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:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

... I told you it would get better

The Association for Software Testing recently announced a 2012 Grant Program designed to advance the cause of testing at local user groups and events.

Want to invite a speaker on testing to your local user group - and get some help with providing travel expenses? There's a program for that. What to run a peer workshop but need help with expenses? There's a program for that too.

Maybe you'd just like to ask AST to provide some promotional support and reimburse the cost of drinks and appetizers? You guessed it. AST can do that too.

The program is effective for 2012, but you can apply right now if you have something in mind.

Merry Christmas, everybody -- let's make it a great year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Interview on Craft Academy ... and more!

The folks at recently published my interview with Ken Auer, master instructor at RoleModel Software Craft Academy. We think you'll like it.

Speaking of publishing, I'm in December Issue of the Testing Circus Magazine, on Page 21, Writing about developing greater tester skills.

And there's lots more AST stuff in the hopper.

Keep it here.

It's going to get even better.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The New New Thing

Three weeks ago, I helped break the news that Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012) would be in San Jose, California, July 16-18, and the CAST 2012 Call for Participation was available on the web.

It gets better.

The weekend before CAST, we're running Test Coach Camp, July 14-15, with an optional dinner on the 13th.

Yes, Test Coach Camp. It's finally a real thing.

We're planning on hosting twenty-five to thirty people, enthusiastic about testing, professional growth, motivation, and coaching. Our call for participants is up right now.

No, you don't have to camp. The event will be at the Wyndham Hotel, San Jose, co-located with CAST. We expect most people will get a hotel room, but we can make arrangements for people who want to stay cheap.

You do not need to attend CAST in order to attend Test Coach Camp -- but we sure hope you'll think about it.

More to come.

Oh boy, is there more to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CAST 2012 - Dates, CFP is up!

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you probably know that CAST 2012 is the Conference for the Association for Software Testing.

What you might not know is the exact date, location, and when is the CFP going to be live?

Good news: The Dates for CAST 2012 are public!

CAST 2012 will be a the Wyndham Hotel in San Jose, California, July 16 to 18.

Better yet, the Call for Participation (CFP) is up and active, and yes, Pete Walen and I will be back to help organize emerging topics again.

It seems that people thought Emerging Topics went well in 2011.

So well, in fact, that the entire submission-entry process for this year is going to use Socialtext.

Even if you don't want to submit a talk, you can register and comment on the talks that are submitted, expressing interest, criticism, both, or something else. :-)

So check it out. It's free to try.

See you in the wiki?

DISCLOSURE: Socialtext is donating the wiki to AST in trade for sponsorship. I, Matt Heusser, am a shareholder in Socialtext corporation. I earned those shares through stock options, as an employee, testing the product for three years. I am proud of what we built, but If you struggle to use the wiki, you can contact me with questions, yes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gonna Send Five Copies to my mother!

My article "Ten Thoughts on Technical Debt", is the cover story for this month's Better Software Magazine.

Want to start with the dessert, then decide if it's worth paying for dinner? Why, you can download the article free off my website.

More to come.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

World Quality Month ... and More

After a year of participating in ASQ's Voices of Quality Program, it seems it's about time for me to hang up my hat.

Yes, they did graciously offer to let me renew, but, truth be told, I just don't have a lot of energy for the program, and it looks like ASQ has brought up a new batch of folks who are rarin' to go. I'm happy for them.

By now you probably know how this goes; Paul Borawski, the Executive Director of ASQ, makes a blog post, we offer our commentary, and then Paul uses that for input into future work. This month the overall subject was three-fold -- World Quality Month, "Forty Under 40", and ASQ's newest membership benefit.

I'll start with the dessert first - ASQ's new membership benefit is, Ironically enough, the ability to give away a six-month membership to a colleague who is thinking about membership but hasn't taken the plunge.

So let me say, I think membership in professional associations is a good thing. I also put my money where my mouth is.

I am a regular, dues-paying member of yes, the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the American Society for Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the Association for Software Testing (AST), where I sit on the board of directors. I am also an expired member of the Agile Alliance. Don't get me wrong - the AA is great, but three at a time is plenty for me, and when I decided to join ASJA, with it's $160/year price tag, I decided to drop something else.

I pay those memberships out-of-pocket, and have for years; I just renewed my ASQ membership. If you'd like to see if ASQ is right for you, drop me an email -- I have a membership to give away! (If you do join, please, please, find a local chapter and some software or industry-appropriate people to hang out with. It might make a huge difference in the quality of your experience; it certainly did for me.)

So there's the dessert.

The Rest of the Stuff

World Quality Month is moving from October to November, in order to comply with World Quality Day, which is in November.

I had no idea those were even things, or, if they are things, who gets to decide them. I actually suspect that it's kind of like "Love Day" on the Simpsons; invented and moved around by the inventors.

In that, I am less than excited.

I do tend to agree with Mr. Borawski that getting more people talking about quality more publicly is probably a good thing -- I just keep getting this nagging feeling, at the back of my neck, that ideas have consequences. When we try to compress some very complex subjects into a single word "quality" - we tend to miss things. And those things can come back later to bite us. (Within the quality movement, we have some people who think quality is fitness for use; others might say it is conformance to process. Still others might say quality is value to some person. That's kind of a big deal.)

Finally, ASQ has created the "Forty Under Forty" project, which seems to me to be next year's batch of "Influential Voices" for ASQ.

I could be critical of the idea, but instead, allow me to tell you what I like about it: The project shows that ASQ is serious about seeking out new and divergent opinions within it's membership, and giving those members a platform to talk about quality, in some depth, with some nuance, for an extended period of time.

It turns out that, in my own way, I've been making a similar request for more divergent discussion throughout this year of being an influential voice.

And it's happening.

That's good.

I was pleased to participate in the 2010-2011 program. Now it's time for a new batch.

This is going to be fun.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Couple of Announcements

1) I will be presented "Hands of Quick Attacks" on Nov 15th from 5:30 to 7:30-ish in South Bend, Indiana, at the South Bend Software Craftsmanship meetup. Registration is free, and so are the snacks!

2) The October of Software Test & Quality Assurance Magazine is out. The issue is a reflection on the Theme of "How To Reduce the Cost of Software Testing", and, yes, the folks at STP asked me to serve as guest editor. Check it out.

Selena Delesie

Catherine Powell!

Pete Walen!

Michael Larsen!

... and more!

Only the best folks, and it's free.

Like I said, check it out.

Come Work with me?

My current primary client is seeking full-time employees to fill programming, test/QA, programmer tech lead, and dev/test manager positions in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Current openings are full-time/salaried, but that may change.

You'd have to move, but relocation expenses may be negotiable.

You'd need to have no legal restrictions from working in the United States.

The office environment is open plan. The people are smart and nice -- these are people I actually want to work with, plus all the tools and techniques you would expect at a high-end agile shop big enough to have career options, not so big that it's silly. (Yes I said agile, mostly to compress into a sentence a half-dozen conflicted ideas. I will say this company is actually doing it, not doing some weird bizarro compromise.)

This year, the developers are offered the chance to attend SCNA; the testers had the option to go to CAST.

My words, of course, are my own, as is my reputation, which I stake that it's a good environment and a real opportunity.

Interested? Drop me an email:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The General Motors "Culture of Quality"

You may recall that in 2011, I am trying something new -- participating in the Influential Voices program of the American Society for Quality.

The program is pretty simple. Each month, the folks at ASQ put up a blog post which they ask us to respond to. At the end of the month, the Executive Director of ASQ, Paul Borawski, does a summary post, and uses that summary to start the next one. The October blog post is on a culture of quality at General Motors, and mostly consists of a video interview with Terry Woychowski, GM's new Vice President of Global Quality and Launch. (In the software world, I suspect we'd replace "launch" with something like "shipping" or "release management", but i'm honestly not quite sure.)

Terry sums up quality with the phrase "Promise, Personal, Performance." The first P, or promise, means the product needs to do what it claims to do. The second, or personal, implies that individuals will take responsibility for their work, from everything from input (refusing to take in shoddy products), to output (the stuff we give to the next guy.) Finally, the company has a goal for performance, that Terry expresses as "We want to be the quality leader in every segment that we compete in, every market that we sell in."

On it's face, that's a bit of a tall order.

Not only that, but i'm not sure we can say that GM has accomplished it. I mean, this is a company that, two years ago, was on the ropes. It took a government bailout, defaulted on it's bonds, laid off thousands of workers, and forced dealerships to close, some of which had been in the same family for three or four generations.

Fulfilling it's quality promise?


It wanted to talk to an executive about building great products, products that are pleasing and satisfy the end-customer, how about a company that had been long, long over it's turnaround hump, and had been consistently keeping it's promises for at least ten years? Perhaps a company like Apple?

Oh I know, someone is going to shout that I'm a software guy, and go figure that I would suggest Apple.

But Apple is not just a software company; they make computers.


Tablet Computers.

MP3 Players.

Not only does Apple make those things, it is the niche (read: "high end") market leader in each of those categories.

Apple might not make the most in sales by market segment, but they certainly have high margins. Wall Street respects the company enough to make it the number one publicly traded company in the world measured by market capitalization.

And here we are talking about GM.

Thinking about it ... Differently

There certainly are a few 'nuggets' in the GM interview. For example, Mr. Woychowski states that one of GM's measures for quality is the cost of warranty service, which has gone done something like 45%, which, if that is per car per year, seems like a reasonable metric to me.

He also said that he makes an effort, along with other executives, to talk to a dis-satisfied customer every single day. When I compare that to the old GM culture, where the executives rode special glass elevators, parked in a special parking lot, and had security guards in order to make sure that they didn't have to interactive with the mere employees, well, it's refreshing.

There are also a few claims that bug me, like claiming the company can't meet it's goal of creating the best products in each category without quality. This is true, but only in the sense that 1=1 is true; it's restating the same premise with different words, like "we can't be number one in sales unless we sell the most vehicles!" (He also claims that the chevy volt has more complexity in it's radio than the entire Apollo spacecraft project. That's true, but the Apollo Guidance Computer had 2K of RAM. In comparison, a much more powerful computer probably powers your microwave; you can certainly get more powerful, though slightly larger, computers for five dollars at any summer yard sale.)

Another nugget: GM customizes it's vehicles by market. Not just putting the steering wheel on the right in the United Kingdom, but also little things, like designing the interior of American Cars around cupholders, while in Europe they are generally ignored. (Note to self: Europeans don't typically eat in their cars. They are also generally thinner.)

So there's certainly stuff in there to discuss and debate.

Yet I kept coming back to it: why GM? Why not Apple? Sure, you could say, Cars are important, we should have at least one ... except we had a Quality Executive from Ford on a few months ago.

Two car guys and a steel company.

What's going on here?

Focus Matters

Car companies, and, to a lesser extent, the folks in Silicon Valley, talk about engineers. Engineers build stuff. Engineers solve problems. This means that everything can be seen through the lens of Engineering. (My brother in law actually took a course in Financial Engineering when he was at the University of Michigan. I think that was before the Enron scandal. But I digress.)

When I read F@st Company, I am amazed at what I read. Everything in that Magazine comes down to design and designers. I mean everything. Apparently, if things are designed right, they just work ... engineering is for, I dunno. Something else.

If you read Blomberg BusinessWeek, the lens is globalization. Everything is connected; a rise in gas prices here might cause a rise in corn prices over there that could lead to geo-political instability in a third place.

There are similar things in writing circles, where we tend to see everything as writing, and in software test circles, were everything is a risk to be evaluated or managed.

And for ASQ, originally known as the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), the lens is manufacturing of physical devices.

That's okay, and, to some extent, natural.

What GM, what Ford, and what Chrysler do are important for the country, and, for you BusinessWeek Readers, even for the global economy.

I just suspect it's time for us to take a step back and ask: How important?

Should the ASQ be talking to the world leads in auto manufacturing (who are struggling), or the folks in other, related industries who are not?

Final Thought

I learned a small handful of things from the Handbook of Software Quality Assurance in it's 3rd edition. One of my biggest takeaways was the interplay of quality and production.

I am paraphrasing, but, according to the book, the best-run companies (at least, the ones that learned something from the japanese quality revolution) have a CEO who is also visibly the chief quality officer.

That is to say, when you go to quality conferences and events, you see the CEO. When there is a quality problem, the CEO rolls up his sleeves.

Other companies, companies that see the revolution more ... tangentially ... often take a different approach. In these companies the CEO (or Vice President of Ops, or Vice President of Products) might put his arm around a bright, fresh, young engineer, and say something that boils down to this:

"We want some of that quality stuffs. I'm going to empower you to go do that quality stuff. You'll be the chief quality officer. Just don't ask the organization to change anything or bother me; I'm too busy with the busy business of production to be bothered with that quality stuff. But we want it and all that. Good luck."

I may be embellishing a bit.

The point is, the first company, the one where the CEO is Mr. Quality, has a fighting chance. The second one does not. While not all cases are that extreme, companies generally lean toward one or the other.

So here's the deal.

In both the GM interview and the Ford interview, we were redirected to some 'voice' of quality, an advocate for quality in the executive suite.

Who was the chief quality officer at Apple?

You might night have always agreed with him, you might not always like him, but Steve Jobs was certainly the man when it came to quality.

Which brings up an interesting and recurring problem: Groups like ASQ tend to portray quality as a sort of specialization. At the same time, we claim that everyone should be involved in quality.

If the CEO and his managers are all quality officers, what do we need these mysterious quality people for? (It's hard for me to get excited about auditing, checklists, ISO standards, and diagrammed process flows. Is that really who we want to be?)

Now that is a conversation I would be interested in; I think ASQ is position to lead it.

The question is, who should we be having it with?

Dare I suggest the CEO of a company know for innovative, ground-breaking, world-class products? Not a company that turned around last year, but a company with decade of steady growth and success?

It doesn't have to be Apple Computer. It might be 3M, or netflix, or the people at Ideo.

Yes, ASQ, I do think it might be time to think different.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

... and five more articles

So far, I've made fifteen posts to my IT blog. In an attempt to keep up, here's the next five, and why, maybe, you might to care:

Was Nicolas Carr Right? Reconsidering the idea that "IT Doesn't Matter"

What's the deal, Amazon? - Where Matt takes a tough, hard look at his Amazon EC2 (Electric Compute Cloud) monthly bill

Another Look at IT Staffing, Part I - Why companies don't "just" staff with full-time employees all the time

Another Look at IT Staffing, Part II - Introducing IS Lite, one of the Momma theories that started all this outsourcing and offshoring mania

Another Look at IT Staffing, Part III - IT support in a Gen-Y world, one where instead of supporting a list of devices, the CEO can walk in with an iPad and say "Make it Work."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Get Y'r Articles - online and free, like you want 'em

I've started a new blog for the folks at IT Knowledge Exchange, mostly about applying systems thinking to general IT.

Unless you follow my twit stream, though, it's doubtful that you have read each and every single post. I thought maybe it was time to fix that.

I don't want to overwhelm you, and I have been blogging since June, so here are the first few posts i've made:

Navigating the Waters - Introducing the new blog

On Cloud Adoption - How to deal with the demand for "cloud stuffs" right now from someone who, well, read a trade magazine on an airplane.

Your First Public Cloud - Part I - How to set up and create a cloud instance on using the free usage tier. (Warning: The walkthrough is a windows server, which could run as much as $2.00 if you aren't paying attention.)

Your First Public Cloud - Part II ... and how to actually use it

Tech Tough Love I - Part I of my interview with Andy Lester on his book, "Land the Tech Job You Love"

Tech Tough Love II - The second part of the interview

Yes, there are plenty more to come, and yes, I do try to send updates by twitter. Just in case you miss them, there's a link to Uncharted Waters, my IT blog, at right in my 'blogroll.'

But hey, don't give up on twitter. I even wrote 29 Testers to Follow On Twitter to get you started!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tomorrow Through the Past

(Continued Apologies to Robert A. Heinlein)

This year, at the Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2011) I was a little sad, but not surprised, to hear so many people say thing like "Gosh, I had never heard of this Context-Driven thing. I've got a lot of reading and catching up to do when I get home."

Actually, that last part -- the lot of reading and catching up to do -- that is kind of encouraging. To be involved in building that next generation of super testers ... that's pretty cool.

It turns out this problem is not unique to software testing.

In the 1980's, when Tom Demarco and Tim Lister wrote PeopleWare, they pointed out that while the typical programmer might have books on programming syntax on their desk, the typical programmer they interviewed had never actually read a book on programming style, method, or methodology.

This month, on the ASQ blog Paul Borawski notes that perhaps thirty percent, or less, of the attendees at a typical American Society for Quality (ASQ) have heard of W. Edwards Deming, the champion of quality. He asks, in essence "Are we forgetting our history?"

Now ASQ is not talking about software test history, but instead the greater history of the Quality Movement -- specifically, quality in manufacturing.

It's kind of a big deal.

Consider, for example, Deming's Seven Deadly diseases of management. I'll quote the first five, using John Hunter's wording:
  1. Lack of constancy of purpose

  2. Emphasis on short term profits (Overreaction to short term variation is harmful to long term success. With such focus on relatively unimportant short term results focus on constancy of purpose is next to impossible.)

  3. Evaluation of performance, merit rating or annual review (see: Performance Without Appraisal: What to do Instead of Performance Appraisals by Peter Scholtes).

  4. Mobility of top management (too much turnover causes numerous problems)

  5. Running a company on visible figures alone (many important factors are "unknown and unknowable." This is an obvious statement that runs counter to what some incorrectly claim Deming taught - that you can only manage what you measure. Deming did not believe this and if fact saw it as a deadly disease of management)
When I worked at a Fortune 500 company, and even mid-sized companies with as few as 400 employees, every single one of these deadly diseases was considered a "best practice."

These practices were institutionalized. For example, one company had a web-based system to perform your annual reviews on. If you did not fill out your forms by a certain date, including your goals, targets, and management-by-objective), you were guaranteed no raise.

This was company wide.

Bear with me here, I'm seeing a trend.

Something Rotten in Quality-Land

You see, something happened after the quality revolution hit Japan, and Detroit had to struggle to keep up. Top management saw value in the Quality movement, but they were too busy with the busy business of production to do anything about it. So, at best, "quality" was delegated to some fresh, young engineer in the rear rank. "You go for it, Joe." they said "you're our quality guy."

At worst, it was shunted to a Vice President, who shunted it to a director, who created a manager of quality, who continued to delegate it until "quality" became the guy who forgot to step backwards.

Or, perhaps, something entirely different happened; quality was re-interpreted as "compliance", and the company created a "quality system" to comply with an ISO standard.

We could debate about the value of ISO-9001 for manufacturing; it certainly has it's proponents. My point is that Deming laid down seven deadly sins of management, and, twenty-odd years later, the top five, if not all of them are common, institutionalized practices in corporate America.

PLUS we have these people who are considered quality professionals, doing ... something ... working within a system that has it's thinking in diametrical opposition to the principles that Deming was proposing.

I know how that goes.

The Bad News

Being the delegated quality guy when management follows a different ideology and wants "that quality stuffs" but isn't willing to change or pay for it, yeah, that's hard. I've been that guy, and it's not much fun.

It's worse, however, to be titled the "quality guy", working in that same system, but ignorant of the craft. Again, we're stuck with at best you might make some small, occasional, modest improvements, at worst quality continues to get a bad name. The most likely case is that your organization will become infected with questionable metrics, unhelpful process documents, and the occasional template.


I see similar issues in my own tiny sub-field of software testing, mostly in the area of test automation.

I have seen organizations implement test automation, expecting test cost to go down ... only to see it actually increase.

This leads me to the maxim "When you automate tests, testing costs go up."

Before I make a wild, unsubstantiated claim like that in public, I wanted to check in with a few people. A discussion with my friend, David Christiansen helped me clarify the statement a bit.

I don't mean to criticize all test automation; I'm very excited about test automation at the developer-level. Even customer-facing tests can be done well -- if you have a tight feedback loop, or have the developers doing the automation, so if they change a GUI field, they also know to change the GUI test.

No, instead I'm talking about a very specific set of circumstances. The term David used was "when the stars align."


* Management sees value in test automation, but the developers are too busy to do the work
* So they delegate the development of the automated GUI tests to a specialist, who does the work after development.
* These tests are designed to run at the press of a button, both exercising the GUI and providing analysis and results.
* The feedback loop between development and test is long; perhaps the tests only run as a suite before release. After weeks of growing differences between the systems, the automated tests with report failures that actually 'just' changes. These differences need to be investigated and
* And the company already has a strong, disciplined testing in place, using an approach that is at least partially exploratory
* And Management expects costs to go down

Under these conditions, I see the cost of testing going up, generally without much increase in velocity (features delivered over time) or defect rate. In most cases, velocity goes down.

That is to say, I see companies paying more for software testing and getting worse results.

But ... why?

Now I don't want to paint with too broad a brush here. People have different reasons for the decisions they make; the best I could do, maybe, would be to provide some generalities; rules of thumb that are often wrong.

Perhaps 'suspicions' would be a better term.

Did you notice the pattern between the ASQ and Software Testing? We have people who were successful doing things a specific way, and have built a worldview around that ideology. They hear about an opportunity to improve, and grab at it ... then re-interpret that opportunity around the existing worldview.

Then they outsource the work, but put constraints upon the work.

"We want that 'quality' stuffs, but don't you dare touch my annual review!"

(Come to think of it, we have a very similar problem in the United States Government. But I digress.)

But how do we fix it?

I'm afraid I don't have a "mary poppins" answer to this one. It's a hard problem, and it's far to easy to say something like "the solution is dialogue and education."

By dialogue, I mean conversation.

Companies that adapt these strategy do so because they believe they will work -- and that may be possible. So when these conversations start, we can get trapped in all kinds of different mistakes. You might say "test automation" and the other person thinks developer-testing, which I'd agree can have a lot of value. Or you might say "costs go up" and deeply offend the other person. Or they might feel insulted or condescended to.

Most importantly, these conversations are best done by invitation.

By reading my blog, you asked for my opinion -- even if you disagree. Yet many times our opinion is not ask; instead, someone in authority is handing out directions.

Responding to that direction with integrity can be a challenge for all of us; I'm working on it too.

I have a number of personal initiatives for 2012, but one of them that is just starting to heat up is "Test Coach Camp", which I hope will produce more concrete guidance on Crucial Test Conversations.

Our industries are young, the pull of popular culture and cliches is strong.

We've got work to do.

Let's get to it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Independence Day (Or Something Like It)

Friends of the blog have probably noticed that, around May of this year, I went independent.

There wasn't really a big announcement. In April I was hit by a restructure and reduction at Socialtext. Given the market and venture capital environment, the CEO did what he had to do -- I left on good terms.

The timing was pretty good; I immediately called up my editor friends and announced that I had sudden availability, plus I finally had time to get more involved in uTest, catch up on some reading, and, just maybe, see my family a little bit more.

Yes, I also started a job hunt.

After about the second week, I started to realize that I wasn't really looking for a full-time, employee position. Oh, yes, I'd probably take a wonderful position if it came around, but it seemed that every company I was talking to wanted me to move to Florida, or Seattle, or California, and they wanted me to move right now and bet my families future on the hope that the job, or at least the job market in that area, would stick around. There were a few remote positions, but they generally had timing demands and full-time salaried expectations; no one wanted to try a contract relationship first, to see if we might be a good fit.

By the end of the second week, when I called the unemployment hotline, and it asked if I was looking for work as a full-time employee, I realized the answer was 'no', or at least 'not only.'

It was time to make Excelon Development a full-time concern, or at least, it was time for a new kind of experiment.

Four months later, I seem to be makin' it.

At the same time, I've learned a whole new world. I've learned about liability insurance, the self-employment tax, anticipated quarterly tax payments, and more.

One of the more interesting ones, at least in the United States, is the Alternative Minimum Tax, or AMT.

Essentially, the AMT tax is the minimum tax you can pay off your gross income, no matter what you deduct.

If you are ever considering going into a line of work where you have decent compensation, but also decent expenses -- say travel expenses when consulting -- it's certainly something to think about.

Trying to take lemons and make lemonade, I took that research and published an article on the alternative minimum tax for

Please check it out.

If you tell me what'd like you to read in the area of personal money or small business management, it's all grist for the mill of future articles. (I've been thinking of starting a money management blog, which would give me control, but I don't think I have the energy to sustain it.)

Next on the plate is examining the true cost, and true value, in going back to school at night.

More to come.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

CAST 2011 Thoughts

I'm in Colorado on vacation, but waiting in a auto shop to get our minivan repaired.

Why are we in Colorado? My family is taking the long way home from the Conference for the Association for Software Testing -- yes -- driving from Seattle, Washington to West Michigan over a couple of weeks. It seems the rocky mountains were a bit much for our transmission ... at least the second time through.

I've been meaning to do a wrap-up post on CAST, and it seemed like a good time.

First off, CAST was amazing. Jon and James Bach did an impressive job attracting some of the best minds around, then created a format to set them free. The highlight for the conference for me was not the few talks I gave, but instead the Test Competition on Monday night. From 6PM to 10PM we self-organized into teams, attacked a piece of software, filed bugs, and, at the end of the night, produced a test report.

As an organizer of the conference (I helped organize the Emerging Topics Track, along with Pete Walen), I was ineligible to win a prize. If I joined a team and competed, that would make my team ineligible for any cash prizes -- and the prizes totalled fourteen hundred dollars. So when the Miagi-Do students formed a team, I tried to stay hands off. I thought I'd hang out with some folks, maybe grab a beverage with Pete Walen.

I'm afraid it did not turn out that way.

Instead, the members of the team -- Ajay Balamurugadas, Michael Larsen, Markus Gaertner, Adam Yuret, Justin Hunter, and Elena Houser -- insisted that they'd rather test with me than win a cash prize.

How do you turn that down?

So I played on the team. Along the way, several people expressed concern; after all, here I was, a conference organizer. Didn't I know the rules? Didn't my team know the rules?

It turns out, we did. We were playing for something else ... for love of the game.

I felt I could not refuse. Our team did well. Markus, Michael, and Elena all have blog posts on it; Adam tells me he has blog post in the works.

The rest of the conference, though, was pretty much a blur.

Oh, in a sense, I accomplished a big personal goal. I was elected to sit on the board of directors for the Association for Software Testing and gave my three talks without having some sort of terrible accident; most people seem to think they were helpful.

In another sense, I'm afraid my CAST experience was a mix of indebtedness and regret.

I feel in debt because of all the work people did on my behalf to make things come out well. While I proposed Emerging Topics and put the framework in place, it was Pete Walen that did the heavy lifting and acted as facilitator. Then there was the audio for my talk, that Ben Yaroch and Tim Coulter put together on no-notice. (Ben found me an audio cord to go from my computer to the project, that I failed to give back. Then I found my presentation was in a different room with different equipment, and Tim, my facilitator, ran and bought me speakers during my talk, before I needed audio. Did I mention that I was on a mac and Jon Bach brought the converter to get the video connection to work?)

Seriously. Amazing.

Then there was Michael Bolton, Jon Bach, Markus, Justin Hunter, Anne-Marie Charrett, Selena Delesie, and a few people from the audience that participated in the "How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing" panel on Tuesday:

If you are noticing the same names again and again, you're on to something. Like I said, in debt. The panel self-organized, the whole thing came off without a hitch, because of the contributions of the panel members and the interaction with the audience.

Regret because of the people I missed. Despite arriving on Sunday at 4:30PM and sticking around until Tuesday at 5:00PM, there just wasn't enough time to catch up with everyone.

I did manage to have a few minutes with Gary Masnica, only because he picked me up at the airport. I got to talk to Griffin Jones a bit, and most of the people above because, well, we had conference business to run. Yet between Selena, Lanette, Lynn Mckee, Anne-Marie, and Pete, I have to admit my conversations were the sort of quick, dash-and-run conference conversations that I am really not a fan of.

I barely got to shake Felipe's hand, I couldn't make Greg McNelly's session and barely got time to poke my head into Markus's. I even missed Gerodie Keitt's testing improv session and didn't really get a chance to talk to him, either.

In other words, if you were disappointed at my participating in CAST, well ... so was I.

I blame Jon and James: They assembled a group of people so awesome that it was not humanly possible for me to catch up with them all. I didn't even mention the keynotes yet, or other conference material ...

I suppose, if the bar for conferences continues to be set this high, that's something I'll just have to get used to.

Still, the good news is we'll get more chances. Many of these folks will be at STPCon, where I'll be staying four days.

Plus there is always 2012, more conferences, and, just maybe, Test Coach Camp.

More to come.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Quality in the Executive Suite

For this months "View from the Q", the people at the American Society for Quality recorded an after-talk chat with Dr. J.J. Irani of Tata Group, India's single largest company.

Of course, there's the typical stuff I disagree with in the talk, your typical appeals to standards like the Malcolm Baldridge award, and this idea that it's the government's business to reward companies that comply to some sort of standard for performance improvement.

Yet in this case, I think the things that we agree on are more interesting -- or at least worth talking about.

Two points stood out for me, in the second and third video.

In the second video, J.J. claims that in order to have trust, organizations must have aligned values. He goes on to say that Tata will walk away from a bad deal.

In the third, he claims that companies have a sort of obligation to contribute to the communities in which they operate. To use his analogy, you can't have a tree sprouting up in a desert -- so Tata needs to go give back some financial capital periodically. According to J.J., every time they have done this, it has paid dividends. (For example, helping to fund a local school, thus making the pool of qualified applicants larger, making it easier to hire and, since you have the people faster, easier to get things done. That's my words, not his.)

I happen to agree with both of these. Back home in West Michigan, we have a company named Bissel that makes vaccum cleaners. A few years ago, they decided that, in order to survive, they needed to sell the plants, lay off the line workers, and move manufacturing to Mexico. It is ... sad.

It's easy to be critical of Bissel, but let's face it -- Bissel lasted ten years longer than General Motors did in Flint, and twenty years longer than most of the American Textile Industry.

I can understand having to make tough decisions like that, and I don't mean to minimize it.

They tried.

But I keep thinking about that tree trying to grow in the desert.

Something's happening in the American Economy. Something fundamental.

Have you noticed what the economists are saying about a recovery? That it will be twelve to eighteen months, that we'll have growth, but that it will be slow?

Have you noticed that those are the same things they were saying in 2010?

And 2009?

And 2008, when we had the last "crisis?"

It's pretty simple math. Companies keep growing through mergers and acquisitions.

Every time you have a merger, the acquiring company now has two IT department, two HR departments, two legal departments, two data centers, two finance departments ...

When the company merges the departments, it will find duplication. Remove the duplication, have the sales folks share customer lists, cross-sell products, and, boom, mo' money.

The only problem is all the laid off people.

This isn't a cyclical problem. It is a systemic problem.

Getting executives to sit down and talk about trust and long-term consequences might not solve it, but hey, it's a start.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Town-Hall Announcement -- and some articles, too!

As I've mentioned before, I am currently running for a director position in the Association For Software Testing (AST); I also have a bit of news on that front.

First, the AST has posted a Nominations and Elections Page with a biographical sketch of each speaker.

Second, the candidates for the board (except for Dr. Kaner) will be hosting a live, free town-hall style event on twitter Monday, August 1st 2011, from 9:00PM-10:00PM Eastern USA time. Just ask your question on twitter and use the hashtag #ASTElect.

Any reasonable question is fair game. You may target individuals, but we would prefer general questions that anyone may answer.

Come to twitter. Learn about AST, the candidates, maybe make a more informed vote. Maybe even help us understand, frame, and deal with the issues you think are important in our community.

Only one thing is certain: If you don't show up, we won't know what you'd like to see, or what you care about.

In Other News

I've done a bit of publishing lately -- first an article on Responsible Bug Reporting and Triage for

At the same time, I've been slowly building a series on the skeptics guide to project management; the first four installments are online now.

I hope you enjoy them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vote for Matt!

Recently the Association for Software Testing (AST) announced it's 2011 slot of candidates for the board of directors. Vote for Matt, get free stuff!

Well, actually ... sorta. I've published a few articles lately that you might be interested in, and they are all here:

* Esther Derby gave a keynote at the second ever Conference for the AST, in 2007. This year Esther is speaking at the Agile Conference on tools for managers, and I recently interviewed her on that subject for SearchSoftwareQuality -- Part I and Part II of her interviews just went public.

* Speaking of SearchSoftwareQuality, they just ran my interview with Jeff Sutherland on his Agile 2011 talk on Scrum in Sales.

* continues my series on the Skeptics Guide to Project Management - with Part Two and Part Three. (Missed part one? Here you go.)

* Speaking of, they just ran my interview with Corey Haines


Other news -- if you are coming to CAST 2011 in Seattle, and getting in early Sunday, and don't want to eat dinner alone, well ... do you like Thai food?

The Rebel Alliance is organizing a dinner Sunday night. Drop me an email ( to get on the invite list.

See you in Seattle, and (I sure hope) vote for Matt!

If you want to vote, and not for Matt, please drop me an email and give me a chance to earn your vote.

Look, I'm not a political type. I don't know how to do this stuff.

But that earning your vote stuff? I am completely serious.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Controversies in Software Testing

My article "Controversies in Software Testing" was published in the July Issue of the Testing Planet.

The issue is available now to anyone with a print subscription; the PDF will be available as a free download later in July.

It's a ground-breaking issue -- the first three articles are written by Markus Gaertner, Michael Larsen, and me, all members of the Miagi-Do School of Software Testing.

I'll be sure to post the free link here when it's up. In the mean time, if you don't subscribe, take a look at the Planet. It's a bit of a lone voice in the UK/European test community, a group that could use some support right now.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

I've been busy ... no seriously

Last month I started a new blog called "Unchartered Waters", for IT Knowledge Insights, on general IT, with a bit of a focus on Software As A Service and Cloud Technologies. Here's my first seven blog entries:

In addition to the writing for ITKnowledge Exchange, I've done a bit more:

Tactics for Testing in the Cloud with Catherine Powell. No, you have NOT read that one before, it is not Testing in the Cloud: Considering the Risks and it is also not Software Testing Enters the Cloud.

After that, you've got my personal finance article on The Two Income Trap and Freelancing as Economic Freedom.

Finally, I just published an article with The Skeptic's Guide to Project Management, Part I.

More to come ... but right now ... I think i'm going to sleep.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

CAST 2011 Emerging Topics - Deadline Extension

So Pete Walen and I talking yesterday about the CAST 2011 Emerging Topics Track, and it's July 1st Deadline.

We have plenty of proposals already, but we thought "if we gave folks another week, what are the odds that we at least one strong proposal, or feedback that improves the selection process?"

We figured the odds were greater than zero.

So we are extending the deadline to propose for the CAST 2011 Emerging Topics (and the deadline to give feedback) to July 8th, 2011.

If you'd like an invitation to the wiki, email Pete Walen or Matt Heusser with your request.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Matt Heusser -- Running Man.

I've been nominated to run for one of the open board of directors positions for the Association for Software Testing.

The election will take place August 9th during the Conference for the Association for Software Testing.

Anyone who is a member one month prior to the election (and has internet) can vote.

That means that if you are not a member, and want to vote, you'll need to join AST by July 6th or so.

Membership in AST is $95 per year; I have been a member continuously since 2007 or so, and was a member of the AST_formation Yahoo Group before AST was a thing.

I'm also not good at politics; my experience with elections has not been great.

I do claim, however, to belong to the software-testing community, to make effort on behalf of the community to advance the craft, by doing it, helping others do it, writing and speaking about it. I claim to have both a vision for the future of the profession, and specific ideas that a professional association might do to move the craft forward.

I have been nominated, I am running. If elected, I will serve.

If you'd like to vote for me, you'll have to be a member of AST. If you don't want to vote for me, can I suggest that you look into AST anyway?

I suspect you'll like what you find.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Articles Up - And Plenty of Them!

I was looking at my personal wiki right now, and noticed that the 'submitted' category seemed far too large. It was; a number of my submitted articles are now published. Here's a quick list:
Barriers to Scrum Adoption
Painless Process Improvement
Configuration Management: Does your team have enough?
Defining Configuration Management
Embedded Agile with Nancy Van Schooenderwoert: An Interview
Testing International Applications
Interview with Johanna Rothman: Part I
Interview with Johanna Rothman: Part II
Testing Cloud-Based Applications (Part I) and STQA Magazine:
How Children Learn (To Test)
Ask The Tester With James Bach

... there's a bit more, but I suspect that's enough for today, don't you think?

Friday, June 24, 2011

CAST 2011 Emerging Topics - Get Involved & Deadline

This year, the Conference for the Association for Software Testing is doing something a little different -- creating an Emerging Topics Track that is crowd-sourced.

That's right -- anyone attending the conference can propose a topic, which we expect to be 20-minutes in length, and anyone, anyone at all, can vote topics up or down. Pete Walen and I will be the track moderators.

Of course, you long-term Creative Chaos readers know that.

... so why haven't you voted? Why haven't you entered a talk? (If you have entered a talk, have you told your friends about it?)

We'd like to have an actual, like, you know, track for the conference, and announce it up-front, so people can choose which talks to attend.

That means we have to shut down the process sometime before the conference in order to create and publish the tracks -- publish them early enough that people can make an informed decision.

We expect to close the submissions and voting for the Emerging Topics Track on July 1st, 2011.

That gives you a week to get your proposals and votes in.

Email myself or Pete Walen for an invitation to the wiki.

We really want to make this awesome.

Will you help us?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More publications, new blogging, and ... the cloud

As of last week, I've started a general IT blog for the folks at ITKnowledgeExchange.

I'll be writing about the cutting edge of IT applications -- Web Services, Software As a Service, Cloud Technologies, and other "hard" topics in technology ... along with the consequences and people issues of those "hard" technologies.

While I expect that many Creative Chaos readers will be interested in this, I don't know if you all will. If you want to read that blog, you can subscribe to it's RSS Feed, or pay attention to my posts on twitter -- I'll try to keep the posts here to major announcements.

Speaking of which, it's been two weeks, and I've got four posts up:

* Navigating the Waters Introduced the blog and what I'll be trying to do.
* On Cloud Adoption described the two classic attitudes toward the cloud, 'We gotta get this cloud stuffs now' and 'Forgetaboutit' and how to deal with them
* Your First Public Cloud - Part I Describes how to create an Amazon Web Services (AWS) person account - where you'll get 750 CPU hours free -- and also how to set up your first Amazon EC2 instance.
* Part II went on to describe how to connect to that instance with Remote Desktop, what you actually get on the server, and how to shut it down

Whew. And there's more ...

On Monday, published my first article for them "Five Ways to Live Below Your Means", and more ...

Starting July 5th I'll be on assignment in North Central Indiana, working a full week but available for user groups and possibly writing at night.

Interesting times ... and more to come.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quality at Ford Motor Company

This month's ASQ Influential Voices Post is from the ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement. Specifically, it's an interview with Bennie Fowler, Ford Motor Companies Second-ranked executive for quality.

Yes, Bennie is the highest executive with the word "Quality" in his title, but I continue to hold that the CEO is always the chief quality officer -- wether you realize it or not.

But I digress.

It's a good interview.

Good for a few reasons.

First, I admire the Ford Motor Company -- at least a little bit. Yes, they've made some foolish decisions. Yes, they've had some problems with unions, with inefficiencies in the supply chain, with health care coverage and benefits, made some stinker cars. Yet you'd expect that from any company that has survived a hundred years.

The fact that they've weathered those crises says something.

For that matter, Ford Motor Corporation is the last of the "Big 3" American Car Manufacturers still standing. Both General Motors and Chrysler took government bailouts that fundamentally manipulated the free market system.

I don't have time to get into it all here, and I'm not sure that it's appropriate, but let me say these three things: (1) Rescues distort markets, rewarding failure and enabling more (2) General Motors had secured bondholders -- in the event the bonds weren't paid, the bondholders were supposed to repossess and be able to sell hard assets, even in the event of bankruptcy. That agreement was not honored, meaning that in the bailout we lost the rule of law. Most importantly: (3) Bailouts come with strings attached.

Of the big three, only the Ford executives seemed to realize point number three.

So here you have a senior executive at Ford talking in some depth about quality. What did he say?

Quality to Ford Motor Corporation

Bennie ticked off four things: Beauty, Fuel Efficiency, Technology, Safety.

First of all, off the bat, that is important. He actually knew what the company wanted to improve, and how. All four of these are specific, actionable, and mean something to the customer. Notice the kinds of things he did not mention: Internal Process Improvement, "Governance", Driving Waste out of the process, or any hand-wavy stuff.

Process Improvement, Governance, Driving out waste -- all those are good, but they are internal facing, and focus on process, not outcome.

Bennie knows what the customer wants. Just as importantly, he can articulate it.

That kind of vision is going to drive decision making and priorities.

Despite all the power they seem to have, the reality is that an executive can get some finite number of things actually done-done.

I'm serious about this. Think about the executives you worked with who had a new idea a day: Hoe many things did they ever actually get to done-done?

It seems trivial, but ask yourself if you know what those three to six things are for your company, your division, your team.

The Cost of Entry

Toward the end of the interview, Bennie mentioned that one traditional view of quality, the lack of defects, is sort of the cost of entry to play in the game. Sure, it's important, but lack of defects isn't going to distinguish Ford from Toyota or the other Big Boys. It's not a strategic differentiator.

Instead, Bennie suggested that it's the entire user experience -- things that in software we might call UX or Interaction Design -- that are going to make the difference.

Back in software, I'm remind of the massive success of the iPod, verses all the chintzy MP3 players that came before it, or, for that matter, verses the Zune that came after it.

One big difference in software is the number of dimensions of the work, and the stress you can put the work under. The number of test conditions increases exponentially with the inputs, and with a GUI and user-defined workflow it becomes a much larger challenging to say something like the software is "fit for use." (Remember back when we had no GUI and programmer-defined batch processes? Those were the days.)

So, as of today, I do think there is room for differentiation by low defects, but the bar for entry does keep wratcheting up. For example, if users can do something on website in three clicks, and it takes your site ten, and both sites are free ... you've got a problem. If your software takes fifteen seconds to present search results, and the other site does it in five ... you've got a problem.

There are lots of ways to compete. Your company might be huge, have amazing assets, and deploy three thousand people to take an existing product and make it web-based, using it's existing relationships to spread that cost out over hundreds of millions of site licenses.

Then again, you might be three guys working in a founder's basement.

Either way, your company will have to make some tough choices.

On the one hand, yes, it is possible for middle managers and staffers who know the terrain to add some value by deciding which of the "top-16" priorities will actually get done today.

What I am saying is: A little vision can sure go a long way.

Monday, June 06, 2011

On Testing Standards

On the TV Show "Phineas and Ferb", the menu for Slushy Dog has not changed since the story opened in 1929.

When asked about it, Jeremy replies:
"I know. It's awesome right? It's our motto. Slushy Dogs will never get any better."
The comparison to standards in testing is an exercise for the reader.

But hey, if you want to see the quote in context, check it out below, at about one minute in:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Model-Driven Testing Dustup

Last week, Alex Knapp, a general technology blogger for, ran a short article on model-based testing.

I took a fair bit of issue with the article, and called him on it. I must say, I was impressed with Alex's response.

First, he followed up his summary post with an interview with a little more depth. Second, the guy called me to dialogue, in a friendly way.

I'm still not impressed with the original piece, and have issues with the interview. What impressed me was the follow-up, the genuine interest to figure out the truth, the willingness to consider both sides of the discussion. As a general-interest "tech" blogger, Mr. Knapp didn't have a deep understanding of testing when he began the process ... but I have the impression he might when he finishes.

Anyway, after posting the interview, he asked me for my feedback, and I gave it over email. Afterwords, we kept talking, and thought it might be worth sharing with, well, everybody else. So here goes ... my reply to the latest interview:

As a tester, I run into this idea all the time -- that we can automate away testing. It seems like every year, a new crop of students graduats from CMU, Berkely, and MIT with CS degrees. (Only thing is: They haven't studied testing.)

What computer scientists do, of course, is write programs to automate business processes. So it makes sense that someone with a CS degree would say "hey, testing, there's a straightforward business process -- we should automate it!"

I do want to give Mr. Bijl's some credit for this strategy -- model-based testing is a more complete, more cost-effective way to test applications than traditional, "linear" test automation.

It's also not new -- Harry Robinson has been championing the idea for going on a decade. You might even check out his website -- Harry has worked at Google, Microsoft, AT&T. He is currently BACK at microsoft on the bing team. Really good guy.

What impresses me about Harry is that he is realistic in what model-driven testing can do.

For example, let's look at Mr. Bijl's rhetoric one more time:

"It enables to automate all phases of software testing: test creation, test execution, and validation of test outcome."

If that were true, then he would basically develop a BUTTON, right? You'd type in a URL and click "test it" and then get test results.

Of course, this can't possibly work. Sure, you could write software to go the URL, look for input fields, type in random inputs and click random buttons. You could get back 404 errors from broken links and such, but, most importantly, the tester software wouldn't know what the tested software should do, so it would have no way to evaluate correctness. Whether it's a simple Fahrenheit-to-Celsius converter or, either way, you need to embed business rules into the test program to predict what the right answer is, and to compare the given answer to "correct."

In software testing, we call this the "Oracle" problem.

That "oracle" is the "model" in model-based testing. Someone still has to program it.

Once you "just" program the model, then you can set your application free on the website, to bounce around, sending valid input and looking for errors.

The problem is that little term "just." It turns out that, in most cases, programming a model is exceedingly complex. (Google "The unbearable lightness of model based testing".) Oh, I've done a fair bit of it -- for example, if you have some complex business rules in a database, and need to predict an "answer" to a question for a given userID, you might have two programmers code the application, then compare results with a FOR loop. I have done this.

For more complex applications, especially ones with a GUI, the number of states to transition begins to grow exponentially. Most people applying MBT generally "give up" and use it find errors, because errors codes are easy to predict. The problem being, this doesn't tell you on cases where no error is generated but the business logic is incorrect.

I don't mean to be too critical of MBT -- it's a good tool for your toolbox. Presenting it as the solution to all testing woes, well, yes, I take issue with that. If you'd like to do an interview with Forbes, or moderate a point-counterpoint or such, I'd be interested in it. (I know you are a generalist, maybe Forbes could use a test/dev specialist blogger?)

I'll be at the Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2011) in August in Seattle, and the Software Test Professionals Conference (STPCon 2011) in October in Dallas. I'm happy to talk more about this.

Here we have an interesting topic, a receptive audience, and the capability to cause a little bit of change. I don't know about you, but I a more than a little tired to the every-batch-of-CS-grads-sees-testing-as-something-to-code-up mentality.

I took a shot. The audience seems receptive; I even proposed a point-counterpoint interview as a next step. Does anyone else have an idea on how to keep the ball rolling?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Two Schools of Macro Economics

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the Schools Concept for Software Testing, generally based on Brett Pettichord's 2003 presentation at the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference. Cem Kaner has a good blog post on the subject, and Brett has continually revised and re-presented his talk.

One of the things I hear often is that the schools concept is divisive. My typical response is that those divisions already exist; the schools concept just abstracts those differences down to labels. Now labels can be helpful or insulting; it's all in how you handle it.

Consider, for example, the austrian school of economics vs. the Keynesian Schools. Oh, I'm not going to bore you or put you to sleep, I promise. To try to summarize: The Keynesians see the economy as the result of a series of dials. By controlling interest rates, creating stimulus, government spending, and so on, the Keynesians believe they can manipulate the markets. Keynesians tend to have formulas, equations, and metrics, just like physics, to make arguments and draw conclusions about economics.

The austrians think differently. They see the economy as organic -- as people doing things. They also see that bailouts reward the wrong thing and that dial-twisting distorts markets. An austrian economist my argue that those statistics don't mean anything. In other words, you can't add the money spent to dig ditches along with money spent do to things that genuinely benefit society, like farming or manufacturing, and reduce the total to one number. Likewise, that ideas like 'stimulus', printing money and spending it, have unintended consequences like inflation.

Whew. See how it's easier to label those instead of the full description?

Seriously, the way we see the world will influence the solutions we turn to. This, debate, and dialogue on how we see the world is important. It turns out the Macro-Economists are having the debate, and doing it well:

It starts a little slow, with a few in-jokes, but by two minutes in, you'll see the basic arguments of the two schools described well in a rap-video style. (No, really, it's a rap video. It can actually hold your attention, which is kind of hard for this subject.)

If you enjoy the video, you might want to check out the Reason behind the scenes interview. Notice towards 4:14 in the discussion turns to a discussion of emergent order to solve problems vs. central planning, about the use of mathematical models, trying to make the discipline more like physics, verses the idea that the mathematical models are naive and overly simplistic, that we need a more humanistic, systems-thinking approach. The author even uses terms like "scientism not science."

These folks are having the same debates as we are!

I'm not opposed to the school concept. I think it can be done in an insulting, crude way, or it can be used to advance the debate.

I'm for the latter.

I'll be at CAST 2011 August 8-10, where we have an emerging topics track, and also at STPCon in October.

The emerging topics track is not full yet, and because the theme of the conference is context-driven testing, I'm personally interested in proposals, panels, discussions, and debates on the schools concept, aspects of it, and it's impact on context-driven testing. (Did I mention I am co-organizing the track? *hint*)

Let's take this to the next level ... together.

I hope to see you in Seattle in August.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Article on TechWell - "Software Testing Enters the Cloud"

The folks at TechWell have just published my new article "Software Testing Enters the Cloud: Opportunities and Challenges."

It's my first article with TechWell -- I'm not even sure if I should have a space in between or capitalize the W. The website comes from the folks at SQE and, so it has a fair bit of reputation behind it.

In this article, I focus more on the capabilities that cloud computing can bring to make testers more effective, regardless of the development strategy. There is a little bit of discussion around the risks for cloud based apps, but the "How to Test Cloud Based Applications", well, that article or short series of articles is still in the works.

More to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Past Through Tomorrow

(With apologies to Robert A. Heinlein)

Strictly speaking, predicting the future isn't just hard -- it is impossible.

Yet predicting the future is something testers are called on to every day, with so simple a question as "will the customer be happy with this version of the product?"

For that matter, is something project managers do every time they create a product plan, something management does every time it produces an annual plan.

We could joke around all day about the impossibility of fortune-telling or the fantasyland that many project plans reside in, but the reality is that we do have to plan for tomorrow.

Likewise, I can't say for certain if you'll get up next monday and go to work; with a few thousand readers, it's likely that some will be sick or on vacation or something ... but I might be certain enough to bet on it.

I don't have a problem with this sort of analysis and educating guessing. We have to do it, and, if you do it well, over time, you can have better results than your peers.

That takes me to the annual futures study produced by the American Society for Quality.

As some of you readers know, I was invited to be a member in the ASQ "influential voices" program, which involves writing blog responses to their own monthly blog post. This month's entry is about that annual futures study.

The ideas behind the study make sense -- to observe the changing landscape of industry that impacts the quality professional, and provide you information about those changes so you can react. This year the study identified eight issues, which I will (briefly) summarize below:

1) Social Responsibility. Government and popular pressures are causing companies to take the environment, sustainability of the business, and how they treat everyone in their supply chain a lot more seriously. The ASQ analysis indicates this is not about philanthropy, but about better business and profit.

2) Consumer Awareness. This blends with #1; people are using new tools to do more research on the companies they purchase from. Get on the bus, or people will purchase around you.

3) Globalization. Not a whole lot of meat here. The study says globalization is coming (check it out; I wrote that in 2003!), which will bring new opportunities, new markets, and new potential suppliers, but also transportation and oversight challenges. They do point out that consumers (I really dislike that term) are more and more interested in locally-sourced products. That's a fancy term to say "I'd like to buy vegetables grown by a neighbor, not ones shipped from a different continent."

4) Increased pace of change. Nanotechnology, reduced product cycles, and within our grasp is the potential to solve some of these enduring problems of our age like HIV, hunger, etc. It's a truism, but I'm not sure what to do with it. In his book, The Management Myth, author Matthew Stewart points out that the management literature has been talking about these problems for at least the past thirty years, going back to "In Search of Excellence" in 1982.

5) The Workforce of the future. Okay, I have real concerns over this one. Here's what they wrote:

The Workforce of the Future will challenge our notions of talent, work, workplace, and learning. While hard to fathom we’re being told unemployment, as we think of it, will become a thing of the past. The number of jobs will soon exceed the number of people available to fill them. Demographers predict organizations will find themselves competing for talent and that competition will move jobs around the globe. High tech companies already report this reality. This search for talent, along with technological advances will change the nature and place where work is done and organizations will grow increasingly flexible in their definitions of work engagements. Those who of retirement age will be re‐attracted to work with flexible hour arrangements and work that can be done without commuting.

I'm not sure if these authors are incompetent and full of happy-talk, or scarily competent and using very specific words for a specific reason, to convey one feeling but actually mean another.

Take for example the term "While hard to fathom we're being told unemployment, as we think of it, will become a thing of the past." On it's face, that's crazy. This is a guide written for members of an America Society with historical roots in manufacturing. They've seen their jobs systematically outsourced, offshored, and just plain eliminated for the past three decades. The trend is exactly in the opposite direction of the implications here!

Or is it? One trend I see with employment in the USA is a move away from lifetime employment with pension, toward project-at-a-time contract work. If that's the case, "unemployment" stops being a safety net for people temporarily out of work, and becomes a regular part of the freelance/contract lifestyle. If that is the case, well, I guess unemployment doesn't mean what it used to -- but that's certainly not what I got from a cursory reading of the study!

Yet the next claim is that the number of jobs will exceed the number of people. Yes, we do have an aging population (more about that below), and yes, certain high-skilled folks may be called back from retirement to keep the machine running. What I haven't seen yet are any statistics or data to back up this happy-talk.

This is a public study, done on behalf of the members of a professional society for the benefit of it's members. I originally wrote "somebody should get fired over this one." Perhaps that's a bit harsh. I understand the demographic data the team pulled to come to those conclusions ... but I wonder if the authors of the study would care to make it interesting ...

6) An Aging Population. The baby boomers are going to retire, and that will create both a crunch in the workforce (#5) and a need for elder-care services. From healthcare to in-home nursing to that cell phone with the big buttons, demand for services will increase. (One trend the study didn't note is that when these people retire, they will start to sell off their 401(K) and stocks, instead of accruing them. That will change the supply/demand ratio for the entire stock market. Now that is a trend to consider.)

7) 21st Century Quality. I read it twice. I still don't really know what this section is trying to say. My best guesses are that how people look at Quality will change, that Quality will be more important in the next century, and that global companies will increasingly need to look to quality across the entire value chain -- from raw supplier to retail sales.

8) Innovation has become a buzzword. (No, really, the study actually says that.) The basic idea here is that innovation is increasingly important to stay competitive, which, yes, reminds me of Matthew Stewart and his argument that we've had some crisis or another in business for thirty years, which sure seems to be a good way to sell books on excellence.

What do we have here?

It seems to be me that the study isn't pointing out trends as much as making predictions. Due to the nature of fortune-telling, I guess the predictions are okay ... as far as they go. I'm still not sure what to make of number seven or number eight; you can read the study yourself and perhaps chime in with your two cents.

As for me, I'm left with mixed emotions. On one hand, change is inevitable and I think it is good to think about what the future might bring. The eight bullet can be a sort of roadmap -- they can tell people what kinds of change might be helpful to think about.

Still, it would have been nice if the study had connected the dots. For example, the stock market predictions I mentioned earlier, and, in the United States, the increasingly precarious position of our Social Security Administration. This means retirement will be increasingly uncomfortable for people; they'll be retiring later and later, and, most likely, more cost-conscious than in the past. That means those products and services for that market had either better help you save money (generic drugs) or else face stiff price competition.

Another example: According to the study, innovation is important. Yet fifteen years ago, ASQ stood up and gave it's complete support to international standards on process, things like ISO 9001, and the whole idea of registrars and certifications for process compliance.

These process standards codify process into procedures. By doing this you create a defined process and defined process actively resists continuous improvement.

Thus we if we split innovation in half: Product Innovation and Process Innovation, we find a significant constituency within ASQ has been actively fighting the second, and not much discussion of the first.

I don't have any easy answer for that, but raising that issue would have been a fascinating outcome for the study.

My bottom line here: These ideas are okay. They are some food for thought; they have some potential. To see real value out of the study, though, we need to move the ideas from theory to action -- to get to practical application for the membership, or at least heated discourse.

How we get there I'm not sure. If the bloggers on this influential voices program can be part of that, well, I'd sure like to try.