Agile Testing Days 2018: A Reflection

I was beyond excited to attend Agile Testing Days in Potsdam, Germany for the first time a year and a half ago. Anywhere I went, I met women who I’d previously only known from the internet. It was refreshing.

Based on the pages of notes I’ve got, I can tell you that the lessons I took away from that week have seeped into the way I work everyday.

“Humans should not be regression testing.”

Jez Humble kicked off the conference with a session about continuous delivery. He described the barriers of organizational culture and software architecture that can prevent you from getting to a point where you can deliver continuously. Previous places where I worked made this feel like an insurmountable feat; now when I imagine continuous delivery, I can imagine concrete steps we could take to get there.

“Let’s create a small habit everyday to trigger me to learn more.”

Lisi Hocke certainly took this idea from her talk and ran with it. She’s been pair testing remotely with people around the world and learning so much from it. I’ve taken pairing on a smaller scale, with my colleagues or in-person. There are still times when it tests my patience, but the benefits of being able to more precisely explain what I’m doing and what I expect of the software vastly outweigh that investment. All my notes from Lisi’s talk have me nodding my head, like these are the most obvious things in the world. The biggest I’d come across about a year beforehand: having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. This explanation from Brain Pickings sticks with me.

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam.

“I am curious why they’re doing what they do.”

Gitte Klitgaard and Andreas Schliep had an improvised conversation about good and evil. You know, like you do with your friends for fun, but on stage. It can be so hard to believe that people are acting with good intentions at heart. But remembering to have empathy for the situations people find themselves in will help you choose to be the person to repair relationships when things go awry. If you believe in people, they can be better.

“People don’t want to collaborate with you when you have twelve spreadsheets for them to go through.”

I’m sure Angie Jones had other, more profound takeaways from her talk. But this one sticks to my bones. I think of it anytime I open a spreadsheet with more than one sheet in it. I think of it when I’m deciding on a tool to use, and wondering not what’s easiest for me to set up, but what’s easiest for my fellow collaborators to use. Thank you for this gem Angie.

Some dramatic structure in Sanssouci Park.

“Get ready to fire people to maintain the culture you want.”

Poornima Vijayashanker spoke about concrete ways to successfully onboard new employees. But I’m curious about this provocative statement. I haven’t ever worked at a place bold enough to get rid of managers whose direct reports displayed a pattern of escaping them that no one could ignore. I wonder what kind of company is bold enough to take this step.

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”

Kim Knup said Pablo Picasso came up with this doozie. At my first job, we used a physical board with sticky notes. If the sticky note had been moved around too many times or stuck in one place too long, it would literally fall off the board. At the time this felt like a failure. Now I see it for the blessing it was. Forgetting is a part of life, even if our digital tools would prefer us to forget that.

“Do what you say you will. Integrity is important.”

Rob Lambert spoke about behaviors of effective Agile teams. It’s resonating with me again now because it’s something I’m addressing in a talk I’m giving about how to build trust. I’m digging into authenticity, which I think goes a step beyond integrity. Doing what you say you will is being externally congruent. Authentic people are also internally congruent; the vision they have of themselves is the one they present to the world.

I forget what this is but it’s across from the museum downtown and damn the light was lovely.

“If you never get feedback, you have one year of experience ten times.”

This came out in Huib Schoots and Alex Schladebeck’s workshop on dissecting your testing and discovering the skills present in your exploratory testing. We practiced observing the skills we were using on the meta-level. It allowed me to both see and share how much a year of mob testing for an hour every day had expanded at least two things. First: my field of vision for how to dig and explore software had grown. Second: I was able to explain what I was thinking such that the other people present could understand, contribute to, and question which path we’d take next. It was life-affirming!

“When we set our own limits, we can change them.”

This came up in the context of Natalie Wenert’s talk about cross-team functionality. She chided organizations for relying on hero-worship and fire-fighting over breaking down silos and contributing to the whole. One of my conference buddies was frustrated at Agile Testing Days because they viewed so much of the content as “work therapy.” They weren’t wrong.

“As a user, I want to be locked out of the system after three incorrect password attempts.”

David Evans presented a memorable talk about how the template we stick to for writing user stories does not serve us well. This particular example made me laugh out loud. This story gets the “why” wrong. It’s about security of our system and the user’s data. Being honest about why we’re building the software would make the user story less absurd, and hopefully get us on the path to making better software too.

This doozie is in the Museum Barberini, which is worth checking out if you're in Potsdam.

“Uncertainty is more stressful than inevitable pain.”

Emily Webber spoke about team interactions and organizational change. (Shout out to all the people who’ve tweet me instead of this other brown-haired white lady with glasses!) I’m on my fifth team in a year at my current company. I’m tired of the change. I know how important it is to build relationships with the people you work with. I’ve expressed that knowing who’s on my team is more important than having the perfect set of people. I look forward to more stability there because I don’t envy the alternative.

“Mistakes were made.”

Liz Keogh spoke about how to deliver failure messages. Her message was essentially: don’t. Pointing out the mistake without pointing fingers is enough. Encourage good existing behavior and create more options so that failure can occur safely.

“Are we advocating for those doing a good job?”

Ash Coleman and Keith Klain had a late-night after-dinner (over-hyphenated?) bonus-keynote to talk about how culture is a mindset and what we can do to change it. They encouraged allies in the majority to stop talking, and start listening, so you can do something. If you’re uncomfortable, good. You’re learning.

Originally published on Medium.