The year of the challenges – 2013

Year 2013 is coming to an end. Usually by this time I’m looking forward to my new challenges for the next year. I often get stuck in my ideas about the present and the future figuring out my next step and challenges. Once I decide for something I just hop on the train and go.

For once I’m jumping off the train and stopping for a while to reflect over 2013 which has been a very interesting year to me.

Looking back at all the things I’ve done this year there might be a reason for feeling really exhausted. In addition my job as a Test Manager added to the list of unexpected challenges to deal with this year. But that is a different story…

2013 was a challenging year filled with frustration, laughter, fear, excitement, pride and joy. These are the highlights:

  • Episode 1: Beyond the fear of presenting…
  • Episode 2: Behind the scene at Öredev 2014
  • Episode 3: PSL – avoiding getting arrested in Albuquerque
  • Episode 4: Öredev is on!
  • Episode 5. Next?

Episode 1: Beyond the fear of presenting…

January – May

My bewildered experiences from SWET4 the year before triggered a few goals for this year. That breakfast meeting with a coach on communicating and presentation skills ended up in six sessions to prepare for my talk on Tester Skills in February. The preparing itself was somewhat of an experience. My coach really challenged me to do things I wouldn’t imagine doing. He was sort of  the opposite of who I am. At times it felt that we were way apart. In the end I took what I learnt and did it my way, feeling more comfortable about my presentation.

A few things which still surprises me are how I got the participants to talk, to laugh and interact during the presentation. My coach gave me a few very good tools for how to set the stage so to say. It’s amazing how very tiny tweaks in the preparation can make a huge difference.

The preparation for my Tester Skills talk was really about getting ready for the real thing; Let’s Test! I was terrified to do this talk. I had been accepted on a specific proposal but on the way I realized that I really didn’t find any inspiration or joy in that subject. I’ve learnt that I can only do a talk on something that inspires me. So I froze and I felt so bad until someone just asked me “Why don’t you just ask if you can change your talk to something that you are more interested in?” Imagine the relief I felt when I got to change my talk!

The feedback I got on both my talks were very positive. Though I still haven’t dared to watched the video recordings ( Maybe a challenge for 2014!).

My takeaways from this episode:

  • I learnt a new English word during this journey…procrastinate! I am the queen of procrastination (though this was not really new to me).
  • My presentation is not a monologue, it’s a dialogue.
  • I can always ask the question.
  • Ask for feedback – (I asked James Bach for feedback on my talk, since he is an experienced presenter. I also knew he would give me an honest, tangible and thorough feedback.)
  • Engage someone more experienced. I decided to get help from a talking coach since this would probably get me quicker up to speed. I learned a lot from this!

Episode 2: Behind the scene at Öredev 2014

January – May

Late 2012 I was asked to join the program committee for Öredev. I felt humbled and nervous about taking over this assignment from Sigge who has done a really great job the years before. So it was with fear and excitement that I accepted the responsibility for the Testing track. So what was my fear? Well at first I’m not really the most extroverted person. Somehow I had the assumption that it would be beneficial being more extroverted meaning networking and talking to people. I love talking to people, but I’m more of a non mingling one to one person. (And yes, If the phone would ring I’d rather wait to pick it up and hope someone else picks up).

It turned out that e-mail and chatting on Skype worked out just fine. And occasionally I did a few calls too.

I had a goal with the test track. I wanted to have a mix of international speakers. I wanted it to be diverse and attractive also to developers since Öredev is a developers conference. I wanted to be proud of the test track. It had to be something I would want to attend.

I was actually the first to have my track fully booked and I could relax long before the program was announced.

My takeaways from this episode:

  • Skype is great, time differences are not.
  • It was not as difficult as I thought it would be.
  • It was really fun working on a/the program committee!

Episode 3: PSL – avoiding getting arrested in Albuquerque

August

I remember the first time I heard about PSL. I was in Colorado Springs on my first CAST conference in 2009. We were out walking in the Garden of the Gods when this workshop was mentioned. I never really understood what it was. To me is seemed to be some sort of secret society where only people on a special list were allowed to participate. And in addition it was really expensive. It seemed like something completely out of reach for me.

During the years that passed my perception of PSL changed and the more information I got the more I wanted to attend (it is really not very expensive the course itself, but adding accommodation, flight, food and days away from work it gets kind of costly).

In December last year I had prepared a list of arguments to present to my boss assuming he would demand such. But I had forgotten what a great boss I have and once he had read the very brief course description I was in!

Some of you have already been to PSL and might know what the title refers to. For those of you who haven’t you might find out if you go. I say might, because you never know what will happen at PSL. Though what you learn and take away is up to you.

My takeaways from this episode:

  • Two problems might appear to be the same. But they are not necessarily the same.
  • People most of the time really want to help. They believe they are helping. People act from different set of values.
  • I confirmed following; I definitely prefer hanging out with a very small group of people or a larger group where I know everyone really well.

Episode 4: Öredev is on!

November

And so finally it was time for Öredev in action. It started with a dinner on Sunday for my dear new friend Martin Hynie and his colleague Daryl who came all the way from Canada to attend Öredev.

And from Sunday to Friday it was all about Öredev. Monday was the famous skinny dipping in the Baltic Sea at “Kallis”. We were a few brave people who refused to do this madness. My excuse? Oh, I live in Malmö and can go do this whenever I want (the fact that I’ve lived here for more than 15 years and never done it doesn’t matter).

From Wednesday to Friday the conference was on. Most of the sessions are available here. I attended most of test sessions though unfortunately a few of the sessions were on at the same time. All in all I had a great time at Öredev!

My takeaways from this episode:

  • What I like to attend is not necessarily what others like to attend. The feedback on the test track was mixed. For next time there will be a few more hands-on sessions.
  • It will be difficult to attract developers to the test tracks mostly since there are other sessions that probably appeals more to them. It might be better to focus only on testers ( Though I know a few developers showed up on the test sessions. My husband was one of them!)
  • Space Pigs sucks (the room where most test sessions were held)! Don’t have a room that can be used as a short cut to go to another room or area.

Episode 5: Next?

December –

I finished off this year with a challenge for next year. Erik Davis and I sent in a proposal for CAST 2014. A few months ago Martin Hynie, who is a common friend of us came up with the idea for us to do a co-proposal. We have a few things in common when it comes to test management and leadership. It is also a topic that we are both very interested in.

To add to the challenge, Erik and I have never met. We live on two different continents. I am keeping my fingers crossed as hard as I can for this challenge!

My takeaways from this episode:

  • I can’t say no to challenges!

I hope you had the patience to read the entire post. Thank you for being part of my 2013!

I wish you a very Happy New Year and All The Best!

Reflections on a new retrospective

One of the most important things to my team and myself is to learn from our experiences hence I think reflecting over our actions is essential for creating such an opportunity.

I don’t get to facilitate retrospectives that often since I’m not really a part of any project or any team on daily basis. But I love to do it whenever I get the chance.

I like trying out new methods in my meetings and adjusting them trying to increase the personal  ROTI for each meeting member( I find this method very efficient). To be fair though my goal is at minimum 4.0 as an average. Note that I have been using the scale 1-5 since I am not sure if it makes a difference from the 0 – 4 scale.

My team has grown quite lot during the last year and lately my ordinary type of retrospective had gotten a lower and lower ROTI average. The main reason have been the lack of discussion and the time for individual notes written and communicated. With 19 people today it was not a very efficient way of facilitating a retrospective any more.

Today I tried something new during a retrospective we had for a three day testing activity. I accidentally stumbled on a tweet about Dialogue sheets. If you haven’t heard about the technique before you can read about it here. I thought it sounded like a really fun way to facilitate a retrospective. It even gives the possibility to remove the facilitator role. But facilitating is something I really like so I decided to do at least some facilitation including preparation.

Sixteen people (excl. myself) participated. There were a few challenges with this:

  • Two of my team members are physically on another site.
  • The room was not really designed for this type of retrospective. It is a conference room with a long table for 16 people.

It was possible to break this long table in to three different tables so the second problem was easily solved. The first problem was supposed to be solved by video communication but of course the technology didn’t work. So the two guys on a different site were left in isolation to work on the dialogue sheet.

After the tables were moved around I asked the team members to group in two equally big groups and take place around the tables and start. Most of the team members had informed them selves about Dialogue sheets. Then I gave them 60 minutes to complete the Dialogue sheet. I left them managing them selves and tried to observe the two different groups.

I named the groups A, B and C where the latter was the one on a different site.

I had to time box the completion of the sheet to have room for comparing between the different groups. I chose not to include Group C when comparing the dialogue sheets since they would have to follow the discussion on a normal phone. From previous experience of discussions over the phone where many people are involved it gives very little ROTI for the few persons on the other side. I decided to catch up with Group C later.

Observations

During the meeting I did following observations of the two groups, Group A and Group B.

Group A

  • Some one in the group said “Let’s stand up and read the instructions”
  • The group stood quietly reading.
  • Then some one said “OK lets sit down again”.
  • The sheet was not place in the center of the table.
  • There was much less laughing then in group B.
  • There were mainly two people talking.
  • Little notes on the sheet itself
  • The group was ready after 40 minutes.
  • One person was writing on a paper.
  • Notes were handed to me after the time was up.
  • Mainly one person spoke when sharing what had been discussed during the 60 minutes.
  • Lower average ROTI then Group B

Group B

  • The person closest to the first point started reading the instructions out loud.
  • The discussions started almost immediately.
  • The sheet was placed in the center of the table.
  • The discussion were vivid and pretty loud.
  • Not everyone had a pen at start.
  • There was an intense discussion on the meaning of success.
  • There was a lot of laughter.
  • Most of the people in the group was speaking though I noticed that there were a few people speaking more than others.
  • Far more notes on the sheet.
  • When time was up the group continued writing on the sheet.
  • During sharing what had been discussed several people talked. There was one person who did most of the talking.
Dialogue sheets

Dialogue sheets

ROTI rating the personal time invested 

After a quick hand raise in the end of the meeting and after checking with Group C  we ended up with 4,4,4,5,4,4,4,3,3,2,4,4,4,4,4,2

Following up on the numbers:

5 – The method opened up the possibility for discussions. We eliminated the writing post-its part where every one sits quite and glances on the others writing post-its.

2 – The discussion sometimes felt constrained since we had to “follow”  the board. There was a good discussion on going but it was interrupted because some one mentioned that we were not supposed to talk about that subject. So the discussion ended and went back to something else. To change the rating perhaps facilitating the discussion would help. Or when we get a better grip of how the board is used.

2 – Personally I don’t have a lot to benefit from the retrospective since the result will not affect me (the purpose of the activity that we did the retro for is quite different for this person). I did like the setup though.

3 – The new method was good though it didn’t do any big difference from other meetings. It was difficult to focus on one question at a time. I like the Action plan. One thing negative thing is that some one can dominate the discussion. 

3 – There was more discussion then in previous meeting. Unfortunately there was no one leading the discussion. Once we had a great discussion on going some one noticed we were on the wrong topic and that it was something that shouldn’t be discussed now. Some one in the group had the idea that positive events was supposed to be written above the time line and negative events below and some people thought you could write it anywhere. A facilitator would have helped.

Reflections

I am not going in to detail about my analysis of these observations and personal grading of the meeting. But I found the result of the different groups very interesting. I also wonder if the groups forming was a conscious action or an unconscious action. I think the difference in the groups depends on a few things:

  • the different personality types of each individual
  • and the amount of time people have known each
  • how well they know each other

In Group A the majority of the people have worked less than a year at the company and in Group B the majority of the people have been working for several years together.

Actions for next meeting:

For the next retrospective which will be in a month I am considering a few things that I might do. I haven’t yet decided. I also have a few reflections and a few decisions to make:

  • Should we keep the same groups next time ( It will probably no be the same any way. It might be that the same people can’t attend. I might decide this when I know who are attending next time)
  • Should the groups be smaller, maybe break in to 3 groups?
  • Should I let people decide in how to group within certain limits?
  • Should I try to facilitate? Though it will be difficult to facilitate several groups at the same time. If some one else in the group facilitates they won’t be part of the discussions.
  • Should I try to set up some more “rules” then what is stated on the board. For example decide on how to facilitate your own group. How to keep the discussion ongoing before starting.
  • Should I facilitate or just observe?

What I will do:

  • Get pens in different colors to make the board more colorful. It might increase the writing on the board.
  •  I’m keeping the facilitator role to facilitate the exchange of information in between the groups, to keep track of time and make sure we retro the retro (ROTI).
  • If I decide to observe, which is what I would prefer to do I need to define my method to make better observations. I will time box time spent on each team. I will choose a few specific things to observe.
  • During ROTI I will also ask the participants who rated the meeting balanced something that I have totally forgotten about.