Lessons From Bob Ross

Recently my girlfriend has been watching a lot of Bob Ross. I never really knew much about him at the time. I vaguely remember him being on the TV when I was a kid, and also some references to him in shows like Family Guy. 


But I had never really watched him. Watching how he paints is incredibly calming. I was curious about his attitude to life as he uses expressions like, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” Or, “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

So I did a little research on him. It turns out he was in the military before paining, and used to have to shout at people all day. He decided when he left the military, he would never raise his voice again.

So years of shouting at people to do their jobs made Bob Ross become someone who people now watch to relax as he is so calm. So what can we learn from this?

Well, maybe being calm is infectious? People have actually done studies into Bob Ross and his recent fame resurgence. He has become very famous online, he was one of the most streamed artists on twitch recently. Folks have been using him to help with their anxiety. Bob realised that by being calm and helping others it would improve his own life.

Could we do this in our day to day lives? On the team you work in is it easier to blame others or try and help? Personally I would say it is much easier to blame someone else and pass along the problem. Do you ever catch yourself saying, “Thats above my pay grade,” or “thats another teams problem”.

I have definitely used that last excuse before. But it doesn’t fix anything, and it also doesn’t make me feel any better. I don’t get home from work feeling like I have done a good job.

It also doesn’t allow for collaboration in a company. So instead of quickly getting annoyed and blaming someone else. Maybe we could try Bobs approach and calmly turn the mistake into a happy little accident and use empathy to help solve the problem.


Instead of passing the problem, try and fix it by working with the other team. Maybe it’s a problem between test and dev, can we pair together and see if understanding each others view point can help? Or is it a problem between the front end team and the back end team, could we mix up the teams skills for a week and see what happens when we work together to fix the problem?

Yes, this is much easier said that done. But I think if we start small and try help others we will find our jobs to be much more rewarding.

I will leave you with some wise words from Bob Ross: “Didn’t you know you had that much power? You can move mountains. You can do anything.”


What Is A Test Coach??

Recently I have tried to move into the realm of test coaching. It’s an interesting field. Mostly cause nobody seems to have heard of the role.

I have had phone calls with recruiters looking for QA folk. They get in touch via LinkedIn mostly, and only one has ever asked me what a test coach was. I find it interesting that the people in charge of hiring QA’s don’t know what a test coach is, let alone does.

What I think most moving into the coach role do is just become a coach out of necessity. For example you are the only QA in the company, or there are not enough testers for the amount of work developers are churning out. So QA folk help teams to use collaborative techniques such as BDD and WIP limits. This of course introduces cool side effects like slack time, which testers can use to teach developers fun testing. I don’t just mean manually running through acceptance criteria or test cases (these can with help of the developers, be automated). I mean fun techniques like exploratory testing, which can be a very rewarding activity.


Once the developers understand HOW we test, they can easily sub in for an over worked QA. This then frees up the QA to get into a more coaching role. If you are the only QA in a company, or maybe one of very few over multiple teams, you can start helping other teams. Get one team working well together and testing upfront, devs testing other devs work. This means you can jump team and do it again. To me this is the role of a test coach. Someone who can teach others to test and once done, they can leave the team to work without them.

OK so what happens if your company has too many QAs? Maybe there is a tester per developer. On paper this looks AWESOME, right? But what can happen is the wall between dev and test remains, and in fact is harder to smash as developers can think it doesn’t matter how fast I get through work, there are LOADS of testers. But in reality even with more people trying to find problems, nothing beats helping to stop them from being started. So how can a coach help here? Well, the role of QA is quite quickly becoming, automation engineer. Which is cool, but in my opinion if you are writing code, you are a developer! A coach can enable automation engineers to become developers. They can do this using the above techniques and encouraging pairing.

I don’t understand the point of having some folk writing test code, and others writing production code. Surely coding is coding, and if paired up with devs, testers can become devs quite quickly. So now we have not just a multifunctional team, but multifunctional people.

Doing this you may hear something to this effect, “testers and developers are DIFFERENT people, they THINK different, testers will NEVER be able to code, and developers will NEVER want to test”. I believe this to be totally untrue.


In fact most software testers have a computer science degree and did not have a clue what a QA was until one day they got a job as one. When you do hear something like that, just ask to trial paring for a few weeks, and see if the team learn anything. What I have found enabling pairing, is a happier team. Yes, you get greater quality, but you also get testers who thrive as developers, and stop feeling like second class citizens to the teams developers.

Once you have coached your way through the teams, what next? You can start looking for waste in other places. Maybe security reviews are taking too long, or releases are difficult. Can you as a test coach help there? Of course you can.

This is what test coaching means to me, but it seems to be quite a new concept in terms of companies. What does it mean to you? How can we help more companies to see the value of a coach, and not just a box ticking QA?

Where To Start Part 3: Team Evolution

Part three of my where to start with BDD post. The first two parts can be viewed here:

So at this point your team has started using WIP limits and BDD.
Does your team now have a surplus of one role, maybe there are 2 or 3 testers who are not covered in you WIP limits as they are not developers.
Maybe its time to evolve a little and try blur some of the roles, or how about experimenting with your WIP limits?

Let’s talk through these two ideas.


In an earlier blog I talked about having WIP limits set to the number of developers in the team. So when a story is in test the developer is in slack time.

This is where we can start blurring the roles a little bit. Personally I like to invite the developer to test along with me. If our examples have already been automated then we don’t have to worry about testing them. Now we get to do some fun creative exploratory testing, this is great as a paired activity. Once developers see how you are thinking, they can then start doing it themselves.

For exploratory testing I tend to think of the least technical person I know and pretend to be them using the system. This is my dad (sorry dad). He has managed to find the most interesting bugs and get the best viruses over the years, and his answer is always the best for a tester, “Ohh yea I clicked on that cause I could”. If your system has a flaw no matter how small or silly you think it is, a user WILL FIND IT.

But pairing works both ways. After the 3 amigos session when a tester is in slack time, why not pair up with the developers. You could start doing a joint TDD exercise. The tester writes the tests and the developer writes the code to make the tests pass.

Eventually you could swap that up completely and have the developer write the tests and the tester write the code. You will have a true multi-functional team, where everyone can do everything.

So how does experimenting with your WIP limit work?

Well how about decreasing it. So if you have 4 developers, make the WIP limit 3. This frees up a developer to help the team. This means someone is always free to jump on code reviews, or to do some of that tech debt you can never find the time to get to. You can swap up that developer each story. It also encourages more pairing, as two developers can work together on a story.

There are loads of different things to try, use retros to see how they are working. Just don’t make too many changes at once, it will be hard to know what worked and what didn’t. (I’ve made this mistake before)

If you have any suggestions, or have run some experiments on your teams let me know.

Just make sure your team keeps evolving by trying new things. To quote Eddie Vedder, “It’s evolution, baby…Do the evolution”


How I Can Help You Today?

I once had a boss who in my first ever performance review meeting shocked me. Now I had been through some review meetings before starting in this company and I always DREADED them. As this was my second job out of college, I was still afraid of the process. But this guy sat me down looked at the “goal settings” page and said, “ignore that, its HR bullshit, how can I help you today?”

This blew my mind. The last company I was in, all my one to ones had been micromanaging sessions telling me I wasn’t doing my job well enough. All that did was ruin my already low self esteem as I was fresh out of college and to be honest terrified. One simple question changed all that, how can I help you today?

Honestly I didn’t know how to answer him. I was expecting to be told the work I was doing wasn’t good enough and that I needed to just get better. I kind of just sat there for a minute or two and then said something like, “how can I improve what I am doing?”

Instead of telling me what I was doing wrong, he told me what I was doing well. Then said maybe you should improve in X area. Then recommended a book for me to read, and booked me in on some training in that area. So when we caught up the next month, I was able to show what I had learnt and how I was able to improve my work. Also because I was totally disarmed and not afraid, I was perfectly willing to approach him with any problem I had.

He also taught me how to self learn. He did this by introducing me to the wider testing community and brought me to a conference. It was here I learnt that it’s not just the companies job to train you, you need to train yourself. So I started reading blog posts and attending meetups, and looking for new ways to improve and new things to try. This all started with that one little question and a genuine interest into my personal growth.

It also made me realise that junior folk will not know this. They have to be taught how to self learn. It is important as it not only helps the company but builds up the person’s self esteem. Instead of making me feel bad and dread a catch up meeting, I looked forward to them. It made me enjoy my work, which is super important. Your job should be fun for you.

It reminded me of something my granddad used to say when he rang me, “are you wanting for anything?” It was not do you need something, but, what do you want and how can I get it for you? It was a level of kindness that everyone should strive for.

Now I am human and by no means perfect, but i try to ask that simple question when someone asks me something, “how can I help you today?”

I will leave you with some wise words by one of my favourite musicians Frank Turner:
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind”.


Clear The Clutter

A family friend of mine used to be a  serious hoarder. I mean TV show worthy level hoarding. I was once asked to go help her clean her house, so she could move.

Every single room in the house was packed. There where maybe two seats that where not covered in books, magazines, news papers, hats, coats, shoes, if you can think of it, it was probably somewhere in that house.

My dad rented a skip and we set about removing the junk. Our friend usually had to be removed from the scene as she had a habit of picking stuff out of the skip and bringing it back into the house. She thought that one day she might need it. Thankfully after a few weeks the house was fully cleaned out and our friend was able to sell it and move.

This story popped into my head when thinking about old tech debt and bugs every company seems to manage to build up.

Why do we keep them? Ever go through those still open bugs and stories? How old are they?
If its 2 years old, why is it still there? Cluttering up backlogs and making it more confusing to see what real work needs doing?

How can we class it as a bug, if its out in production for years and nobody complained about it? Maybe fixing It could even ruin our current customer experience.

I once went to a talk where the subject of old bugs came up. This company went about closing all their open bugs, this managed to upset their customers. It seems that since the bugs had been in production for several years they where actually being used as either features or work arounds had been build and now stopped working. So fixing an old bug had actually changed how the customers where using the software, hilarious.


Are we just like my friend holding on to these stories and bugs thinking one day we will need them? Clear out the clutter, ask yourself this question: Is this stuff adding any value?

If the answer is no, DELETE IT!!!

If it’s really important it will come up again, but I’m sure if nobody has looked at it in a year or two it wasn’t very important anyway. Now you can focus on a cleaner backlog with stories that will actually add some value and make some customers happy.

Plato’s Cave

Recently I have been listening to a podcast by Blindboy Boatclub of the the Rubberbandits. For anyone who doesn’t know them, they are an Irish rap duo famous for wearing plastic bags on their heads and singing songs about owning horses.


Blindboy has recently become famous for his views on psychology and politics. He will show up on various Irish talk shows wearing his bag and discussing issues with politicians on various subjects, mostly about the state of male mental health in Ireland.

You can find his podcast here: https://www.acast.com/blindboy

If you don’t know him I highly recommend you check him out. His podcast is a wonderful listen and makes my Wednesday commute to work a delight.

Recently he was talking about something that made me think. He was talking about Plato and his allegory of the cave.

I had never heard of it before and maybe you haven’t either. So let me try explain it:

Imagine a cave where people have been imprisoned from birth. They are chained in such a way that they can’t move their heads and can only look at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a walkway with a low wall. People can walk behind the wall hold puppets up above it so the puppets cast a shadow onto the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners can only see the shadows in front of them and are not aware of what is happening behind them. The sounds of the people behind them echo off the walls in such a way that the prisoners think that the shadows in front of them are talking.

All these prisoners know is what they see in front of them. If they see a shadow of a book, they fully believe thats what a book looks like and their whole world is just 2d images. In reality of course a book is a 3d object, but they have never seen anything else so have no idea.


If we stop here for a moment, we could relate this to teams working in isolation. Now I think everyone realises at this point that its good to have multifunctional teams working together, testers, developers and BAs all work together for a common goal. But what can then happen is the team becomes the prisoners. Yes they are all working for a common goal, but they don’t know what the goal is, or why they are working on it. Their reality is just what they see and they may be afraid to question this. Or worse they may not know they can question it, thus working on something with zero value. 

But fear not Plato goes on to give us some hope. One of the prisoners escapes. That freed prisoner goes on to discover the truth about reality outside the cave. This however takes time and is painful as he has to relearn everything about his world. Eventually the prisoner goes back to the others to explain to them about reality. The bad news is it on his return to the cave to help free his fellow prisoners, they refuse to believe him.

This could be where you fit in. Maybe you are on a team much like our imprisoned cave dwellers. You could start to question your work and your teams goals. Much like the freed prisoners journey, this might prove to be difficult at first. You may have to learn some new skills, also your team mates might not believe you at first.

Unlike the cave prisoners though, you can help show how putting value first will help your team. You could even start this be sharing what your team works on with other teams. Maybe organise a showcase weekly or monthly, for a member of each team to share their work. This will allow everyone to have a better understanding of what each team does. Also make sure your team has a very clear goal that will make the company some money when complete.

There are loads of things that can be done to help find value in our work. Let me know how you get on trying some, or even some interesting ideas you might have.

Don’t Be An Agile Beatnick

How many retros are you involved in?
Usually a lot right? Most teams have one at least every two weeks.

What usually happens? Do you do the usual stop, start, continue?

Do you come out of your retros feeling uplifting and motivated to get some cool new stuff done?

I never used to, the retro used to be a thing that I hate, “ohh this shite again, there goes another hour of my life”.

Turns out my attitude was horrific, I had become an agile beatnik.

Now what is an agile beatnik you may ask?
It is basically Ned Flanders parents from the Simpsons, remember them? If not see the picture below.


They where awful parents, “we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas”. That was me in retros. I was just complaining and not trying anything to fix problems. What used to happen after a retro, I would continue working the exact same way making the exact same mistakes and complaining about the exact same things in the next retro.

What was I doing wrong here? I was trying NOTHING new. Trying literally anything to fix the problems is better than just complaining.

So what can you do? Well have a think about your retro before hand. Write down all the stuff you want to complain about, and give it a google. You will be surprised that your problems are probably not unique. You may find some cool ideas to fix the problems, jot them down.

Now when you head into the retro stick up your problems, once they are up for discussion you can bring up some sample solutions. Now the fun begins, you get to suggest trialing something new for a few weeks. I suggest making one maybe two small changes and seeing what happens. Making too many changes can cloud the outcome. You wont be able to tell what worked and what didn’t, and this can very easily lead you back down the same old path. After you have decided the change to make as a team, try it as an experiment for a few weeks, at least until the next retro.

Now you are in a much better position. Make sure to keep an eye on the problem you are trying to solve with your new experiment. Also don’t get discouraged if your experiment fails, this is normal, learn why it didn’t work and change it. The important thing is you are trying something.

So try something, try anything, but don’t sit around and say you are all out of ideas when you have tried nothing.

Let me know how your experiments get on.

Why I Hate Story Points

Story points, everybody’s favorite scrum activity. I understand they are meant to be used to help size stories. What usually happens is they are used to determine a team’s velocity.

A sprint goal suddenly becomes lets get 20 story points done this sprint, not let’s deliver stories that have business value.

Also what happens to unknown work that ends up needing to be done, but wasn’t pointed? Well it still has to be done, but if you are judging a team on only story points, then they won’t get any credit for it. So maybe the team failed the sprint goal as they only got 10 points done, but in reality 10 stories only 2 of which had been pointed. Those 8 stories were totally unexpected work, we all know that happens from time to time.

So the standard system seems to be, backlog grooming in which planning poker happens, and stories all get sized by a guess.
A sprint is then planned on how many story points we can do. Where this falls apart is it is nearly impossible to guess how long a story will take from just reading some acceptance criteria.

So what’s my solution? Well in the past I have talked about specification by example as a means to split stories, but where does this fit in a Scrum world?

Well how about in your backlog grooming sessions, instead of just reading the acceptance criteria and voting, use examples.
By using examples here, we can usually see how big or small a story is, the idea being to get a story done in close to a week. So the rule of thumb is usually 4 or 5 examples per story.

Maybe you get a story that has 10 examples, well we can split it here. Now we have two stories in the backlog ready to go. If for some reason some managers still need story points, grand we can just make sure all stories are roughly the same size. If each story has roughly 4 examples then pick your favorite number, 3 for example. All stories are then 3 or smaller.

The idea being to focus on delivering the value of story and not wasting time trying to guess points. Adding up the amount of time spent guessing these numbers will show you how much time we are wasting on this exercise. It reminded me of this Dilbert cartoon.


Eventually your team will get really really good at sizing stories using examples and since all the stories are 3 points anyway, points will fall away.

In a previous blog I talked about the three amigos and discuss and distill. This is basically moving the discuss part of the 3 amigos into backlog grooming to help split stories. You can still keep the 3 amigos lanes on your board, as we can still use the examples as test cases, and here we can double check and make sure everyone understands everything before starting work.

OK you might ask me, well how do I measure my team’s velocity? Well you can measure the cycle time to done.

Say a new feature has 10 stories in it, and these ten stories have been groomed using specification by example. We can then say that each story should roughly take a week. Then the feature will be ready to go in roughly 10 weeks.

By getting better at our story sizing (which happens with practice) we can become predictable instead of trying to guess how long something will take.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Agile Tour Dublin Notes

Firstly I must apologize for the lack of attention this blog has been getting recently. It has been a busy few months for me.
Secondly this post is yet again not going to be BDD part 3. I recently went to the Dublin agile tour, and have to share my notes. As always it was a brilliant day, with loads to be learnt, and a great after session which left me feeling a little sore the next day.

Agile Innovation – Colm O’hEocha (@ColmOhEocha)

Colm started the day by talking about how agile can lead to teams innovating. He said that every line of code we write represents cost, and the traditional development view is to do everything the same way every time. This may work for cakes, but we are not baking cakes, we are actually making recipes. So why would you make the same recipe over and over?
What we need to start doing is ship less code that delivers more value. So how do we do this? Well Colm suggests we change our way of working. Focus on maximising the value delivered not just on shipping code.
Innovation is about learning fast. So we need to create an environment where we are able to learn fast. Colm explained that waterfall is a bad environment to learn in, as we only learn at the end. Agile works well as it is all about learning. We try to figure out the problem via user stories and reviewing them. We create solutions to try and fix the problem. We use tools like the three amigos to create the best solution. Then finally we implement and deliver the problem fix. We do this in small increments and thus gaining fast feedback.

Knowledge is validated learning, so we need to try something to see if it is true. Fast feedback is so important as we need feedback to prove our ideas. If you want to learn a lot, do something that has a 50 percent chance of failing. We need to create a common goal for the team. Have everyone working on the same problem, not just ba first, dev in the middle and test at the end. We need to have rules set in place to show how we are going to work together, what is the team’s definition of done?
Innovation will happen when we learn by doing something, and then change what doesnt work. We need to create an environment of creative chaos, agile and scrum support these environments. You need something that challenges people, but doesn’t overwhelm them. For an innovative environment people should have more information than they need. To create a new idea, you need to have knowledge to combine. If you starve yourself from good information you are restricting yourself from innovation. Our teams need to have trust, the more trust the more we will share information.


The 7 Deadly Sins Of Scrum – Fran O’Hara (@OHaraFran)


Fran started out by saying Scrum is the dominant agile framework. So he would like to share with us 7 sins he has seen to help improve our agility.

Sin 1: Taking our eyes off culture.
Agile is about people, and people tend to resist change. So we need to embrace people. Don’t be tied to a plan, we need to embrace change and follow people. Don’t use contracts as a stick to beat people with. It is not simply, we do standups we are now agile. We need to get senior management buy in. Success is more much likely if we align with our stakeholders. If the people doing the work don’t buy into it, it won’t work. You will get a blame culture, the testers blame the devs, the devs blame the testers, etc. So we need to hire staff who enjoy working in an agile environment, does HR know this? Are they training staff, and looking for people with the correct skills?
It is all about people, remove fear and build trust. How you communicate change should take into account how it will affect people. You need to create a team culture. Encourage people to have a mix of roles, to be cross functional. The hardest part is getting people to work together.

Sin 2: Push versus Pull.
Only the team should pull the scope of the sprint. Not a PM or an SM, it’s the team’s job, the work should not be pushed on them. If you start to increase scope by pushing in work, you will cause problems. Technical debt will build up, people will start hiding work, quality will drop as people cut corners to get work done. Make sure to have a WIP limit, it’s a pull system like Kanban.

Sin 3: Planning Sins.
Our planning either daily or sprint, should only be done by the team. Sometimes daily planning just becomes a status report. It should be a self organising team planning the day’s work. Make sure the whole team is involved in sprint planning. It is not just planning, it is joint design so we need the whole team.
Our release planning needs to be light and adaptive. We need to have a test first approach. Don’t call it a plan, it’s not a set in stone commitment to deliver on X date, its an adaptive forecast. Try and figure out the biggest risks, focus on fixing them.

Sin 4: Product backlog refinement.
We need to make sure we have valuable items in our backlog. We need to have the whole team, otherwise we will need another meeting to explain everything to the team. We need to focus on story sizes. If the stories are too large we will end up with mini waterfalls.

Sin 5: Definition of done.
A lot of teams don’t have one, or have one and ignore it. It should be ever changing. We should use retros as a place to change it. Ask how are things really going?
The definitions can be too vague, tests are passing, but what does that really mean? What tests? Does everyone on the team know what tests, and what passing means? We need to have transparency and trust. Do all the teams have one? Does our organisation have a standard, if so make sure it is not too descriptive. We want teams to be able to adapt and change the definition of done to suit their own needs.

Sin 6: Sprint backlog.
We need early testing integration, this stops mini waterfalls. TDD is a big practice, early testing is good. We should have story level test practices. Test cases are only valuable if validated by the developer and business analyst. The devs can then write code to make those test cases pass. The worst thing is having test as a verify column, testing should be at the start and integrated.

Sin 7: Scrum master sins.
Scrum masters should be a team servant. They should not act like a team manager. Not focusing on teams culture is a big problem. Another problem is having a part time scrum master, this will damage a team. Also the scrum master needs to learn to use the power of a retro.

Testing In Devops – Vincent Pretre

Vincent started with a question. What is the best thing we can get from a devops world? Speed. We can minimise the total time through the loop, thus we get faster feedback. We need to make sure what we want to deliver will help our users.
Why do we want to change how we work? We want to challenge business assumptions, we want to make sure what we are delivering will have value.
We need to create an intimacy between our users and our teams.

Tools like BDD can be used to capture the software’s behavior. This creates a shared understanding of how the software works using examples. Everyone in the company should be able to understand these examples. Once the examples are automated they become a living document of how the software works.
But automation is expensive so do not fully rely on it. Use the testing pyramid, we should have more unit tests.
The next step is to write code to make all these tests pass, then to make the feature available. Roll out the feature once the implementation has been validated.

We want availabilty over pure correctness. We want the feature available for customers to play with.
We then iterate. Maybe the feature can be changed or removed? Back to step one we go, find the value of the feature.
What are the values to working in a testing driven devops world?
We get testing done up front, increasing the features value.
We can work incrementally and focus on the customer’s needs first.

We now have an environment which allows for experiments and new learning.

Our Move From Scrum To Kanban – Hugh O’Donoghue, Gordon McGuirk, Colum Kelly

What were the problems that made us want to change?
Scrum was just focused on keeping people busy. The delivery of work was very unpredictable. Tester were under serious pressure. Two weeks of work had to be tested in 2 days and the end of a sprint. We were doing loads of things, but nobody could tell if any of them were valuable. We had scrum processes in place, but none of the them were giving any value.

So what did we do to change this?

We created a plane to change things. We did a lot of training. We brought in outside coaching to get teams up to speed. To create a sustainable organisation we needed to make a deep change. Everybody had to understand what and why we were changing our process.

A big thing to watch, was trying to stop old bad habits from coming back. Make small incremental changes, don’t change everything at once.

The first change they made. Create a board, make sure all the work is visualised. They learnt they were doing A LOT of work at the same time, and A LOT of it was bug fixing. There was too much work being done at the same time, way too much context switching.

So they stopped that, they added a WIP limit to the board. By limiting the work in progress they increased their flow. Eventually they noticed that sprints feel away, as by doing less work they were getting more done.  

But some problems still showed up.

There was very little movement between lanes, devs did dev, qa did qa, there was little collaboration. So they created explicit lane policies, encouraging collaboration. Also they started gathering and using metrics, they became metrics driven. This allowed them to focus on different areas and use experiments to change things, using the metrics to see if the experiments worked.
Every team was different, so did not have to move at the same pace. That was a very important realisation.

Some other things that helped with move to Kanban. Playing games with the teams to highlight WIP limits and explain Kanban. They even hosted meetups including our own ministry of testing meetup (thanks again lads). This allowed the teams to share their discoveries with the outside world, and find out how other companies work.

Agile UX and Testing – Magda Targosz (@AgileMagda)

Magda started by saying that all we want to do is deliver a product to our customers. But not just any product, something that they want to use. What tends to happen though is as our product evolves the customers use changes. So what does the customer need?

Everyone might think they know the answer to that, but will have different answers. So Magda says we need to discover what our product is before we start building it.

So how do we do this? Well we need to work with our customers. Figure out their needs, and we can find out how to solve them. Magda suggests there are four key steps: Discovery, design, development and deployment. If we miss one of these steps, the other steps get more complicated and wrong. We need to ask who our customers are, create personas to capture how they think and use our product. Figure out what attracts them to your company, and what makes them tick.

Magda suggests bringing in the whole company and creating a goal, create a high level concept design. Start by answering the questions, found in the below picture.


Make everything visual, humans like to see before we create. Create a hypothesis and test it. Make wire frames, these are light weight as most will probably be thrown away, but will get us started.

Magda suggests using impact mapping and story boarding to bring the project ideas to life. Impact mapping and design phases become much easier as the team has been involved in all the previous steps.

Magda recapped by saying we need to learn who our customers are, find out what they want, and test our ideas BEFORE we start to develop them.

Make my team great again – Mary Walshe (@mary_walshe)

Mary started out by playing a small game with us to teach attribution theory. She should a picture of a badly parked car, said it was our car, and asked why did we park so badly?

Everyone wrote their answers on post it notes and they were collected. The majority of the answers were external problems. Something made me late, somebody else parked badly etc etc. Mary then showed a similar picture and asked, someone else has parked like this, why did they do it?

After the post its were collected, we had a new set of answers. These were all blaming the other person, the person is lazy or stupid. Mary explained we describe behavior in two ways, internally and externally. Internally is for us and our friends. They did bad as something was out of their control, they are good people, they did not mean it. Externally is for people we do not know, they are stupid, probably bad people, therefore they did bad as they are idiots.

So, how does this affect our teams? Well if we don’t know each other, we can tend to explain problems away externally. Those testers are idiots, those developers are idiots etc.

Marys answer is to get your teams collocated. We need to get everyone on the same page, if people are sitting together and working together, there is less of a chance to fall into us versus them.
Mary suggested making our lane policies explicit and making sure everyone on the team understands them, this will get everyone on the same page.

Everyone is coming to work to do a good job, so we need to make sure our team has an environment where they can collaborate, instead of blame.

After the talks I attended a KanBan pizza game. This allowed teams to learn the principles behind KanBan by making pizzas. Overall it was a fantastic day, I recommend everyone come along next year.

Netflix – Less Is More

I know, I know I said I’d write part 3 of the BDD post. I promise I’ll get to it.

But recently I started watching a new Netflix show that got me thinking. It’s called Castlevania. It completely appeals to the Dungeons and Dragons playing geek in me, everyone should watch it.

But what I thought was interesting was how the show aired. I was told about this show by my friend, he was complaining that as he was just getting into it, IT ENDED.

Netflix has trained us to binge our TV, we can’t wait week to week anymore. They drop whole seasons at once, they even autoplay the next episode. That’s what I thought was interesting about Castlevania. They only made 4 episodes.

Now recently Netflix has been cancelling some of their shows. So I thought that maybe only releasing 4 episodes of this was a kind of taster. I found a cool quote from the CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings on cancelling shows. He said, “I’m always pushing the content team. We have to take more risk. You have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.” This is amazing lean thinking, keep trying new things, fail often and learn from it.

After watching the show, I totally agreed with my friend. So I took to facebook to see what everyone else is thinking. I found this:

Pasted image at 2017_07_25 02_51 PM (1)

Loads of people demanding more of the show. Don’t believe me, give it a google. Check out the reddit page, or the rotten tomatoes reviews. Now I am not claiming to understand why there was only 4 episodes. I know that kind of animation is hard to produce and takes a lot of time. But after reading the CEO’s comments, I would like to think this is a minimum viable product of sorts. Get your users addicted to binge watching TV, then only release a few episodes. Then just wait for feedback. If nobody replies, you have only wasted the time it takes to make 4 episodes. But if people demand more, well you can start working on more.

It looks like it worked. As you can see if the screenshot above Netflix are making 8 more episodes. So what can we learn from this?

Fast feedback is the key. Are we building a big feature currently? Does it really need everything? Would it make more sense to have something simple that just shows the basic idea? It doesn’t need to look pretty (my designer friends will hate me for that). Once it shows off something new, it can be used for feedback. All the rest can be done with the customer who is interested. Maybe the cool new feature you are building is actually not going to sell, it would be great to find that out early.

Let me know what you think.