Our Scrum Masters

Recently, I was asked by the Human Capital Management team at work for a list of specific requirements for our scrum master role. I obliged, and at the top of my head wrote the following:

A scrum master is someone who –

  • has great written and verbal communication skills
  • understands the software development process, has experience working with product managers and programmers; preferably with customers too
  • well-versed in the practice of software testing, enjoys exploring systems, thinking in various perspectives, and putting on different sorts of hats
  • delights in shouldering a support role to the software development team
  • is a self-starter, regularly updates himself/herself on what’s happening in the software development and testing industry
  • someone who takes pleasure in a bit of scripting / programming is a plus (Webdriver, Watir, Cypress)

It’s not an extensive list, and I may have gotten some of the details wrong about what skills scrum masters are supposed to have based on the ideal definitions that’s out there in the web, but it’s alright. These are just the things I initially thought would suffice, in the context of what I and my team does and experience most days. Our testers are scrum masters too, and I’m proud that so far we’ve been able to make stuff work on our end.

Scrum masters in other places probably need a dissimilar set of requirements, because those are what allows their systems and processes to be effective, and that’s just fine.

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Favorite Talks from Agile Testing Days 2017

There are two things that’s wonderful from last year’s Agile Testing Days conference talks: content focusing on other valuable stuff for testers and teams (not automation), and having as many women speakers as there are men. I hope they continue on with that trend.

Here’s a list of my favourite talks from said conference (enjoy!):

  • How To Tell People They Failed and Make Them Feel Great (by Liz Keogh, about Cynefin, our innate dislike of uncertainty and love of making things predictable, putting safety nets and allowing for failure, learning reviews, letting people change themselves, building robust probes, and making it a habit to come from a place of care)
  • Pivotal Moments (by Janet Gregory, on living in a dairy farm, volunteering, traveling, toastmasters, Lisa Crispin, Mary Poppindieck and going on adventures, sharing failures and taking help, and reflecting on pivotal moments)
  • Owning Our Narrative (by Angie Jones, on the history of the music industry so far, the changes in environment, tools, and business models musicians have had to go through so survive, and embracing changes and finding ways to fulfil our roles as software testers)
  • Learning Through Osmosis (by Maaret Pyhäjärvi, on mob programming and osmosis,  creating safe spaces to facilitate learning, and the power of changing some of our beliefs and behaviour)
  • There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s/Developer’s/Tester’s Journey (by Pete Walen, on how software was built in the old days, how testing and programming broke up into silos, and a challenge for both parties to go back at excelling at each other’s skills and teaming up
  • 10 Behaviours of Effective Agile Teams (by Rob Lambert, about shipping software and customer service, becoming a more effective employee, behaviours, and communicating well)

On 100% Coverage

Yes, we need to write tests because it is something that we think will help us in the long term, even though it may be more work for us in the short run. If written with care and with the end in mind, tests serve as living documentation, living because they change as much as the application code changes, and they help us refer back to what some feature does and doesn’t, in as much detail as we want. Tests let us know which areas of the application matters to us, and every time they run they remind us of where our bearings currently are.

Tests may be user journeys in the user interface, a simulation of requests and response through the app’s API, or small tests within the application’s discrete units, most likely a combination of all these types of tests, perhaps more. What matters is that we find some value in whatever test we write, and that value merits its cost of writing and maintenance. What’s important is asking ourselves whether the test is actually significant enough to add to the test suite.

It is valuable to build a good enough suite of tests. It makes sense to add more tests as we find more key scenarios to exercise. It also makes sense to remove tests that were necessary in the past but aren’t anymore. However, I don’t think it is particularly helpful to advocate for 100% test coverage, because that brings the focus on a numbers game, similar to how measuring likes or stars isn’t really the point. I believe it is better when we discuss among ourselves, in the context we’re in, which tests are relevant and which are just diving into minutiae. If our test suite helps us deploy our apps with confidence, if our tests allows us to be effective in the performance of our testing, if we are continuously able to serve our customers as best as we can, then the numbers really doesn’t amount to much.

One Room, Working Together

For the past few weeks a number of programmers and myself have been tasked to build an initial prototype for a system rewrite project, handed to us by management. The merit of such project is a matter of discussion for another day; for now it is enough to say that the team has been given a difficult challenge, but at the same time excited about the lessons we knew we will gain from such an adventure.

There’s been several takeaways already in terms of technology know-how – dockerized applications, front-end development with Vue, repositories as application vendor dependency, microservices – just several of the things we’ve never done before.

But the great takeaway so far is the joy of literally working together, inside a room away from distractions, the team working on one task at a time, focused, taking turns writing application or test code on a single machine, continuously discussing options and experimenting until a problem is solved or until it is time to take a break. We instantly become aligned at what we want to achieve, we immediately help teammates move forward, we learn from each other’s skills and mistakes, we have fun. It’s a wonder why we’ve never done much of this before. Perhaps it’s because of working in cubicles. Perhaps it’s because there’s nearly not enough available rooms for such software development practice. Perhaps it’s because we’ve never heard anything about mob programming until recently.

I’m sure it won’t be everyday since we have remote work schedules, but I imagine the team spending more days working together like this from here on.

Doing Things Right, And Doing The Right Things

In testing software, automation is a tool that helps us re-run whatever repeatable checks we have on an application under test. We automate because we never have enough time to re-test everything by hand, and exploring the unknown parts of the apps we test is a far better use of our testing skills than following scripts. To automate is doing one thing right, within context, if it provides us the feedback we need. And that feedback we think we need from automation depends on what suites of tests are best repeated again and again, as well as what sort of tests costs more than the value they give.

There’s also tons of tools that helps us build good quality software. Even though we build more complex applications now than before, we have frameworks, libraries, intelligent IDEs, and other tools to help us spin up apps on a whim now too, ready to be modified as we see fit. Choosing the proper tools for the job is doing another thing right. But before we write any code, we need to be sure about the actual problem we are solving for our customer.

Yes, we need to do things right, from the get go if possible. They help us progress from one point to another faster than otherwise. However, I think it’s more important that we continuously take the necessary time to review whether we are doing the right things too, more important to actually get feedback and solve problems than merely adding tests and features.

Takeaways from Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People”

Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a classic, and I did not understand what that meant until now, after reading the book. It has survived the test of time, and the lessons in it still applies to all of us today. It really is a treasure trove of actionable advice about forging friendships and leading people, and I’ve come to see why some of my way of doing things have worked for me all this time. Better, I’ve found places where I could use more practice and improve.

Here are some favourite lines from the book:

  • Let’s realise that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. Let’s realise that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify himself or herself, and condemn us in return.
  • There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. And that us by making the other person want to do it. The only way I can get you to do anything is giving you what you want.
  • We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees, but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem? We provide them with roast beef and tomatoes to build energy, but we neglect to give them kind words of appreciation that would sing in their memories for years like the music of the morning stars.
  • If there is any secret to success, it likes in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.
  • Keep in your mind on the great and splendid things you would like to do, and then, as the days go gliding away, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing upon the opportunities that are required for the fulfilment of your desire. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual.
  • He had wanted merely a friendly, sympathetic listener to whom he could unburden himself. That’s what we all want when we are in trouble. That is frequently all the irritated customer wants, and the dissatisfied employee or the hurt friend.
  • So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.
  • Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents to friends.
  • You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words – and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.
  • If you are going to prove anything, don’t let anybody know it. Do it so subtly, so adroitly, that no one will feel that you are doing it. You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.
  • I am convinced now that nothing good is accomplished and a lot of damage can be done if you tell a person straight out that he or she is wrong. You only succeed in stripping that person of self-dignity and making yourself an unwelcome part of any discussion.
  • If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may be possibly led to, if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.
  • No one likes to feel that he or she is being sold something or told to do a thing. We much prefer to feel that we are buying of our own accord or acting on our own ideas. We like to be consulted about our wishes, our wants, our thoughts.
  • What do you think he found to be the most motivating factor – the one facet of the jobs that was most stimulating? Money? Good working conditions? Fringe benefits? No – not any of those. The one major factor that motivated people was the work itself. If the work was exciting and interesting, the worker looked forward to doing it and was motivated to do a good job.
  • This is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win. That is what makes foot-races, and hog-calling, and pie-eating contests. The desire to excel. The desire for a feeling of importance.
  • He always gave people the opportunity to do things themselves; he never told his assistants to do things; he let them do them, let them learn from their mistakes. A technique like that makes it easy for a person to correct errors. A technique like that saves a person’s pride and gives him or her a feeling of importance. It encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.
  • If you want to improve a person in a certain aspect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics. Assume a virtue, if you have it not. Assume and state openly that other people have the virtue you want them to develop. Give them a fine reputation to live up to, and they will make prodigious efforts rather than see you disillusioned.
  • Tell your child, your spouse, or your employee that he or she is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, has no gift for it, and is doing it all wrong, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve. But use the opposite technique – be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it – and he will practice until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.
  • It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

We Find Out What Works For Us As We Go, Together

A software development team is composed of people, a combination of of programmers, testers, designers, and product owners. One team is visibly different from another because they have different people working in them, although both teams work in the same organisation and share the same mission. One group may be dealing with passionate but inexperienced new hires, another may be led by an introverted and soft-spoken senior, another team could be a lot more experienced with automating things, one team is probably better with team communication than others. Each team has a life of its own, always growing up, always trying to find out what specific problems itself has and what values it can contribute to the organisation, evolving day after day.

We understand that everyone is similar yet different from each other. Why is it then that we often insist in managing them with a one-size-fits-all process? Or am I missing something? I understand that we want teams to get better at what they do, we want them to release software faster, with better quality, but do we really think that one particular process works for everyone? Instead of that, shouldn’t we just immerse ourselves in a team, one after another, observe, ask where they are and where they want to go, talk to them, share experiences, help them solve problems, care for them, let them grow into a family with us? It seems to me that every time I get to join a team I think about the people in it first, no particular fixed process in mind, and we find out what works for us as we go, together.