Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My Testing Tour 2018 - A Challenge Worth Tackling

My testing tour officially ended today. Now it's time to reflect, gather lessons learned, and draw a conclusion.


My challenge was to become a better skilled tester. Inspired by a lot of people around me, I came up with a hypothesis and designed an experiment, or rather a probe, to test it. I decided to go on a testing tour in 2018, from January until end of October. I paired with many different people, from other teams of my company as well as our global community, to learn with and from each other. Some sessions were collocated, most of them remote, they took at least 90 minutes each and afterwards I blogged about our lessons learned.

Amazing People

In the end I did 25 pair testing sessions with 22 awesome people within 10 months. I'm still speechless when it comes to these figures. However, it's not about figures, it's about the amazing people who joined me on my journey. We learned so much with and from each other, together. These people were key to success of the story, so here is a list of everyone I paired with in the order of their appearance on the tour.
  1. Maaret Pyhäjärvi
  2. Thiago Amanajás
  3. Dianë Xhymshiti
  4. Lisa Crispin
  5. Pranav KS
  6. Peter Kofler
  7. Viv Richards
  8. Cassandra H. Leung
  9. Alex Schladebeck
  10. Viktorija Manevska
  11. João Proença
  12. Mirjana Andovska
  13. Toyer Mamoojee
  14. Thomas Rinke
  15. Simon Berner
  16. Amitai Schleier
  17. Guna Petrova
  18. Claire Reckless
  19. Alex de los Reyes
  20. Rachel Kibler
  21. Marianne Duijst
  22. Gem Hill
If you are on this list, thank you so much for giving this learning experiment a try, for sharing your knowledge, for maybe getting out of your comfort zone yourself, and last but not least for having fun together. Without you the tour would not have happened. I cannot thank you enough for this great experience!

There were further people who agreed to pair up for testing, however, unfortunately we could not find time to do so this year. Some day I'd like to catch up on that in case you're still up for it!
The same goes for all the people who had a place on the tour and expressed interest in having further sessions. And there are so many more people to learn from. I'm sure more opportunities will come to do so.

Lessons about Pairing & the Tour

If you're interested about the actual testing lessons learned on each stop, you will find them in each single post. When it comes to collaboration, I found that I personally prefer the strong-style approach to pairing with frequent rotations of navigator and driver roles. In my experience this set us up for sharing implicit knowledge, building up on each other's ideas and in general smooth collaboration right from the start; especially if I had never paired with that person before.

In general, the following things became clear to me on this tour.
  • The concept of accountability and learning partners works for me. We are probably able to do most things on our own, it might just take more time. The problem is that we often simply don't do them on our own; together, we actually do. You don‘t want to disappoint your pairing partner, right?
  • Make it safe. Having one person share vulnerabilities or fears in the beginning of a session makes it safe for the pair to open up as well. I've witnessed this in several of our sessions. The thing is, I am always nervous in the beginning as well. Some people considered me to be a sort of "expert" - quite the opposite! I'm here to learn myself.
  • More ideas, faster. Pairing up was invaluable to generate ideas what the problem could be and what to try next to solve it. As pairs we could nicely complement each other and built upon each other's ideas. We nearly never got stuck or wasted any time thinking what we could do next.
  • Implicit knowledge becomes obvious. The best example here was my first stop with Peter. At first, we both thought we knew nearly nothing about security testing, and then we realized we indeed did know a lot more than we thought we knew. Often people don't see which kind of value they can provide, for example when pairing with developers to write unit tests. However, there's always something to be shared, always something to offer. Every single piece of knowledge, tip or insight helps us testing.
  • Give yourself time to learn. Diving into a huge topic or new domain takes time. Doing further sessions to go deeper or focusing on very small, dedicated areas might have helped here.
  • Diversity challenges our own understanding. And it's about creating a shared one! A diverse pair will contribute different thoughts and viewpoints, it will make you think. Also, there is nothing too basic to pair on, both can always learn something from each other.
  • Collocation is not a requirement but an excuse. I learned this from Maaret and Toyer, and the tour proved it once again. Remote pair testing sessions can go very smoothly. You can even benefit from geographical dispersal because it increases chances that you get a more diverse perspective.

Did it work?

Well, am I a better skilled tester now? Could I prove my hypothesis? Coming back to this, I did pair indeed, on hands-on exploration and automation along more specialized topics, and I got at least one insight out of each session. Therefore, I succeeded. So I can indeed say: yes, I am a better skilled tester now. At least, I‘m better than yesterday!
  • I have practiced testing a lot more than before.
  • I increased my knowledge around areas new to me like accessibility.
  • I have a lot more tools in my tool belt now.
  • I learned what I know and what I don‘t know, where I need to practice more.
  • And as a side-effect: I enlarged my network and therefore increased my access to knowledge.
In retrospect, it was worth it. I’m happy I chose this adventure. Is it still scary to pair with other people? Yes it is, but a lot less! I'm now feeling way more comfortable to just learn with people, leaving my personal fears aside. „If it‘s scary, do it more often“, right?

My testing tour is now officially over. Still, I really consider to keep the offer to pair test remotely. I might choose a more narrow focus next time. Maybe have more sessions with testers of my company's internal community, or with developers of other teams. Would love to find people to mob with! I could also continue with persons who had been on my tour and go deeper on the same topic. There are many options to choose from.

The Next Challenge

End of 2016, I made a pact with my learning and accountability partner Toyer Mamoojee to help each other out of our comfort zones and tackle our fear of public speaking in 2017. This worked out so well that we decided to go for another challenge in 2018, which was in my case this testing tour. You might have noticed how successful this was for me, as well. I even had the chance to talk about my tour at two conferences already, CAST and SwanseaCon. The best part of sharing my story was that I managed to inspire other people to give these kind of experiments a try as well! I'm already looking forward to give my talk again at TestBash Brighton next year.

The big question for me now is: what will be my personal challenge for 2019? What I know is that there will be another challenge. I'm already eager to tackle it and super curious to see its outcome. Indeed, I already brainstormed several topics and ideas, again based on my fears nowadays. However, there's one important thing I learned from my testing tour that I really have to consider: whatever my next challenge will be, it cannot be as time-consuming as my testing tour this year. Especially as I continued my public speaking challenge as well at the same time. I did not track exact numbers but I estimate the following time effort per session: 2 hours for preparation and communication upfront, 2 hours for each session, 1 hour for writing down my notes, and 3 hours per blog post. And that calculation would only hold for the second half of sessions where I already knew what needed to be done and how everything went. Just considering these figures, I invested 8 hours per session. Times 25 sessions... Well, you can do the math. 200 hours in 10 months is a huge investment. On top of that I know I spent even more hours to come up with the concept, to prepare the tour, to research tools and target applications, to improve the sessions as the tour went on, and so on. Long story cut short: my next challenge needs to be more flexible and less time-consuming.

In any case I am determined to give myself time to rest first, and then some more time to explore options before I finally decide on my challenge. Whatever it will be, it already helps to know that I will get feedback, support and encouragement. I can rely on my learning partnership with Toyer. I will get the backing from our extended pact group together with João and Diane. I will receive feedback from the even bigger power learning group we kicked off this year. And not to forget my newly increased network and the communities I am so glad to be part of. I consider myself really lucky to have so many amazing people around me. No matter what my new challenge will be, I'm already looking forward to where my journey will lead me next!

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