Archive for the ‘retrospective’ Category

Improvisation: for your Team and Life

It takes strength to stay open

It is easy to create lines for yourself, to box yourself into a corner, to let habits, concave thoughts, patterns, and conditioning keep you rolling along responding to perceived threats or obstacles in a myopic manner. Remember your own brilliance.  Assume the best in others.  Seek to create new possibilities and new perspectives for yourself and for those around you.   Learn from Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation as a fun source of day-to-day introspection. Her heuristics along with my personal notes:
  • Agree. Respect what your partner has created. You are listening, receptive, and seek to understand. Even if you do not actually agree with what you think you are hearing, it helps to repeat what you think you have heard, to say it back to the person to make sure you are getting it. If you have trouble with this, learn a little about the Satir Interaction Model.
  • Say yes and.  Don’t be afraid to contribute. It is your responsibility to contribute.   This does not mean to take on more than you have bandwidth for or cannot effectively deliver on.  It does not mean to say yes to something you really are not okay with. You might say “Yes I can do that and this would mean….”.  It means to honor your own voice, to not be afraid to speak up.  It is okay to ask for help.  It is okay to say what you need.  It’s okay to be empathetic, but important to remember there are other ways to see things.
  • Make statements.  with your actions and your voice. This one has been especially important for me.  Early in my first role as a manager, my statements came out more like apologetic questions.  The impact was disastrous for me and harmful for my team. I learned how to turn this around once I realized what I was doing.   Another aspect of this guideline is to recognize if you are the person at the office who says or thinks ‘I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice’, then find a self-empowered way to respond and come up with a solution to move beyond feeling mad or hurt.
  • There are no mistakes.  There are only opportunities.  If you (or a teammate) have a tendency to beat yourself up, do yourself a favor and learn (share) techniques to tame your inner critic.
FullSizeRender (3)

Reminder to get on with it and to not worry too much.

Act as If

A few year’s ago when my previous team was overhauling our software development process, we took Ken Rubin’s Scrum training.  One of the experiential exercises illustrated the benefits of rules 1 and 2.  It was an exercise in communications and teamwork. It turns out that Google Engineers also appreciated Ms. Fey’s shared lessons enough to invite her to SPEAK AT GOOGLE:  [2 minute clip; Full Fireside chat]

A brilliant friend recently told me he felt like an imposter.  I was moved by his vulnerability. I did my best to remind him of all he brings to the table. I confessed I sometimes feel like that, too. That’s a sign that it is a good time to take a walk around the block. Also, when I feel less than confident about something, I change how I am carrying my frame and I GET MOVING.  My first powerful lesson in this was in high school one summer at a band leadership camp at the University of Whitewater-Wisconsin. It went something like this.  Tim Lautzenheiser had us sit up on the edge our seats, spines erect, hearts lifted, big smiles.  Try to think a bad thought.  Chuckles erupted. This was not easily achievable.  Next, he had us cross our arms and legs and sink down into the backs of our chairs.  Now try to smile.  Try to think a happy thought. Again laughter. The body’s posture was in direct opposition to what we were being asked to do.

These days I incorporate tips from Amy Cuddy’s powerful TED talk to get my head on straight, to feel confident before meetings or to prepare for presentations. Educate yourself on body language as part of your “improv training”.  😃

Thanks for the Improv

As I typed today, I realized my boss, who is also a coach and mentor, seems to live, breathe, and evangelize these improv guidelines. I have had the privilege to observe that despite challenges, in every-single-situation he demonstrates an amazing balance of strength and flexibility. He does this with complete

Transparency.

The are the things I value and appreciate the most.  The very things it takes to connect with individuals and to have an autonomous, cohesive, empowered team are also what it takes to connect with your fellow actors to move an audience:

Empathy and Trust.

Rules of Improv Source: Tina Fey, “Bossypants”

About that Transition

Inevitably interviewers ask me, How and why did that happen?  – career track shift from environmental science to software development. This question and related blog post by Eric Jacobsen,  You’re a Tester.  How’d that Happen? are fodder for this introspection and retrospection. The Why:  I wanted to be in perpetual state of intellectual challenges, where interpersonal interaction was essential to making tangible positive results happen, and where I could make a better salary.

Nutshell

I chalk the ease and naturalness of this shift up to these things: aptitude, educational foundation in science and engineering, my varied and solid work experience since the age of 14.  The How is below.  Disclaimer: It is entirely possible and likely I would have eventually found what I wanted in the environmental science and civil engineering field as my perspective broadened over time with experience and exposure.

Restlessness  

I began to recognize what I wanted a few months out of college and into my role as an environmental microbiologist in a full-service laboratory. I found lab work dull, repetitive and isolating.  My 1st clue that I would eventually love looking for potential problems was when an angry project manager visited me with a complaint; a client was unhappy about their lab results for coliform, biological dissolved oxygen, or cyanide.  The test details escape me, but I keenly remember I felt excited that there was a problem, something to investigate – my lab records. This intrigue was greater than the anxiety which accompanied being yelled at.  I wanted to get answers and help her make the client happy.  My boss, the lab owner, was not excited.  He saw me as unorganized.  There was a bug with the test results on their bugs in a surface water sample.

Persistence

A college study buddy with the same GPA and degree had gone to work for the technology branch of what was then Anderson Consulting in “Knowledge Management”. When I described what I wanted she said I should look into the company. I decided that if they hired her, then they would hire me.  The corporate office responded to my resume and application with “Thanks, don’t call us. We will call you.” I was undeterred.

As an Auburn Alumni, within 2 years post-graduation, I still had access to campus recruitment events, so I made the drive from Orlando and from Atlanta to Auburn, Alabama, campus for several career events to shake hands with recruiters to make sure they knew my name.  I landed a screening interview followed by 3 more intense behavioral interviews.  Over a year after I had initially submitted my application, I was hired as a “Business Analyst” and spent 1 month in training on C++.  My only prior experience with programming:  1 college Fortran class.  It was no fun.  I felt lost the entire time. Programming became more enjoyable for me in Anderson’s collaborative learning environment and now that I had built a GUI, something with which I could interact!

Sink or Swim

Project 1: I worked night shift, monitored batched script results of database conversion test cycles, followed runbook procedures, and hoped I would not have to call someone if something terrible happened.  Project 2: I used VI in UNIX to write and test conversion scripts for the next phase of the database conversion project.  I had a great team lead and detailed specifications to help me with this.  Project 3: I moved on to a web-based application effort.  I was with a much larger team, and had detailed specifications and guidelines for all phases of testing (V- Model) and also began to test other people’s code.  Magical Project 4: J2EE pilot project at the client site with an architect, a manager and me, the junior developer! Relationships formed, job well done and longer term multiple application contract won. I was always responsible for testing my own code. For the 1st time, I got to work directly with the customer for requirements gathering and elaboration over various UML documents, wireframes, test coverage, and user acceptance testing. Over those 4 years I learned I loved the nature of testing and exploring value with customers and teammates more than I enjoyed coding.  I am grateful for the deliciously diverse approaches, models, and operational processes I continue to learn.

This was and still is wonderful.

Have you ever made a delightful or tough yet satisfying career transition which elicited doubtful questions and puzzled looks from others?  I would like to hear about it!

 

 

WFH: Month 11 Reflections

I am frequently asked, So how do you like working from home (WFH)? My response is, Even more than I anticipated.  I have been reflecting on this quite a bit lately.

JIGSAW FALLING INTO PLACE

How this started. Last August I left an amazing company and a role in which I was generally content, where I happily contributed for a personal record tenure of 6 years.  A former colleague presented me with an opportunity to amp up my face-time and engagement with customers, to leverage my experience with a relatively young team with an exciting mission and big vision, and to learn the ropes of a new role, Product Owner.  I would have to use ALL of my standout strengths: stimulator, connecter, teacher, pioneer. My excitement meter jumped from 20 to 100 and remained pegged there after the interviews.  WFH was a bonus in this unexpected opportunity.  This meant early realization of a long-term goal of being able to work from anywhere. You see, my husband and I aspire to eventually live a migratory snowbird lifestyle and live up north during the summers.

EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE

1. Connections with Colleagues. The team has been “remote” since its 2014 inception. On this powerful little distributed agile team of 17, we all WFH unless we are near a corporate office and choose to go on-site.  1 does this daily, 2 folks occasionally. Here is where we live.

teamdistro

Frequent, clear interpersonal communication feels now even more important than when I was working in a co-located space.  There is still the benefit of body language with Hangouts. And being head-phoned makes me especially attuned to voice, the most emotionally expressive and telling organ we have. I know when I have over-worked myself, because I can hear it in my own voice when my game or self-confidence has taken a little dive.

2. Growth. Everyone is accountable to each other. Hangouts and Slack keep us highly communicative, visible, & transparent. I have been extremely impressed with this team’s ability to deliver, to pivot, and to swarm and expeditiously triage from multiple angles. We have a culture that says, It’s okay to fail. Let’s do it fast & learn from it. I have also been extremely grateful for receiving rapid, candid, practical feedback and learning to practice radical candor.  In my new role, I quickly recognize the impact (helping\hurting) of my actions or inactions on the team and I can course correct rapidly.

3. Same same.  Asking open ended questions is not enough. This yields crickets if working with a quiet set of folks and makes it so that the team might not benefit from an introvert’s expert perspective. Instead of asking, What do you guys think about XYZ?  I engage directly, D, what do you think about XYZ?

4. Toolbelt.  We primarily use these collaborative tools: Slack, GoogleHangouts, Pivotal Tracker, Mural.ly, and also Trello (for team retrospectives).  I use a Verizon JetPack MiFi for backup internet service for those times when my ISP for home internet connection is flaky or in case of temporary power outages in my neighborhood.  I also use the JetPack when I choose to work physically elsewhere.

NO SURPISES

1. I wanna see your face! I am a pretty social person, so I would probably feel depressed and isolated if I never actually saw my co-workers. Just hearing their voices would not be enough for me.  Thank goodness for GoogleHangouts which lets me have early a.m. coffee time, one-on-ones, daily stand-ups, retrospectives twice a month, impromptu face-to-face chats and screenshares with teammates as needed throughout the day.  Daily Hallway conversations happen in Hangouts, too.  I enjoy getting to know some of my teammates cats or if it is late in the day, their kids. Facetime is important in our team culture. It’s essential for me to being all the more attuned with folks.

2. Easy now. Stick to a schedule & regular breaks. Though flexible across the overall team, most of our squads (squad = smaller teams within the overall team) hours are generally 9 – 5 EST.  I am not as productive or at my best when I over work; extra hours are not encouraged. I had this challenge before WFH. My dedication to work and propensity to arrive early and stay late is exacerbated by the convenience and proximity of a home office. Couple that with an initial sense of needing to work extra hard because I was WFH and you have… hogwash. Friends outside of my team who also WFH express this as a common side effect: You get even more out of me because I work from home.  I am forming healthier habits by sticking to office hours and literally wiping my hands when I am done for the day, closing my laptop along with my home office door.This little end-of-day ritual helps me to get into I am off work now mode.  I still think about work after hours. Always have, always will. I love what I do and I enjoy thinking about it.

3. Cabin fever. Going to the grocery store is now something I look forward to! I also take daily walks, go out for lunch, sometimes with a friend every couple of weeks to mitigate cabin fever. Yoga and swimming are not highly social activities, but I still need and enjoy the community vibe in those spaces outside my home.

4. Nope. I do not have these distractions during my workday: laundry, cleaning, cooking, constantly walking into the kitchen and raiding the fridge. Sure I might toss in an early morning load, timing this so it can be hung up to dry – that’s right I am old-school and eco here – just before I checkin to work. I do not work in pajamas. What I wear promotes a sense of I am shifting into work mode now. Although I started out dressing like I was going to an office on casual Friday – nice shirt with nice jeans – I quit that after a couple of months.

RECKONER

1. Quality of life. While this transition was not a calculated decision based solely on $$, after a month, I recognized quantifiable benefits that increase my already high happiness quotient. No purchases to refresh my work wardrobe this year. Putting even fewer miles on my car.  I enjoy more time in the morning for a relaxed breakfast with my husband sans pre-office work prep and commute. I estimate I recover an extra 1.5 hours\day of no-fuss time by not having to pack lunch, get fancied up in office clothes and drive to\from work. I had it good even before this came along. I live where people vacation. I enjoyed amazing views (the bay, sailboats, dolphins) during my 15 minute one-way commute. Way better than my Atlanta days where the commute was 2+ hours roundtrip. Although I don’t have any little ones, I think WFH is especially cool with shuttling kids to\from school & activities and with the fact that the kids get some exposure to their parents in action (work mode) at the end of the day. I like being able to look out a bit for my neighbors & to be available for them by being around.

2. Less is more. This became my motto with this career transition. I realized that WFH simplified my focus and energy in every slice of the pie of my life: Volunteering, Finances, Friendships, Family, Fun, Fitness. Maybe this just happens to coincide with or be in part due to where I am in my life\my age, but the move to WFH seemed to initiate more care, attention, and introspection and adjustments to those slices.

3. Resources. Listen to HanselMinutes Podcast with Karolina Szczur on Building Remote Teams First.   Read 37 Signals Founder’s book, Remote, for employers and employees on how they can work together remotely.

Gratitude. Thank you to my fellow Honeybadgers, Squids, and ATeam teammates, Diego, Nate, David, Rob, Wen, Mitch, Behrooz, Darren, Michal, Tej, Kavinfranco, Nick D., Joel, Brad, Nick V, and Yin for being awesome and for making me feel welcome since Day 1.

How does this compare with your experience?  What were\are your greatest challenges?  What do you appreciate the most? I’d like to hear from you!

Credit Note: the ALL CAPS subheadings of this post are Radiohead song titles.

August and Everything After

Attribution Note:  This post’s title belongs to the Counting Crows album released in 1993.  *Please see below.

One of my software testing community colleagues emailed me this week, “You’ve been quiet.  How are things?”

I went into something akin to recluse mode after an amazing week in New York City in August 2014 where I participated in my first un-conference, TestRetreat2014 NYC with other passionate skilled quality-minded folks, and then participated in three days at CAST2014 NYC where I attended an awesome workshop lead by Noah Sussman, lead a track session (my 1st conference talk, yeah!), and served as LAWST-style facilitator [Ref.] for multiple speakers.  I am an extrovert who thrives on stimulating thoughts and connections in and with others.  I love people, but I also need space and quiet, focus time to recharge my batteries.  My personal goals derived from those energizing days were as follows:

  • TestRetreat – cross-pollinate by talking about software quality to non-testers and kids and engage with local agile or lean software groups.
  • CAST NYC – share my conference experiences (including details on that week) and insights through blog posts.

In keeping with my decompression needs, I had a delayed start plan; I intended to reflect and publish my mix of handwritten and typed notes by pumpkin time, Halloween. That did not happen.  Lesson learned:  Do not wait!  Share your thoughts and reflections while they are super fresh. Yes, I still intend to post insights from over a year ago.  Life happened.

In early October, I took a week long adventure trekking trip with 2 dear girlfriends, and when I returned home I learned that a loved one’s health had taken an alarming nose dive.  Outside of work responsibilities, family, and a 2-room home remodel project prompted by water, shade, and 65 year old plaster,  I did not muster any energy to connect with my software testing community or make a move on my good intentions until awhile after that loved one’s passing in May.

I have slowly been inching out of the woodwork since.  This summer I teamed up with someone locally to transfer leadership of the meetup group I founded, GCST, and to transition it to an agile meetup group.  I started a fresh effort to envision long-term goals and am now preparing and reviewing course materials to assist as an instructor for BBST Foundations.  I am also brushing up on  Gojko Adzic’s Specification by Example and Impact Mapping.  I drafted this post as I flew home to Florida from new job orientation in California.  That is big news.  I wear a product owner hat now.  I will remained focused on quality in software delivery in an agile environment for a different organization. I get to apply the testing mindset upfront in processes in direct collaboration with customers and as part of the development team!

Although, I have been a wallflower in the software testing community since last August – not actively participating in professional online groups – in the last year I did manage to contribute 3 company DevBlog entries and to do a few talks, which I now have listed in a Speaking page on this site.  Thanks for reaching out to me Matt Heusser and thank you for creating interactive spaces like TestRetreat and Software Delivery 24/7 for quality-minded folks to support each other and to learn from one another.

*Oh yeah, in closing, from back in the day, here is one of my favorite tracks from the aforementioned namesake album.   I hope you enjoy this tune, Rain King.

Personal Blindspots

Weird…when you get close to something that BIG you can’t see anything at all.

-Toad the Wet Sprocket, Butterflies (Fear, 1991)

 The subject of blind spots keeps begging for my attention lately. This is when something hits me that I did not see coming or I run into something that shocks or surprises me.  Maybe this is an interaction where I feel dangerously blindsided, caught off-guard and unprepared.  Maybe this is some counter-productive behavioral pattern I did not notice as being not-so-great for me or our team.  Maybe this is a gap in my test approach. – a gap obvious to others, but not to me.  Maybe this is a more subtle metaphorical dripping faucet in the back of my mind, something I am slow to acknowledge and investigate.  My conscious quest for personal and testing blind spots started in 2010 when I attended Michael Bolton’s On Noticing presentation at my 1st CAST.

Because we are collaborating, problem solving and building great things, I think the nature of a career in software development and testing offers great opportunities for discovering blind spots  and learning from them IF we are open to having them pointed out to us through feedback or coaching or if we make time for retrospection and have them revealed to us through self-inquiry and observation.  It is important to make time to reflect on our work daily.  To jumpstart my renewed effort to do this, today I revisited these blog posts.

I will share several blind spot examples as part of my story in my CAST 2014 track session, Beyond Bewilderment, which is about finding personal success in testing.  Once I return from NYC, my after work time no longer dedicated to track session preparation, I plan to focus my professional development in the area of learning scripting.  This will probably lead to a post of the subject of technical blind spots through katas, paired testing and development. More later.

Tenacious Testing

I admire your tenacity.

This sentence was a lifeline when it arrived in my inbox a few years ago. This was a perspective, which I had not considered at a time when I felt like I was flailing around in emotionally exhausting waves at work.  I was learning (not so gracefully) to get used to argument and criticism.  I was also testing a technically challenging product developed by multiple teams.  It was important to get to market quickly without major quality issues, however testability and supportability were not-so-great, so pinpointing bugs was tough and getting to market was taking too long.

  • Articulate and own your role.
  • Articulate and evolve your strategy.
  • Educate yourself  so that you can increase your capacity to do all of the above.

Those were the lessons from my “stick-with-it-Ness”  AHA moment.  Also, that sentence and these experiences  re-affirmed my commitment to and love for the work I was doing:

  • Remain steadfast in your commitment to all of your stakeholders.
  • Be grateful for whatever comes your way, especially if it makes you uncomfortable.  Doses of stress can be opportunities to strengthen your emotional muscles and to develop a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face. (Reference: Law of Requisite Variety).

Be tenacious in your testing, but also remember Rule # 6.  Don’t take yourself so dog-gone seriously. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Career Composting


As kids, my brother and I loved to dig into our family’s enormous compost pile of oak and pecan tree leaves, vegetable scraps, and dried horse manure to find worms for Grandpa’s fishing trips.  Our rewards:  his ear-to-ear grin and 10 cents for every worm we found.  As an adult, I sift through a much smaller pile in my backyard and tend a tiny family garden.  Using my hands there goes a long way in clearing my head and often helps me turn over my work experiences.

I love to unearth bugs in software and appreciate help finding bugs in my thinking.  Like composting, growing into new habits take practice and patience. Here is the goodness which surfaced over time in the bins of the greatest personal challenges in my recent software testing history.

I have a voice and I trust myself to use it.

  • Test leadership – I articulate my strategy and my role as a tester.  I narrate 3 stories – status of the product/how I tested it, how good that testing was/why you should be pleased with my testing, Is there anything else you want to know? (Credits and thanks to Paul Holland’s Track Tutorial on End-to-End Agile Testing at CAST 2013 conference). I am not a gatekeeper or Product Owner, so I speak up when someone asks me to “make the call” to launch. I re-iterate my role in support of the business stakeholder team making an informed decision.  I make recommendations based on testing and quality issues.  I adjust the test strategy to explore areas of concern as project scope changes.
  • Management – I am responsible for providing direction and for communicating clearly;  I am not responsible for other people’s happiness. To be of best service, I direct my attention to the former, to the clarity and content of my message.

I will not underestimate the importance of community.

  • The above phrase resonated with me at CAST 2013 closing remarks by Scott Barber and Rob Sabourin.  I am continuously bolstered by the generosity of the software testing community through reading many blogs, my participation in a few sessions with Weekend Testing Americas, online coaching from Anne-Marie Charrett, learning from interactions and resources from online training through the Association for Software Testing, attending conferences.  I use techniques, tools and resources from the all of the aforementioned.
  • Now is the time to begin to give back.  I did a lightning talk at CAST 2013 on Leading Testing: Lessons Learned from Gumby. The positive responses and encouragement from those 4 minutes was part of the nudge I needed to draft my 1st post. I will devote energy to the fledgling meetup group I founded, Gulf Coast Software Testers, and I will eventually follow Claire Moss’s lead on co-branding this group as she has smartly done with Software Testing Club – Atlanta.

I ask for help.

  • I recognize emotional triggers as an invitation to cultivate self-awareness and an opportunity to grow my emotional intelligence (EQ). There is something (within me) that is asking for my attention.  No dillydallying!  I promptly confide in someone I trust to ask for feedback about the situation.
  • If I feel like something is technically over my head or if I get bogged down isolating failure conditions, I step away from my desk to get a 2nd opinion.  When I have been on the same test project for a long time, I reach out to my teammates to discuss testing with a developer, architect, and/or another tester to discover there are areas of the system, other scenarios, or approaches I have not considered.
  • Thank you to these great folks for their contributions, which have inspired me in this area:  Eric Jacobson – blog post, You’re a Tester, Relax;  Anne-Marie Charrett – Article [PDF], Beware the Lotus Eaters: Exploratory Testing; Paul Holland – YouTube video commentary on Skilled Testing.

Catch any worms lately?  What lessons did you learn in 2013 to apply in 2014? I wish you a hardy and prolific new year! 

– A heartfelt thank you to @aclairefication for her effervescent feedback, which helped me refine this post.