Thursday, 7 October 2010

Agile Testing Days - day 2

On the wednesday of Agile Testing Days it was my turn to speak, and together with Fredrik Wendt we presented "The Coding Dojo as a forum for teaching Test Driven Development". The talk was mostly aimed at developers, and the basic idea is to encourage them to learn TDD, and that going to a coding dojo might be a good way of doing that.

Michael Bolton
The first keynote of the day was by Michael Bolton, someone I've never met before. His talk really made me think. He presented himself as an "agile skeptic", and had some criticisms of agile practices like automated unit and functional testing. He talked about testing as something that humans do - it is a "sapient activity" requiring an engaged brain. He said "Automated acceptance tests do not answer questions about value" - that is whether the software will be valuable to the people who are going to use it. He preferred to call them "rejection checks" - that is they check whether the software will be rejected, but do not test whether it will be accepted. Only a human can do that. Michael went on to question the large level of investment that agile teams make in these kinds of tests. He thought that effort could perhaps be better invested, when studies show only 6-15% of problems are regression issues.

Michael emphasized the role of testers in projects as "skilled investigators" who provide a service giving you information about a software product. He drew on an analogy with a film critic - they don't tell you if the film has passed or failed, they tell you about the attributes of the film that will appeal more or less to certain audiences.

I liked the way Michael talked about testing as an investigative activity, and the role of testers as intelligent humans. I think he undervalues the feedback developers get from automated functional tests though. Agile teams do a lot more refactoring than other kinds of teams, and I think without automated tests they would have a lot more than 6-15% regression issues. I do think it is useful to evaluate investment in automated tests against other investments though. Some of the tools we have, particularly for functional/system level testing are not very cost effective to use.

I also think that testers can only start doing a "film critic" kind of role when the software is largely free of basic defects. These should be caught before a skilled tester gets their hands on the software, by developers properly checking their work, and automating those checks.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Agile Testing Days - first conference day

Yesterday, Geoff gave his talk about agile GUI testing. For anyone who missed it, here is a video of him giving roughly the same talk earlier this year at Europython. Gojko Adzic has also blogged about what he said, which is exactly the kind of feedback we came to this conference for. In his post Gojko explains Geoff’s testing approach, and seems quietly positive about it, at least compared to the “sine of death” you get with other UI test automation tools. His conclusion that it looked more suitable for legacy code than greenfield development is a little uncomfortable though. We think it works there too :-)


Today I’m giving my talk about teaching Test Driven Development via Coding Dojos. I’m looking forward to some feedback from the community about that. In the meantime I’ve written a bit about the three keynote talks we listened to yesterday.


Lisa Crispin

The day started with a keynote from Lisa Crispin titled “Agile Defect Management”. The overall message was to “lower the bar!” and aim to reduce defect count as far as possible, even to the point where a defect tracking software becomes superfluous. There was a lot of talk about whether such a tool was needed, and in what situations, and she gave a good overview of the state of the art of thinking in this area.


This was a good talk, with audience involvement, by someone who knows what they are talking about. The thing is I have higher expectations from a keynote. I expect to come away inspired and challenged, with some new insight to take back to my daily life. For me, this talk didn’t really deliver that. Lisa concentrated too much on the specific question of whether to use an electronic defect tracking tool or not, and didn’t sufficiently put that question in to the wider context given in the title of the talk “agile defect management”. I was disappointed to find nothing really original or surprising in what Lisa said.


Linda Rising

This was a good talk to hold straight after lunch when everyone is a bit sleepy. Linda spoke very amusingly on the subject “Deception and Estimation: How we Fool Ourselves”. She began by inviting us to see this as “the weird talk” of the conference, and that she was going to go through some of the latest scientific research in the area of cognition and psychology and hoped to relate that to why we have such trouble making good estimates in the context of a software project.


A self-confessed scientific amateur, she stated up front that she wouldn’t provide references to the research she mentioned, although she could give them to you if you emailed her and asked. Linda then proceeded to relate a series of amusing anecdotes designed to illustrate how irrational and over-optimistic people can be. (Markus G√§rtner has blogged about what they all were). Towards the end of the talk, Linda began to relate all this to the subject of estimation, and told a story about some conference where she met people who were trying to apply scientific methods, statistics and data mining to the problem of improving estimates in software projects. In my mind, a seemingly a rational response to the problem of irrational, over-optimistic people.


Linda then did what I saw as a complete about-turn in her argument. She quoted one proponent of this “scientific” approach as saying, “well we can’t just make up a number, can we?”. Well no, we can’t, Linda just spent the last half hour convincing us humans are over-optimistic and irrational, and you can’t trust them to make up numbers. Yet that seemed to be exactly what Linda then proposed we do in agile. The points about the way agile overcomes this natural human over-optimism by for example breaking down problems into thin slices, using the wisdom of the crowd and enforcing tight feedback cycles, all kind of got crammed in at the end with little or no explaination.


Quite apart from those specific criticisms of her argument, as someone with a scientific training I didn’t like the way Linda protrayed science and scientists. They initially appeared in Linda’s talk as white-coated oracles who make pronouncements of the truth. “80% of drivers think they are above average”. “You eat more at an all-you-eat buffet”. “Online daters lie about their age and weight”. She then attempted to shatter this illusion of scientific infalliability by quoting Planck, who pointed out that the scientific process doesn’t always proceed in an orderly manner, and sometimes new and better theories only really catch on when the older generation who invented the previous ones atually die off.


Yes, scientists are human too, and you do them a disservice when you only present their results as received truths, without references, and without explaining either the methods they used to reach the conclusions, or what they themselves think of the wider applicability of the results.


This could have been a far more interesting talk about actual recent research studies - what’s coming out of the latest brain imaging techniques, for exaple. Linda could also have spent more time explaining how agile works with human nature to provide better estimates and plans. For all that it made me laugh, all this talk left me with was a bunch of amusing anecdotes and an uneasy feeling that agile was anti-science.


Elisabeth Hendrickson

The last session of the day saw Elisabeth Hendrickson presenting “Lessons Learned from 100+ Simulated Agile Transitions”. With a huge amount of energy and panache, Elisabeth strode around the stage, explaining what happens in an exercise which she usually does with a group of 8-20 people over the course of a whole day. Within the framework of this simulation, she drew out stories and anecdotes to illustrate such diverse subjects as the Satir change model, how physical layout affects communication, the difference between status meetings and communication meetings, and tests as alignment tools.


This talk was definitely the highlight of my day. Elisabeth took some things I kind of knew about, and made me think about them in a different light, from a different angle, and in a new context. I was challenged to go back to my standup meetings and make sure they really are about communication, and that my task board really does make status visible. I have a additional way of explaining ATDD to people - in terms of aligning developers and other stakeholders and getting them moving in the same direction.


Having said all that, I do have a criticism (are you surprised?!). Elisabeth released her slides under the creative commons license, but she does not release the details of her simulation. This would effectively prevent anyone else from running it. I think this is rather like a tool vendor who presents a new testing approach, which by the way, you can’t use without either buying their tool, or spending a large amount of time and money developing your own version. Those kinds of talks don’t tend to get accepted at this kind of conference.


I was disappointed that Elisabeth didn’t release her simulation materials, and I’m not sure why she doesn’t want to. She is obviously a fantastic agile coach and facilitator, and has more invitations to speak than she has time or inclination to accept. It would surely only enhance her reputation to make the agile transition simulation game materials available.


Update: I talked to Elisabeth afterwards about her materials, and she related a story about another independent consultant she knows, who arrived at a client site ready to do a simulation exercise that he had designed, only to discover the participants had done the exact same exercise the week before with a different consultant! The other consultant had just taken the material without permission or acknowledgement. Elisabeth doesn't want to end up in the same situation, and I can understand that. She did say she could release more information about the simulation though, enough that you could understand how it is designed, and perhaps build your own similar one. I think that would be a reasonable compromise. I just felt slightly cheated after her keynote - I wanted to look at this simulation, poke at it, see how it works and understand why she could use it to generate so many great insights into agile transitions.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tutorial with Lisa Crispin at Agile Testing Days

I’m at Agile Testing Days this week, and yesterday I attended a tutorial with Lisa Crispin. I’ve never actually met her before, although I have read many of her articles, and the book she wrote together with Janet Gregory, “Agile Testing”. It’s an important book, covering in some detail the role of testers in agile teams, with lots of practical advice and anecdotes from real life.

So I was very interested to meet Lisa and hear what she had to say. She had lots of general advice and war stories about what kinds of tools are useful in an agile setting. From all the new insights and thoughts I gathered from the tutorial, there were two stories that I’d like to share with you here.

The Whole team decides
Lisa’s main message was that automated testing tool choice is a whole team decision, since everyone on an agile team will be affected. She told a story about when she joined a team of Java programmers and persuaded them to try Watir for web testing - a tool that lets you write tests in Ruby. Although the developers agreed to this and were initially keen to learn Ruby, it became clear after a while that they just weren’t comfortable with it, and Lisa found she just didn’t get the help she needed when extending and maintaining the tests. They switched to a tool where the tests were written in Java and things worked much better.

That depressed me a little, I have to say. I’d personally much rather be writing Ruby than Java! Someone else chipped in with another story though. On his team they were also developing a system in Java, with the difference that the developers were very keen to learn Groovy. They had started writing tests using it, and it was working very well. It made writing tests more fun, since they got to learn a language they were interested in. The test automation work was less effort than expected, since they felt much more productive in Groovy than Java. I guess the difference is that the developers were motivated to learn the new language because they had chosen it.

You can do ATDD with GUI testing tools
Lisa told an interesting story about GUI testing. She said she was working on some new features and realized that the only way to test them was was via a GUI testing tool. She was at first very skeptical that they would be able to do Acceptance Test Driven Development with a GUI tool - the GUI hadn’t been written yet, so how could they use this tool to write tests?

In the end she said it turned out really well. They worked from GUI mockups of the new features, and wrote tests with placeholders. When the test scripts needed to interact with GUI elements that didn’t exist yet, she just wrote them in terms of what she’d like there to be there, based on the mockups. When the programmers came to implement the GUI, they could fill in the placeholders and quickly get the new tests running.

This was encouraging since it’s basically the way you work with PyUseCase too. A criticism we get sometimes is that since PyUseCase is a capture-replay tool, you can’t use it to define the tests before the GUI exists - a problem if you’re trying to do Acceptance Test Driven Development. Our experience matches Lisa’s though - you can define the test in general terms, with placeholders, and parts that won’t execute at all at first. Some parts of the test of course can be recorded from the existing GUI. As the GUI is extended for the new feature, gradually you replace the placeholders with executable statements until the whole test passes.

And now for the rest of the conference...
Geoff is giving a talk this morning about PyUseCase and TextTest as part of the main Agile Testing Days conference. We’d really like to get some feedback from experienced testers. It’s a different approach to capture-replay that most people here, like Lisa, will not have seen before. There are lots of other interesting talks and things going on too, and I hope to find time to blog a little more about the conference later in the week.