I ❤️ Agile Testing Day Netherlands

I’ve just been to Agile Testing Day in the Netherlands. And I loved it.

It’s been over two years since I last participated in any agile conference events.
Back then I had felt underwhelmed by most things on offer. My head was in some ‘post agile’ place that I couldn’t find anything authentic enough to attend. Also, as a serial organiser/facilitator of gatherings and unconferences I also didn’t want to be involved in organising anything.

Anyway – out of the blue –  Madeleine Griep from D&H events the organisers of the Agile Testing Days conferences contacted me to present a keynote at their Netherlands one-day event. The Agile Testing Day Netherlands is in its second year and – according to Griep  – had doubled its attendance in one year. Pretty good for a young event. The more established Agile Testing Days in Berlin is in its 7th year, runs over 3 days and enjoys attendance of 600+. So  – really good pedigree as  an event.

I said ‘Yes’ but didn’t really know what I was going to be talking about. For me, these events are about provocative thinking, inspiration and connection. So whatever I wanted to share had to bring people a degree of all of those aspects.

Whilst there was a significant proportion of the attendees dressed in suits and many were consultants of one form or another, there was also a large contingent of actual testing professionals whose daily lives are spent trying to make their products demonstrably better in the face of immense disrespect and organizational pressures.

What really delighted me was that in one single day, an attendee could explore the present – tools, techniques and anecdotes of how their peers are doing things – and the future – like in Rachel Davies’ talk about testing at Unruly. Whilst at the same time they can go deep into product testing and zoom out in how they might effect change in their organisation with a keynote by Olaf Lewitz on Integral Quality

I certainly learnt a lot by attending and was delighted to hear that my keynote was well received. Here,  for your viewing pleasure,  is the slide deck from my keynote. There is no audio but you can get the main thrust of my talk.
If you get the opportunity please check out the Agile Testing Days conferences – either in Berlin or in the Netherlands.

[NSFW, 18+] Dear James Ellroy, fuck you.

I like to read. I don’t get much time to read as much as I like, but I do like to read. My wife on the other loves to read and she consumes books like a marijuana’d elephant with the munchies. That is probably the only way she is like an elephant.

It was a week after New Year’s Day. Like all the other saps in the world I made some resolutions. But I’m 40 and I don’t make fucking resolutions – except I do and I pretend like I don’t.

One of my rare resolutions was to read more. Precisely 12 more. How easy is that – to read 12 books in 12 months? I don’t mean big chunky books, I mean the lightweight – entertain you briefly, possibly educate you a little – kind.

In 2015,  what could I read? There are a stack of business books I could waste my time on – each telling me how fucked up the world of work is and selling their own trademarked snake oil to deaden the pain. Or I could read something entirely made up – that created alternative universes with their own rules and rituals – purporting to be unique but simply offering glimpse of humanity that we all knew – ‘A’ for invention, ‘F’ for originality.

Instead I picked James Ellroy. You know, James Ellroy who wrote LA Confidential and the Black Dahlia. Yeah, that James Ellroy. The foul mouthed , angry at the world crime writer. And boy what a choice.

My chosen goblet of tasty shit was American Tabloid – a seemingly innocuous 590 pages. This would be easy.I would read 30 pages a night, a few more when I’m on the road. When I was done I would toss it on the pile of mildly interesting shit I had done.

Now, I generally don’t hero worship – so don’t start getting any ideas. But respect is due to James Ellroy. He doesn’t mince words. He grabs you by the balls and invites a fucking menagerie of America’s biggest names to tug along.

American Tabloid is on par with the Lord of the Rings with its ability to totally suck you in and alter your perception of reality. Except Ellroy does it by bending popular  history in ways that would curl your toes. He lulls you in with an illusion of familiarity. So, many people know of Jimmy Hoffa – dodgy teamsters union leader and Mafia tangoist. But did you know Jimmy Hoffa the dog fucker? Or the inspirational John F Kennedy who  – according to Ellroy – was also a rampant fuck-any-creature-in-a-skirt spoilt , clueless joyrider.

In American Tabloid, every major political and newsworthy figure of the 1950-1970s was part of the story – each playing their part in my mental ball tugging. From Monroe to Sinatra, from Eisenhower to Castro. The White House, The Mafia, the CIA, the FBI – including J Edgar Hoover the Voyeur!

I won’t  tell you the premise of this caper. This caper of capers where the capers are shit scared of all the other capers. Needless to say I won’t read modern American political history the same again. For a long time to come, the spectre of James Ellroy will sit on my shoulder, commenting in his famed staccato style the relevant details of the moment. The shit no one else dare say.

So, in the best possible taste – Fuck You James Ellroy for writing books that rewired minds, showed the scabs of humanity without saying a word more than was necessary.

Photo by pshegubj

Read this before 'you eat your own dog food'

It has always amused me when people – usually men – say their company or team ‘eats their own dog food’. It has always struck me as a very ‘macho’ thing to say.

I’ve searched for the origin of the phrase ‘ eat your own dog food’ – there seems to be a couple of places it could have come from, but its wide spread technology industry usage dates back to 1988 in Microsoft.

Of course the point of ‘eating your own dog food’ is to demonstrate that you have confidence in your own product and can learn – and improve – from your own internal use of it.

Before I continue – let me say that I think when done correctly, using your commercial product internally can be a very powerful learning and empathy building experience.

Here are some things to consider before ‘eating your own dog food’.

Is making dog food mandatory likely to increase joyful adoption or encourage resentful compliance?

A couple of places I have seen have made ‘dog food’ mandatory. Usually the order comes from the top by someone concerned that the product has quality or user experience problems.

In my experience – how people work and the tools they use should not be made mandatory or imposed in any way. If the product solves a problem that the user has, then they’ll use it. If it doesn’t – that itself is some valuable learning. If it has to be forced then the data you get from the dog food experience may not be authentic.

Understand the risks to your business

You might argue that if your product brings a business to its knees, you would be better off experiencing that yourself first. Or not.

As much as you might not realise it – your company knows more about how your product works – or should work – than your customers. This insider information is hard to ignore.
So invariably, the product as used internally does not often cause the same effects as when used by your customers. Or if they cause the same effects – the knowledge your employees have masks the perception of the effects in a way that your customers’ users don’t.

For example – I had one customer who made security scanning software – the stuff that sits on your machine and scan files and access. Their CTO encouraged their teams to ‘eat their own dog food’ with some dire results.

Given the nature of the work they were doing, the software completely crippled any kind of software development on the employee’s machines. The order remained, except the developers – choosing to do work rather than remain frustrated – tampered with the configuration by effectively disabling it.

Not all dogs are the same – be clear which dog you are.

Sure you might be selling an email client – and you think everyone uses email the same as you do. Before you unleash dog food on your employees – make sure you know what kind of dog you are purporting to be.

Are you a small enterprise simply using email for inter company communications or are you a marketing agency for whom email is an art form? Knowing what kind of customer your company is, will help you exercise your product more comprehensively.

Also knowing what kind of user you are not reminds you not to have false faith in dog food – it is only as good as it is used. If you never exercise some parts of your product internally, you aren’t getting the early warning of how real customers might be using it.

How will you deal with what you find?

At a higher level – dog food is about feedback. Specifically getting real world usage feedback on your product from internal users.

The big question is  – what are you prepared to do about it when you get it and how quickly will you do it?

This is perhaps the biggest problem I see when folk use their own products internally. More often than not, the internal users have no way of getting the broken things fixed quickly – so they continue to endure it.

Where I have seen it work well – the feedback from internal users is treated as an express lane item – because it comes earlier than feedback from external users (who typically are not on the latest versions anyway). By ‘express lane’ I mean, the triage and categorization of the feedback – i.e. urgent bug, enhancement etc – happens very quickly. Repair/remediation also happens very quickly – depending on the stack – the same day.

I’d like to share 3 handy checklists items before you commit your company to eating dog food:

  1. Will this critically affect our ability to run our business?
  2. Which customer usage do we represent?
  3. Are we prepared to respond quickly to what this experience will reveal?

Good luck.