Monday, January 28, 2013

On Making a Difference or Changing the World

It is interesting to me how many people, pundits, whatever, mutter about whatever legislative system the citizens of the country they live in has to deal with.  It does not seem to make much difference where you live, the legislature - Parliament, Provincial, Federal, whatever - House of Representatives, US or individual State Houses or Assemblies - Senate, US or State - every legislature seems corrupt or broken or failing by some measure. 

Every few years a new crop of bright-eyed idealists run promising Reform - throw the bums out - make a change - represent... whatever.  And they start out great guns - NO one will influence them.  No "special interest" group will get their vote.  No one will corrupt them.

Except that is not how a lot of legislation works - particularly in the US.

People make compromises.  I'll support your proposal if you support mine.  This can benefit both of our districts.  And so it begins.  Soon, they are being challenged by some bright--eyed newcomer talking about how corrupt they are.  But they are not the corrupt ones!  They fought the system and... challenged the status quo and... found out that the real world does not always work the way people want to believe it does.

In order to change the system, you must be willing to fly in the face of opposition.  You must be willing to be called an unending string of names.  Face accusations, and accusers, and know you are doing the right thing.

Why then, if this is what it takes to change the way legislatures work, do we not think that something similar must happen to change the way that so many organizations view testing?

We cringe at phrases like "QA this" or "as soon as this is QA'd."  Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

We might object once or twice - possibly more.  Eventually, how many people simply give up that fight?

Then we get heavily documented test processes - the ones where we match test scenarios to requirements from the requirements document and we record in the exception document why we need more than one test scenario to test this requirement.  Then we make sure that all the steps and all the expected results for each step in each scenario align with the documented requirements.

Then we find that we are going to do more of the same.  Forever.  We spend more time documenting stuff than we actually do testing.  Then Managers and VPs and Directors scream about the cost of testing and how could we have missed the defects the customer is complaining about.

My dear testers... and QA representatives and analysts and specialists - if this describes your work world, you have no moral right to complain about legislators "selling out."  You have as well.  You are in the same club.

When was the last time you were proud of the work you did?

What value are you adding? 

Consider this... 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Triumph of Failure

This last week has been one for the record-books.  No, I did not get sacked.  To the best of my knowledge, there was not even a concerted effort to terminate my contract early.  Instead, I stood my ground and was overrun in the process.

I asked questions that some people would rather not have had asked.  I raised the red flag.  Not the flag of rebellion, as in Les Miserables, but of THERE IS A PROBLEM HERE!  A fair amount of time, I try and qualify that message - there MAY BE a problem here.  There MIGHT POSSIBLY be a problem here.  Nope.  This one was flat out, by all known measures in the context of the organization, THERE IS A PROBLEM HERE.

I had a quiet chat with two big bosses, who ended with nodding and saying I did the right thing.  One said something to the effect of "I know this was uncomfortable for you, and I'm glad you stepped up and did what you did."  I spent the rest of the week getting lambasted by people for not doing it earlier.

Yeah.  It was one of those weeks where no amount of rhubarb pie will take the bad taste away.  Nor will any amount of really good single malt whisky or highly drinkable brandy remove the sting of personal words said in public.  Ya know what made it worth it? 

I was right.

One of my colleagues asked what I was going to do.  I said I would wait.  I would bide my time.  I learned long ago that patience is a strength. 

After three days of being told by certain people that I had done everything wrong and that the fault for the project's status was entirely on me, they did what they were supposed to have done in the first place.  They began communicating.  They began talking with each other and talking with other people involved.

In their mind I was a complete failure.  They made noises of not wanting to work with me again.  They pointed to the official process model and said 'These are what you are supposed to do!  This is what I am supposed to do!  Do your job!' 

I very quietly asked, "What happens when someone does not understand something?"  "Inconceivable!  There is no way this can possibly be misunderstood!"  Yeah.  I then got to use that line from Princess Bride - "I do not think that means what you think it means." 

There are at least three people on the project who did not understand the meaning of statement Z.  Each of us asked questions and got the answer that it was all documented in the requirements.  And yet reading the requirements as documented, the three of us each came away with a different understanding.  None of us came away with anything like a warning that there was a problem with the way the software currently worked.

In the end, the problems were resolved and the project moved forward.  In the minds of four people, I am a failure.  In the minds of others, I did the right thing and confronted poor behavior with proper behavior.

My take away - When confronted with poor, unprofessional behavior, hold fast and do not allow yourself to respond in kind.  There comes a point where some response may be required (there is one coming from this, have no doubt) but do so in an appropriate manner.

Remove emotion (as best as you can) and respond with fact.

Don't lose your temper.

Die hard the 57th, die hard.
William Inglis, Lt Col, 57th Regt of Foot, Battle of Albuhera