Schedule and Events

March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
July, 14-15, 2012 - Test Coach Camp, San Jose, California
July, 16-18, 2012 - Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012), San Jose, California
August 2012+ - At Liberty; available. Contact me by email:

Monday, November 22, 2010

One way to transition to agile

There's been a little bit of discussion in the blog-o-sphere lately about how to "sell" agile, or how to convince senior managers to "adopt" agile, how to get buy-in and so on.

I pushed back against this; couldn't you just do it? Does Senior Management even know what the software team is doing, anyway?

The answer to that was that Agile is an investment; a typical team might take six to eight months to build infrastructure (CI, Test Driven Development, deployment tools, etc) and culture -- eight months before the team is again productive. (Reference)

Now there are a couple of different ways to transition to Agile; a team might, for example, make a series of small, incremental changes, each of which pays for itself quickly. But I thought it might be nice to share my favorite "sell the CFO" transition to Agile Story:

A long time ago ...

Senior Manager: "We need you to be the technical project manager on the Super-wiz ERP upgrade, Dave, so we can sell (new product) by (date). If we aren't int he market by (date) (competitor) will eat our lunch. Due to government regulation, we need to file a plan by (date1) and start selling on (date2), or we miss a ONE YEAR market window, by which competitor will have sewn up the market. Dave, you are the man. Only you can do it."

Dave: "I need a war room and for the entire team to be physically co-located, 100% of the time."

Senior Manager: "Well, I don't know about that."

Dave: "If you want me to have a chance to hit your date, I need a war room."

Senior Manager: "I'm sure you can do it. We have confidence in you."

Dave: "If you want me to have a chance to hit your date, I need a war room."

Senior Manager: "Dave, politically speaking, it's impossible. I could probably get you all the technical folks in one room, but then we'd have to find the room. No, you'll have to make it work.

Dave: "If you can't find a war room, then I'm not the person to manage this project. Perhaps you can find someone else willing to take that problem on. I am not."

Senior Manager: "But you're the best! There is no one else who can do this."

Dave: "I need a war room."

Dave got his war room.

The Moral of the Story

One time that organizations are willing to drop "the way we always do it" and try something new is immediately before an oncoming crisis. If you step into the void and offer to take responsibility given certain reasonable changes, you've got a real shot at impacting long-term change.

Another way to get chance is to deal with an organization that is profitable enough that they can experiment.

The classic example of the intersection of those two problems is the creation of the IBM Personal Computer.

The Scrum literature is full of examples of this sort of game-changing project; the classic example is probably in "Wicked Programs, Righteous Solutions" by DeGrace and Stahl.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Drake Equation of Software Testing

In the 1960's a scientist named Frank Drake came up with a formula to predict the probability of life on other planets -- specifically the chance they would evolve to the point that we could contact them. That equation came to be known as the Drake Equation.

The drake equation is roughly this:

N = R * f(p) * n(e) * f(e) * f(l) * f(i) * f(c) * L


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;
R = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
f(p) = the fraction of those stars that have planets
n(e) = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f(l) = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
f(i) = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
f(c) = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

This sounds impressive. I mean, if we could just determine those other variables, we can determine the chance of life on other planets, right?

But ... Wait

It turns out that Drake's equation really says that one unknown number that can only be guess can be calculated as a function of seven numbers ... that we don't really know either and can only be guessed. (And if you try, you run into Kwilinski's law: "Numbers that are 'proven' by multiplying and dividing a bunch of guesses together are worthless.")

Now think about this: As an actual menaingful number, drake's formula is pretty useless. If any of the guesstimates are off by a wide margin (or you can't even really predict them at all), then your answer is a non-answer. Worse than no answer, a wrong answer wastes your time and pushes you toward bad decisions.

Yet what if we didn't try to come up with a 'solid' number, but instead use Drake's equation as a modeling tool -- to help us better understand the problem? To help us figure out what questions to ask? To guide our research?

Suddenly, Drake's equation has some merit.

Back to software testing

Over the next few months I plan on doing some work in the area of the economics of software development -- testing specifically, but also other aspects. To do that work, I intend to throw out some illustrative numbers to help model the problem.

I don't claim that those numbers are "right", nor that any numbers are "right"; the economic value of the software project will develop on what the project is, who the customer is, what the technology stack is, the value of the staff, the time in history ... illustrative numbers are overly simplistic.

So I'm going to abstain from "proving" final answers using those numbers, instead using them as illustrative numbers, to tell as story - that it could be conceptually possible for a certain technique to work if things turned out like the example.

With that foundation model in place, we can make different decisions about how we do our work, and see how it impacts the model.

I want to be very clear here: I'm going to throw up ideas early in order to get feedback early. The ideas I throw out may be cutting edge -- they will certainly be wrong, because all models are wrong. But they might just have a chance to positively impact our field.

I figured it's worth a try.

Plenty more to come, both here and on the STP Test Community Blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Types of testers and the future - I

Ok, ok, it's not literally called boutique tester. But listen to this:

You: someone who can make guesses about how a website or application is going to fail, prove that you're right, and then communicate it clearly and effectively to the folks who need to fix it. Ideally, you also have the ability to predict the things about our products that will confuse or dismay a new customer.

As an example of what we do, imagine we have four months to write, test, and ship two applications on a brand-new hardware platform (with no specimens of said hardware in the building) while still updating and maintaining our released products on both platforms. Could you keep up without going totally crazy in the process?

If so, we'd like to hear from you — we're looking to expand our QA department by adding another Software Test Pilot.

Here's the ad, along with the companies "Jobs" site. The position is in Seattle, Washington, and I suspect the position is everything it claims to be.

About the future of software testing

For the past couple of year I have been engaged in a sort of shadow-boxing match of ideologies with some folks. Predominantly in the United States it has been with the idea of the tester/developer - that "the tester of the future" /will/ be writing test automation code, not doing actually testing, and the customer-facing tester will "go away."

Now certainly, I grant that testers will become 'more' technical over the next decade or so, but then again, our entire society is becoming more technical.

I still think it will take a variety of skill sets to find defects on different types of projects. We might have more tester/dev-ers in certain places, but I think "going away" is a bit strong.

In fact, I believe there are some simple economic conditions that make a boutique tester a valid choice for a company like "the omni group."

More to come. Or maybe more on test estimation to come. Either way, I'm writin' again. :-)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

CAST 2011 - August 8, 2011, Seattle Washington

If you've been waiting with breathless anticipation for announcements on CAST 2011, wait no more: It's August 8-10 at the Lynwood Convention Center in Seattle, Washington.

Note: I am not running the conference, and this is not some sort of official announcement. I have been, however, monitoring the intarwebs closely, waiting for such an announcement, and wanted to be the first to link to it once it came out. :-)

You heard it here first, folks.

Alternatively, maybe you didn't, in which case, I admire your testing-web-search-foo.

So perhaps I should say "you probably heard it here first?"

I am unaware of a Call for Proposals. As soon as I know of a public one, I'll link to it.

See you in Seattle in about nine months?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Quality is a slogan

Some long-time readers may recall that I am a member of the American Society for Quality, one of the larger, older and more influential non-profits in the Quality Space. ASQ has historically focused on manufacturing quality, but ASQ does have a journal and certification program on Software Quality.

This year ASQ is starting a new initiative on "raising the voice of quality", including blog posts from it's executive director, Paul Borawski.

As someone active in the quality community on the intarwebs, the ASQ leadership asked me to participate in a program called "Influential Voices." As much as I am enjoying the test estimations series (with more to come), I hope you can agree this opportunity was too good to pass by.

The first assignment was to write a response to Mr. Borawski's first blog post. Here goes ...

On the ASQ Blog, Paul Borawski wrote:
"Here’s my conundrum. Over the past 25 years I’ve heard some of the world’s best leaders extol the virtues of quality to improve bottom lines, top lines, and whole organizations. I’ve been in rooms of thousands when hospital executives, school superintendents, and city mangers all tell their stories of discovery, learning, trial and success. They tell their stories of transformation from the edge of failure to the summit of success. In the ‘80s I listened to Roger Milliken say, if quality is right, everything else follows. In 2010 I heard Alan Mulally (CEO, Ford Motor Company) in essence say the same thing. I get inspired and excited. Quality really does offer answers to what organizations most need.

So, what would it take to get the world’s attention to focus on that truth? What would it take to have the world realize the full potential of quality?"

There's certainly a lot in there, but let's start with this idea that many big, important people have championed the value of quality.

Well, um, of course they have, right?

I mean, can you imagine the CEO of Ford stepping up and saying "Quality? Nah, not really. I mean, that's not /really/ important."

I have a hard time imagining any corporate executive saying that. After all, Quality is sort of like Mom, Apple Pie, or "The Children Are our Future", the kind of thing you can appeal to and get easy, universal agreement.

Why, right now, I'm looking at the side of a five-dollar pizza box, from a company known to use big vats of pre-processed cheese, pre-processed tomato sauce, and pre-cooked, frozen pizza crusts. (In other words, the cheapest pizza with the simplest assembly-line process.)

What does the side of the box say?

(company name) uses only the finest ingredients to provide top-quality products

No, seriously, that's what it says.

Clearly, something is going on here.

I'm all for quality ... as long as it doesn't cost me anything

That is to say, Americans want quality, but they don't want to pay for it.

Maybe it started with Phil Crosby's little book, Quality Is Free, in 1979. The basic theme of Crosby's work was sound: If you do a better job, you'll have less defects to fix and correct later, and defects slow you down. So by investing in quality, we actually get payback, whereas trying to go fast right now actually slows things down in the long term.

The problem is, Crosby's book wasn't called "Quality is an investment", it was called "Quality is free."

I doubt I am the first person to observe that our culture wants quality -- as long as they don't have to pay for it.

Quality is ... wait, what is quality, again?

Let's be honest. We don't agree on what quality is. Joseph Juran told us quality is is fitness for purpose, Crosby says it is conforming to requirements, while Jerry Weinberg suggest that quality is value to some person. (I'm with Jerry, for the record.)

That lack of definition introduces some problems. For one thing, it brings us people counting defects, arguing a lower number of defects is a more "quality" piece of software.

But there is another, more sinister problem: If you've never defined what quality is, yet agree it is good, then we've got a situation. This "desire" for "that thing, you know, that quality stuff", creates a market opportunity for consultants, gurus, authors, and all kinds of leaders.

That's not necessarily bad. I'm a guru of sorts, and, on a good day, I have had a few people tell me they have succeeded with my ideas, which is very gratifying. But a market without discernment ... that troubles me.

And it gets worse

To most folks in quality, the "Japanese revolution" is old news, so I will be brief. Over a period of a few years, the Japanese changed their reputation from making cheap plastic junk to making high-efficient, low-defect, last-a-long-time electronics and automobiles.

They went from followers to leaders.

About that time (surprise surprise), back in the United States, we developed a market for "that quality stuffs", but, as the secret reply also went "...keep in mind, we're busy with the business of production. So let's hire some bright young engineer and give him the role of director of QA."

Another common secret statement was "But don't change the way we do business, or interrupt production!"

Can you imagine why that didn't work?


Another monkey-wrench in the works

About a hundred years ago, a man named Frederick W. Taylor wrote a book entitled "The Principles of Scientific Management"

I would be reluctant to call the book science, by any stretch of the term, but it is worth reading, if only to know your enemy.

Taylor was kind of jerk.

His basic idea was to "separate the worker from the work" by having an elite group, the scientists, design the work to be done a specific, exacting way.

Another term for this is "defined process."

And, while Taylor's "Scientific Management" might have worked in 1910 to move iron from one place to another (though modern historians debate that), it certainly doesn't work well to create intellectual property, like books or software.

Imagine a publisher telling an author or artist when to sit down, when to write, and when to take breaks. It just doesn't work that way.

My research into the Japenese Revolution, specifically Toyota, shows a style that is roughly the opposite of Taylor. The Toyota way involves engaging the workers in the work by giving the team interesting assembly problems and asking them to find the best way to build the product.

For that matter, forget "best"; the Toyota way asks the team to continually improve the process of building the product.

So we Americans sent people over to Japan to figure out what they were doing and systematize it, just as Ray Croc had done with McDonalds.

So we came back with Lean and Six Sigma and standardization.

But something happened along the way. By translating these ideas from the far-east, we injected some of that old "Tayloristic" ideology. America, fresh from the great success of McDonalds, was in love with systems and process and standardization. We were also in love with command and control methods of management.

Nobody seemed to recall that McDonalds had to experiment first, to find a good burger that could be made quickly; we just thought standardization was good.

Now on Toyota's teams, it is the team that decides what things are worth writing up standards for, to help the new guys. On a Toyota team, making a standard pre-maturely is a kind of waste; it causes you to make rules today that will be out of date tomorrow. Or worse, causes you to build things in an old, out-of-date, slow, error-prone way because "that is what the process book says."

Yet I've read several books by Americans on "Lean Manufacturing", and can not recall ever reading anything about just-in-time standards. Instead I read "standardize, standardize, standardize"

Why, we even have a "quality system", ISO-9001, that is all about documenting processes.

About ISO-9001

The basic belief system of ISO-9001 seems to be: If you do something, you should do it the same way, every time. You should write down how you do things. Then you can hire people to come into your shop and audit, to see if you are in fact doing things the way the book says.

All of this pre-supposes that it is possible to write down a process that will lead to zero defects. With hardware, where you can "insert tab A into slot A" in a cookie-cutter process, that might be possible. In software, where the process has to say, at some point "... and then the developer writes the code", or "... and then the tester does some testing", it'll be impossible to have that kind of certainty with defined process.

Also, this pre-supposes that having new ideas, and changing our process, in the moment, is less valuable than having a stable, predictable, repeatable process.

And that, since the process doesn't change too much, the cost of documenting and maintaining change control over the process will not be overly onerous.

System Effects

So we've got a system where we define "quality" as good and no further, which creates a market demand for a product that is hard to evaluate. We have these leftover ideas of class warfare from the 19th century that are clouding our vision. We have traditional command-and-control managers that want "that quality stuffs" as long as that doesn't mean any change to them or their power base.

So people who come in selling "quality" as something that doesn't require change, that reinforces command and control, will likely have more success than those trying to reform things.

To go back to Mr. Borawski's charge, I have to say, the question should not be "Why hasn't quality had more impact?" but instead, we should celebrate the little impact we have had.

My fix? Well, I actually have some good news

The Good News

Outside of the government and some elements of the health care sector, most of North America is living in a free market economy. That means we get to compete against other companies for products and services.

If Quality is value to some person, as Weinberg tells us, and the customer is that person, then those of us who build better products will sell more of them, make more money, and have successful businesses.

Of course there are exceptions; big brands getting by on reputation, companies creating monopolies or manipulating the market. But, by and large, those focused on the "accidental" side of quality - meaningless metrics or silly process - will not do as well as those focused on excellence in product development, operations, or sales.

In other words, in the long term, the good guys win.

Now as for the other concern -- that this idea of doing quality work can lead to better products, more products for less cost, and lower defects -- well, I agree. If you think about it, "if everybody did it", we would create an abundance of resources (by which I mean, actual stuff) and make the world a better place.

Where can we start? Well, once place to start, I think, would be by giving examples and case studies of successful organizations, along with exploring ideas behind systems thinking.

Sure, Six Sigma and ISO-9001 might be tools, and they might have a place, but they are relatively shallow tools with a niche place. Let's radically de-emphasize the role of those tools, choosing instead to focus on systems thinking.

To do that, we would first model our workplace as a system, then see what the right tool is for the job, focusing all the while on the customer and customer needs.

Of course that's only a start. We'll have a whole year to debate these ideas back and forth, and I suspect we'll end with something strong than that.

But it is a start.

Now get out there and change the world!