I am attending the QAI Quest Conference this week.  This is not my first Quest and I hope it won’t be my last – I am going to augment my Test Driven Development (TDD) class with a robotics twist. Thanks to Jason Huggins for a great keynote on robotics to spark the idea, this is one of the reasons going to conferences is useful. For those that don’t know, Quest is primarily a quality and testing conference put on by the Quality Assurance Institute with smatterings of other related topics. As with all conferences, I am a collector of ideas and people, this week I have noticed a lot of lists being generated. I have captured many of the lists related to the problems people are having implementing agile.  I think even with a day left I can summarize the lists and confirm my summarization and perception based on the conversations I have had during meals and breaks. There are seven common threads test and quality focused personnel experience being agile.

  1. Work entry, how work gets to a team and in what order, is broken.  Teams that can’t control how work comes to them and when they need to deliver will have problems (agile or not). In many cases, testers are still treated as the last step in the process that are not really part of the team, therefore, have no input in priority and little transparency about which stories they will be testing until they land in their Jira queue.  
  2. Silos between disciplines are still a thing.  We talked about this problem in the blog entry titled The “silo’ization” of coders and testers”. The idea of creating a hard boundary between coders and testers is almost always a bad idea.
  3. Leaders control the culture of a team or organization. Real change in organizations requires senior and executive leaders to pull behaviors forward not just home they percolate from the bottom up!  Teams might be able to do some of the agile techniques without addressing mindset and culture but they will not be able to get the full value.
  4. Perceived overhead, mostly meetings, used in agile for planning, collaboration, and feedback mechanism is thought of as higher than other methods (this is generally a false perception). Historically, planning and gathering feedback was done by project managers and then given to teams to react to. This is especially true for testers and coders who have been expected to be heads-down Mechanical Turks. Meetings in agile are designed to enable engineering tasks (if done correctly) in a very compact footprint and require active team level participation.
  5. Technical and Business Domain Language conflicts generate misunderstandings, defects and rework.  The languages sound similar, even use some of the same words, but are often unintelligible to individuals in different groups.  Techniques like test driven and behavior driven development use language from the business domain to ensure understanding between technical and non-technical stakeholders.  
  6. Inconsistency between how silos/teams work cause confusion and limit the movement of people across teams as demand ebbs and flows. Many organizations still dynamically allocate testers (and other professions) to teams (I asked how many people are in organizations using matrix management techniques and over 75% of the hands went up).  In scenarios where dynamic teaming is typical, process consistency is important so that people can move more easily.
  7. Exclusion of contractors from agile ceremonies is problematic.  Many attendees reported that they regularly excluded contractors from agile ceremonies (one person stated they had been told “we pay the contractors to test or code, not to be part of the team”).  This attitude creates an atmosphere in which contractors are second class citizens even though, I can’t remember a firm that did not use contractors to round out teams and to meet peaks in demand; contractors that are trusted to write code, test code and put code into production.  It is a very mixed message.

Reflecting on the seven issues testers experience being agile there is a bigger core issue being expressed.  Culture and mindset is the thread that ties all of these issues together. Perhaps the issue is local to QAI Quest, but I think not.