Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Agile Testing Days 2013 highlights


Agile Testing Days 2013 ended a week ago. I have some time between BBST Bug Advocacy assignments so let's get to recap before I forget what I experienced in this wonderful conference. So much awesomeness happened that I'll have to sample a bit.

Let's get to it then!

Pre-conference - Berlin

Some wurst and weizen @ Berlin zoo
I decided to arrive few days early to the location and enjoy one of my favourite cities, Berlin. Couple of days I roamed the streets, eating local delicacies and drinking local brew. I also revisited some of the attractions that have had the most impact on me, namely Holocaust Memorial, Topography Of Terrors exhibition and Tiergarten. Also the zoo is always a must-go, wherever I am. I guess I like them animals. :)

Two days was enough to (re)experience the essentials of Berlin and it was time to head to Potsdam, where the conference was about to start. Immediately I ran into some familiar faces such as Huib Schoots, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Alon Linetzki, Daniel Maslyn and Lisa Crispin (and her husband Bob), but also to a boatload of new ones. Among many were Markus Gärtner, Peter Walen, Tony Bruce, Meike "The Hugger" Mertsch and her "better half" Marco Heimeshoff. The list expanded later with more beautiful people such as Matt Heusser, Dan North, Pascal Dufour, Dan Ashby, Marc Rambert, Anna Royzman, James Lindsay, Bart Knaack, Adam Knight, Mohinder Khosla, Eddy Bruin, Tamara de Paus, Jesper Ottosen, Graham Thomas and so on. It was also so awesome to finally meet my lovely colleague Gitte Ottosen, with whom I've already worked for months, but whom I've never met face-to-face.

What struck me the most was that it immediately felt like I was meeting family members. For example Mohinder Khosla came to hug me even though we have never met before. That tells something about the nature of this conference and the people involved in it.

Day 1 - Fast feedback tutorial

How to test a lightsabre lightsaber
The conference started with a bang. Gitte and me joined hand in hand to Huib Schoot's and Pascal Dufour's tutorial about fast feedback and ideas to help projects test quicker. And I have to tell you; These guys complemented each other beautifully. As always, Huib bursted with ideas about testing, and Pascal set them into effective framework.

A product
The full day tutorial started with Pascal introducing the framework which we then worked on. I've worked with canvases before, but what became new to me was "the walking skeleton". In it you plan your product and/or testing activities by first planning the bare essentials and then building up the activities in increments based on the importance to relevant stakeholders. The progress, quality, economics, etc. are portrayed visually via dashboards, mindmaps, flowcharts, etc.

It became quite quickly apparent to me that visualization was the actual theme of this conference. The official theme was "setting, increase, early veraison and ripening of agile testing", but to be honest I never could connect that to any of the sessions. Visualization was however present in almost every session I participated. Including this one.

I'm a lot like Huib. I burst with ideas. But I have sometimes difficulties in controlling that power. I'm not referring that Huib does, but I do. Pascal's examples gave me tools for that. But they take me only so far. There's the everyday life to face. I need someone to control all the power I have and put it in to good use in my everyday life as a tester. M wife does that when I'm off-duty, but who will do it for me on-duty?


Pascal The Collector

Day 2 - It's showtime!

The second day started with Lean Coffee and Andrea Tomasini's keynote. I didn't participate on either of those. I was too focused on my show. Again I had the sweet spot. Again I got to present at the first day before lunch. That gives the benefit of getting the job done early and enjoying the rest of the conference without mental burden. People have said that when you get experience in presenting at conferences, that burden eases. For me it's still very much there.

Cheat sheet
I arrived at the room over half an hour early. No one was there. So I started fiddling with the equipment. I checked the mics and the speakers, video (along with contrast, color balance, the works), I downloaded the material to the computer, ran the show through, rehersed the flow, drew the drawings to flipchart, drank some water, hopped a bit to get the blood flowing... I was ready. At the very same moment the first participants joined. I though: "Only five minutes left?! Is this all of it?!" Soon my worries dispersed. The crowd kept growing and soon the room for over hundred people was nearly full. What amazed me the most was the amount of the testing superstars in the audience. Everyone seemed to be there. Huib Schoots, Pascal Dufour, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Peter Walen, Matt Heusser... you name it. I mean I've grown to be a tester by following these guys. And now they were there, in front of me! Twitters hot! And there was Lisa Crispin on the front row! Yikes!

Me and Mr. Kahneman
Well, actually it wasn't yikes at all. You couldn't imagine how much energy I got from these guys and the audience. No enemies in the crowd. Just friends and family. I felt relaxed and I felt like having fun. So I started having fun. The show started off with a hand-twisting group exercise ridden with misdirection. The show was about sapient testing, so this got audience's "sapience" flowing. The show progressed as planned, with some interaction and discussion, and I loved every second of it. Until Prezi crashed, of course. Even though I thought I checked everything, Youtube access from Prezi presentation was too much for the machine and the browser croaked. I spent valuable seconds trying to fix the problem, which is something you should never do when hundred people are watching. You should move on with the show, not matter what. So after a while I did and managed to finish with my head held high. The clitch bothered me a bit afterwards, but the feedback I got from the presentation via Twitter, email and face-to-face removed that quite rapidly. Following tweet sums up my post-presentation feelings quite well:

I want to thank John Stevenson, Christian Baumann and Dan Ashby for their efforts in writing experience reports from my show. Thanks guys!

After my buzz settled down, I went to Mary Gorman's keynote about agile team members' interdependence. Among other things she taught us about trust levels and how to turn left many times... ;) She also introduced product dimensions, which I found to have strong relationship with James Bach's product elements. When testing Mary divides the product into pieces as follows: User, Interface, Action, Data, Control, Environment and Quality Attribute. When testing James does the division as follows: Structure, Functions, Data, Integrations, Platform, Operations and Time. I've followed James' example and supported it with my own ideas, but Mary's approach could complement this quite beautifully. I have to weigh on this...

The infamous Dice Game
Afternoon there was Peter Walen's workshop about problem solving using specific mechanisms. There was good discussion going on mainly because there was wickedly smart and open people trying to solve the problems together, but sometimes discussion drifted a bit due to lacking facilitation. At times it was just shouting game where loudest shouter got to speak. Color cards, speaking turns or something could've helped. Good start spiraled into one-dimensional dwelling in problems rather than coming up with solutions and I started to shut down mentally. A combination of tiredness and frustration.

I was pretty much spent after the day, but there was still some partying to do...

Mr. Gärtner and his MIATPP award
speech. Well done, Markus!

Day 3 - Ideas, ideas, ideas...

Gitte and her... um... unicorn?
So, day 3. I again skipped Lean Coffee, sampled the keynote by Christian Hassa and headed straight to the front row in Gitte Ottosen's show. My dear colleague gave an excellent presentation about structured exploratory testing. A lot of it was familiar to me, because we have worked together for some time now and we seem to think alike to extent that it's even spooky. She knows a great deal about exploratory testing, but what I became fascinated about was her ability to tie that knowledge into the constraints of Sogeti context. I consider myself as pragmatist - albeit a dreaming one - but Gitte gave, and still continues to give me ideas how to be more so.

Mr. North's capability quadrants
After lunch it was time for Dan North's show. I knew his reputation as a professional and a speaker, and he didn't disappoint. It was a matter of seconds when he already got the audience laughing and relaxed before going into the serious stuff. After the great start he started telling about refining agile work models and how to bring approaches such as exploratory testing to them. He introduced his capability quadrants, which I interpreted as groups of skills you need when testing (see the picture). His wording might've been a bit off as for example exploratory testing was put into manual "random" quadrant.

I understand what he meant by it as I got the chance to talk with him later, but many might not. Exploratory testing is not random. It is somewhere on the other end of testing spectrum than deterministic, but it's not random. We speculated this with Dan and Michael Bolton afterwards, and "heuristic" and "stochastic" were suggerted as options. Whatever the end result, the thought work around this is important.

I quickly forgot the quadrants as Dan introduced his approach on risk management. I nearly fell from the chair when he introduced the 3rd dimension to conventional impact vs. propability plane. Namely he considered that stakeholders should be involved when considering risks. That creates the context, which is the third dimension. Ok, this is pretty basics and actually everyone should consider stakeholders at all times when testing, but still it's something that is so often neglected. I've talked about this with our TMap experts and they say that PRA (Product Risk Analysis) already covers this, but I don't see that. Either it's missing or it's so hard to understand that no one uses it properly. And no one really uses it properly. They consider impact and propability from the viewpoint of client, without ever actually considering the client, whoever that may be.

All in all, because of Dan's show I'm now designing a new PRA which considers the context properly, and ties it to testing information objectives. Stay tuned!

Mr. Heusser and Mr. Kahneman
I was so filled with ideas I had to go to the hotel room and write them down, after which I took a short nap and joined Test Lab where James Lindsay and Bart Knaack had their stations humming with systems to dig bugs from. I didn't quite concentrate on testing there, but we had a good chat with the gentlemen. James and Bart brought my energy level back up and I headed to Matt Heusser's keynote. I've followed Matt for some time now and heard him speak couple of times, and he did excellent job this time too. He used a lot of references from psychology, which I like because I tend to do that too. We even used the same refence to Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast And Slow. :) I think it's imperative to get people to understand that testing is not limited to computer sciences and I think Matt did a fine job in this.

The day continued with networking, good company and some nice whisky too. Oh, and Agile Games fueled with beer and pizza!

Good times!

Agile Games wrapup

Day 4 - Funny farewell

I don't know if it was the whisky or what, but my day 4 started with a splitting headache. Gladly Tony Bruce came to the rescue and gave some medicine that killed the headache in an instant. Tons of thank you Tony for killing what was killing me!

Mr. Maslyn's skill framework
I drifted into Lloyd Roden's show about the fragility of agility. It was the same he presented in Nordic Testing Days 2013 so I concentrated on enjoying his awesome speaking skills and preparing myself for the highly energetic Daniel Maslyn. Daniel is one of the awesome rockstars, if not THE rockstar of Sogeti. I met him the first time in Belgium Testing Days 2013, where he drove us around Brussels and introduced many interesting places to have insanely strong beer. His passion towards everything he does is unparalleled. And this show was not an exception. He started a bit slow, perhaps intentionally, but he quite quickly picked up the pace and introduced the idea of "hybrids". These are basically the essential skills that testers need in order to be successful in their work now and in the future. This is something I've asked myself during my whole career; What do I need to do in order to keep myself competent now and in the future in order to keep my job? Daniel introduced a framework that can be used to evaluate one's competence and I got many ideas from it for my personal use. Because of him my future is a bit clearer now. And what's amazing is that Daniel did his material after he left to his room from our little movie making session on the previous day. It was around 4:00 in the morning... :)

Director and lead actor at 3:21AM,
previous day
The second notable session on day 4 was Mohinder Khosla's workshop about solving problems with sketching. We basically drew there. Well, we didn't just draw there. We learned different mechanisms to visualize ourselves and what we are doing. Visualization is a powerful tool when trying to solve problems, because seeing the problem and its dependencies offers often the most effective way to solutions. One of my problems is that even though I was an A student in art at school, I've forgotten how to visualize myself. Time after time I fail to create a picture that is self-explanatory and effectively portrays what's going on. For example for a tester this is crucial skill. After this workshop I haven't brought my laptop to meetings anymore. Now I bring my sketchbook.

A product
Our funny farewell was Lisa Crispin's and Janet Gregory's keynote (complemented with performances from Peter Walen, Mary Gorman and the third one I didn't recognize) about the history and development of an effective agile team. It's hard to describe what happened, but I laughed a lot and got thrown with a fluffy toy. :D

The day ended with Lean Cocktail facilitated by Matt Heusser, and a nice dinner with Dan Ashby, Tamara de Paus and folks. I got to bed early, because I had a flight to catch very early in the next morning.

The conference was done.



Conference comes from latin word conferre, which means "bring together". Conferences are not just about running from session to another. They are about being together with people, learning from them, exchanging ideas with them and even sharing some nice whisky with them. Agile Testing Days 2013 brought together the brightest minds of agile testing and made possible wonderful things no one never planned on beforehand. I planned on meeting people like Gitte, Pascal, Meike, Marco and Dan, but I never planned on enjoying it so much. I planned on learning something new, but I never planned on learning something that could change the way I, my customers or even the whole Sogeti will work in the future. I planned on being a part of a great conference, but I never planned on becoming a part of something bigger.

A family.

Jean-Paul Varwijk said: "When you hire me, you hire my whole family." That beautifully describes the power that lies within the testing community. We are never alone. We always have people to help us and who we can help. But even though we're strong wherever we are, we need events such as Agile Testing Days to bring us together and strengthen the bond between our family of professionals.

I can't wait to see my family again.




  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Fell over your recap of agile testing days and were ready to go back there again. We had some fun days back then - and learned a lot :-) and it was great to meet you face to face for the first time... and by the way thank you for the compliment in the text :-)

    Take care,