Skip to main content

Agile Testing Questioned


Zenzi Ali has been running a book club on the Association for Software Testing Slack and over the last few weeks we've read Agile Testing Condensed by Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin.

Each chapter was taken as a jumping off point for one or two discussion points and I really enjoyed the opportunity to think about the questions Zenzi posed and sometimes pop a question or two back into the conversation as well.

This post reproduces the questions and my answers, lightly edited for formatting.

--00--

Ten principles of agile testing are given in the book. Do you think there is a foundational principle that the others must be built upon? In your experience, do you find that some of these principles are less or more important than others? 

The text says they are for a team wanting to deliver the highest-quality product they can. If we can regard a motivation as a foundational principle, perhaps that could be it: each of the ten principles are ways to contribute to a higher quality product.

I thought it might be interesting to compare the ten to the principles behind the agile manifesto. There is some overlap, but some traditionally important agile principles are not present. For example iteration, different roles working together closely, sustainable pace, technical excellence.

Do these not contribute to higher-quality software? Are they not applicable to testing?

Another thought on the principles? What makes these agile testing principles rather than, say, good testing principles? 

Agile testing is defined as "Collaborative testing practices that occur continuously, from inception to delivery and beyond, supporting frequent delivery of value for our customers. Testing activities focus on building quality into the product, using fast feedback loops to validate our understanding. The practices strengthen and support the idea of whole-team responsibility for quality."  Would you describe your current testing practice as agile by this definition? Why or why not?

Depending on how we care to define "continuously," "frequent," "fast" etc for a given context  I think that what I attempt is very much aligned with the definition. I might say that rather than focus on building quality in, I want to focus on the delivery of business value. In principle, sometimes, by some definitions, this could mean a reduction in quality for some stakeholders.

The section How Teams Deal with Defects touches on the concept of zero-defect tolerance on engineering teams.  This seems to contradict the common belief that no software is truly bug free.  Can these two approaches exist harmoniously? 

Yes, for example if zero tolerance is of known bugs that we think are worth fixing.

There may be unknown bugs (how would we fix them and know we'd fixed them?) and there may be known bugs (to someone) that we choose to regard as acceptable.

One of the things that I have seen often is people not realising that a bug can be high priority or severity today, and completely disregarded tomorrow. All sorts of factors play into the assessment of whether or not it is important to fix, and when. 

Chapter 2's main idea seems to be that gathering multiple perspectives (from product, customers, testers, etc) allows the team to better assess risk, deliver quality, and test early and often. Is there feedback that carries more weight than others in this model? How do we define "done" when our principles stress continuous improvement and continuous feedback?

I think this is a wonderful question, btw. 

Yes, some feedback carries more weight than others but there are complications... how explicit everyone is about the relative weight of feedback from different participants, how much agreement there is on whose feedback has the weight under what circumstances, whether that person is available to give it, what politics and other factors that business value feed into it, how to resolve differences in feedback to get to action, etc etc etc.

One pragmatic way is to say that "done" means that the things on a checklist of activities have been addressed in a reasonable manner.

It doesn't mean perfect and it doesn't assert that a particular result is guaranteed.

It could be interpreted as something like "we did everything that we currently think is the right kind of things to do, to the extent that context and risk analysis suggested was appropriate, given the priority, constraints, and opportunity cost."

If team, product, and level of system detail are the defining components of test context, do you think that it's possible to compensate if testers lack expertise or knowledge in one component area?

Yes. It requires some means of compensating, of course — someone else with the expertise that's lacking, or designing work or product around the lack, for example — and the resources to allow that compensation to take place.

Do you think that team, product and levels of detail are a reasonable way to break down the context? 

The authors suggest that the "ideal" agile team is small and co-located.  Do you agree?

To be fair, the quote I'm looking at is "ideal situation for easy communication."  I think I'd find that easier to baldly agree with than the question as asked.

On the idea of an ideal agile team being co-located... Perhaps it's nit-picking but it's possible to imagine teams where remote might be necessary for some people to be on the team at all.

For example, some social anxiety sufferers, working parents, or people living in a foreign country might be an amazing fit for the team needs. An ideal team would have them on it. But they can't co-locate.

In general, though, my experience is that smaller and closer in both time and space makes for better empathy, spirit, communication, and interactions.

What benefits do you think exist in not using the word “test” when creating documentation around quality-realted procedures?

If there's any prejudice about what testing is and who does testing, then not using the word can help to reduce it.

Examples sound like something that anyone can legitimately come up with and so potentially increases engagement. There's less of a barrier to entry.

In chapter 5, the authors stress the importance of gathering The Three Amigos to advocate for the customer, drill down on product features, and build  consumer trust via a high-quality delivery. Can you think of questions that each "amigo" might ask during a session that would help a team reach quality and risk-related goals?

The way I like to think about  it, and I don't recall where I got this from, is that we want (at least three) perspectives:

  • requestor - what we want
  • suggestor - ways we could do it
  • protestor - potential risks, problems, constraints

They don't need to come from three people with particular roles. We call the approach Three Colleagues or Three Hats at work now to be less gendered and I have combined it with example mapping in the past. 

Edit: this post by John Ferguson Smart has more to say about request, suggest, protest, but I'm not sure it's where I first saw those terms.

In what ways do you combat bias when test planning (drafting test cases or an exploratory testing charter)?

Start by being aware of the possibility that you are biased.

Use tools to help you take broader perspectives. For example, I like SFDIPOT when considering a system.  

In chapter 7, the authors suggests exploring how our product team will gauge success (or failure)  of a newly released feature.  Without speaking directly to customers, how would you determine if a new offering is a quality fail or success?

If it's possible I would ask someone who is speaking directly speaking to customers what the feedback is. This might be e.g. sales, client success manager, tech or customer support.

Customers are not the only stakeholders, though. The feature can be a quality fail for customers but a quality success for the team.

For example, we migrate from an old infrastructure to a new one at the back end. This massively eases the way we work, reduces the chance of certain kinds of critical issues in production and so on. That's a win for us now and other stakeholders going forward. 

However, because we were concentrating on that (and doing several things at once, naturally) the feature we pushed at the same time was undercooked. That's a loss for the customer.

The book describes formal and informal methods to brainstorm test approaches and techniques. How do you determine how much time you'll allow for test planning and design? 

I try to make time for up-front thinking, but I try to make that time proportionate.

For something that feels like a "small" task, perhaps a conceptually and technically straightforward bug fix, I'll start with a small timebox for the work and spend a small proportion of that (for example) making a checklist of test ideas.

The checklist might include checking I can see the issue before the fix and not after, some attempts to broaden the reproduction to look for similar cases, a skim of the code, and wondering whether there's some way to look for unexpected side-effects.

For what feels like a "big" task, perhaps a new feature planned to take months to implement completely, I'll do more up front.

I might start with a mind map and SFDIPOT and dump all the risks, test ideas, questions etc that I have into it.  I'm prepared to put more effort into this at the beginning because it helps me to understand the project and the project context, highlight where I don't know things (yet) etc. It primes me to research, ask questions, raise early concerns, etc.

For me this is a live document rather than a plan. I'll show it to people when the moment is right to get engagement, and I'll update it as I find out more.

Chapter 8 asserts that the key to successfully implementing CI/CD is recognizing the difference between deploying and releasing. What makes this the key concept? How can this difference be explicitly defined within a team?

I'm not sure that I agree the difference is the key concept in implementing CI/CD.

I think Janet and Lisa are saying that understanding the difference helps to reduce the fear of continuous deployment: not every (partial) feature that's deployed to production has to be released (to everyone).

To achieve it, you need a mechanism for exposing features that you have confidence in, and you need to use it well.

Once you have several feature flags you risk combinatory issues becoming a problem. Three flags means 8 possible versions of your system in prod. Are you sure you've enabled just the right stuff for just the right people in just the right places?

I've often heard developers (and testers) say that the role of QA is disappearing.  Thoughts?

I think the tester role title is fading in popularity and QA seems to be more often used for process/compliance checking jobs these days.

The value of someone asking pertinent questions about motivation, approach, need, value, and so on is unlikely to reduce, however.

I can rant about this, so I'll just link to the blog post where I did rather than fill the thread with it.

The Agile Testing Quadrants are said to be suggestions (a tool, not a rule) and can be tailored to business-specific needs.  Can you think of a business or product type that would require updating the quadrants? What would our new quadrants assignments be named? 

Quadrants are a useful, simple, and visual model but they assume two binaries will describe the space. In this case:

  • tests are either tech or business-facing
  • tests are either guiding or critiquing the product

Clearly definitions matter: what those things cover from the space of all possible testing will depend on what you mean by them. But what about, for example:

  • user-centric tests
  • tests that are for information gathering

Where would they sit in the quadrants? What makes you say that?

Your team has decided to use Lisa and Janet's exercise to define "Done" for a new product feature.  You place a grid featuring all four quadrants on a whiteboard and brainstorm test scenarios as a team. At the end of the exercise, you realize that one of the quadrants is completely empty! What's your next step? Is it possible that feature testing can be complete with an unexplored test quadrant? 

Great question. I like to use Jerry Weinberg's definition of a problem to help me in circumstances like this: a problem is a difference between things as desired and things as percieved.

  • do we desire all four quadrants to be populated? If so, to what end? Is that reasonable?
  • do we perceive this model correctly? Perhaps we have miscategorised?
  • is this "thing" the right thing? Does this model even make sense for us at this time on this project? 

Do you think drafting business-readable tests is a realistic test goal? Why or why not?

I'd prefer  a slightly different question: under what conditions would it be reasonable to draft business-readable tests? This accepts that context is going to be a significant factor in the answer.

Outside of specific context, I would say that a good default is probably to prefer to have business input to the scope, desires, intentions, priority, etc of testing and a business-readable report on the outcome of the testing. 

Some new duties of testers are given in Chapter 11 What is missing from the list? Which duties are outside of the scope of our role? 

I think testers should feel empowered to look for places they can add value by exploring the product under test and its context.

This doesn't mean that all other duties should be unceremoniously dumped but spending some proportionate amount of time looking for opportunities or risks and then investigating them, and sharing the results, is usually possible.

With value delivery comes trust and then further freedom.

The authors' ingredients for success can be distilled into 3 factors:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Considering quality a cyclical process (not a step)

What other ingredients do you feel are necessary for success? Can you think of any ingredients or processes that would guarantee failure?

Much like the other questions where there's a classification (e.g. the quadrants), the coverage of your three factors determines whether other ingredients are possible.

For example, perhaps I think that personal responsibility, humility, and open-mindedness are necessary for success. Do they fit into an existing category?

There's a wide range of stuff to fit into those categories too, Where does context-sensitivity (from the  list in the book) fit for you? Is it communication? collaboration? cyclical quality? something else?

In terms of guaranteed failure, I think it's hard to say for sure. You might half-jokingly say "nuclear war" but of course then, as testers, I hope we're all trying to think of scenarios in which nuclear war solves a problem (for someone, from someone's perspective).

Factors that are more likely to lead to an unwanted outcome is a question I think it's more interesting to answer. What's your experience there?
Image: https://leanpub.com/agiletesting-condensed

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Can Code, Can't Code, Is Useful

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "If testers can’t code, they’re of no use to us" My first reaction is to wonder what you expect from your testers. I am immediately interested in your working context and the way

Meet Me Halfway?

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "Stop answering my questions with questions." Sure, I can do that. In return, please stop asking me questions so open to interpretation that any answer would be almost meaningless and certa

Testing (AI) is Testing

Last November I gave a talk, Random Exploration of a Chatbot API , at the BCS Testing, Diversity, AI Conference .  It was a nice surprise afterwards to be offered a book from their catalogue and I chose Artificial Intelligence and Software Testing by Rex Black, James Davenport, Joanna Olszewska, Jeremias Rößler, Adam Leon Smith, and Jonathon Wright.  This week, on a couple of train journeys around East Anglia, I read it and made sketchnotes. As someone not deeply into this field, but who has been experimenting with AI as a testing tool at work, I found the landscape view provided by the book interesting, particularly the lists: of challenges in testing AI, of approaches to testing AI, and of quality aspects to consider when evaluating AI.  Despite the hype around the area right now there's much that any competent tester will be familiar with, and skills that translate directly. Where there's likely to be novelty is in the technology, and the technical domain, and the effect of

Testers are Gate-Crashers

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "Testers are the gatekeepers of quality" Instinctively I don't like the sound of that, but I wonder what you mean by it. Perhaps one or more of these? Testers set the quality sta

Postman Curlections

My team has been building a new service over the last few months. Until recently all the data it needs has been ingested at startup and our focus has been on the logic that processes the data, architecture, and infrastructure. This week we introduced a couple of new endpoints that enable the creation (through an HTTP POST) and update (PUT) of the fundamental data type (we call it a definition ) that the service operates on. I picked up the task of smoke testing the first implementations. I started out by asking the system under test to show me what it can do by using Postman to submit requests and inspecting the results. It was the kinds of things you'd imagine, including: submit some definitions (of various structure, size, intent, name, identifiers, etc) resubmit the same definitions (identical, sharing keys, with variations, etc) retrieve the submitted definitions (using whatever endpoints exist to show some view of them) compare definitions I submitted fro

Build Quality

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "When the build is green, the product is of sufficient quality to release" An interesting take, and one I wouldn't agree with in general. That surprises you? Well, ho

Make, Fix, and Test

A few weeks ago, in A Good Tester is All Over the Place , Joep Schuurkes described a model of testing work based on three axes: do testing yourself or support testing by others be embedded in a team or be part of a separate team do your job or improve the system It resonated with me and the other testers I shared it with at work, and it resurfaced in my mind while I was reflecting on some of the tasks I've picked up recently and what they have involved, at least in the way I've chosen to address them. Here's three examples: Documentation Generation We have an internal tool that generates documentation in Confluence by extracting and combining images and text from a handful of sources. Although useful, it ran very slowly or not at all so one of the developers performed major surgery on it. Up to that point, I had never taken much interest in the tool and I could have safely ignored this piece of work too because it would have been tested by

Test Now

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "When is the best time to test?" Twenty posts in , I hope you're not expecting an answer without nuance? You are? Well, I'll do my best. For me, the best time to test is when there

Vanilla Flavour Testing

I have been pairing with a new developer colleague recently. In our last session he asked me "is this normal testing?" saying that he'd never seen anything like it anywhere else that he'd worked. We finished the task we were on and then chatted about his question for a few minutes. This is a short summary of what I said. I would describe myself as context-driven . I don't take the same approach to testing every time, except in a meta way. I try to understand the important questions, who they are important to, and what the constraints on the work are. With that knowledge I look for productive, pragmatic, ways to explore whatever we're looking at to uncover valuable information or find a way to move on. I write test notes as I work in a format that I have found to be useful to me, colleagues, and stakeholders. For me, the notes should clearly state the mission and give a tl;dr summary of the findings and I like them to be public while I'm working not just w

Am I Wrong?

I happened across Exploratory Testing: Why Is It Not Ideal for Agile Projects? by Vitaly Prus this week and I was triggered. But why? I took a few minutes to think that through. Partly, I guess, I feel directly challenged. I work on an agile project (by the definition in the article) and I would say that I use exclusively exploratory testing. Naturally, I like to think I'm doing a good job. Am I wrong? After calming down, and re-reading the article a couple of times, I don't think so. 😸 From the start, even the title makes me tense. The ideal solution is a perfect solution, the best solution. My context-driven instincts are reluctant to accept the premise, and I wonder what the author thinks is an ideal solution for an agile project, or any project. I notice also that I slid so easily from "an approach is not ideal" into "I am not doing a good job" and, in retrospect, that makes me smile. It doesn't do any harm to be reminded that your cognitive bias