Friday, April 28, 2017

A Thousand and One Things

The last weeks had been quite busy at work. When I think about all the things and topics I worked on, I'm getting dizzy at first, then excited, and finally thoughtful.

Although I love focus, I also love contributing to many topics. And I learned that I should just do what I like to do if I think it's worth spending my time on. Well, this could be considered good ("you're not just delivering what's asked of you but providing additional value") - or bad ("you're not focusing on your actual task"). During the last months, I received mixed feedback from several people about my involvement in many areas which got me thinking about this topic a lot. So I decided to reflect on what I actually did during the last three weeks since we had the first mobbing session in our team.

  • Lots of testing. My team made really good progress, collaboration mood was high, backlog items flew nicely through our workflow. Investing time upfront, before a first increment is implemented, paid off again. Brainstorming things to test, clarifying questions, trying to reach shared understanding together with product owner and developers, and also testing early increments, was again well worth the time. Though it might sound counter-intuitive ("you have to do the work twice then"), it speeds things up a lot for me. And it leaves a great feeling of being "on time" with providing feedback, instead of "always late" when tickets suddenly pile up.
  • I've been sitting with some of my developers, pairing on trying out different implementations, debugging, or fixing identified defects. I love doing so, but currently don't prioritize it high enough to do it more often.
  • As we have a new developer on the team, I had a few onboarding sessions with her to provide an overview on workflows, product history, company backgrounds, and much more to get her started.
  • My team is giving peer feedback a try, so I've provided written feedback for my teammates. Though I think I should provide feedback more often and rather face-to-face, I really like this formal instance. I feel it helps me discipline myself to provide regular feedback also on a personal level, not only on things we are working on. When it comes to providing feedback on personal level, I'm not confident enough that I'll find the right words in a face-to-face situation to help the other grow without offending him. So in the end I mostly either say nothing (which I feel is pretty bad, and also a missed chance for the other one) or I address things in team settings (like a retrospective, which is often not the right place for personal feedback). Getting the chance to take the time and carefully formulate the feedback before providing it, helped me a lot. The only problem: I don't know how the others interpreted my feedback and responded to it.
  • We've just officially introduced OKRs (objectives and key results) at my company. As I happen to be in a supporter role to help kick this change off, we regularly meet to reflect and decide on next steps.
  • We also happen to think about an official company tech blog. I highly support this endeavor, so I agreed to join the group of editors.
  • To further increase our perception as tech company, we are striving for hosting more meetups at FlixBus. I'm part of the organizing group, and we even had two meetups hosted a few days ago. That was a great first step, but further steps have to follow.
  • We have an internal agile testing community at FlixBus, open to anybody interested in testing. As community moderator, I prepared another internal meetup. This time, one colleague shared her insights from TestBash Brighton, and another one her lessons learned from implementing a new onboarding concept. Thanks to my fellow community members, I learned a lot!
  • As community moderator, I am frequently the first contact person in case someone needs input regarding any testing topic. One of our people managers asked me for a rough list of skills and topics I would see for an agile tester. Hard topic! Made me ask questions first, like why this is required and what exactly is needed.
  • Another colleague contacted me if I could support during an ongoing audit where the auditors wanted to gain more insight in how we do testing. So I provided a collection of materials.
  • A tester from the international testing community approached us and asked whether we might offer one of our products as system under test for the meetup he organizes. Great opportunity for both of us. I connected the right people so they can proceed on the topic.
  • We received several more applications on our job offer for software testers. For now I only reviewed materials and provided feedback, but probably I'll find myself sitting in interviews soon again.
  • I supported a tester colleague with registering for this year's Agile Testing Days including booking hotel and flights, and did so myself. We both will attend the full week and can't wait for it!
  • A fellow team plans to introduce automated tests through the UI. They asked me whether I might share how we deal with automated tests, on which levels we test, who writes them, which tools we use, etc. They wanted to learn how we do it and see what might fit to their context as well. We had a quite interesting conversation, I'm curious what they will decide on during the next weeks.
  • The tester of yet another team asked me whether I could give a testing workshop for his team and share how we handle testing in my team in general. He simply wanted his team to hear about testing from a different person and perspective. During the first part of the workshop, I shortly introduced the developers to exploratory testing, and then had them engaged in a hands-on testing session. I did this with three different groups already, and it's always been fun! I had a great time, but also the developers enjoyed approaching the product from a different perspective and finding many issues in short time. As second part of the workshop, I presented how we do testing in my team and our context: our whole-team approach to quality, testing throughout the workflow, what kind of tests we run and on which levels and systems. Especially our vacation replacement rules, having the whole team take over all testing, caught attention and we had a great conversation. Hope I could trigger some thoughts and ideas.
  • A colleague and I hosted an agile UX workshop for our teams - using LEGO! We had so much fun together. Well, we had LEGO, right? The workshop was inspired by one I attended at last year's Agile Testing Days, hosted by the wonderful Karen Greaves and Samantha Laing. Big thanks to them! If you have the chance to join one of their workshops, do so, it's worth it.

One more thing I learned during the last weeks: I've been selected as new voice to speak at TestBash Munich in October! I'm so happy about it and looking forward to take you on quite a personal journey with FlixBus.

All in all - I do understand why I received mixed feedback regarding my many activities. It's definitely great food for thought. So far, I've not decided in which way to adapt. But I wonder what they might think if I also told them about the many topics I don't involve myself, or the many more ideas I intentionally postpone?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Our Team's First Mobbing Session

Last week my team had our very first mobbing session together. I was quite excited! I have read and heard a lot about this whole-team approach, and I was curious to try it myself. I had a first glimpse of how it could look during a coding dojo I attended a few weeks ago, but I really wondered how it would be to try this with the people I work with every day. I guess I talked a lot about mobbing, presenting it as a potential solution for some of the problems we are facing. And suddenly, during a sprint retrospective, my team decided to give it a try! Here's the story how it turned out.


Since I was the one who triggered this experiment, I was also accountable for having it facilitated. However, I also wanted to join the mob myself. So I asked our agile coach if she was willing to help me and act as facilitator during the session. So glad she agreed!

As nobody on our team ever tried mobbing before, I wanted to have our first session facilitated as well as possible to get everybody on board. To prepare for it, I used the following valuable resources on mob programming and mob testing. You can skip over them for now, but in case you would like to facilitate a session yourself, I highly recommend following those links.
All resources recommended starting with a short session, so I scheduled 2.5 hours for it. As we don't have a dedicated team room, I also booked a meeting room well in advance, as otherwise it's hard to get one for a longer time slot at my company.

Our agile coach and I sat together to prepare the session. We shared any knowledge we already had about mobbing, defined the structure and prepared posters to serve as information radiators throughout the session.

I asked my team whether they would rather do the experiment in coding dojo style using a dedicated kata, or if they wanted to work on a real story from our backlog. The team decided unanimously to go for the latter. During sprint planning just before our workshop, we picked a middle-sized, quite straightforward story and reserved it for our mobbing session.

Room Setup

We knew how the meeting room we booked looked and what it offered. We identified a list of things we had to bring ourselves.
  • One developer laptop with an external keyboard and mouse; to simplify things, I just asked one of our senior developers to bring his (as it happened he brought an external Apple touchpad)
  • One projector; the meeting room was lacking one
  • The posters we prepared
  • Flip chart sheets and tape to put them on the wall (in the end we found the room actually did have a proper flip chart)
  • Sticky notes and pens
  • Timer
  • Beverages; everybody should bring what they need
  • A bowl of cookies :)
What not to bring? Any other laptops or mobile phones, to avoid distraction. Though this might change later on, we decided to be strict about this for the first session to have the full focus of every team member on one thing only.

Agenda & Introduction

Our Daily Scrum is scheduled for 9:30 am. We decided to do a morning session, starting right afterwards. However, we knew that it will take some time to bring everything to the meeting room and to set it up, so we could only start with everybody at around 10:00. Also, it was crucial to keep the session relatively short in order to end happily and go to lunch together.
We scheduled a short introduction to mobbing to start our first session from a common ground. This was especially important as nobody on the team had experienced mobbing before.

Following Simon Sinek's advice, we decided to start with "why".
  1. Remove productivity blockers. Many times when it comes to mobbing, the question is raised how having the whole team work on only one topic could be productive. However, Woody Zuill recommends focusing on impediments, preventing or destroying productivity. Like the following things that mobbing can overcome:
    • Multitasking
    • Interruptions
    • Being blocked
    • Technical debt
    • Code cruft
    • Waiting for information or reviews
    • Unnecessary meetings
    • Incomplete understanding, or not understanding the problem at all
    • Context switching
    • Merge conflicts
    • Lack of quality
    • Missing knowledge
  2. Extend our toolbox. To learn continuously, we should be open to new or different development approaches and know our options to chose from. We might not end up doing mobbing all the time, but it might be a great way to tackle huge, complex, unclear stories.
  3. Learning opportunities. Mobbing maximizes learning and sharing knowledge in the team, often including implicit knowledge. This way we can increase our bus factor even more. Besides that, you can always learn new things in a group, as everyone is used to different approaches, thinking styles, even keyboard shortcuts; so look out for the unexpected! Furthermore, teams who do mobbing say that it's like instant onboarding for new team members. As it happened, only two days ago a fresh new developer started in our team. Perfect timing to find out if mobbing as onboarding works for us.
  4. Get the best out of everyone. Last but not least, mobbing is actually not about getting the most out of the team and keeping everyone busy. We all have good days, but also bad days. When coding solo, the good and the bad both go into the code. But a mob will prevent the bad from being introduced into the code. Mobbing is about getting the highest possible quality out of the team.
To explain the basic idea of mobbing, we used Woody Zuills famous quote: "All the brilliant people working on the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, on the same computer." As recommended, we decided to do strong-style mobbing for our first session, following the driver / navigator pattern. So we also introduced the key concept of strong-style pairing, as defined by Llewellyn Falco: "For an idea to go from your head to the computer, it must go through someone else's hands."
In order to explain the roles used in strong-style mobbing, we had put small cheats sheets right beside the location of the role (except for the facilitator).
  • The driver. The one at the keyboard, acting as smart input device. There's no thinking at the keyboard, just do it!
  • The navigator. This is the main programmer. State the intention, maybe add the location you're referring to, maybe you even have to go down to the keystroke required next; whatever is the appropriate level of abstraction for the current driver.
  • The mob. The rest of the group. What do they do? Checking the navigator, contributing insights when appropriate, preparing for their own turn as navigator.
  • The facilitator. Observing the group from behind the room, jumping in whenever required to ensure principles, roles and rules to create a safe experience. In our case, she also was queen of the timer. This role is helpful when you get started; it should not be required anymore later on.
We defined the following common rules to make the session successful and valuable to everyone.
  1. We treat everyone with kindness, consideration and respect. Be kind. Listen to each other and consider all the options; everyone on the team should be heard. Let the others shine! And always assume that the person before you did the best they could with the knowledge at that time. The mob should be safe to experiment. It should be safe to learn. This experience can be scary at first, especially for those who normally don't code (like me) or are rather introverted (like me at most times).
  2. We say "yes, and...". This rule comes from improvisational theater and basically reminds us, instead of destroying what the one before us just implemented, continue with what we have and build upon it.
Providing examples on a whiteboard or flip chart can help as well. Or thinking in English, not in code. Going small steps, committing frequently. Do you see several solutions? Well, try both, the weirdest one, or the one from the most junior person in the room first. The mob format can work if you are either learning or contributing.
 To finally get us going, I concluded the introduction with a few more hints.
  • We offered a flip chart if anyone wanted to foster shared understanding visually.
  • We provided sticky notes and pens for whatever thought they wanted to note down, such as for their time as navigator or for the retrospective later on.
  • The rotation: The navigator becomes the driver, the driver joins the mob, the next one from the mob becomes the navigator. We decided to rotate every four minutes as recommended for beginners. Later on this could be less strict, we could try different times, or rotate more fluently, whatever the team feels is right.
  • Now let's have fun!


We had predefined our very first rotation in advance. As we had our Product Owner on the mob who never coded before, myself having only basic programming skills, and a fresh new programmer on the team, we intermingled with the others to make sure that we didn't end up in a driver/navigator constellation where we instantly get stuck. Furthermore, we defined two core developers starting as driver and navigator, which proved really helpful to kick everything off and get things started.

During the session, the hardest part was to keep the driver from thinking and rushing ahead without waiting for the navigator. In the beginning, the mob was quite unsure how to contribute, but soon learned to give advice when asked by the navigator, or even offer that voluntarily; but to always have the navigator decide which way to go instead of directly addressing the driver.

With the quick four minutes rotation, we managed to have everybody on the team become navigator and driver at least four times, so we could get used to those roles and learn how to pick up and proceed with the implementation. At first, the rotation in the mob from chair to chair was strange, but quickly became normal. Having the bowl of cookies in the middle of the table definitely helped! ;)

What instantly became clear: Even with a quite straightforward story, we struggled with being navigator. Several of us often required support from the mob; not only those who didn't identify as a programmer or were new to the team. And we struggled even more as driver, having different operating systems installed (OS X versus Linux), different keyboard layouts chosen (German versus English), different shortcuts defined, different scrolling directions set, and different input devices in place (external Apple touchpad versus Apple mouse versus default mouse). This turned out to be quite frustrating; at points, this made everyone look like it was their first day using a computer.

Retrospective & Closing

We decided to have a short "What I loved" and "What I long for" styled retrospective, with everybody writing down their thoughts on sticky notes and presenting them afterwards to the rest of the team.

What we loved:
  • Knowledge sharing. This feedback came from almost everybody on the team. We loved the sharing aspect in general; but especially learning more about a particular implementation, about how to solve common issues, and about different approaches to tackling a problem. Or simply how to start with a story regarding the thought processes involved. The most interesting finding here was that not everyone, I mean not every programmer on the team, shares the same knowledge of the existing source code.
  • Learning why we do specific things. It was really helpful when the navigator explained why they wanted to do something, or what's the background of doing it like this (such as "leaving this parameter out will make it the default").
  • Interaction and collaborative mood. It was a really inclusive atmosphere! Our new team member loved getting advice from the more experienced ones. One of us even mentioned it felt like team building.
  • Everyone can contribute. Our product owner said he was surprised that he could understand and contribute so much, although he never programmed before. He loved to see the code and its structure as well as to gain a better understanding of what the team does all day.
  • Driver/navigator and mob roles. The strong-style navigation and mobbing itself was regarded as an interesting approach.
  • Room setup. Our preparation proved valuable, the setup worked well for us!
  • Fun. The atmosphere was focused on learning and finding our way to get things done, but we still had a good time together. Especially when one navigator asked his driver to "please make three children"! :D Oh and don't forget the cookies; they always help! :)
What we long for:
  • A driver setup everybody can get used to. As we struggled a lot with different operating systems, keyboard layouts and shortcuts, we really longed for a commonly accepted setup; especially a normal keyboard and mouse. Well, define "normal"! ;-)
  • Finish a story as a mob. In our first session we could not complete the story we had chosen. Not even the implementation, let alone testing and all other activities included to get a story done. Which was a pity because we couldn't share knowledge about those parts of product development. So, we long for getting a story at least to the status that it's merged to the common code base.
  • Try mobbing for a more complex story. The team selected a medium-sized straightforward story. However, our product owner is eager to try mobbing for more complex features. Probably to see if this approach would really help us to tackle those.
  • Faster reload time of our web application. This is not directly related to mobbing, but it became pretty obvious that a simple page reload of our application costs a lot of time. As we decided on rotating every four minutes, we really felt the pain of having everybody waiting for the page to reload, shortening the time the navigator and driver had to proceed with the story a lot.
  • No thinking, won't you? People felt it was really hard to break their habit of thinking and working on their own when sitting in front of a laptop.
  • Less context switching. This point came up with regards to the frequent switch between the different roles; longing for a longer rotation duration. I totally agree with experimenting to find a rotation time suiting us. Still, this feedback took me by surprise at first, as personally my experience had been exactly the opposite. I'm used to switching contexts many times a day. Though I try to limit them wherever I can control it, many things can pull me out of my zone and flow. Therefore, mobbing was a total relief for me, enabling me to focus on one thing the whole time, staying in the same overall context.
  • Productivity. No surprise, there are still a lot of doubts whether this approach is really productive as opposed to working solo. But we don't have any proof of that yet.
As part of the closing we thanked everybody for giving mobbing a try and for their feedback. We agreed to put the started story back to "To Do" and the first developer with free capacity will pull it. Finally, we asked all team members to vote whether they would like to do a second session. The majority agreed, some were undecided. In the end, we kept our timebox and left the room in time for lunch - in a happy mood! :)

Personal Conclusion

In the end, I'm really glad my team agreed to another session. Can't wait for our next learnings! Besides that, I'm feeling a lot more prepared to facilitate mobbing sessions for other teams as well. Some had heard we wanted to try this approach and showed interest themselves; one agile coach would even like to join our next session to watch and learn. Well, for now we only know the lessons of our very first session. But if you want to give it a try in your team, feel free to copy whatever you like and adjust it to what you need. I would love to hear about your learnings as well!

(Oh, and by the way: did you find the bug in our posters? ;-))

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Share Your Story, Too!

Ever thought about speaking at a conference? Well, let me tell you the story how I ended up with 10 submissions of 6 unique paper proposals for 3 conferences in 2017. If you would have told me this story one year, or even half a year ago, I would have thought "hey, nice story"; but I wouldn't have believed that it was about me.

So what triggered me to answer a call for papers at all? So far, I've only been to one conference in my life, which happens to be Agile Testing Days. I attended in 2015 for two days. I was eager to join the full-day tutorial of Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory, not only because of the interesting topic, but because I was really excited to meet them in person. Especially Lisa, as we had contact via Twitter before. After the tutorial ended, I took my chance to have a few words with her face to face. And she told me: "Hey, why don't you submit a talk yourself, you certainly have a story to share!" Back then I probably blushed and laughed it off; I felt appreciated just by the idea, but was definitely not ready to take it any further.

In 2016, my company enabled me to attend the Agile Testing Days for the full week. I had learned to appreciate the huge community part of this conference, so last year I was ready to broaden my network and get to know more people along with their stories. One day during lunch, I happened to find myself at a table with three guys from all over the world, among them Toyer Mamoojee. We all had attended the conference's opening keynote by Abby Fichtner, Pushing the Edge on What's Possible. This talk set the stage for the whole conference, encouraging us to face our fears and be brave. So we happened to start talking about what scares us the most; and speaking at a conference was definitely something Toyer and I shared as a major fear. Suddenly he said: "Let's make a deal. If I submit a paper for next year's Agile Testing Days, you have to submit one, too; and if you do, I have to do it as well. Deal?" He took me entirely by surprise. For a short time I felt snap-frozen - but then remembered what we heard the last days. That we have to step out of our comfort zone to see the magic happening, and that we should do one thing every day that scares us - so I accepted the deal. I couldn't believe I had agreed so quickly, but Toyer did not let me get away with this anymore! ;) He even told everyone waiting for the next keynote that we both now have a deal and will return with a paper next year. No excuses.
The following day, I attended a lean coffee session together with Viktorija Manevska. I met her already in 2015, but last year she came to the conference as first time speaker. She was so kind to share this experience and tips with the rest of the group. Everything from writing a paper proposal, receiving feedback on it, going through the approval process, creating the actual presentation, and giving her very first conference talks. The topic was so fascinating for the whole table that we voted to continue with it for quite a long time! :) Viki also kindly offered her support in case anyone of us wanted to submit a paper themselves.

Now you know about my triggers to actually work on a paper proposal for Agile Testing Days 2017. But how come I submitted even more?

Back at the office, I started telling my colleagues about my personal challenge this year; to support the fact I really had to submit at least one paper. Furthermore, Toyer and I held each other accountable on our deal, so we started brainstorming potential topics to speak about. Topics we could do on our own, but also considering a topic we could do together. Kicking it off triggered another idea. I knew that TestBash will be coming to Munich this year, and that the related call for papers was still running until mid of February. So I thought: why not also trying to submit there as well, so I could get to know the whole process and gather first experience? As a side effect, this triggered me to work on my paper proposals even earlier. Three of my awesome colleagues volunteered to provide feedback: John Webber, Alex Kiefer and Viola Korte. I discussed my ideas with them and included their valuable feedback in my first proposal drafts. After several iterations, I had two topics I felt comfortable sharing my experience on, hoping that a potential audience would get value from it. Still, to start small, my first challenge was just about submitting a paper and getting feedback on it; not about getting it accepted (though I tried to aim for that of course). You can't imagine how happy I was when I met the submission deadline for TestBash Munich just in time! First personal achievement unlocked. The submission confirmation page told me that I wouldn't get any feedback in case I would not be accepted, as they keep the proposal for potential future conferences then. Well, I didn't get feedback yet; but hey, it was a great learning experience.
On the very same day, Viv Richards saw my tweet, contacted me and asked whether I would also consider to submit my papers for the conference he is organizing, SwanseaCon. I was stunned. I had never expected such a reaction! So I thought: "Why not?" And submitted. And after a few weeks, just one day before going on a longer vacation, I received the confirmation that one of the proposed talks had actually been accepted!!! Still can't believe it. Totally honored and thankful for that opportunity. I'll be talking about learning agile testing, and this speaking experience will definitely become part of my journey.
Meanwhile, work on the paper proposals for Agile Testing Days continued. Toyer and I identified a fascinating common topic we were eager to submit as a workshop. Remembering Viki's offer to support with paper submission, I contacted her and asked for feedback; and she returned the question whether we could also do a topic together. Sure, gladly! Within several calls we shaped an intriguing common topic to do a workshop on. So I found myself working on four topics at the same time. Then the official call for papers started, and I finally gathered my courage and contacted Lisa Crispin, asking her whether she would kindly review our paper drafts and provide feedback on them. Her most surprising answer came quickly. Sure, she'd love to provide feedback; but hey, the conference organizers offered her to do a workshop together with a new voice this year - whether I would like to do it with her? Wait, of course!!! We also found an exciting topic and I loved our close collaboration so far. I still can't believe I am actually getting the chance to do a session at this year's Agile Testing Days - and that together with Lisa! I consider myself really lucky.

Did you notice that was paper number 5? Last week, Jan Jaap Cannegieter contacted me and offered his help to review my current proposals and maybe do one together. I couldn't resist and agreed to join in on one of his workshops as co-speaker, so this is the bonus paper number 6! ;)
Having submitted all six papers is feeling just great. Having been accepted by two conferences as a total newbie speaker is such an awesome feeling I cannot described it properly. Well, I now have to do my best to live up to expectations. I try not to think about it too much, but instead keep moving forward to not fall into the hesitating self-doubting trap again. Full focus on learning.

With all those great feelings involved, the best part of this story, however, is the collaboration with those most awesome people. I can't emphasize that enough. We shared our stories and experiences. We worked closely together going through many feedback loops. We are proud and excited about the results and really hoping our proposals get accepted because we think they really would be worth it. Fingers crossed! This experience of writing paper proposals, not only on my own but especially together with my testing peers, was worth it a thousand times already. My great hope is that many more people get inspired to be brave, step up and share their stories, too. I bet all of you have awesome things to share with the rest of us!

So this is the story how I ended up with 10 submissions of 6 unique paper proposals for 3 conferences in 2017 so far, getting accepted by 2 already. I'm still speechless. Totally excited. And truly grateful for the inspiration, motivation, and support of all those great, great people mentioned above who are sharing this part of the journey with me. I hope that one day I can help a new voice to her first conference talk myself.