Saturday, 29 March 2014

The bigger the rock, the smaller the pieces need to be



You know what I really, really value in a fellow professional in the information technology delivery world? That special, magical ability to decompose a large (and potentially complex problem) into small, simple subtasks.

A child can do this right? This is 'Being a Human Being 101.' So why is it a behaviour that eludes a large percentage of those in the information technology industry. This is a trait of people who I like to call 'people who get things done.' Not through heroism or great feats against monolithic bureaucracies, but a simple application of critical thought.

Is there a problem here? 

People like the idea of building big stuff, stuff to "get hold of", its very grand to say we're building an "enterprise level" application. In that vein, I hear "well, this a step change to the product" or "there is no value in splitting up the project into smaller deliverables" on a regular basis. The justifications of the desperate, determined to protect bloated road maps which perpetuate their own existence.

At its root, the real problem with big stuff is that its is counter to how our brains actually work. We are overwhelmed by it, we cannot hold it within our puny cerebrums. Small stuff is natural, we can encircle it with thought and apply ourselves to it. We can be happy that its done, or at least that its time to stop.

If you are going to be marching for a year, you need plenty of opportunities to stop off on the way. Save it all up for one payload and you are likely to trudge forwards with your eyes to the floor for a large part of the journey. Your destination may well be on the other side of the horizon before you realise. 

So why do I see this all around me? 

Aside from my own bias, its actually a thing which takes thought and effort. It's easier *right now* just to plough on and not consider how an entity can be decomposed. At least that shows progress right?

Wrong. This stems from the perception that skilful decomposition is perceived to be responsible for initially 'slowing down' a delivery, while a slice of functionality is built. Speeds up your ability to generate feedback though. Which then means that you are more likely to deliver the right thing. Which, from experience, means you build what's needed, rather than spending time on what isn't.

Can someone be explicitly taught this ability?

I believe so, although its rarely that simple. At its heart is the ability to recognise flows, change the angle of approach when required, and the application of systems thinking. Decomposing complex systems or problems into simple rules of thumb is critical to an iterative delivery. 

I always like the thought of splitting an entity by the questions you wish to answer about it. Or consider the simplest thing you can do to overcome a constraint, expose information about risk or deliver customer value. I always imagine the entity as sphere and I can go anywhere around its surface. Eventually, I'll see the angle of approach. Hey, its the way my mind works. I have to apply the mental brakes, think, rather than plough on. Its taken some practice and discipline on my part.

This ability enables that most precious of habits, that of delivery of value. For now, the delivery of unvalue is pervasive to my eyes, but I'll strive to ensure that this special but underrated ability continues to have a place in the world. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

If you don't believe it, why should anyone else?



The question of what skills do testers need intrigues me. 

This always occurs to me when engaged in the search for 'good' people to hire. We (as in the technical sphere) tend to hire predominantly on 'skills.' Very rarely do we look for behaviours, even rarer we consider beliefs.

After some consideration (and no little practical finger-burning), starting with skills is often a false position, starting with beliefs can be much more powerful.

The following question always strikes me, when I consider this context. How many testers you know can give you explanation of what they believe the essence of testing is? I know relatively few. In fact, I often received the look of a startled rabbit when I lead with this question. You do it every day, but you can't tell me what you believe it is?

To not be compelling with what you believe testing to be puts you and your chosen vocation at a significant disadvantage when interacting with those who are sceptical about its value. To be not compelling when most reasoning is done for argumentative purposes (to convince, not necessarily to make better decisions) further underpins the disadvantage.

So, when I ask myself the golden question, I begin with this:

'Testing is the skilful exploration of an entity for information about its quality, where quality is value to some person.'

To decompose:
  • I believe testing is a skill not 'just an activity';
  • I believe testing is exploration, more than it is deterministic;
  • I provide information about quality to aid decisions about risk;
  • I believe quality is most meaningfully expressed from the point of view of 'some person', who is important in context. 

Does it fly? I think so. Well, is there a 'right' answer is a more pertinent question. Perhaps the urge to be 'right' (or the desire not to be seen to be 'wrong') prevents people from venturing their thoughts.

Is it different to the next tester? I hope so. Will it change as I learn and grow. I hope for that too. Does it lift the ideas of others in a way that appeals to me? (Nods to Jerry Weinberg). Damn right.

However, when I discuss testing I have an advantage, I have questioned myself and my beliefs about my vocation and talk in a compelling manner. To be less than sincere with what you believe testing to be is to enter into a struggle which you may well lose more often than not.