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What is Agile?

(In this SmartBits, Tathagat Varma outlines “What is Agile?“.  The video is at the end of this blog)

Software is a problem-solving process, where we are trying to take a shot at how we should be solving the problem. What is the best way of solving the problem? Looking at the philosophical element, a software is a way in which we are encoding a problem, solving from a given point of view. A designer would think of a  particular way to solve the problem and encoding that in a medium. Software is only a medium. It could have been any other medium for example , in which a problem could be solved.

What is the right way for us to solve the problem? Should we have a world view which is based on ‘we-the-designer’ or should we have a world view based on you as a  ‘we-the-consumer’. If you are the customer who is the real consumer of that? This needs to be understood.

Philosophically the first most important thing is to understand we are not building software for ourselves or for people like us. We are building software for a given audience and we need to be mindful and respectful of how they solve the problem. The philosophical element is really about, whom are we building for and are we mindful of the fact that this is how people solve the problem.

The mindset is the way, where we take the next step forward, where we say that now that we have understood the world view from how people look at it, how do we really solve the problem. Should we wait for a fully baked way of doing it. The basic idea is we cannot solve the problem in a single pass.

Every complex problem is best solved in a very iterative manner in a very collaborative way in which do not treat our consumers as just passive consumers i.e whatever we dish out to them, they will accept it. Even without the software they are solving the problem day in and day out which means they have some wisdom about how a good solution should work out. If I partner with them and treat them as a co-creator rather than a passive consumer then I can actually create a better solution. Mindset is all about stating that they are not passive consumers, they are co-creators, they are our team, so we start teaming up with them.

The Agile mindset very simply is something that we keep borrowing from the work from a Stanford professor Carol Dweck. She wrote this book on mindset where she talked about fixed mindset vs growth mindset, where the whole idea is that some people have a fixed mindset- this is the only way this should be done and have a very strong point of view. They are not willing to budge from that opinion. Then, there are people who think maybe there is a better way of doing it, maybe there are other ways in which we can grow, we may not succeed in that but in the process of doing it, will stumble upon the truth and that will help us eventually get to the right solution.

Having that kind of a mindset where we are open to experimentation, open to learning, willing to take some meaningful risk, not scared of failure, willing to keep iterating over is the need of the hour. We need to have a culture that really supports these kinds of mindsets. This is the third aspect here.
In organisations where making mistakes is a considered sin, where an individual gets reprimanded for failing,  Agile thinking will not work. Agile demands tolerance for intelligent failures. We need to have an appetite where we can say this person made a mistake. let us have a small party, let us learn from that person.  If it is a great mistake we make a big deal out of that.

That Agile mindset will not fit into a very conventional kind of a culture where people say do not make any mistake, do everything right the first time, everything has to be Six Sigma. A very nice quote by a management professor Gary Hamel, where he said thank God for the biological screw-ups, if not for that we would still be slime, because in a Six Sigma world, evolution would not have happened, if animals did not genetically recombine with each other in novel ways.  

If we are really looking at very creative ways of doing things and are looking for finding some novel solutions to that, one has to have a tolerance for bringing the Agile mindset into the workplace. Agile mindset is like the seed that requires an Agile culture as a fertile ground, otherwise it will not sprout.
Tools, methods and processes are the fourth and the fifth-order extensions, because in order for us to do the job properly we need the tools. Unfortunately people get it totally wrong, they ignore the holistic part of why we are doing it, the whole philosophical element, the mindset and culture, they straight away jump onto tools and methods bandwagon, because that’s the easiest thing to sell. The tools, methods and processes are the fourth and fifth order functions of the core thing but the whole idea is if we don’t start on some of these basics, we will never get to the point. If we start only with the tools, it might give a short-term win but then it’s not sustainable and definitely not be scalable in the long run.

Surviving the QA disruption- Smart testing is the way

by T Ashok

The confluence of extreme speed of business, rapid new technology adoption, cloudification & platform-ising of apps, finicky end users has created serious inflexion points, threatening the  QA practice. How do we test smartly to survive & continue to grow? 

Smart testing is about doing less and accomplishing more, and  rapidly with razor sharp focus on business outcomes and end user experience.  It is about doing what it takes to ensure great end user experience all the way, ‘extreme ownership’ as my friend called it!  It is not just in the act of assessment/evaluation, it is across the entire of lifecycle of dev/test of smartly using the process, technology and tools.Technology, business, process models are evolving rapidly and disrupting the way we do things and testing too is disrupted.To survive and accomplish more in these interesting times, ‘Test smartly. Accomplish more’.

In a discussion with Sudhir Patnaik,  I asked him as what the key disruptors  to our discipline of testing are. His single phrase answer was “Extreme Ownership”. That it is, not just owning the act of validation, but the ownership of entire customer experience.And this he said, changes the team structure , the way we perform test, and the  skills required.

Watch the full video of my discussion with Sudhir Patnaik on the theme “The changing facet of our discipline/industry”.

The ownership mindset requires a two faced tester, one adept with technology and development on one side and the other to test well. Code when required, dig deeper to understand better, shift left tests, automate as much as possible and test intelligently. 

The confluence of extreme speed that business demands today, the rapid adoption of new technologies, the cloud-ification and platform-ising of applications and the  finicky end users have created serious inflexion points. It is threatening the test/QA practice, what do we do now?  The demands that we have on how we need to complement dev, expand our base of skills, deal with far more imprecise information and embrace technology to get work done implies a far greater reliance on our intellect. To survive this QA disruption, ‘Smart testing’ is very necessary. So, what we do ‘smartly’ across the lifecycle of dev/test?

Smart understanding
Being able to appreciate the intended customer experience implies a smarter approach to understanding the larger context, figuring out what is expected rather that ‘what is there’ to be validated. It is about figuring out how the sum total of various entities of a system contribute  to the wholesome  end user experience, beyond the typical piece meal validation of an entity. ‘Smart Understanding’ is an essential ingredient here. Understanding that is multidimensional, of business, end users, environment, context of usage, architecture and deployment, the technology stack and its nuances. 

Smart strategy/plan
How much do we test? How much do we test earlier (Shift Left)? How much can be done  statically using software tools on SmartChecklists? How much testing can be avoided? How and what do we need to do to maximally automate? How to set up a continuous health check? How much can we test under the hood? What are the ‘-ilities’ that we need to test? What is the impact of changes done? Coming up with answers to these at start and continuously refining them enables us to setup a continuous test flow that is rapid, optimal and effective.It is the sensitivity and refinement of what, how much, how early, how to test minimally, employing maximal automation. It is making appropriate choices to deliver a great customer experience continually, that demands ’Smart strategy and planning’, so that we may be continuous, responsive and effective. 

Smart Design and Execution
How do you ensure that you have “potent” test scenarios/cases? That is, test scenarios/cases that are powerful enough to explore all nooks and crannies of the software to uncover issues. It is not just optimising execution via automation but using intellect and technology to ensure the net is cast wide enough and this can be done quick enough. Never underestimate that all scenarios can be designed a-priori;  it is about being sensitive to the context and execution, and refine continuously. ‘Smart design’ is about being logical and use design techniques to model better, whilst at the same time be highly observant , curious and creative to come with really interesting and meaningful scenarios.

As much as good design matters, it only translates into great reality when its executed, statically or dynamically. Well as much as it sounds great to use this earlier via shift-left, it would be smarter to be sensitive and prevent. Static execution does make great sense and these  can be done using software tools or thinking tools expressed as a ‘Smart Checklist’.In the case of dynamic execution to evaluate software, we have various choices : (a) under the hood automation via API (b) Front based automation of short feature thread or long business flows (c) execution by an intelligent human. Making appropriate choices using available information at the earliest and refining would be ‘Smart execution’.

Smart Documentation
Why do we document? For posterity, for future support, right? Nah, that would be old school thinking! In today’s world, documentation is to enhance one’s understanding, with the side effect of making these understanding,  choices and actions available to others. Note that first reason is ‘improving one’s understanding’, to think better. So ‘Smart documentation’ is about being to-the-point (terse), staying uncluttered i.e crisp, visual as applicable with meaningful notes, and appropriate elaboration that is strictly on need basis. Given that testing today is done in short sessions, the act of documentation should never disrupt the flow of thinking, in fact it should catalyse smart thinking.

Smart Automation
Smartness is not only in doing the work oneself, it is smartly exploiting tools and technology to get this done. Automation is not limited to execution of tests to assess correctness, it is also about doing all other work in the larger context of assessment.

This could encompass test design, environment setup, data generation, problem analysis, runtime measurement, health checks, project management and deployment. In the context of assessment, ‘Smart automation’ can be (a) enabling self-test integrated into the code (b) health check suites that monitor health when change is done (c)under the hood automation using API  that is more resilient (d) front end based user oriented suites (e) building frameworks that can assist the dev folks earlier to test easier (f) scripts that be easily generated and modified rapidly i.e. ‘code-less automation’ especially for UI.

Smart Analysis
When we test, we may find issues or we may not. The key is, what we do with this information.How does this help in getting a clear picture where we are and how good the system is ?  How does this help make meaningful business decisions rapidly? How does this allow us to rapidly refine what we are doing?  It is about sifting thorough the rich testing dataset and just showing the minimal crisp information to enable rapid decision making. This is what ‘Smart analysis’ is about. Quickly dig in deep and extract nuggets.

Smart testing is the way 
Smart testing is about doing less and accomplishing more, and rapidly with razor sharp focus on business outcomes and end user experience.  It is about doing what it takes to ensure great end user experience all the way, ‘extreme ownership’ as my friend called it!  It is not just in the act of assessment/evaluation, it is across the entire of lifecycle of dev/test of smartly using the process, technology and tools.Technology, business, process models are evolving rapidly and disrupting the way we do things and testing too is disrupted.To survive and accomplish more in these interesting times, ‘Test smartly. Accomplish more’.

The theme of SmartQA is to explore various dimensions of smartness to leapfrog into the new age of software development, to accomplish more with less by exploiting our intellect along with technology.  Towards this, we will strive to showcase interesting thoughts, expert industry views through high quality content as articles, posters, videos, surveys outlined as a SmartQA Digest weekly emailer. SmartBites is soundbites from smart people”. Ideas, thoughts and views to inspire you to think differently.