Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Listening to a Cowboy: Live at Climate Corp, It's BAST!!!

Hello everyone, and sorry for the delay in posting. There's a lot of reasons for that, and really, I'll explain in a lengthy (or small series) of posts exactly why that has been the case. However, tonight, I am emerging from my self imposed exile to come out and give support for Curtis Stuehrenberg and hist tall about "ACCellerating Your Test Planning".

From the BAST meetup post:

"One of the most pervasive questions we're asked by people testing within an agile environment is how to perform test planning when you've only got two weeks for a sprint - and you're usually asked to start before specifications and other work is solidified. This evening we plan on exploring one of the most effective tools your speaker has used to get a test team started working at the beginning of a sprint and perhaps even earlier. We'll be conducting a working session using the ACC method first proposed by James Whittaker and developed over actual practice in mobile, web, and "big data" application development."

For those not familiar with Curtis (and if you aren't, well, where have you been ;)? ):

Curtis is currently leading mobile application testing at the Climate Corporation located in San Francisco, Seattle, and Kansas City. When not trying to help famers and growers deal with weather and changing climate conditions he devotes what little free time he can muster to using his 15 years of practical experience to promote agile software testing and contextual quality assurance at conferences like SFAgile, STPCon, ALM-Forum, and CAST as well as publications like Tea Time for Testers and Better Software magazine.

This is an extension of Curtis' talk from the ALM Forum in April. One of the core ideas is to ask "can you write your test plan in ten minutes? If not, why not?"

Curtis displayed some examples of his own product (including downloading the Climate Corp mobile app by each of us), and brought us into an example testing scenario and requirements gathering session. Again, rather than trying to make an exhaustive document, we had to be very quick and nimble in regards to what we could cover and in how much time we had to cover it. In this case, we had the talk duration to define the areas of the product, the components that were relevant, and the attributes that mattered to our testing.

Session Based Test Management fits really well in this environment, and helps to really focus attention for a given session. By using a very focused mission, and a small time box (30 minutes or so), each test session allows the tester the ability to look at the attributes and components that make sense in that specific session. By writing down and reporting what they see, they are able to document their test cases as they are being run, and in addition, show a variety of areas where they may have totally new testing ideas based on the testing session they just went through, and these in turn inform other testing sessions. In some ways, this method of exploring and reporting simultaneously allows for a development of a matrix that is more dense and more complete than one that may be generated first before actively testing.

the dynamic this time around was more personal and more focused. Since it was not a formal conference presentation, the questions were more common, and we were able to address questions immediately rather than waiting until the talk was finished. Jon Bah's idea of threads was presented and described, and how it can help capture interesting data, but help us consciously stay "on task", yet capture interesting areas to explore later (OK, I piped in on that, but hey, it deserved to be said :) ).

It's been a few months since we were able to get everyone together, and my thanks to Curtis for taking the lead and getting us together this month. we are looking forward to next month's Meetup, and as soon as we know what it is (and who is presenting it ;) ).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Going "Coyote": Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty with "The Craddick Effect"

For those who have been following my comments about mine and Harrison Lovell’s CAST 2014 talk ("Coyote Teaching: A new take on the art of mentorship") this fits very nicely into the ideas we will be discussing. We’ve been looking back at interactions that we have had over the years where mentorship played an important role in skill development. During one of our late night Skype calls, we were talking about skateboard and snowboard skills, and how we were able to get from one skill level to another.

One aspect that we both agreed was a common challenge was “the fear factor” that we all face. In a broader sense, we both appreciate that snowboarding and skateboarding are inherently dangerous. Push the envelope on either and the risk of injury, and even death, is definitely possible. Human beings tend to work very hard at at unconscious level to keep ourselves alive. The amygdala is the most ancient part of our brain development. It deals with emotions, and it also deals with fear and aggression. It’s our “fight or flight” instinct. One one level, it’s perfectly rational to listen to it in many circumstances, but if we want to develop a technical skill like jumping or riding at speed, we have to overcome it.

About fifteen years ago, I first met Sean Craddick, a fellow snowboarder who was my age and was, to put it simply, amazingly talented. I used to joke whenever I saw Sean at a competition that I would say “oh well, there goes my shot at a Gold Medal!” He humored me the first couple of times, but the third time I said it, he surprised me. He answered “Dude, don’t say that. Don’t ever say that! I could try to throw some trick and land it badly, and scrub my entire run. I could miss my groove entirely, or miss a gate on a turn, or I could catch an edge and bomb the whole thing. Every event is up in the air, and every event has the potential of having an outcome we’d least expect. Don’t say you don’t have a chance, you always have a chance, but you’ll never get the chance if you don’t believe you have it.”

Because we were both the same age and had fairly similar life experiences, I’d hang out with Sean at many of these events, and sometimes run into him on off days when I was just up at the mountain practicing. One time, he noticed that I kept going by a tall rail and at the last moment, I’d veer off or turn and ride past it. After a few times of seeing this, when he saw me about to veer off again he yelled “Hey Michael! The next time you veer of, stop dead in your tracks, unbuckle your board and walk back up here. I want to talk to you about something.” Sure enough, I went down, veered off course, and slammed to a stop. I took off my board, and then I walked up the hill. Sean looked at me and said:

“Take it straight on, and line your nose with the lip and where the beginning of the rail is.”

I nodded, buckled in, and then went down to the rail transition. I veered off. I stopped. I walked back up the hill.

“Lean  back on your rear heel just a bit. It will give you a more comfortable balance when you first get on the rail.”

I nodded, bucked back in, went down again, and again I veered off. I stopped, unbuckled, and walked back to the top of the hill again. By this point I was winded, my calves were aching, my heart was pounding, and I was getting rather frustrated.

“One final thing. Do an ollie at the end of the rail.”

What? I hadn’t even gotten on the rail, why is he telling me what to do when I get off of it? I shrugged, buckled in, went for the hit, and this time, I went straight, I lined the nose up, I set my weight back just a little bit, I slid down the rail, and I did a passably adequate ollie off the end of the rail, and landed the trick. When I did,  Sean whooped and hollered, then came down after me and hit the same rail.

“Awesome, lets go hi the chairlift!”

As we did, Sean looked at me and said:

 “You can understand all the mechanics in the world, but if your brain tells you 'you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous, it’s too risky', you need to get your body to shut your brain up! That’s what I had you do. I knew why you were sketching the last few feet. You were afraid. It felt beyond you. You might crash. It might hurt real bad if you do. The brain understands all that. It wants to keep you safe. Safe, however, doesn’t help you get better. Whenever I find myself giving in to the fear, I stop what I’m doing, right there, and I walk up the hill, and I try it again. If I pull back again, I walk the hill again, and again, and again. What happens is the body gets so fatigued that every fiber of your being starts screaming to your brain ‘just shut up already and let me do this!' Exertion and exhaustion can often help you overcome any fear, and then you can put your mechanics to good use.”

Yeah, I paraphrased a lot of that, but that’s the gist of what Sean was trying to get across to me. Our biggest enemy is not that we can’t do something, but that we are afraid that we can’t do something. That fear is powerful, it’s ancient, and it can be paralyzing. That ultra primitive brain can’t be reasoned with very well, unless we give it another pain to focus on. At some point the physical pain of exertion and exhaustion will out shout the feelings of fear, and then we can do what we need to do.

In a nutshell, that’s “The Craddick Effect”. There may be a much fancier name for it, but that’s how I’ve always approached mentorship where I have to overcome fear and doubt in a person. When some one is afraid, it’s easy to retreat. As a mentor, we have to recognize when that fear is present, and somehow work with it.

You may not do something as extreme as what Sean did with me, but you may well find other, more subtle ways to accomplish the same thing. Imagine having to take on a new testing tool where there’s a lot that needs to be learned up front. We could just let them go on their own and let them poke around. We can take their word that they are getting and understanding what they need to, or we can prod and test them to see what’s really happening. If we see that  they don’t understand enough, or maybe even very little, don’t assume lack of aptitude or drive, look for fear. If you can spot fear, try to coax them in a way that they can put their energy somewhere else for a time so that they can get to a point to shout down the fear. It may be having them do a variety of simpler tasks, still fruitful, but somewhat repetitive and tedious. After awhile, they will get a bit irritated, and then give them a slight push to move farther forward. Repeat as necessary. Over time, you may well see that they have slid past the pain and frustration point, and they just “get” what they are working with. It just clicks.

As a mentor, look to help foster that interaction. As a person receiving mentoring, know that this may very well be exactly what your mentor is trying to do. Allow yourself to go with it. In the end, both of you may learn a lot more about yourselves and your potential than you thought possible. It’s pretty cool when that happens ;).