Sunday, November 20, 2011

Changing roads to follow: start exploring

A new day started for me like almost every day starts at this time of the year. The sun is rising
while I drove in my car with music on the radio. I turned on the navigation system and selected a destination from my Favourites called “Work”. You might wonder why is work my favourite, well, at work, I’m involved with software testing and that is one of my favourite things to do.

Every day I follow the same route, actually I don’t need to use my navigation tool as I know where I’m going and which other options there are. Somehow I got used to it getting information which is sometimes valuable for me under certain conditions: the expected time of arrival. That information is also just valuable for a short period. On arrival only the arrival time remains and sometimes arguments for delay.

While driving along the route peeking at the navigation tool what the ETA could be. Also at my
dashboard of the car which is telling me that I’m not driving the maximum allowed speed. Triggered by this information I look with different eyes to the traffic in front of me. Although, different? The only observation I made at that moment was the same as I do in previous days following the same route. I confirmed what I already now: at this time the chance becoming part of traffic jams is obvious. So why bother, just enter the queue and lower your speed and accept
the conditions. Why bother for other information.
This day could be same as any other day. Following the route you already known, look at predefined” behaviour and at the end of the trip: report for duty. Only, this day was not the same as others. I observed that the traffic jam started earlier on the route then occasionally. At that moment I consulted my mobile app and got information about the length of the traffic jam, which was exceptional. I could accept the expected delay and use my navigation tool to monitor the ETA. The chance it would change beyond the boundary of 9 o’clock which would force me to escalate.

I could do what I supposed to do; follow a predefined path and collect information I already
could know. No new information collecting besides there was some disturbance which could cause delay. Making the comparison with scripted testing. Only collecting information about a certain path in the system (landscape) neglecting there are other ways to fulfil my trip. The obvious checks can be made:
- traffic jam = check
- delay within boundaries = Issue (assumption: queue is to long compared to speed and distance)
- option to enter the queue = check
- predefined route accessible = check
- predicted delay = actual delay = Issue (probably)
- accept delay = check
- predefined route followed = check

Again: following this route will provide me information about the accessibility of the route and the time it cost. It doesn’t provide me more information about possible routes which can be followed.
This day was different; I decided to take another route. I already had some information about one route which threatened the ETA: The Traffic Jam on the High Way. I changed my route. At first my navigation system told be to turn around and follow the initial route and based on this info calculating a new ETA. It took some denial of turn-message to get a new route to follow. Fortunately I new a bit of the area.

It seems like ignoring the original route. I see it more as finding a new way to reach my goal.
Immediately I noticed my new ETA was not increasing. It stayed as predicted. This can be translated that the new way to follow was not used at that point by others creating delay.
I cheered too early. Just after a while I noticed another traffic jam. This meant that other drivers
had made a similar observation. Based on my early experience I valued that this route would not bring me the expected result, being early, on time. Instead of adding the queue here I challenged myself by choosing other paths. This time I new just a bibt about the environment. I accepted that decisions I would made now need more information then just experience. It need focussed observations.

I still used my navigator in combination with the environment and my experience. As my
navigator tried to push me back on the high way I tried to ignore it and follow the road signs. A new information source was added to my journey. Just after a few minutes I relied on that new source of information, road signs in combination with small knowledge of the environment I followed and made a short stop. I did not feel good to go this direction.
My feeling and understanding about North, South, West and East I was travelling the correct
way, though I was forced to got directed to the road with the initial traffic jam. I made a bold step, ignore tools, ignore road signs with directions, I used my understanding of the position I needed to go to and the position I was at. At this moment I gathered new information: following this route could bring me back using another path.

I think it was this moment I got aware what I was doing. I was touring around, gathering all kinds
of information which normally would neglected. This seems to me the strength of exploratory testing, reject predefined paths, following your own, while doing reflecting the information you can collect.

I accepted that I can make decisions how to follow my way to destination point. I collected some
interesting information continuing.
- I came again on a road I know. It was also crowded by slow speed queued cars. The chance was that this queue caused the 2nd traffic jam I avoided. My mobile app told me that this queue was also huge.
- based on this information I choose another road combined with the position of the sun. The
ETA was still beyond borders. I saw a detour information board. I neglected it as it seems there might be other ways too. I interpreted it as a detour for other routes.
- A few kilometres ahead I saw traffic signs with places on it, this helped me define another road
which seemed to be more valuable while the navigator was telling me different. Somehow I could not rely on that tool as it wanted to direct me in opposite direction I was heading to.
- While driving I noticed I made some wrong decisions, followed the turn about by 180 degrees.
- I passed another detour which can cause delay
- I noticed it seemed I was lost in space and focussed on different ways, no longer the primary goal to get to the destination point, instead getting back on track again.
- trusting the road signs no longer heading for one known place I drove to a direction where any
place in the direction of my goal. I ignored feeling of being lost. I accepted there are multiple ways to get to destination as I was still in the right area.
- I came closer and got stopped by traffic lights. A new source of information normally neglected
by certain context. I placed it in future context. New knowledge was gained for future tours in this direction. I learned something new about areas.
- Finally I entered the town from a different view and could follow the last kilometres of the original tour. I did arrived within allowed time and learn more then I expected when I started

Lessons learned:
- Following pre-defined routes can make you blind for other information
- Starting to explore you need some bravery and embrace uncertainty
- Coping with uncertainty you need moments to defocus and to focus
- It can help if you don’t value information immediately, try to find the context and
challenge that context against another
- Exploration can bring you different information on different levels; perhaps it is not bad
and not good, if might even not useful after all
- Context can change; be aware and take time to allow it or not
- There is no wrong path, all paths provide new insight, it depends how to value it and
use it. Perhaps not immediately valuable, it might be in the future
- The meaning of situations causing delay change over time
- When exploring you can use more skills in different areas. Trust on yourselves and continue.
- Continuing parts of the original route is not falling back to it; it is addition of your
- Even in daily live there are examples which can help you to understand exploring.

This day started good, normally I would complain about the traffic jams, now I got excited by the
lessons learned. I did something which was valuable for me. I was in control and learned. I made the decisions instead the predefined path in some kind of scripted route.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No space for innovation?

This time a smaller note then usual. It came to my mind that in times of trouble we stick to what
we know. In history there were other cases when the world was in trouble leaders gave trust to those who got ideas which might fail or might succeed. For instance the war machine during the WWII provided in a very short time different innovations. (Technology during World WarII)

Perhaps the reason lies with the lack of procedures, methods and controlling processes.
After the war improvements were made which seemed to be successful for that time. People still using those methods and methodologies like PRINCE2, ITIL, BISL, TMAP, Six Sigma, etc. It helped managers to give them a feeling being in control.

Sometimes they still work for them. I’m wondering if there is still room for other approaches then people are looking for certainty and good practices are not yet given it to them. Is there still space in projects to approach uncertainty with Agile approaches? Can we SCRUM and accept the skills of dealing with that uncertainty and adapt earlier to get better results? Is a context driven approach in software testing explainable when managers are focussing on methods which are
know to them, instead of learning and adapting to the actual need?
I might be wrong, implementing methods can be useful, mostly I saw implementations of it where it became an objective on its own and no longer for adding value to business. Somehow I have the feeling that in times of trouble like we are now as in the economic crisis people tending to get proof that the method is working for them and make decisions to reveal that is not delivering the value by blaming it after all on the economic situation.

Is there space to use approaches like Agile approaches or Rapid Software Testing? Are there managers who dare to face uncertainty and learn from it, become stronger and more skilled? Search innovation in the way of thinking and working?

I hope so, as technology is still changing which mean that the way we have to face our new world might be different as we know. Although I’m uncertain about that too. :-) To maintain innovative we have to provide space for those new ideas also. Let us give and get some space for new ideas and try-outs