Agile Testing Days 2016 — Impressions

This year, Agile Testing Days was held between 6–8th of December at Potsdam/Germany. I was lucky to attend the conference and get a glimpse of Agile community around the world. I had the chance to learn and practice different aspects of Agile methodologies and it’s testing part, together with enthusiastic people. It was more that I expected, I must admit. But I’ll come to that later.

After my first step to the conference area, I could easily say that it was a well organized conference. There were quite a lot of conference crew, trying to give a warm welcome to each attender. Except some technical problems during keynotes, every step of each day ran smoothly.

Exhibition Area

There were around 450 attendants, including 30 speakers in a keynote or a workshop. The conference had quite a lot of content I must admit. Except keynotes, there were around 16 different workshops each day (8 in the morning, 8 in the afternoon). 8 parallel workshops were running in a given time and it could be frustrating to choose which one to attend.

The best thing about the conference that it was build around communication. Every speaker, host and the crew were encouraging people to meet, speak and share ideas with other people. Each person was trying to learn as much as they could from other people. No egos were involved. You could see a well experienced speaker, attending workshops and asking questions like an enthusiastic new comer.

Day-1

First day of the conference, as all other days, started with a Lean Coffee Session. Lean Coffee Sessions are free times, where you meet up with other Agile enthusiasts and agile-minded people, drink coffee and discuss any topic you’d like about agile, testing and related topics.

The main group was divided into small teams, consisting of 7 people, including a facilitator. Each member had 3 minutes to write down topics they want to discuss in post-its. After all data is gathered, team started voting all topics. Each member had 3 votes. After voting phase, team started to discuss each one in 3 minutes, starting from the most voted one. After 3 minutes, team decides to continue on the topic or start discussing the next. It was a great chance to see common problems in agile testing and learn about different opinions.

After Lean Coffee session, the day started with a keynote from Abby Fichtner, one of the top Agile bloggers. It was a classical keynote which encourages people to leave their comfort zones and make a difference.

After the keynote, there were several workshops to choose from. But “DevOps and What It Means For Testing” quickly caught my attention. DevOps is a key practice when it comes to Agile working organisations. Jan Jaap Cannegieter made brief presentation about what DevOps is and started telling about his experiences on DevOps and test automation. Then, he gave us some free time to discuss and create ideas about what do we need to maintain as testers and testing mentalities to create a good DevOps environment. Then, we voted each item and ordered them to see general ideas.

The next session was a keynote from Vasco Duarte about his book and supported movement of No Estimates. It was a pretty stunning keynote after practicing lots of estimation processes.

What would software development look like without estimates? Is it even possible to run a software project without estimating?

He pointed out the value of the working software, importance of pleasing customers and how estimating can ruin this, throughout his presentation. I was shocked and enlightened at the same time when he gave real life examples and real data, supporting his claims.

Vasco Duarte, presenting his ideas on NoEstimates.

He gave us the idea that estimating is not necessary to deliver a good Agile project, when you think %40 of Agile projects fail if you look at statistics. This could mean losing your business for the most of the startups. This means a huge risk to put your money on. We need better and systematic solutions to shorten the feedback cycle, focus on the value, trust our processes, rely on real data and forecast instead of estimating.

He gave a good forecasting example about an Agile Project. As he said, for a forecasted project, it happened to be just %8 deviation for the best case and the worst case scenarios. It was pretty convincing when listening. I registered for a free copy of his book, “No Estimates”. I’ll surely dig into his book about more information.

Afternoon Workshop I attended was “Story and Example Mapping Mashup” by Joellen Carter and Lisa Crispin. Story and example mapping is a method to break down a product into short stories and tasks to start release planning. It sounds pretty easy but it was way more difficult when you start practicing it.

We divided into 9 tables and the whole workshop was consisted of 3 phases. In 1st phase, a goal of the customer was given to us and they requested us to divide their goal into activities, tasks and sub-tasks. We just had 10 minutes and I could say that we had a very hard time to separate activities and tasks from each other.

Story and Example Mapping Workshop

In 2nd phase, pre-considered activities, tasks and sub-tasks were given to each team. And we were requested to group them. Deciding which item is a task, activity or sub-task and grouping respectively was a frustrating process but we get a great map of the product.

In 3rd phase, a table of activities, tasks and sub-tasks were given to each team and we were requested to plan following 3 releases according to a given customer plan. This part was relatively easy because we had a good story map in front of us.

This workshop showed us how powerful and difficult story and example mapping is at the same time.

At the end of the first day, a surprising keynote took place. It wasn’t about the content, about the person giving the speech. Grammy awarded Michael “The Wanz” Wansley who recorded the song “Thrift Shop” alongside Macklemore gave a speech about his experience in testing, Agile and singing career. It was a pretty funny keynote and a good way to end the day.

Michael “The Wanz” Wansley is talking about his experience with Agile

To wrap up, I can easily say that the 1st day of the conference was the richest in content. All keynote speakers were great storytellers and inspired us in every way. Also, workshops were well organized and making clear points.

Day-2

I kicked of the 2nd day with another Lean Coffee Session to get as much from other people as possible.

After that, the day continued with a keynote from Diana Larsen, writer of “Retrospectives — Making Good Teams Great”, “Liftoff: Start and Sustain Successful Agile Teams” and so many different books and papers over agile with over 20 years of experience. She gave a speech on product Liftoff (she calls instead of kick-off)activities, team dynamics and how an effective liftoff achieves alignment — a shared understanding about the work and why it matters to the organization as a whole and positions your team on the trajectory to success. She put a great point of view and gave a good speech.

After the keynote, I attendedThinking tools for solving three Agile adoption problems” workshop by Marcus Gärtner. He addressed some of the most common Agile adoption problems for organisations, having multiple Agile teams. He emphasized the importance of Whole Product Focus and how to better define your real customer product. He mentioned about advantages of Feature Teams and construct a roadmap for moving your teams to be capable of end-to-end value delivery and contract game.

We have to focus on the whole product because the customer buys the whole product.

The statement above was one of the key points in his presentation. Because organisations with multiple Agile teams may get lost inside of their respective working environments and forget about the whole product. The importance of feature teams, instead of component teams comes in handy at that point.

After this workshop, we attended an inspiring keynote given by Alex Schladebeck and Huib Schoots about reporting testing processes by story telling.They shared their ideas about, how we are pre-programmed to react positively to stories as humans, which makes them powerful and effective ways to transfer our visions, strategies or ideas. They advised to use stories instead of numbers and charts to put a better picture of the work we’ve done. The idea was inspiring when you discover the power of a story on a live example.

Alex Schladebeck and Huib Schoots, talking about the power of Story Telling.

The next workshop I attended was Agile Leadership for All” from Selena Delasie.

The full benefits of Agile emerge when every person in a company embraces their personal leadership.

The main idea behind Agile Leadership was it wasn’t on managers or executives. Each team member could be an Agile Leader and contribute to the whole process. She dug into specific leadership behaviours that make a big impact in any team, by any team member.

Then, she mentioned about 7 Leadership Traits, Class, Communication, Curiosity & Clarity, Connection, Creativity and Commitment. After that we hanged 7 different papers around the room and shared our ideas about each trait under them. It was a great brainstorming session about how these traits could be integrated into Agile practices.

To conclude the 2nd day, I can say that it was weaker then the 1st day but still I had great ideas about how story telling works and how we can become an Agile Leader in our respective processes.

Day-3

I kicked of the 3rd day with another Lean Coffee Session. After that, Jessica Devita gave a keynote named “Baking Safety Into Infrastructure Testing”, which points out an open source testing language as well as the science behind human/machine coordination and how to find common ground with colleagues.

The first workshop i attended was from Derk-Jan De Grood, named “Grip on Your Agile Maturity”. It was mainly focus on different expectations of different teams onAgile Adoption and how to manage it.

Improvements planned in the retrospective do not stand on their own. What is the ambition of your team and how do you share these?

He mentioned that each team and each member of a team expect different improvement from their team, which are not visible in retrospectives every time. Members could be lost in small improvements and lose their grip on Agile Maturity.

Derk-Jan De Grood Talking about Ambition Chart

Derk-Jan told us how he overcame this problem by using ambition chart, which developed by himself. He told that each department has it’s own goals and checkpoints on Agile Maturity like a subway line. And lines of different departments intersect on different checkpoints, which corresponds to common action items in product teams. When each team reaches their goal, Agile Maturity would be reached %100. This creates -a subway map like- Ambition Chart. To see where you are, you just draw a line on each teams last checkpoint and see how mature your organisation is.

This was a good way to visualize Agile Maturity for organisations on agile adoption processes.

After the workshop, Melissa Perri was on stage for her keynote to tell her experiences on finding the truth behind MVPs and product expeirmentation.

Let’s kill the buzzword MVP and focus on experimenting to learn what our users want early so we can solve their problems with great products.

she said, which makes sense a lot. She emphasized how organisations focus on having the best design and the greatest experience, but they are missing the most important step in product development — learning about their customers.

She mentioned that most of the organisations don’t realize the meaning of “Minimum Viable Product” and see it as a way to release a product faster, get scared of it and view it as a way to put broken code on their site and ruin products. “The sole purpose of Minimum Viable Product is to learn about your customers.This step that has been so overlooked and yet it is the most essential part to creating a product your customers will love.” she said. Which made perfect sense and showed how Agile can come in handy.

She shared her experiences on monitoring user behaviours in production, get their feedback at certain points and make changes to overcome their problems to make them happy.

The method and the speech was great. But there were certain points where I disagreed with her. She advocated to learn about vision, goals and problems of their customers and create a product to solve it accordingly instead of putting deadlines and planning releases with feature sets. This made perfect sense. But for organisations, developing solutions as 3rd parties to different coorpanies, it is quite hard to apply, especially in Middle-East. Customers want to now exact numbers for deadlines and feature sets to put their money on. Most of the time, negotiations are made feature-based. In a market like this, asking their goals to customers and how much they can pay to achieve it may seem like gambling for most of the companies.

Melissa Perri, talking about her MVP approach

The next workshop I attended was “Agile Coaching Dojo” given by Gitte Klitgaard. It was mainly focused on communication in Agile teams.

In her presentation, she told us how an agile coach can use communication as a tool to become better. She said that coaching for her is listening and reflecting to the “seeker”– the person seeking help. She mentioned differend listening and reflecting techniques like Active Listening, Powerful Questions, and Deliberate Silence.

After her presentation, we sat sit in groups of 3–4 with a “seeker”, a “coach” and 1–2 “observers”. Coach asked questions and used different techniques to help the seeker while observers observe how those techniques helped. We ran this in multiple rounds taking different roles and my opinion is, it helped!!

The last keynote of the conference was from Gojko Adzic, named “Snow White and 777.777.777 Dwarves”. It was mainly focused on how cloud completely changed the risk profile for software architectures and tests. He was energetic and inspiring at the same time.

Summary

I can easily say that it was a great conference both in the conference room, and outside. I had a great opportunity to meet different people and share ideas about our Agile and testing experiences. I can easily say that we have common problems when it comes to testing.

Friendly and communication couraging environment was also great. Everybody was open to discussion and warm. Agile discussions started at Lean Coffee sessions each day and continued until midnight post-conference events.

Conference content was well balanced in content and speakers were enthusiastic. But there was a lack of mobile aspect. I hope we can contribute on this in upcoming conferences. Overall, it was a great experience.

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