The (new) skilled art of QA

Professor Reinhard Stelter of Copenhagen University has a book out titled The Art of Dialogue in Coaching; Towards Transformative Exchange.

I’ve found it seriously inspiring as the skills Stelter teaches enhance those everyday dialogues and conversations that’s becoming more and more important in modern testing, QA, and quality coaching. I’ll come back to that.

I have read Stelter in Danish before, but this book in English has new material that I wanted to dive into.

From the backcover:

In The Art of Dialogue in Coaching, Reinhard Stelter invites readers to engage in transformative end fruitful dialogues in everyday working life, and provides the theory and tools for them to be able to do so.

Professor Stelter has worked on transforming coaching from its instructive and directive roots in sports where the coach helps the coachee get from A to B, over the psychological focus on helping the individual removing mental blockings for her individual development, to a new and third level in which the asymmetry betwen coach and coachee is used to drive meaningful dialogues in which co-learning can take place.

Stelter has written the book in three parts, one on the theoretical basis of his work, another on meaning-making, values and narratives, and the third part on dialogue practices. The middle part seems to me to be the most important, but the two other parts contain interesting stuff too.

So why do I think skills for having good coaching dialogues would matters to testers?

As testers we’re really experts asking “why?”. I find a lot of good testing starts with that question. But just asking “why?” and testing isn’t coaching. However, I’m seeing the meaning behind the “why?” questions we ask change. It’s no longer only triggering our testers’s curiosity, but feeding something deeper.

What I’m seeing is that our why’s more and more are a help for our stakeholders, colleagues, team mates etc to grow their couriosity. This has always happened, of course, testing is inspiring, but I still see a change being needed so that we can more systematically and perhaps even strategically help them better understand their own situations in terms of quality and make wise decisions based on those understandings.

I’ll be talking about that at STPCon in Boston on September 25th, where I’ll be looking back on how testers probably learned to ask value based “why?” question from marketing to learn and identify the factors that makes users and customers feel that the products we test have value so we can test for these factors. But I’ll be looking also on the new “why?”, the one that triggers coaching instead of testing. .

To me, the need for the new “why?” is a reflection of how organizations are rapidly changing: We used to have IT as cost centres, smaller separate hiearchies in hierachical organizations. I’ve consulted for a few organizations like this since I started full time test consulting in 2003.

ITcostCentre

Today, organizations look more like this:

ModernITAsDevOps.png

The DevOps movement is driving this transformation, I think: We increasingly network with people and processes, and have no hiearchies: Quality is owned by everyone. That correlates well with Danish management culture and the very low power-distance we have between managers and workers.

Therefore I’m shifting from asking my tester-“why?” questions and instead I’m asking why to help the team become just that: Expterts in what quality means to stakeholders, customers, and users.

This is actually a bit like what Henry Mintzberg, professor of management at Mc Gill calls “adhocracies,” a type of organization where business power is in the body of the organization, not centralized near the top.

Things are often more messy in the real world where we’re practicing testing. There are still hiearchies and a lot of goal keeping still needs to done around the world, but what’s interesting is that the development the importance of coaching more and more important, and therefore also makes the skill of having meaningful dialogues more important.

To facilitate work on that abstract thing we call quality, we need to coach people on finding out what quality is in the context in which they’re working. We can’t guarantee the effect of that work, there’s no direct quality assurance happening.

Stelter argues that modern generation coaching is rooted in situational ethics, where outcomes of our coaching are only hoped for, and work we do is not about pointing out what’s important to the individual. I’d say the same: Modern Quality Coaching is ultimately about helping the other person find meaning in her goals.

I have to admt something: All this is forcing me out of my comfort zone. It’s not a transformation I can do myself.

That’s why I read litterature on coaching, speak at, attend, and help organize conferences like Test Leadership Congress, STPCon, and EuroSTAR and in as many other ways as I can seek to establish communities of practice with peers in which we can coach each other to make the jump from the expert-role, to the co-learner’s role.

As a QA person, I still need to have a fairly good understanding of what quality is in the context, but as I’m more more hands-off with the product and the actual testing these days, I need a new search for meaing as a tester and test manager: Helping people in the team to find that bigger meaning behind their work and remain courious about the values they help create.

And that’s where Stelter has a strong message to us:

A search for meaning, which always involves a focus on values, is a search for a personal existential foundation and whatever makes our lives and our actions meaningful. […] I have expressed my disinclination to focus exclusively or excessively on specific goals or problems. […] Goals and objectives can lock a person into a particular societal discourse: this, ultimately, represents the polar opposite of the purpose of a good dialogue, which is to enable novel perspecitves. […] [p.43]

Stelter doesn’t exclude goals or problem solving. They are important and even foundational.

But his thinking is totally unlike what we often encounter in tech, where goals are in an iron triangle, about deliverying expected quality, on time, and on budget.

Instead he thinks of goals and objectives as possible outcomes by a series of human events with a particular effect and desired purpose, and actions oriented towards acthieving a specific actionable goal (Stelter suggests a goal to loose weight, but in our contexts, it could be about delivering a bug fix, feature, or user story to production.)

R. Stelter: The Art of Dialogue in Coaching, Towards Transformative Exchange. Routledge 2019.

 

Reklamer

Cynefin and the Greek Square

Recently I discovered that there is a relation between Cynefin’s domains and the Greek Square, a square formed by the four fundamental human values; the true, the just, the beautiful, and the good.

This became clear to me when I was thinking about values governing and shaping our actions in the domains.

In the obvious domain, truth is the governor. What else could shape action in that domain than a desire for truth, fact, and sticking to those facts?

In the complicated, justice shapes actions, as this is where we ask others for help and seek knowledge, which always needs justification in the social. It is okay letting solutions on complicated problems rely on knowledge bases, past solutions to similar problems, and expertise.

The value that shapes my actions in complexity seems to be beauty. Dijkstra said, “beauty is our business” when he described programming. Creative and aesthetic leadership are tightly connected. Some philosophers have described the sense of beauty as a taste. In that case, the thing that keeps me going is the hope for good taste. And good taste is not just good, it is something with aesthetic value.

In chaos, we need to stay grounded, but act on our toes. A desire to do good is the only thing capable of grounding us in chaos, and this is where ultimately gut feelings (gut etymologically has the same root as good, and even God), and intuition are what I can rely on.

(I put freedom in the middle in my sketch below. This was inspired by Ole Fogh Kirkeby, who connects the four fundamental human values with human freedom. Whether it fits Cynefin, I’m not sure.)

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More to come…

Passion for Testing and the Need for ‘Julehygge’

Christmas is almost over and while I am still having holiday with the family, I’m beginning to think a bit about testing again.

I am passionate about software testing.

There is a lot of talk about passion, but do we know what passion is?

The word shares roots with the greek ‘pathos’, which is one of the three key components of persuasion in rhetoric. The other two are ethos and logos.

Good communication should be fact based (logos) and serve a common greater good (ethos), but passion adds something important to communication.

The passionate lecturer

I remember two math lecturers from university. One taught analytical algebra, the other graph theory and combinatorics.

Both were personalities of the type you would notice if you saw them in the street, but if someone would then whisper to you: “He is an associate professor in mathemathics”, you would exclaim “ah!” and understand exactly what you were seeing 🙂

Their style of lecturing was very different, however.

Every lecture in graph-theory and combinatorics was unique. It seemed the lecturer literally reinvented what he was lecturing while he was doing it. He was not particularly organised in his teaching, sometimes he would even forget the subject, and divert off a wrong ‘graph’ (sic!). But he had passion for the subjects, and that showed. The lectures were often very engaging and fascinating.

The other lecturer prepared his lectures to perfection: He always started on the exact minute putting his chalk to the board in the top left corner of the first of the six large black boards in the auditorium, and by the end of the 90th minute, he would finish writing formula in the last available spot of the lower right corner of the last board. He repeated that time after time. A fascinating performance. But there was a problem, as he had obviously lost passion for the subject he was teaching. I felt bored to death during his lectures, and I am not sure I ever passed that exam.

Some testers are passionate about what they do, others try to be perfect. I always prefer passion over perfection.

Suffering by Passion

Passion is one of those tacit capabilities we know by heart, but will probably never be able to code, teach to a neural network, or explain to someone who has never experienced it.

The word has an interesting record in the Douglas Harper online etymology dictionary. Apparantly, passion used to be a kind of suffering:

Passion: late 12c., “sufferings of Christ on the Cross,” from Old French passion “Christ’s passion, physical suffering” (10c.), from Late Latin passionem (nominative passio) “suffering, enduring,” from past participle stem of Latin pati “to suffer, endure,” possibly from PIE root *pe(i)- “to hurt” (see fiend).

The article even goes on linking passion to sufferings of martyrs.

Let me confess now: While I am very passionate about good testing, I am not going to become a testing martyr.

Words change meaning over time and passion is certainly a word that has become more of a daily language term than it probably was back in the late 12th century.

Today, linking passion to sufferings, even physical sufferings, may seem out context.

However, it reminds us that passion does involve trading in some things that I like too: Staying relaxed, calm and cool, for example.

I am neither of those things when I am feeling passionate.

Passion seems to be a kind of double-edged sword.

Passion-Fatigue

I am always more tired after working passionately on a testing problem than when I’m doing more trivial things in my job: E.g. diligently replying to e-mails, writing factual test reports, checking out plans and schedules.

Could there be something called passion-fatigue? I think so, and when passion is a driver in daily work life, relaxation and recharging is important to stay healthy, sane, and well in the longer run..

The need for Hygge

Now that Christmas has just passed, but I am still enjoying days of holiday with the family, it seems right to mention ‘hygge’ (pronounced “hyk-ge”).

Hygge is Danish for relaxing with others, a good book or in other nice ways.

Hygge is difficult to define. In that way it’s similar to passion, except opposite: Relaxing, calming and mentally soothing.

A day with hygge could be so relaxing and good that it deserve finishing off with a good tequila, scotch, or another good drink of your preference 🙂

What’s interesting here is that hygge seems to be a good cure for passion-fatigue. Hygge creates space for passion.

And this is exactly what ‘Julehygge’ is about: Getting away from daily life, relaxing with family and friends, and recharging.


Is “hygge” becoming a global fashion trend? The New York Times had an article on the fashion of hygge a few days ago: Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes


 

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Detail of Christmas tree in our living room. Perhaps more than anything, a Christmas tree is in Denmark a symbol of “Julehygge”.

On the Value of Interested, Dedicated, and Fascinated People

Some test managers and test consultants are very busy pointing out the right processes, organisational structures and methods to use in software testing.

But no methods, processes and structures can assure great testing. Great testing is created by people.

This quote by Neil Armstrong, which I came across a couple of years ago, is worth remembering whenever we lead people in testing:

“The way […] that made [the Apollo project] different from other sectors of the government to which some people are sometimes properly critical is that this was a project in which everybody involved was, (1) interested, (2) dedicated, and, (3) fascinated by the job they were doing. And whenever you have those ingredients, whether it be government or private industry or a retail store, you’re going to win.”

To me, his message is that as leaders, our aim should be to do whatever we can to make people just that: Interested, dedicated and fascinated by the job we are doing.

Source: Transcript of Neil Armstrong Interview with Stephen Ambrose and David Brinkley

Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. Photo: NASA.
Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. Photo: NASA.