Chaos to Kairos – NYC May 1st session on playful testing skills with music and philosophy

Jessica Ingrassellino and I will perform a workshop at the NYC Testers Meetup on Monday May 1st during the Test Leadership Congress. Join the meetup to participate.

The session will be based on the workshop we did at CounterPlay, an international play festival which took place in March in Aarhus, Denmark. Titled “Playful Software Exploration” the topic was value driven improvisation skills in testing. Together with the participants we tested, performed music and formed a philosophical, protreptic circle

The somewhat disturbing background of the workshop is that in a performance oriented and individualized tech industry, we are expected to drive ourselves to be the best in a complex or even chaotic reality. Remaining true to our professional and personal values while staying sane and ready to act and perform every day can be very challenging.

Our CounterPlay workshop was a success. Collaboratively we gained sense of and got to the core of important values in testing. We were even interviewed for the popular show “The Harddisk” on Danish national radio.

This time we would like to playfully explore the significance of Kairos in testing.

Kairos is Greek and means the supreme moment in which the future is transformed to the past with a particularly fruitful outcome. Kairos is important in rhetorics because while there are rules of good communication, there are moments in which speaking and acting is particularly fruitful: There is a time and space for the good talk. And even the best performance will fail if kairos is not considered.

This is an aspect of all improvisation and play, and good testing is in many ways always an improvised, playful act.

We know it when we perform exploratory testing.

But even when testing is turned into a controlled and scripted process, it makes sense to perceive testing in the microscope as a playful exploration and experimentation with potential and actual outcomes – even outcomes beyond the directly observable testing results: E.g. learning points for developers and management.

At the core is that testing makes a difference for people around us, even those who are not directly involved in testing and developing.

So let’s think beyond the processes, and functional and technical perspectives on testing, and explore software testing as a playful and human event with potential to create order in due time.

No prior knowledge or talents are required to join the workshop. But bring curiosity about values in testing, and be ready to play and improvise, introspect and think and reflect abstractly.

Best,

Jess and Anders

Playful Software Testing

I met with and enjoyed a very good conversation with Jessica Ingrassellino in New York back in September. Jessica presented a workshop on playful testing during the Reinventing Testers Week (I presented at the conference about “Testing in a Black Swan Domain” which, unfortunately, I have not had time to write about yet).

We talked mostly about philosophy.

Jessica is quite a multi-talent: Plays the violin virtously, is an educated music teacher, has switched career to testing, taught herself Python, authored a book on Python programming for kids, and is teaching Python classes at a local community college, as well as music classes.

She has a vision of making testing playful and fun.

Structured work govern testing in professional settings, work which has nothing to do with play. So why is play important?

Jessica puts it this way:

When the power of play is unleashed in software testing, interesting things happen: The quality of the testing performance becomes noticeably better, and the outcomes of it too. This results in better software systems, higher product quality.

I have a product engineering background and play is important for me too. Engineers have methods, calculations, and procedures, but great engineers know that good solutions to problems are not found by orderly, rational processes. Good solutions depend on creativity and play.

Friday December 9th, I met with Mathias Poulsen in Copenhagen. Mathias is the founder of CounterPlay, a yearly conference and festival on serious play in Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark.

About three years ago, Mathias got the idea for the conference.

In the first year, 2014, it was an immediate success with more than 20 talks and workshops in 3 tracks on “Playful Culture, Playful Learning, and Playful Business”, and more than 150 participants. This year (2016), the conference had 50 scheduled sessions: keynotes, talks, workshops, mini-concerts and open sessions.

Mathias explains (about 0:30 into the video):

Counterplay is basically an attempt to explore play and being playful across all kinds of domains and areas in society. We are trying to build a community of playful people around the world to figure out, what does it mean to be playful and why do we think it is beneficial?

Processional IT has so far not been represented at the conference, Mathias told me. I found that a bit surprising, as at the moment almost everything in IT seems to be buzzing with concepts promising joy and fun – play.

Sometimes, however, there is an undertone to all the joy. Agile and DevOps have become popular concepts even in large corporations, and to me, both strive to combine productivity with playfulness. That is good.

But is the switch to Agile always done in order to pass power to developers and testers, allowing them to playfully perform, build and test better solutions? No, not always.

Play facilitate change and breaking of unhelpful patterns, but sometimes play is mostly a cover for micromanagement. There is a word for this: In a recent blog post, Mathias talks about playwashing:

Playwashing describes the situation where a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “playful” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing strategies and business practices that cultivate a playful culture in said organization.

A question is therefore how we genuinely support play? Are there methods or processes that better accommodate playfulness at work?

I believe there is. Processes need to leave space for exploring context, knowledge sharing and actual interaction with customers, stakeholders and team members.

But processes or methods will not do the job alone. In fact, putting play under the examination of psychology or cognitive sciences will never be able to grasp what play really is.

Play is more like music and poetry, where ideas based on assumptions about order, rational choice, and intention cannot explain anything.

Philosophy and especially the dialectical exploration of what it means being a playful human is much better at embracing what play means to us and how to support it.
Jessica and I are working on a workshop about playful and artful testing. It will combine ideas of playful testing with philosophy.

We are certain that breaking out of patterns will help testers, and breaking out of our patterns, participating in a conference which is fully devoted to play will teach us a lot.

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I took this photo in the local forest on a walk with our dog Terry (the black poodle). It is obvious, when dogs play well, that they have fun and learn a lot through play. Play seems a fundamental capacity for mammals.