Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Room 101

My last post marked the 101st that I’ve published on this blog. Firstly I’d like to say a hearty thanks to you if you’ve read any of my posts before, I’ve had a great time writing this blog so far and getting comments and feedback.

Secondly, this seems like a good time to reflect on some of the posts here and the nature of writing, speaking and presenting material generally to a professional community. A couple of events recently have prompted my thinking about ideas that people present, perhaps in talks or blog posts, that grow to become less representative of that persons opinions or methods over time, unbeknownst to the folk who may still be referencing the material.

A snapshot in time

At Next Generation Testing I had the pleasure to meet Liz Keogh, who is an influential member of the Lean/Agile community and a great proponent of the ideas of BDD. We discussed ideas in a specific talk of hers that I’d taken inspiration from and applied her idea on fractal BDD projects to a different subject to write my Fractal Exploratory Testing post. Liz admitted to me that her ideas and understanding of the projects she was referring to had moved on since giving the talk. It had been a useful model to present an idea at the time, but the talk did not reflect Liz’s current thinking based on her subsequent experiences. Liz had since moved on in her ideas, however for me her thinking was frozen in time at the point that I’d seen her present that talk.

I also had the recent opportunity to take on some new testers into my team. As part of their induction I talked them through some of the principles and ideas that define us as a team. A couple of times I found myself presenting ideas that I’d written about previously, and were working well when I put the introduction slides together a couple of years earlier, but had since fallen out of use. The ideas were current when the posts were created but had not endured long term acceptance outside of my own personal use.

Room 101

On UK television there is a television show called Room 101. In it celebrity guests argue to have ideas, objects or behaviours committed to “Room 101”, which represents banishment to a place reserved for our worst nightmares. As any regular readers of my posts will know, I’m a great believer in admitting our mistakes and being honest about our failures as well as our successes as a community. Having just completed my 101st post, it seemed appropriate to publish a ‘Room 101’ list of some of the ideas that, while not my worst nightmares, maybe don’t reflect my current way of thinking, or perhaps haven’t been quite so successful as I was hoping, or simply weren’t well written. So here are some of the posts that, if I’m honest with myself, are are not quite as relevant or worthy of attention than I’d originally believed them to be.

Context driven cheat sheets - A Problem Halved

I’m a little gutted about this one because I truly believe in this approach and the value of it. The idea is that you generate a ‘cheat sheet’ akin to the famous one from Hendrickson, Lynsday and Emery one, but with entries specific to your own software. This worked really well in my company for a time, however I simply couldn’t sustain enthusiasm from the team in maintaining it. The additional overhead on adding entries to the cheat sheet resulted in few attempts to update it outside occasional bursts of endeavour from myself or one of the other testers. We did review the idea in a testing meeting and everyone agreed that it was a fantastic idea and incredibly useful and agreed that it is sad that we can’t seem to maintain it, but being brutally honest the information in our cheat sheet is rather stale.

Internal Test Patterns - A Template for Success

This is an interesting one as the original purpose of the post was to use test patterns as a documentation tool, to document different structures within our automated testing so that others understand them. In this light the use of our internal test patterns has fallen out of use, we don’t embed the pattern name into the automation structure as a rule so can’t easily identify the pattern used for any one test suite.

The patterns have proved useful, however, when it comes to review and training. I still refer to the test patterns, particularly the anti-patterns, when reviewing our automation approaches with the aim of improving our general structuring of automated tests. They’re simply not extensively used by others.

As a useful tangent on this subject - if you are interested in the idea of automation patterns then Dorothy Graham recently introduced me to a wiki that she is promoting documenting test automation patterns.

Skills matrix - Finding the Right Balance

I don’t use this technique any longer. I did find it useful at the time when I was putting together a small team, however I found it too easy to manipulate the numbers to provide reinforcement of my own existing opinions on what I need in the team, that I now simply bypass this matrix and focus on the skills that I believe us to be in need of.

A Difficult Read - Letting Yourself Go

I can see what I was trying to say here, but honestly reading it back it doesn’t read well and lacks a real coherent message. Definitely my top candidate for Room 101.

If at first you don’t succeed, try a new approach

What is really interesting about the list above is that some of the ideas that haven’t worked quite as well as I thought seem to be the ones that I am most convinced are great ideas. Perhaps overconfidence in the fact that I’ve personally found them really useful has meant that I don’t try as hard when promoting them internally as I assume they’ll succeed. Whatever the reason, trying and promoting new ideas is an activity that is a core part of my work ethic, and there are almost inevitably going to be some ideas and approaches that work better than others. I strongly believe that it is still worth writing about and promoting these. As with Liz’s talk, perhaps through what Jurgen Appelo calls "The Mojito Method" - ideas shared may inspire something in others even after the originator no longer finds them valuable.

As I move into my second century of posts, I’m thinking of expanding my subject matter slightly to cover the fact that I’m involved in a variety of areas, including testing, which are rooted in the customer interfacing disciplines of a software product company. Integrating our agile organisaton into a larger , more traditional, organisation also presents some interesting challenges which might merit mention in a post at some point. I hope that future posts are as enjoyable to write as they have been up until now. If there is the odd idea in there that doesn’t work or read quite as well as I’d hope, I apologise, and at the same time hope that it might still prove useful to someone in some unexpected way.

If you have your own candidates for blog "Room 101" please let me know by commenting, I'd love to hear from you.

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