and actions.

December 11, 2010  11:26 AM

The IT Files – Denny Cherry – Part II

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

Part 1

Name your favorite IT book.

One which I’ve really like is the Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting by Wrox Press.  My favorite at the moment though would have to be my new book “Securing SQL Server” which is coming out in February 2011.

Who is your hero? 

I don’t really have a hero.  This probably comes from the fact that most of the people that I look up to in my professional life are good friends who I talk to and joke with on a regular if not a daily basis.  People like Buck Woody, Paul Randal, Kimberly Tripp are all people whose levels of awesomeness I aspire to get to.

What do you do when you are not working? 

These days prepping demos, slide decks, etc. for user groups or conferences.  My schedule for the first half of 2011 is insane looking.  When I actually get a little free time I love taking my motorcycle out for a ride around Southern California.

What is a skill or strength that sets you apart from others? 

The breadth of technologies which I have a very deep knowledge of is definitely something which sets me apart from others in the field.  There are only a handful of people in the SQL Server community who give deep storage presentations or VMware presentations even those these are technologies which as DBAs we probably use on a daily basis.

What (or who) inspires you? 

There are two things that inspire me.  The first is my wife who is constantly kicking me in the rear to better myself.  The second is the SQL Server community.  There are so many great people out there who want to better themselves and others, and I’m write there with them.  There isn’t an event (SQL Saturday, major conference, etc.) that I go to where I don’t learn something.  And if I can share something with someone that makes their work life easier than awesome.

December 11, 2010  11:23 AM

The IT Files – Denny Cherry – Part I

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

Denny Cherry has over a decade of experience managing SQL Server, including’s over 175 million user installation, one of the largest in the world. Denny’s areas of technical expertise include system architecture, performance tuning, replication and troubleshooting.  Denny currently holds several Microsoft Certifications related to SQL Server as well as being a Microsoft MVP.  Denny is a longtime member of PASS and Quest Software’s Association of SQL Server Experts and has written numerous technical articles on SQL Server management.


What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed in the IT industry in the past decade? Which one has interested you the most and why? 

Over the past decade I would have to say that the shift to 64bit platforms has probably been the biggest change.  It allows for so many more resources to be crammed into a single physical server, and this makes such a major difference in the database world as the more CPUs and memory you can fit into the server the more that you can do with the server.

Myspace – how was it working for the company that was getting popular by the minute? 

It was an interesting place to work, however the job itself wasn’t all that exciting which is why I didn’t work there very long.  Most of the problems that we faces while I was there was just keeping the statistics up to date on the servers.  The architecture really hasn’t changed much other than moving from non-clustered SQL Servers to clustered SQL Servers (which is something I talked to them about doing 4 years ago and was told it wasn’t something they were interested in doing).

Cloud is the buzz word in the software development industry. Are you in the cloud yet? 

The company that I’m with now (Phreesia) and the last company that I was with were both cloud based applications, or to use an older term Software As A Service (SaaS).  At my last company I put together a private cloud infrastructure which runs the entire company as the system dynamically moves resources from one physical machine to another.  The same kind of setup is in the planning stages at the company that I’m at now.

What is one technology that you adopted in 2010 that you love? Would it be hard for you to give it up? 

I don’t think that there is any specific new technology that I’ve adopted recently.  The last major piece of technology that I’ve really adopted is virtualization without which I don’t know how I’d be able to function at this point.

What are you most looking forward to in 2011? 

I don’t want to jinx it, but hopefully presenting at Tech Ed 2011 in Atlanta, GA.

Part II

December 8, 2010  4:21 PM

The IT Files – IT professional – Part II

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

Part 1

What are you most looking forward to in 2011?

To establish my own consulting business

Name your favorite IT book.

The Myths of Innovation

Who is your hero?

My father

What do you do when you are not working?

My line of work keeps me busy most of the time, but I like to read and work on my next belt in Karate (black belt)

What is a skill or strength that sets you apart from others?

I can be very patient when working as a manager

What (or who) inspires you?

I get inspired by people who can find solutions for difficult life problems

December 8, 2010  4:16 PM

The IT Files – IT professional – Part I

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

What are some of the biggest changes you notice in IT industry today from how things used to be when you started working in IT?

I would see the introduction of High speed Internet service (DSL). One of the biggest issues we faced when I started to work on customer support issues was connectivity issue (Dial up modem), it would slow down our work considerably which led to many frustrated customer. High speed Internet made is much more convenient to resolve customer issues.

You started your career with helping customers and then moved to product development. How did you experience with customer service help with your roles in product development?

Working with customers helped me get first hand experience on what difficulties customer faces when dealing with technical products (hardware and software). What may sound a common sense to a developer may not be so easy to understand by the customer. Working with developers (with a background on customer service) helped me guide them to design better user interface, especially when I was involved in Software testing and Quality assurance.

What are some lessons you learned from helping customers that gave you an advantage in product development team?

·        As I stated in the previous answer, don’t assume that the end user would understand what seems to be a common sense to you (the developer).
·        End users requirements document must be written by the end user first and then it can be modified (with end user approval) by project development manager. Developers must be mind readers of the ender users.

You have worked in several countries can you tell us which ones and what or how working culture was different in each country.

I have worked in United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and short work visit to India.
In Saudi Arabia and in Qatar, we still see the businesses run by families where there is no much room for individual talent to grow; most businesses are tightly controlled by upper management which mainly consists of the owner or his family members.

In the United States we have the problem of “the customer is always right”, although for 100% customer satisfaction, some customers demands cannot, feasibly, met and with some companies where I worked, having the mindset of “the customer is always right”, put unnecessary pressure on the developers and the technical staff.

Quality – what is your definition or understanding? How did this definition change from country to country?

My definition of quality “understand the pain of the customer and do your best talents to eliminate that pain.”
When I was in India, I had difficult time communicating my understanding of “Quality”, what was for them “5 stars or state of the art”, it was just OK for me.
In Saudi Arabia, I was shocked to see how some Global US firms would provide less Quality service and not so courteous customer service then they would in the US.

What is one technology that you adopted in 2010 that you love? Would it be hard for you to give it up?

The Internet was and still is the best technology I have ever worked with and of course we can’t imagine life without it.

Part 2

December 4, 2010  11:33 AM

Reflection – Technological Value Add and its Glitches

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

I was reading Glitch: The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software by Jeff Papows last night. I havent finshed the book yet but the following quote caught my eye

“…these types of innovations call into question whether we are using technology to add value on behalf of the consumer or simply doing it because we can.”

I had done a piece on complexity of technology a while back and had talked about how we can complicate or add value to products. Continuing on the same line of thoughts I like how this author talks about what does adding everything we can to a product really do to the product. Is it advancement or are we overkilling it. By adding more and more we can complicating even the smallest of the technology. The more we add, the more risk there is of things falling apart.

He talks about “…prediction that by 2016, 62.3 million global consumers will have Internet access in their cars.”Hmmm so we have a cell phone which has Internet, we carry Ipad/laptops which have Internet what more would we want to be able to do in the time we are driving from place A to place B. I am sure there could be one or two emergencies like needing to find a gas station, car breaks down and we need a mechanic, etc. Isn’t cell phone good enough? Maybe its just me and I don’t get it.

Who drives innovation – consumers and their needs or products and its need to stand out?

How come companies are not spending half of the money into making good products? Toyota and its problems is just an example of where they were growing too fast for their own good and messed up the one thing they were known for – reliability. If we cant rely on a good car what good is Internet, high end navigation, satellite radio and heated seats. I wont complain about the heated seats in Minnesota winter so I should take that back. See how I am ready to take the heated seat as a input to make decisions to buy a car. 10 or 15 years ago I wouldn’t have worried about it. But its the car companies that created that need for me and now I want it as a necessity. Same is applicable to any product. Some things turn from luxury to necessity over time.

I think consumer need and product innovation are in a never ending circle.

What do you think drives innovation? Care to share your thought?

P.S I will do a book review once I complete the book but I like what I have read so far. Would definitely recommend this to anyone who is involved in software development irrespective of their role in the team.

December 1, 2010  11:51 AM

The IT Files – IT professional

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

I will talking to an IT professional in a few days. If you have any questions for him please post your questions here. I will pass it along to him.

He is a blogger @ITKE IT Project Management since sept 2007. He has written on various topics related to emerging trends, technology changes and trends, project management and current topics related to IT.

His background is in the IT and IT management. He has been in the IT field for almost 15 years and started working in IT with customer issues with major computer Manufacturers and then moved on to work as programmer, tester and now manager.

His area of expertise is in working with customer service related issues within IT Industry. Also he has worked several different countries and can answer questions related to different in cultural understanding of IT terminologies.

Please post your questions here. And check back for the answers.

November 27, 2010  3:31 PM

Agility in Planning Testing

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

In traditional software development methodologies we are used to writing long test plans. We usually had releases only couple of times a year and we had days to plan and write a test plan. These days the release cycles are getting shorter and shorter and we don’t have the time to write a 10 or 20 or longer page test plan. Even if we did write it, our teams don’t have time to review it and give feedback.

What we really need is planning with agility. We have to be able to plan or strategies for testing and communicate all relevant information to the team. It doesn’t have to be a long document but we have to be able to plan and also communicate our testing strategy efficiently and effectively.

Here are some things to keep in mind

  1. Don’t skip planning just because there is less or no time for it. Its important to have a strategy in place for testing. Spend the time on this but only write things that are important for the planning and communicate to the team.
  2. If there is a risk management tool or some place else move some long term risks and assumptions do that. This way the team has access to it and this can be managed independently of test planning document.
  3. If the team is using tools for managing test artifacts like HP Quality Center or Rational Robot, then document the process for these tools outside of the test plan. Reference this document in the test plan.
  4. Keep a master test plan for testing processes and definitions (if the organization uses testing handbook move some of the process information to that document). This way testing terminology can be maintained separately and is not dependent on the release.
  5. Stick to defining test strategy to what needs to be planned for each release or iteration. Do diagrams or pictures where ever possible. This way dependencies can be shown clearly and it will be easier for people to understand how the application is being broken down for testing. For example if you have feature A that can be tested only after Feature B is delivered then show that dependency in a clear way and communicate to the team. This they also see the clean picture and if they don’t agree with they will be able to let the test team know.
  6. Get inputs from the team they might be able to help with identifying dependence’s or risks that might be easily missed.

So dont skip planning just think about it differently and with agility.

November 23, 2010  10:36 AM

2 Things To Make Test Leading Job Easy

Shilpa Venkateshwaran Shilpa Venkateshwaran Profile: Shilpa Venkateshwaran

As test leads we have several responsibilities between testing, manging project, testing, test planning, etc. You can do these two things daily to make your life more manageable and easier.

Keep a Test Journal

It doesnt have to be formal but just an informal way to document everything that happens on a daily basis for your project. Spend 5 minutes at the end of the day and it will save you hours and hours of your time later when someone asks why a build was rejected or why testing is late, etc. It will be lot easier to open your journal than dig through millions of emails.

What is it?

A document (excel or word) where you document everything that happens to your project on a daily basis. There could be days where nothing happens while other days a lot could change. So for example if you were to get a build today and it didn’t happen, then just add a note to the journal that the build was late or not deployed.

What does it do?

It helps you create a documentation of things that happen to your project – big or small. If someone comes back asking you why something didn’t happen or why testing is late you pull your journal and give the exact information they need – like how many times the build was late, test system crashed, etc. It helps you cover your tracks, helps when fingers are pointed at testing in general. Small things add up and show trend so if the builds were to be installed Monday at 9 am every week and you don’t get it till Monday 3 pm couple of times, its testing time you have lost. According to the plan you are on time you got a build on Monday but in reality even a few hours makes a huge difference. So taking notes daily will help you predict the impact of these small changes.

Where/when can you use it?

  • In post audit meetings you can reference examples from the journal.
  • In your final test summary/report you can refer to this.
  • You can use this to do trend analysis for process improvements.  

Clean your data everyday 

Spend few minutes cleaning your data that is used for metricsIf you are using a tool to store your test cases, execution status or defects, go through them everyday. Run error reports regularly to make sure your data is clean. Spend 10 minutes first thing in the morning. We use quality center and I spend 10 minutes every morning to clean it up. I run my reports in dashboard to make sure I am seeing the trends and also if there are huge changes I investigate it early on.

What is it?

Depending on where your data is, spend 10 minutes cleaning it up. For example if you use a bug system, review the few new bugs that were reported the previous day or night if you have offshore. Same way review a few random test cases, look at the application if you have a new build, etc.

What does it do?

  1. When you are ready to collect metrics which you might to weekly or when needed, you have cleaner data. You don’t have to spend hours cleaning it up. Also if you are like me and do it Friday afternoons, you will have no one who can answer your questions regarding the data. My offshore team is probably sleeping and my on-site team is wrapping up for the day.
  2. Helps you investigate – if you see a trend that is out of the ordinary you get a chance to question it early on instead of waiting till the ninth hour.
  3. When we spend time every morning, we have fewer data to manage. So for example there might be only a hand full of bugs to be reviewed (from previous days work completed), and if there is wrong data in those you can either email the person who raised them or fix it yourself. Like if there is not enough data in the bug or if the wrong fields have been assigned to the bug, it wont see big when its one or two bugs but over time if you have lots of bugs with wrong data it could skew your reporting.
  4. Helps you catch for areas that is going wrong the most and will help you put changes in place. You might decide that your team needs training on how to use the tool or that your project team needs to define the process so that it is not ambiguous, etc.
  5. Also when making change closer to when it was executed/created, its easier to maintain the history and also get clear notes from people who were involved. So if a tester needs to add more steps to recreate it might be easier to do it within a day or two instead of weeks later when development or project manager wants them. 

As test leads do you have any tips or pointers to save time and make our lives a lot easier? If so please do share.

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