By David Greenlees
- David Greenlees (Facilitator)
- Rob Sabourin (Content Owner)
- Richard Robinson
- Anne-Marie Charrett
- Andrew Dempster
- Mark Tolfts
- Kim Engel
- Paulo Lai (Logistics/Venue)
- Alessandra Moreira
- Scott Griffiths
- Dean MacKenzie
- Erik Petersen
- Rajesh Mathur
- Bruce McLeod
- Lee Hawkins
- Henrik Andersson (day 2)
Having ‘shadowed’ Scott Barber’s facilitation of OZWST 2012 it was now my turn. Lucky for me I took several notes during that collaboration with Scott and to add to that Paul Holland wrote this little guide on Peer CONFERence facilitation. With both of these printed I hopped on a plane and began reading. In no way could I hope to facilitate like either of these two, but it did give me much needed confidence heading into the event.
The venue for the 2013 event was Google Head Quarters in Sydney, Australia, and was a great setting for two days of brilliant CONFERring in Australia’s only LAWST-style Peer CONFERence. As this was the second OZWST event there were far more attendees familiar with the format and this proved helpful throughout. OZWST 2012 saw 10 attendees have a first run with the format, and in 2013 we expanded to 16. I was great to open this event up to more attendees, and spread the good message of effective CONFERring.
Due to the security at the venue on the weekends, we had to meet out the front of the building at a certain time. I thought this may be problematic as the location was new to many… but to my delight we were all up stairs setting up within minutes. A big thank you goes to attendee Paulo for assisting with the venue set up and security, etc. Once everyone was plugged in and ready to rock, I commenced the introduction and explained the background of OZWST to those new attendees, then my role as the Facilitator. As per Scott’s lead from 2012 I also decided a ‘just in time’ approach to explaining various elements of the CONFERence was the best way forward.
We then moved on to Check-in. Introductions were made, distractions were disclaimed, and a general feeling of excitement was obvious. Rob performed the last Check-in and went on to explain his role as Content Owner, and the chosen theme for this year’s event; Collaboration in Software Testing.
Although a broad theme, it is a very important one. Rob is extremely passionate about this aspect of our industry, and the IT industry in its entirety. He strives for good collaboration in all the work that he does and this shines through as a Content Owner. To take an abstract directly from his call for Experience Reports (ERs); “Testing can be modelled as a team activity. This workshop will explore how people interact with each other to accomplish a wide variety of testing tasks. Who do testers collaborate with? What do testers actually do when collaborating with others? When do different activities take place? How does collaboration vary due to lifecycle, business, technology, organization and cultural factors?”
Rob also highlighted the importance of not using broad generalisations during presentations of ERs. The focus was to be on attendee’s personal experience with a focus on ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ or ‘they’. Specific detail was required.
Note – After each ER was presented Rob would provide key words he thought best represented the ER and each attendee wrote down up to 5 short collaboration skill ideas which were collected by Rob for future work. We are all very keen to see the output of this in the not too distant future.
It was then time for the first ER. I will not go into great detail for each as this would end up being a very long report, however if you contact each of the presenters they may be willing to share their stories.
ER 1 – Kim Engel
Kim was initially surprised in Rob’s choice to have her present first as she felt that the majority of her ER did not fall on theme being collaboration specifically in testing. This was soon forgotten! Kim told the story of a time she worked for a Research & Development company who made digital pens. One major issue they faced was the manual use of the pen in order to test it. This involved a lot of manual writing for long periods of time. There must have been a way to automate this!
Enter a new term for many in the room, ‘Skunkworks Project’. Generally speaking, this is a project where the team is taken out of their normal work environments and given extra freedom to concentrate on the problem. I’m not sure Kim was ‘taken’ but more chose to do this on the side. The result of this project was a robot that performed the lengthy hand writing, saving tester’s time and allowing them to concentrate on other tasks.
One point that stuck out for me was the engagement of others in the company during this project. Having a physical device on display sitting on a desk brought people over through curiosity, which in turn raised their awareness to the problem.
Rob’s words – Respect, engagement, and Skunkworks.
ER 2 – Bruce McLeod
Bruce’s ER was fantastic. He told two stories of anti-collaboration, one more successful than the other. In both instances Bruce worked independently to solve the problems by removing himself from the workplace and allowing time to concentrate with no distractions. It was fascinating to see how one resolution was well received by all stakeholders while the other initially failed.
The failure was related to a new automation framework that Bruce had developed to solve the problem. Only Bruce and one other person knew how to use the framework as no other members of the team were consulted during the resolution process. Fear not, this initial failure was resolved via training and support for the team.
Bruce demonstrated to the attendees that problems are not always resolved via collaboration, and that isolation can be effective.
Rob’s words – Isolation, innovation, and independence.
ER 3 – Lee Hawkins
Lee has been using a session based exploratory testing method for a long period of time and the opportunity to use a new test team in China presented some challenges in teaching his method in an offshore environment. His ER told this story, and it was fair to say that many in the room were envious of his success to date.
Lee spoke about the three main challenges of collaboration with his new team, being cultural differences, the language barrier, and challenging the ‘traditional’ software development and testing mentalities. Lee made a good point that you don’t see too many testing books translated to Chinese.
As he works in an agile shop, he also spoke about the above challenges and how they relate to daily stand ups, meeting virtually, etc. It was easy to see how difficult this could be especially when using dated telephony technology and complex language barriers.
I look forward to keeping in contact with Lee to learn more about this journey.
Rob’s words – Cultural, language, and status.
The beauty of this conference’s format is its flexibility. If any of the attendees have an idea or a workshop or similar they simply have to put it to the Content Owner who will then decide on its fit, etc.
Towards the end of day 1 Anne-Marie thought it may be a good idea to workshop the definition of collaboration. Throughout many of the ER’s open seasons it was evident that attendees had differing definitions and she thought this may be a worthwhile exercise. It was.
There was back and forth conversation on the key aspects of collaboration, and Rob did a great job in maintaining the focus towards collaboration in software testing. A key output from this exercise was that two parties don’t have to have the same end objective in order to collaborate, and in fact can actually despise each other, however they must have outputs in order to meet their objectives.
This was followed by Check-out for day 1 with multiple threads running through all attendee’s heads. The group then went out for dinner so that we could get to know each other better, and on a more personal level. The beer tubes helped!
Once again all attendees were on time and ready for another day of collaboration conversation. Check-in for day 2 was performed and we kicked things off with another ER.
ER 4 – Paulo Lai
In Rob’s words – “One of the best LASWT-style stories I have ever heard (in my LIFE).” Initially Paulo believed his ER to be irrelevant, however after Rob spent a bit of time working with (coaching) Paulo he was ready to tell his story. It was great to see Rob so active as a Content Owner and taking on the responsibility to draw out people’s stories which enabled the group to learn even more.
This was one of my favourite ERs. A day in the life of a Google Test Engineer, and boy was it a busy one! Paulo ran us through a common day for him at Google in Sydney and it was amazing to see how many different people, from around the globe, he talks to in one day. On this particular day he managed to collaborate with a Project Manager, Hardware Manager, Manager (his boss), Approver, Software Engineer, Developer, and Software Engineer in Test. This may not sound too uncommon, but when considering the locations of all these roles it was amazing.
It’s fair to say that not much testing occurred that day, but there was plenty of collaboration. In open season there was lots of interest in the tools that are used for this and Paulo explained that a lot of instant messaging was used and it seems to work quite well. If he needs an answer quickly this is one of the best medium, however if it’s not as urgent then email is a good option.
Paulo admitted that his role could most likely be performed differently; however there is a lack of time for planning due to the sheer volume of tasks required each day.
Rob’s words – Distribution, variety, bug-centric.
ER 5 – Rajesh Mathur
Rajesh’s ER was the closest thing to a horror story out all ERs over the two days. It was the story of a company merger and fusing two larger systems (HR and financial) which were head quartered in different countries.
There was a significant lack of trust between the two groups, coupled with cultural difference, this proved to be very problematic for Rajesh who was basically the ‘Test Manager in the middle’. There were approx. 20 Project Managers assigned to the program and all of them thought that Rajesh reported to them. Collaboration with each of the groups was manageable, however when Rajesh attempted to get them to collaborate together it was difficult at best. Each group refused to talk to the other on multiple occasions.
Rajesh spoke about how he used risk in an attempt to get each group’s attention and detailed each of these in order to highlight the importance of what he was trying to do.
Upon implementation the project could be called a partial success. Rajesh advised that the failure points could easily be attributed to poor (or lack of) collaboration.
Rob’s words – Culture, technology, motivation.
Mini ER – Rob Sabourin
Leading up to lunch on day 2 we had time for a Mini ER from the Content Owner. Rob was hired by a company in Canada to plan the migration testing for a project where the software team was located on one side of the country, and the hardware team was located on the other. There was a problematic history between the two teams and they did not work together well.
As Rob was unable to get two people in the same room at the same time he approached each of them separately. Rob walked the team members through his initial draft of the test plan by laying it out on a table and looking at each day one by one. This generated many good ideas from the team members and helped Rob glean a lot of new information. This had to be done on several occasions with each of the team members, however it was successful in getting Rob the information he needed to inform the plan.
I think this was a brilliant approach and although it may have taken more time, it resulted in a much more thorough test plan and allowed all members to be involved and have their say.
Rob’s words – Politics, geographic disparity.
ER 6 – Alessandra Moreira and Andrew Dempster
As the Content Owner Rob, could see similarities between each of the ERs submitted by Ale and Andrew and thought a slightly different approach to presenting them would be effective. One definite similarity was that they were both current and being dealt with at this point in time.
The attendees split into two groups, one going with Ale and the other going with Andrew, and listened to each presenter tell their story before coming up with suggestion on how they could handle the situations.
After a set period of time the groups came together for a joint open season and it worked very well. Many of the issues from each ER were common and open season questions could be answered by both Ale and Andrew.
Hopefully Ale and Andrew came away with ideas on how to deal with the current issues back in their work environments.
ER 7 – Mark Tolfts
Mark provided the last ER for this year’s event, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Mark told the story of one particular day; one that he will not likely forget any time soon. After receiving and early morning call from a Project Manager asking him to get to the office ASAP, Mark knew his day would be interesting.
There was an issue with one of the Production systems at his company that was having a direct impact on their customers. The issue had been in Production for some time but had only just been identified, hence the early morning call. One of the first questions Mark faced was ‘why didn’t you test this?’ Definitely one of the more common questions we face as testers!
Mark was not convinced that a lack of testing was to blame and set about collaborating with key staff to determine the cause of the issue. It was quickly discovered that the issue was not reproducible in the Test environments and this lead to investigation in the Production environment. On that same day, with the help of a technical support team member, Mark was able to help identify the issue which was caused by an overlooked business process activity some time earlier.
A great story of a passionate and motivated tester identifying an issue outside of his realm was truly a great way to round out day 2.
Rob’s words – Blame, heat, and solutions.
Check-out for day 2 was then performed with many good comments from each of attendees in relation to their learning and excitement from the preceding two days. Another great result for the testing community in Australia.
It’s also important to mention the break and lunch time activities including eight ball, table tennis, fuse ball, pinball, dice games, etc. all performed while talking about testing!
Our thanks go to both Google (venue) and The Association for Software Testing (catering) for making this event possible.
I would also like to personally thank Paulo for his assistance with the venue and logistics over the two days, and Rob for his content ownership. I was able to meet with Rob prior to the event and see first-hand the amount of effort he had gone to in order to ensure content was central to the theme.
OZWST 2014 is already in the early stages of planning and I look forward to telling you all about it next year!
David Greenlees, with special thanks to Alessandra Moreira for sharing her extensive notes which enabled a more detailed report.