Sunday, August 15, 2021

See Plus Plus

Susan Finley's webinar for the Association for Software Testing, Making the Invisible Visible, has just been made available on YouTube.  

It starts in the middle of an ongoing war room situation with a large group crammed around a small table, surrounded by empty coffee cups and the crumbs of long-consumed sandwiches. They are breathing stale air, they have perspiration on their brows, there is a production incident in full flow and they have no confidence that they understand the causes, the potential fixes, or even each other.

The conversation repeats and circles and spirals back on itself until someone jumps up, sketches out a set of boxes and arrows on the whiteboard, and anchors the conversation on a model of the system. Suddenly there is shared context and understanding. That picture, Susan says, truly is worth a thousand words.

The rest of the talk is focused on strategies and practices for reporting on the state of software, and this is very firmly distinguished from the state of the testing of the software. The latter informs the former, but is not a proxy for it.

Susan favours visual representations of relevant dimensions of the product (for example, architecture, sequencing, data flow) overlaid with relevant information (risk, churn, test coverage, and so on.) Relevance is key here: what message needs to be communicated, to who, to achieve what? What kind of diagram could help to achieve that?

Of course, there are constraints on what data is available, what could be available, and the costs of gathering, manipulating, and presenting it. Following Arthur Ashe, she suggests starting now, with whatever you have, and doing what you can. 

For example,  take existing diagrams from elsewhere in your organisation and repurpose them. In fact, consider this a tactic because they may already be familiar to your target audience.

Be aware that, although you are likely to find technical diagrams easier to come by, technical risk may not be the most important thing when you need to talk to higher executives. When in front of that audience, if you can put any kind of dollar values on your risk diagrams — costs, lossess, wastage — particularly if they are coloured red, you are almost certainly going to get a more engaged audience.

Finally, don't sweat too much about maintaining the diagrams. Susan recommends that once they have served their purpose they have little value beyond historical record and perhaps being a starting point for the next visualisation.

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