Testers, Learn about Agile (and Lean)

Let me tell you about something called Dramatic Irony. You see it in movies, television shows, plays and in many other places. It happens when you (as the audience or observer) see or understand something that the main characters don't. Often times this is funny, sometimes it's not. Personally, I am one of those that likes to laugh when I see this happen.

On my learning/education quest over a decade ago, I took many different positions and roles within various IT organisations so that I could learn different aspects of Quality. I went through various phases, and the one I am least proud of was the "Quality champion." This wasn't a job title so much as a belief that (mis-)guided my actions. The role/part/perspective came mainly from believing what my employer(s) told me at the time - namely that "the QA/Test team was responsible for quality."

If you have worked in Software Development for a while, and perhaps for a larger organisation, you have likely seen someone who believes they are a Quality Champion. They don't want to see any (known) bugs go out; they check up on everyone in the team to see that they have done their reviews or had someone else inspect their work before passing it onto the next person/team; they join committees to create, document, maintain or present processes that will increase the quality of the delivered products/solutions; and so on.

Ah, the poor misguided fools.  Bless their hearts.

The first problem is in the company creating a scapegoat culture that puts the responsibility/blame of poor quality on the group of individuals who are least likely to help change the quality late in a development cycle - especially when the (test) team is under-informed, under-funded, under-staffed, under ridiculous time constraints, unappreciated and/or uneducated.

Quality is everyone's job. And I mean everyone. It starts with the president, moves through every person in the organisation and even includes the customers and users of your product/solution.

Returning to the naive tester who doesn't know or understand this, they do their part to motivate, inspire, nudge and, to some extent, manage the individuals affecting the quality of the released products. The effect of this is easy to predict. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

As it happened to me, I have seen it happen to other testers - they become disheartened, give up and withdraw back into their own work routine, ignoring everyone else and just focussing on their part.

I didn't give up entirely though - I can be persistent. I kept my eyes and ears open and looked in different places for ideas to help me understand how the organisation/system and "quality" fit together.

At the start of the 21st century, I stumbled upon something called the Agile Manifesto. I can't say that I completely understood it at the time but I was certainly excited about it. I mentioned it to my manager and he said it was a passing fad and that in 5 years no one would ever remember it. I felt that he was wrong and trusted my instincts on this one.

Over the next several years I learned about Agile and the different implementations. It all seemed very programmer/developer-centric to me as none of the models, articles, books or people ever seemed to talk about the testers. There was certainly a lot about devs taking responsibility for the quality of their work and incorporating testing practices into their regular routines. Hey, I'm all over that! Rah, rah, rah, sis-boom-bah, yaaaay Agile! :-D

Now, a decade later, I understand the Agile movement in a deeper, richer way. It is part of how I think and solve problems. It is part of how I encourage people to work together and to focus on the things that matter when delivering value to the customers. Just as I once described myself as someone who eats, sleeps and breathes 'Testing', I believe I would say the same thing about 'Agile'.

Here's the kick: the Agile movement is an ENTIRE COMMUNITY OF QUALITY CHAMPIONS! (oops, the caps lock got stuck for a moment there.)

That's right, listen up all of you testers out there who think you are alone and that no one is listening to your cries of "there must be a better way." There are people out there - Agile Coaches and Consultants - who are working to do just that. They find, create and teach better ways for development teams to work together to raise the quality/value of the delivered solutions.

If you don't know anything about Agile, start now. Read up on it, talk to others, attend a course, find online webinars, go to a conference - anything! Just get out there are start learning about Agile now! The same applies for Lean Software Development - learn about it.

Please keep in mind that there is a big difference between going through the motions of agile practices and actually being/thinking "agile". The agile mindset is more important to me than any particular set of practices.

This is especially important to keep in mind if someone tells you that testers have no place in Agile teams. Those people are what I like to call "wrong." (Get off my lawn.)

Testers can bring valuable insights to the agile software development process if the team works together and embraces the strengths of each team member. You, dear testers, must be open to change and adapt your role to work in new ways.

Warning, Warning, Danger, Danger: if someone tells you that you are "doing agile" and you (as a tester) should keep updating your manual regression test cases and test plans, please tell them to kindly "get off my lawn" for me. Thanks.

I still see this happen. I go into a client's office and look at how the software development team members are working. I see the testers off on their own, testing things in isolation and complaining about how no one seems to care about Quality because they only see and test the product at the end, just before it goes out the door.

Ooo, irony. I see something happening around you (within the community, industry, and sometimes within your own company) that you don't see.

Testers: if you feel like you are in this "Quality champion" role, be the hero and talk to an Agile Coach. Get one to come in and do an assessment. You aren't alone. You can help make a difference. Ask for the right help.

Be prepared to change yourself - to learn, to adapt to new ways of working with others, and to deliver a whole new level of quality and value that you didn't think was possible. Be a model team member and let the Agile coach help guide the rest of the team. Quality isn't your job - it's everyone's.

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