More Agile Testing and BCS SIGiST

7th December 2014 Pete George no responses Agile

MAT

In September, I noticed that the BCS Special Interest Group in Software Testing were looking for book reviews for their quarterly conferences. At the time, I was eagerly looking forward to the publication of More Agile Testing by Lisa Crispin & Janet Gregory, in October, so I offered to do a review of the book at the December conference, which was last Thursday. The review seemed to be well received, although there’s only so much you can say in ten minutes. I posted a slightly fuller review on Amazon, which I’ve copied below.

In addition, I had a very pleasant day at the conference. I’ve been to a few of the SIGiST conferences and I do like them. The talks tend to be quite varied and from real practitioners (rather than simply professional conference speakers). The talks on Thursday were on: testing in the financial sector, building quality in to products regardless of system testing, continuous integration, iterative quality assurance, accessibility testing and a comprehensive overview of options for software metrics by Dr Masuwa-Morgan of the UK Software Metrics Association (those are my summaries of the content – more details are at: http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/tester-dec-14.pdf).

I got a lot out of the talks on accessibility, by Jon Gibbons & Grant Broome. More on why it is important (which I thought I knew), rather than on how to address it, because it was focused on mobile, which isn’t my specialism. It has made me think about how we’re presenting our software – a makeover of this website is a definite must for the New Year I think.

One thing that struck me as interesting about Thursday’s conference was that there were a lot of people talking about agile ways of working, but generally not within the context of specific Agile methodologies. It seemed on the whole to be a positive thing, i.e. that agile ideas (or put another way ‘good’ ideas) that people had picked up along the way from other people’s experience were being tried out and producing value in ‘non-Agile’ contexts. I have heard some folks recently talking about Agile running out of steam or peaking, but I wonder whether it is more the case that the underlying principles and practices are just becoming so mainstream now it will become unnecessary to distinguish a separate Agile movement from general good practices in software development.

Book Review presented to BCS SIGiST conference on Dec 4 2014

In October, Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory published More Agile Testing: Learning Journeys for the Whole Team, their follow up to the hugely influential: Agile Testing, published in 2008. Five years is a long time in the software development industry and More Agile Testing reflects the development and growth in maturity of agile development over that time. If nothing else, it provides a comprehensive catalogue of all that is going on in the contemporary agile testing world. This includes:
Learning cultures, T-shaped skill sets, generalising specialists, Agile Testing Quadrants, impact mapping, story mapping, ATDD, BDD, Specification by Example, exploratory testing, test automation, scaling Agile, continuous integration, distributed teams, DevOps and more!

It is definitely not a beginner’s guide. It is intended to be a book for people who are already involved in agile development, and it is assumed that the reader will understand the specific references to agile concepts and practices. However, it is a book about agile testing rather than a book about how to test in an Agile project, and many of the ideas will be relevant and just as helpful to testers working in more traditional contexts (albeit they may need to do some further study to understand the Agile references).

It is a tremendously well-crafted book. Each of the 25 chapters starts with a simple mindmap of the main points and completes with a concise summary. The topics are clearly described and illustrated with examples from real-world experience. Despite the number of ideas covered, there is a consistent narrative that flows through the book from start to finish, so that it doesn’t feel as though you are just being introduced to one topic after another, after another.

One of the things I really like about the book is the stress on continual learning. That is for all involved in agile development, but particularly the tester. This is expressed in the content throughout the book, but notably this is emphasised right at the outset of the book. After the initial chapter on the evolution of Agile Testing, the next five chapters all cover different aspects of this. Chapter Two deals with the importance of creating a learning culture within the organisation. Chapter Three discusses the need for T-shaped testers, i.e. deep knowledge of their specialism and broad knowledge in other areas to enable collaboration. Chapters Four and Five describe soft skills (which the authors’ prefer to call ‘thinking skills’ to avoid them being dismissed as less important) and technical skills that testers need to develop to be better testers. Finally, Chapter Six discusses all the different ways that people can learn, from conferences and training courses, to communities of practice and lunchtime study groups.

The commitment to continual learning is also expressed in the authors’ attitude to their craft. Although, undoubtedly experts in their field, they reveal a real willingness to learn from others themselves. This is most clearly seen in Chapter Seven, where they discuss their Agile Testing Quadrants model for test planning. They popularised the model in the first Agile Testing book and it has become a mainstay for much agile test planning since. However, it has not been without criticism, which Crispin and Gregory have taken on board and in this book they present an updated model. Then they go further, by including in their book a section entitled “Challenging the Quadrants”, which includes a substantial critique of their model and a proposed alternative by Gojko Adzic.

I think that the authors’ attitude is important to understanding the book. They appear to see themselves on a journey of exploration and experimentation in testing, not know-it-all experts who have reached their destination. They present the information as people who have learned some things along the way and hope others will get something out of it. This means that they are not scared to publish critique by other experts, like Adzic, or include contributions in the book from over forty other experts.

I suspect that if there are any criticisms of the book, one will be that this attitude makes the book too indefinite. The authors’ unwillingness to be dogmatic on, for example, the scope of the testing activity, will undoubtedly irritate some testing fundamentalists. However, for me, I think it is a strength of the book to refuse to narrow the boundaries of what testing should or shouldn’t be, and focus on delivering valuable software. An abundance of ideas and practices are presented, backed up with an abundance of real-world stories from both the authors’ and their contributors. The reader is then invited to use the material to go on their own ‘learning journey’ into the world of Agile Testing, wherever that may lead.