Testing focus of Software Craftsmanship – Values

Some weeks ago I was first made aware of Software Craftsmanship. By the same time I had run over Bob Martin’s fifth Agile value and Alistair Cockburn’s New Software Engineering. Just today I strived over a topic opened from Joshua Kerievsky on the XP Mailing List: The Whole Enchilada just to find another blog entry from Dave Rooney on the underlying thoughts. For me it seems there is something upcoming, there is something in the air and I would like to share my current picture of the whole from a testing perspective. Even in this week there was a discussion on the Agile Testing group being started by Lisa Crispin’s blog entry on The Whole Team. I decided to organise these sorts in a series of postings to come during the next few weeks. This time I would like to start with values from Agile methodologies. First of all I haven’t read every book on every topic around Agile Testing and Software Craftsmanship so far. There are books on technical questions on my bookshelf as well as managerial books that I would like to get into. Additionally I have not had the opportunity to get to know an Agile team in action – though my team did a really good job moving the whole test suite from a shell script based approach to a business facing test automation tool during the last year. My company came up with a new project structure during that time and I just lately noticed, that – similar to Scrum – there is a flaw of technical factors in the new project structure. The new organisation seems to focus on just managerial aspects of software development without advises on how to gain technical success.

That said, I started to read on Agile methodologies during the last year a lot. The idea of Agile value and principles still is fascinating me. It even fascinates me so far, that I would like to compile a list of factors to notice during day-to-day work. Since Agile methodologies use the Practices, Principles and Values scheme to describe the underlying concepts – during the last year I noticed a parallel to ShuHaRi – I would like to come up with a similar structure. Here are the values from eXtreme Programming and Scrum combined into a single list:

  • Communication
  • Human interactions focus on a large amount of communication. This item on the list is particular related to the first value from the Agile Manifesto: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Likewise Alistair Cockburn introduced the concept of Information Radiators in order to even combine communications and feedback on publicly available whiteboards or flipcharts pages. In the software development business the right way to communicate can reduce a lot of wasted efforts with assumed functionality. Communication therefore as well serves the principle from Lean Software Development to eliminate waste.

  • Simplicity
  • The case for simplicity arose the first time when my team was suffering from a legacy test approach, which dealt with too many dependencies and a chained-test syndrom. Simply spoken: The tests flawed the simplicity value. Changing one bit on the one function forced changing several tests on the other side of the test framework. Due to the high-coupling nature that was caused by no particular design rules and no efforts spent on paying down Technical Debt, adapting test cases to the business needs was not simple. The high complexity in the test code base was the starting point for this lack of simplicity. By incorporating design patterns, refactoring and test-driven development we were able to handle this lack of simplicity in our currently used approach. Additionally one thing that I learned from Tom DeMarco’s The Deadline is, that when incorporating complex interfaces in the software system you’re building, you also make the interfaces between the humans involved equally complex. This results directly in a higher amount of communication necessary to compensate – a fact that Frederick Brooks noticed nearly fourty years ago in The Mythical Man Month.

  • Feedback
  • As described before on the communication topic, information radiators which spread informations i.e. about the current status of the build in Continuous Integration or about remaining storypoints on a burndown chart make feedback visible. There is even more to feedback. Continuous Integration is a practice which leads to continuous feedback of repetetive tasks such as unit tests, code inspections and the like. The feedback gathered after each iterations’s end is another point to exercise continuous improvement of the whole team. When feedback is gathered quickly, according actions can be taken by the individuals involved.

  • Courage
  • Each functional team has to address problems and come up with proposed solutions. In order to state underlying problems you need to have courage to bring up topics that might throw the project behind the schedule. On the other hand staying quiet about these problems, might directly result in Technical Debt and as Dave Smith has put it:

    TechnicalDebt is a measure of how untidy or out-of-date the development work area for a product is.
    Definition of Technical Debt

    There are other topics, where each team member needs to have courage. Here is a non-complete list to give you a vision of it:

  • when organizational habits are counter-productive to team or project goals
  • when working in a dysfunctional team
  • when the code complexity raises above a manageable threshold
  • Respect
  • Respecting each team member for their particular achievements and technical skill-sets is to my understanding part of a functional team definition. When having a respectful work-environment, a tester is more likely to take the courage to raise flaws of code-metrics or violated coding-conventions. When raising issues of other’s work-habits it is more likely to have a constructive way of solving problems by sending out a Congruent Message. When each team member has the respect on the technical skills of each other team member it is more likely to occur even in problematic situations. In a respectful atmosphere critics are not made in the form of accusation and therefore lead directly to constructive and creative solutions rather than protecting behaviour of the opposing parties.

  • Commitment
  • The whole team gives the commitment to the customer to deliver valueable quality at the end of each iteration. Without the commitment of each team member to deliver value to their customer, the project success is put onto stake. Leaving out unit tests on critical functions may blow the application once in production. Likewise left-out acceptance tests may lead to a time bomb exploding during customer presentation while doing some exploratory tests. Likewise the team gives the commitment to their organisation to produce the best product they can in order for the organisation to make money with it. The flip-side of the coin will lead to distrust from organisational management. Committing to the vision of the project, the goal of the iteration, is a basic value for each team.

  • Focus
  • Focus is an essential value behind testing. If you easily distract yourself with follow-up testing, you may find yourself with a bunch of testcases exercised without following your initial mission to find critical bugs fast. Sure, it’s relevant to do some follow-up testing on bugfixes that just occured during the last changes, but if you loose your focus on the particular testing mission, you are also missing to deliver the right value to your customer. Face-to-Face Communication and Continuous Improvement help you keep your focus on the right items, while a simple system supports you in the ability to focus on the harder-to-test cases of your software.

  • Openness
  • If you would like to provide your customer the best business value possible, it might turn out, that you need to be open to new ideas. Particularly business demands change due to several factors: market conditions, cultural or organisational habits. As Kent Beck points out in eXtreme Programming eXplained:

    The problem isn’t change, because change is going to happen; the problem, rather, is our inability to cope with change.

    Without openness a tester is not able to cope with the change that is going to happen – may it be to technical needs or just the business demanding the underlying change.

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