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Simple trick to improve team productivity

The modern notion of software development requires to work in team. We work as individual contributors, but it’s the team that delivers the final outcome. From development through production, it is a team effort that enables quality at speed.

I look around and most teams are not as productive as they might have been. To individuals that I talk always tell that they are putting their best, but somehow the net result is not what they want. Those who have such feelings include Project Mangers, Scrum Masters, Development Managers, Testing Managers, Developers, Testers and the list goes on.

I think I have a fix to suggest. In fact, a very simple one and that is “Show Respect”.

You might be thinking, oh now we’ll get some sermons on the old philosophies of respecting people and we are in 21st century. But humans are humans, they only work at their best when they are respected.

Google did a famous study just couple of years ago which was summarized in this beautiful (though lengthy) article in New York Times. It suggests:

In the best teams, members listen to each other and show sensitivity to feelings and needs

More details of the study are here where “Psychological Safety” is defined.

Now you might think or claim that you already do that as a leader or team member. Your organization may have “Respect at the workplace” as one of business values. But how do you know if you are practicing what you preach? I’m suggesting following 3 tests for you to get answers to questions like these: “Am I respectful to my team members?”, “Is my manager respectful to all?”, “Who is not showing respect in the team?”

Respect the presence

I learned this from my grandfather when I was about 8 or 10 years old that whenever anyone in the family visited him, he greeted them by standing from his seat. He was in his eighties at that time but he’d stand up for his 2 year grandson or grand-daughter.

So here is the test: when someone approaches you at work, how do you respect them? Do you stand up to greet them? Do you offer that person the time one is looking for? Do you respond as if you want them to go away from you?

(the picture is taken from: https://www.practicaletiquette.com/how-to-show-respect.html )

Respect the opinion

In the 7 Habits training that I went through couple of months ago, had an interesting quote from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, though internet suggest it has many roots:

When two people have the same opinion, one of them is redundant

So here is the test: when someone offers you opinion at work, how do you respect them? Do you always want people to offer opinions which fit fine in your frame of things? Do you listen to any opinion coming from any member of the team? Do you follow the advice given in the opinion?

Respect the feelings

Respecting someone’s presence of opinion gets you at a position where you start respecting people’s feelings. Just like we have different skin tones, our reactions to same incident can be very different. Respect that difference and try to understand that not everyone thinks the same way about any thing in this world.

So here is the test: when someone feels differently than your thinking, how do you respect them? Do you empathize with them to understand more? Do you give space to be able to share their feelings? (what we call Psychological Safety in Google study above)

Before I go, let me tell you that I’ve personally seen this respect trick to be working. In teams where everyone was respectful, team members were more influential and they cooperated with their best efforts to do wonders.

How has been your experience? Do you also believe that Respect is the root of team productivity? You can have a different opinion and I respect that.

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6th Islamabad Testers Meetup

If there were a time to test the passion of Software Testing community in Pakistan, it was last Saturday when resilient members attended the 6th Islamabad Testers Meetup in big number despite all the traffic challenges. The event hosted by MTBC at their campus in collaboration with PSTB saw professionals of various backgrounds who discussed and learned lot of new ideas on the day.

The event was a much awaited one as after the successful PSQC’17, activities restarted to gear towards PSQC’18. Umer Saleem welcomed everyone in the morning as Host of the day, introduced the event agenda and handed over the stage for the first talk.

Kalim Ahmed Riaz, Senior SQA Engineer from Global Share presented his thoughts on “Ways to Improve Software Quality”. Kalim who maintains his own blog on testing, quoted several everyday examples to explain his views including buying vegetables and the knowledge needed to define requirements. He then suggested multiple ways to cure common Quality diseases including “treating Testers as Clients”. By which he meant that not only Testers need to step up to think and act like real Clients but also the management need to acknowledge issues reported by Testing team to be real one and not postponing them sighting they are not real users. His slides are here: IsbTestersMeetup_Ways_improve_Quality_Kalim

The next presentation was well handled by a Story-teller Farrukh Sheikh who is Lead QA Engineer at Ciklum. Farrukh shared his thoughts on “Adaptation” skill which he believes is a must for all testers. He emphasized everyone to get out of their “deceptive illusion” where they believe themselves as strong and well-built testers and rather learn the new skills of the trade. He suggested to read a lot, practice new methodologies, learn coding as few ways to build muscles for tackling the challenges of tomorrow. Full slide deck: IsbTestersMeetup_Adaptation_Farrukh

(more photos are here)

After the talks, we did an experiment of “Open House Discussion” which was very well received. I was handed over the task to moderate it around the selected topic (based upon registered participant’s feedback) “Challenges in Implementing Test automation”. The format was that anyone from audience would share a challenge he or she is facing, and then everyone in the audience was free to give input on how to address that challenge. The discussion was around following challenges shared by members present there:

  • Not finding time to do automation
  • How to stabilize automation when everything is changing?
  • Automation falling at configurations or keeping them up-to-date
  • What’s next if first round automation is done

There were many suggestions offered from experienced and uniquely qualified testers in the hall which ranged from “talking to management to buy time”, “involving Programmers in the team to be part of the automation project”, “including automation tasks in Sprint planning”, “keeping an open eye on the changes within and outside your organization”, “being selective in what to automate” and so on. The discussion was of much worth and I plan to write a full blog post on these topics. It was heart-warming to see that we as a community are now moving forward to discuss such challenges and hopefully next time we will have solved these problems and ready for next set of problems.

Dr. Zohaib Iqbal, President PSTB was then invited to give updates from PSTB. He shared the lessons learned so far in holding such events and highlighted various programs including Certifications around CTFL, ISTBQ partner program and Accredited training program. He invited all to be part of upcoming PSQC’18 to be happening at Lahore in Spring next year.

The stage was then handed over to Adeel Sarwar, CTO MTBC for a closing note. Adeel briefly talked about MTBC vision including their wonderful initiatives to incorporate fresh college graduates into their workforce and how this model has worked really well for them. He raised his concern of people in IT not reading enough which reminded me of my campaign of “Certified Book Reading Tester”. He made it clear to everyone that we need to raise the bar to improve quality of Software Quality professionals. He thanked the audience and shared some ideas on future collaborations in which MTBC can be a part.

Shields were presented to speakers and certificates were given to the wonderful MTBC organization team who were well applauded by round of applauses. We then moved to outside for an open air tea with snacks setting. The food was as delicious as were the discussions and lot of new ideas were shared by participants. New friends were made and old friendships were revived. The conversations were never ending but with every beautiful meeting, it ended too soon for all of us.

Thanks again to the hosts, PSTB support and above all the “cheetah” testers who always respond to such events. Together, let’s make Pakistan testing community even stronger!

How Code Reviews can improve Software Quality?

The very idea that quality can be added later is flawed and quality must be baked in.

Speaking of baking, it is not possible for the inspector who tastes a finished cake to make it any better. That person would just tell you if the cake is good or bad. And if it’s bad, there is nothing you can do about it. But if you want the cake to be always good, you will take good consideration on the ingredients that will go in, you’ll consider hiring a professional baker to do the job, you’d like to inspect it in intervals like how the dough is or opening the oven to see if cake is in good shape.

Similarly, you cannot have Testers jump late into the development cycle and improve the quality. A Tester can only tell you if the Software is good or bad. And if it’s bad, you’ll have to go many cycles of correction before it goes reasonably good. So, if you want your Software to be in good shape, you’ll take care of the technology and tools you use, you’ll consider training or hiring professionals to do the job right, you’d like to review the code time to time to see if it has quality baked into it.

Though all of the above topics are of interest to anyone who is serious about producing quality software, let’s focus on Code Reviews today and see how it can help in improving the Software Quality.

Catching logical errors:

All of us know that humans make errors but all of us also believe that those humans don’t include us. It might be true that some people make more mistakes than others but no single person is error free. So as a matter of fact, when you show your code to a peer to review it, or you explain it yourself to a peer through a walkthrough, you start catching errors. Some of these are obvious logical errors which got slipped as you wrote that code. Don’t feel ashamed as this happens and we should be happy that this error was caught much early in the cycle.

Catching Performance issues:

Writing algorithms that solve complex problems is not an easy job and at times in an attempt to do that, you can take a path that is lengthy. Well, lengthy in terms of how many CPU cycles you’ll need to complete them which can result in slow performance. There are also cases where unnecessary data structures are involved which cause more memory to be consumed than the minimum required one. Your peers can help you find such errors in the code. You can also have some expert on this subject in your team to do this type of review for all the code that is being written.

In one of the teams in which I worked, we had a person (let’s call him Ahmed) who was our performance expert. All team members when confronted with the task to write best performant code would consult Ahmed after writing the code. And if Ahmed was happy about it, it was always a quality code.

(image source: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-code-review-magnifying-glass-focussed-source-concept-to-reviewing-image55133888 )

Memory leaks and Security considerations:

Most developers are capable of writing code which is free of logical errors and is usually well performing, but there are other things hidden like the bugs who only come out when there is dark and no one is around. Yes, I’m talking about writing secure code.

These aspects of code can again be reviewed by Developers who are experts in this domain. The good thing is that some of this expertise is now being passed on to tools. For example, you can use built-in tools in your IDE or can get many free tools that can help you find memory leaks in your code.

Similarly, if your code is good in terms of all requirements but is not safe and is vulnerable to various type of attacks, we cannot call it Quality code. Before some hacker can detect those vulnerabilities, how wonderful it would be knowing these so early in your development lifecycle.

Knowledge of the tribe:

The collective knowledge of your development team is what matters more than the individual member of your team. In fact, the sum is always greater than the actual sum. Let me explain this through an example.

Let’s assume that you three members in your development team named Ali, Sara and Jamshed. K represents the knowledge possessed and the brackets are meant so as who possess that knowledge. Given the above, the below is always true:

K (all team) > K (Ali) + K (Sara) + K(Jamshed)

So, the real job of management is to create an environment in which knowledge of one person is passed on in a way that it becomes a knowledge of the whole tribe. Code Reviews play a big role in achieving this.

I hope that by now you are convinced that you need to do Code Reviews. So maybe I can help you further on the how part of it where you can ask these questions:

How often should Code Review happen?

There are many school of thoughts on this. Some believe that all commits should be reviewed such as if it is not reviewed, it will not be in the production code. Others think that achieving this “all code must be reviewed” policy takes lot of effort and you should be selective in the process.

If you pick the first path, there are tools that can help you such that no code goes unreviewed. And if you like the second approach more, you’ll have to decide what is the selection criteria and who makes the decision if a particular piece of code ought to be reviewed.

Who should do the Code Review?

Just like the above, there are all and selective approach. Some teams like each member of the team to take the Reviewer role once in a while. In my opinion it helps to give this power to all rather than few. If only some team members review the code of other team members e.g. senior folks reviewing junior folks code, it will create friction in the team.

The exception is obviously special cases where you have Security and/or Performance experts in your team who’ll do more reviews than other members.

How long each review should take?

Though this largely depends on how big is the piece of code being reviewed but leaving this as an open time slot can both slow down the process along with the code author feeling being questioned for too long. You can set sort of “30 minutes or one hour rule” that each small code review should take no more than 30 minutes and each big review should take no more than an hour. These numbers are arbitrary and you have all the powers to set a limit of your own.

What the Reviewer should check?

Typically creating a checklist will help you which can have questions like the below:

  • Are there any errors?
  • Is code human readable?
  • Is there good commenting?
  • Are there tests written against this code?
  • The coding guidelines have been followed

These questions vary from organization to organization and team to team. So, you should feel free to start with your own list and then grow this list as you see other cases.

All the best on your journey of making this world a better place by producing Quality Software.

 

Note: The above article was printed in Flash newsletter which is being reproduced for blog’s audience.

What’s this DevOps thingy?

DevOps is a big thing these days and it is hot. Lot of people are talking about it and as we are going through this journey of adapting DevOps culture, we are learning it.

In recent month or so, I have given some introduction to fellow testers at my organization and shared thoughts at couple of Industry sessions. So I thought it would be good idea to share my slides here.

For further study, I’d recommend reading following content:

All the best with your DevOps journey!

3 illusions of Software Testing

Jerry Weinberg is my favorite author on the subject of Software Testing and I have posted about lessons from his Errors book, shared my thoughts on some types of Bugging. Lately I was very happy to finish yet another book by him called “Perfect Software and other illusions about Software Testing” which was on my reading list for log due to excellent reviews.

Now having spent almost 15 years on Software Testing domain and overall 20 years in the pursuit of Software Quality in general, my first impression was that the illusions Jerry will talk about will be one of those that I’m familiar with and/or have dealt with. But Jerry surprised me with his wealth of knowledge and interesting examples from his illustrious journey as a Software professional. I learned lot of lessons and sharing the top 3 with you.

  1. Pinpointing problems is not Testing

Some activities that I always thought to be Testing’s responsibility are actually in a grey area where these have to be shared between Testers and Programmers. Pinpointing a problem, after it is found, is one of them.

In one of the early team that I worked with required that when Testing reports a bug in the Tracking System, they should mention the first major version it was introduced. For example, if a Tester finds a bug in v 3.4, Tester would check if it existed in v 2.0 and v1.0 (if the answer to 2.0 is no). That is an activity that Jerry calls Pinpointing and suggests to differentiate it from Testing and Debugging.

Even in my current project, because we (the Testers) have the code and are able to debug an issue, our Data conversion issues are reported after pinpointing and debugging. Hence a Tester’s considerable time goes into locating the problem code after finding the problem. This is included in Testing whereas it needs some separate attention.

In Jerry’ words as he summarize this as a Common Mistake and suggests a solution:

Demanding that Testers locate every fault: This is totally a Developer’s job, because developers have the needed skills. Testers generally don’t have these skills, though at times, they may have useful hints.

  1. Providing Information is hard

Jerry talks in much detail Tester’s role as information provider. He suggests to use Satir interaction Model:

-> intake -> meaning -> significance -> response ->

There are separate chapters dedicated on each of the above and I’d encourage any Tester who is serious about their job to understand this model through reading the book. Different techniques have been discussed to improve information intake, how different people will mean different things from same observation, how to know which information is significant and finally how to make the best response accordingly.

  1. Product reviews are actually testing

In fact Jerry calls it “Testing without Machinery” and suggests that technical product reviews are actually a way to provide information and thus is Testing. He also lists some “instant Reviews” which is that if you try to review and you hear excuses like below, you know that something is wrong:

  • It’s too early to review it.
  • It’s too small to bother with. What could possibly go wrong?
  • We’ll let you know as soon as we are ready.
  • We [tested][tried][demonstrated] it and it works okay.
  • ….

It’s a treasure of information on those few pages which you can get instantly once you ask for a review. This has inspired me to write more about Peer Code Reviews so you should expect an article soon.

Let me end this with Jerry’s words:

If humans were prefect thinkers, we wouldn’t need to test our work. … But we are imperfect, irrational, value-driven, diverse human beings. Therefore, we test, and we test our testing.

Agile Conference Pakistan 2017 – My learning

The signs of a growing IT industry in Pakistan are evident with the number of events that happen each year. One such event is the annual conference on Agile which saw it’s 4th edition on October 21, 2017. The Agile Conference Pakistan 2017 hosted by Pakistan Agile Development Society hosted over 300 professionals joining from around the country. ClickChain team from Bahawalpur lead by Muneeb Ali, Contour Software team from Karachi under Owais Ashraf leadership, and half the panelists from Lahore provided the best possible mixture of top IT talent at display during the day. The theme this year was “SCRUM in Pakistan”.

I have provided detailed reports for the 2015 and 2016 editions but this time rather than a report style, I’ll share some of my learning from the day.

Do use it at Home:

For many commercials and TV programs with stunts, they have a message like “Don’t do it Home”. Naveed Khawaja who is a UK based Agile Trainer and Coach (and adjusted his schedule to be able to join us) mentioned that because he loves Kanban, he does all his personal work through it. He shared examples like:

  • His 6 year old daughter using a Kanban board.
  • His family using a Ramadan Kanban board.
  • His (poor) carpenter being Kanban-ified for some renovation work.

The idea that I got is that if you like something, you can try it for both your professional and personal life. Interestingly, after I attended the 7 Habits training from FranklinCovey few months ago, I practiced the learning both at office and at home.

(more photos at: https://www.facebook.com/bendaoods/)

Purpose is more important than Terminology:

Sumara Farooq in her talk suggested that when SCRUM or any new initiative is implemented in an organization for the first time, the message can be simplified by focusing on the purpose or intent of doing something rather than using the terms. For example:

  • A Storyboard is actually there to provide visibility.
  • A Daily SCRUM is actually needed for better collaboration

This indeed can change the way you communicate with the real folks who’ll embrace the change if they like the purpose rather than saying that “we need SCRUM from tomorrow”.

Performance = Skill x Will:

Mohsin Lodhi was fantastic in his talk as usual and threw in lot of interesting ideas for anyone who manages people. His main theme was Servant Leadership such that what it is and how to achieve that. As he was setting up the idea, he shared the above formula which I really liked. I have seen many teams under performing because either they lack Skill or they are not Willing to do it. I learned that both of these are important and any leader should work on enhancing Skill of the team and buying their Will to perform.

Selling your idea is the main thing:

The panel discussion which had Naeem Iqbal, Naveed Khawaja, Faisal Tajammul, Shaima Niaz and was moderated by me saw a flurry of question from the audience. The question ranged from difficulties in SCRUM transformation, lack of top management support, collaboration issues, fear of failures etc.

A common theme that I saw in the questions was that you know why an idea is worth (say SCRUM) but you are unable to convince others. I call this a “selling problem” and as someone rightly said:

Selling is not part of the game, it is the game.

Unfortunately all of us, the IT guys think that if a solution is technically good, people would love it and buy it immediately. But buying something is more psychological than technical and we need to learn the art of selling. I am learning it too but have found one thing: if you target on the need of the buyer, you might be able to sell something. For example in case of SCRUM, consider selling cost saving and faster results to management and consider selling self-organization and better prioritization to your team members.

There were lot of amazing people that I met over the conferences and many interesting discussions (including Khurram Ali‘s talk on User Stories, Muhammad Ibrahim‘s research presentation on Scrum and XP) that I saw which I’ll try to cover in future posts. Before I go, want a special mention of Faiza Yousuf and Noorjehan Arif who came from Karachi for the conference and ran our twitter campaign. And yes, #AgilePK and #ACP2017 were the top trends on that day.

Thanks to all members of the organizing team which orbit around Naveed Ramzan, who worked hard to made it a memorable day. And Anum Zaib lifted the level of event host considerable from last year (last year it was me :))

What did you learn from the ACP2017 if you were there? And if you were not there, what else do you want me to cover about this event?

Providing valuable information as Testers

The best answers to “what is the job of testing?” always have a key component suggesting that it is “to provide information”.

Jerry Weinberg defines it as following in Perfect Software book:

Testers job is to provide information for the product under test

Johanna Rothman defines it as following in in the Preface to More Agile Testing book:

They provide information about product under test, to expose risks for the team.

Now if you have been provided information any time in your recent past, you can easily recall that some of it was valuable and some of it was not. Even some information which was provided to you was false, misleading, hiding the facts or inflicted with similar diseases. So how do we, the testers, can provide information which is always always valuable to the person who is receiving information?

I believe the answer is in two parts: a) How do we collect information? and b) How do we process and present the information?

May be I am bit vague above, so let me spend some time to explain myself.

To provide information, you need to have all the information available to you collected from different sources like test results, design documents, release schedules etc. And then you need to process this information for the given need like the occasion, the person or timing of the information being provided. Like providing specific filters to view information from a certain angle.

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

How do we collect information?

Some testers are overly relying on only the results of testing. They don’t like to discuss with Development about how those tests are designed or how the results are interpreted rather they believe that results of testing are the only source of truth.

Then there are others who love documents. All of the information they have is primarily coming from a document e.g. Design document, Project Plan, Release Plan, or some sort of change tracking system like TFS. For them, those documents are the only source of truth.

And there are the third group who like verbal communication. They discuss each and every type of test in daily SCRUM calls and get feedback on Iteration Review results. They discuss release plans with the management rather than looking at what the document suggested at the start. They are of the view that people involved in the team are the only source of truth.

Not many people know that if all the information you have is coming from a single source, you don’t have a complete view. Consider political arguments that happen in your work environment between people who watch/follow a particular news channel.

So if as a Tester, you want to improve your skill as a better information provider, the first step is to widen your input sources. Test Results, Documents, People all matter. And even there are other sources which you know better than me.

How do we process and present information?

So when you are asked “How was your weekend?”, your answer largely depends on who is asking and in what circumstances. Your answer will vary in details and emotions for your jogging partner compared to your colleague; your best friend compared to someone you are meeting for the first time at a business meeting.

Similarly when you are asked “How is the testing going?” or “Are we release ready?”, if you are giving the same answer to every person in every possible settings, it shows that you are not filtering the information you are having and passing it on as it is. Apply different views to the same information given the context and your answers will contain valuable information for the receivers.

What tips you have to improve information gathering and processing steps?