Friday, December 19, 2014

Agile Testing Days 2014: There are no agile testers - and no agile developers either

Just recently I wrote a blog post in response to the Agile Testing Days 2014 I was glad to have attended. This post was received controversially, to say the least. There have been many in favor for what I was saying, and there were many that didn't like it at all. For several reasons. I've got involved with interesting discussions with many of my readers., most of which led to the conclusion that there has been some misconception due to the fact that some of my arguments presented in the conversations were not mentioned in the post. I promised to write a follow-up to get to the point I was trying to make with the first post but didn't manage.

Here it is.

My Background

For there have been some not so polite responses questioning my right to express my thoughts regarding testers and testing I will explain where I come from and what my premises are. Currently I'm in QA for a 2M lines of code rich client application. As QA we define the processes for the development teams to follow to ensure a high quality of the product including everything from continuous integration, automated testing up to E2E and exploratory testing as well as static code checks and security scans. We follow the goal of establishing a continuous delivery process for this application.

My background over the years, however, was in development. As a developer I've come a long road from being a typical developer (from a testers perspective) to becoming an coach for agile methodologies (including agile testing). At certain times I did user acceptance testing and scripted testing. So, I've done my fair share on almost everything a tester would usually do. But my upbringing as a developer certainly makes sure I'm not completely familiar with the terminology a tester would use. Please forgive me this lack of knowledge but rest assured it is not because of ignorance.


The existence of agile testers (aka testers as members of agile teams) prevents the urgently needed mind shift development has to undergo and the existence of agile testers does prevent agile teams to become what they are supposed to be: agile small units that could build and ship the highest rated new features with nearly constant velocity. 


Development departments have a long record of software products not shipped in time and not having the expected quality. There have been many ideas around how this could be improved. The most successful of these has been the introduction of a QA department. Just like in any other industrial production QA would check the product after it has been assembled, and before it would be shipped to customers. For cars or machines this worked out pretty well. So, why not adopting this approach?

Development was known to deliver bad quality. QA would establish a Q-gate for the product to pass. Testers would test the product thoroughly before they would turn the thumb up. Fixes for issues would be requested and delivered by development. Sounds great. But virtually never worked out. Why? There always is the temptation to squeeze yet another feature in and yet one more, thus stretching the time for development beyond any deadline. QA would suffer for they are required to accomplish their tasks in a much shorter time frame then originally planned. Issues they found did not get fixed anymore for release date approaches to fast.

In such environments the guild of testers had to develop methods, techniques, and tools to somehow manage the increasing workload in a shortening time frame to work in. They had to mitigate the lack of information, the lack of involvement, and the fact that they were forced to test at the wrong end of the cycle. They sure would develop a pride in their work and their abilities. For they would act closer to the customers and would receive complaints and issue reports their understanding of customers needs would be better by far compared to the understanding a typical developer would have. They sure took pride in that as well. And rightly so.

Turning an eye on the developers. Before QA has been around they at least had to do some testing. Now there would be QA testing just enough quality in. Fine! More time to develop the features development was forced to squeeze in. It wouldn't come as a surprise if a developer wouldn't even felt relieved of the burden to spent valuable time on testing instead of walking further down the list of features he was supposed to finish. Once QA came into existence developers were disconnected from customers by yet another layer. On the other side of the process there were architects or system analysts that would lay out the whole product before even the first line of code has been written. They would talk to customers to collect requirements. Then they would put down all their design documents and contracts and stuff. And the developer had to walk down the list. Completely disconnected from the source of the requirements and the consumer of his work. They got cushioned in between these two layers. What would you expect them to become within this sandwich. No time to really change the architecture if they would find a flaw. No time for that. Just keep working around it. What connection to your work would you develop if you would have no means to influence major parts of it? A certain archetype would be required to survive in such environments. Nowadays we call them developers (at least when we stick to the cliché). This typos gathered in development departments. At one hand cushioned in and pampered, kept away from customers. At the other in splendid isolation just doing geeky stuff feeling proud of their ability to work around every problem in the shortest possible time.

To be sure: Not every developer fits into the cliché. Just like not every tester fits into the cliché built by many articles and books and which has been presented to me at Agile Testing Days this year or in replies to my postings. Things are not black or white, as usually.

Agile Teams

Fortunately there has been developers that did not fit into the cliché. Guys who wanted to do things differently as well as other people in this industry from other roles. And over the years ideas like XP, agile, scrum, and lean were invented. Now we are faced with agile teams. Suddenly things like backlogs, priorities, and short cycles matter. Frequent shipment of high quality product increments were expected. Customer feedback which leads to major adjustments in the product would be welcome. Imagine a developer from the safe haven of the good old days when they were supposed to just code and a whole organization built around them would take care of the rest. What would he make of this?

Imagine a tester with his safe haven QA department. Far away from developers. Now she was supposed to join teams with the developers. Two parties were put together that felt comfortable with the prejudices they had on each other. What would you expect to happen? Well, the safest thing would be to keep the respective specialization and organize the agile team like the departments they came from. The developers in the teams would, well, develop and the testers would just test. In fact the agile team would turn into a micro version of what has been the organization back then. I have seen this happen several times. And this does not seem to be special to me. Many of the sessions at Agile Testing Days shared the same experience to some extend.

Even the bible for agile testing the book by Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory did elaborate on this. I like this book it has got a lot of knowledge and experience in it. I certainly like the insights from their experience over the years they would share in there. And it has the right title for sure: Agile Testing. I will come back to this just a little bit later.

Part I of the book elaborates on testers and what they could bring into an agile team. In what sense they are special and would yield a great benefit for the team. Yes, testers have their unique specialties. Yes, these are badly needed close to development and even before the first line of code has been written. We definitely would need more agile testing in agile teams or in software development in general. 

At some point in this part the "Whole team approach" was mentioned and welcomed. No distinction between testers and developers. Just a team working on the top priority tasks doing whatever has to be done by anyone available when a new task has to be worked on. The agile team as a bunch of generalizing specialists. I very much like this idea. In fact that would be the Holy Grail. An agile team that would be able to really work according to priorities.

Unfortunately the remainder of this part very much keeps the distinction between testers and developers and tries to explain why a tester would be required to write acceptance tests, to talk to customers to understand what he really needs and similar stuff. There is one question popping up my mind: Why would I manifest the old DEV - QA pattern in an agile team? Why would I still keep developers away from activities they would urgently need to do to improve their understanding of the product or the customer needs. If they just be kept away from these experiences, then they are just cushioned in and pampered as before and we are all no better off. 

We would still play this DEV & QA game. Testing happens after implementation. I have seen this happening: Testing gets squeezed in between end of implementation and sprint closing. Often resulting in not properly testing for lack of time. Letting bugs slip through and so on. Where would be the difference to the old days? Testing needs to be first priority. To get this done anyone in the teams needs testing skills to some extend.

If you really want developers to change, to develop new capabilities you need to let them do those things they never did before. A tester would be a great teacher to them if he shares his knowledge with them. A developer needs the feeling of pain a bad quality product gives the customer. A developer needs to write acceptance tests herself to understand what a user story requires them to produce. These first hand experiences are what would trigger insights for them. 

Are developers afraid of this? Yes. Are developers not prepared to do something else than develop? Yes, for sure. We are talking about change. Change leads to a feeling of uncertainty, leads to occurrences of not knowing what would be expected of them. Change brings about fear. Same goes for testers. Are they really required to code? Are they really required to do architecture? Bug fixing? Yes they are. In an agile team. And this brings about fear, uncertainty, feel of loss for them too.

So, what happens most of the time? Developers and testers comprising a general non-aggression pact. And each sticks with what she could do best. Keeping specialism alive. And this specialism yields problems itself. Specialists are only able to work on a limited amount of tasks. Those who they do not cover with their specialization they would not take on. Specialists tend to be bottlenecks if their special knowledge would be required by two concurring tasks one would be blocked. Specialism leads to situations where the user stories not get worked on in the order of decreasing priority but by the need for some specialist. Thus the next increment of the product will not contain what the customer needed the most but the features the team in its combination of specializations was able to get done. This would not comply to the ideas of agile anymore. A team like that wouldn't really be an agile team.

Agile Engineer

What would that be? She would be a generalizing specialist. Willing to learn new methods, techniques, new skills. A member of the team that would be able to take on almost any task belonging to the most important user story on the board. If writing some code it would be, then she will code. If it is testing, she would test. If it is something else, she would do this as well. She would not be afraid of asking when she lacks knowledge or experience. She would be willing and open to share her knowledge.

Okay, lets go with agile testers and agile developers. We need to start somewhere. But support them in becoming an agile engineer. This will be a though transition for many of them. They would need help and guidance on the way. And they need the right environment. Just because an organization decides to have agile teams and to go agile doesn't mean that there is anything else than a new label put on the stuff they have. An agile engineer would not yields the effects he could if the organization around him is not transitioning too. Fixed schedules, fixed resources, and fixed scope do not work with agile. If the organization is not going agile anything else could remain as it has been back then.

Agile engineers would build great agile teams working in great agile organizations. They would DO agile testing, would DO agile development, or agile planning. They would cease to be an agile tester, an agile developer, or an agile someone. This would be the time when there would be 

No agile tester - and no agile developers either

Read also:

On Coaching Agile
Part 1: Killer Questions - What do you want to test?
Part 2: Techniques - Make a Bold Statement
Part 3: Techniques - Show and Tell

On Sporadics - How to deal with intermittent tests in continuous delivery

The opinions expressed in this blog are my own views and not those of SAP


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