This Week Online – Saturday, May 14, 2011

This week I managed to squeeze in three days of consulting and two days of public teaching. Side effect: less time over for reading. Still, here’s some of the stuff that piqued my interest online this week.

Bright and Terrible

Jay Yarow of Business Insider published a short post about what’s it like to fail at Apple. Not sure how fact based it is, but it makes you think about the challenges of managing risk and failure.

If you’re making too many mistakes, your company might not be around in a year. On the other hand, if you aren’t making any mistakes, you probably won’t be around in five. Why? Because making no mistakes means you’re avoiding risks entirely. Why is that so bad? Because risk is connected to reward. If you’re not taking risks, someone else is, and when they succeed, they’ll be ahead of you.

If you’re a manager who likes to chew out your management buddies, think about how that behavior is replicated by others in the organization. After all, you’re supposed to be some kind of role model.

Speaking of Apple, I also found a piece on Fast Company about the ever-accelerating smart phone wars.

Telling Stories Together

The next writer out also has a last name that starts with a Y: Adam Yuret. Adam shares the insights he’s gained after taking Elisabeth Hendrickson’s Introduction to Acceptance Test Driven Development. Specifically, Adam talks about the value of doing story workshops. In the end, Adam writes, we might not end up with a story chiseled in stone, but the shared understanding gained from a story workshop should reduce time lost to major changes and confusion later.

I couldn’t agree more. While I have only tiny experience from ATDD (a client of mine recently chose to go this way), I have lots of experience of facilitating workshops of different kinds. In my experience, the value of effective workshops is dual. First, we get the value of clarifying assumptions and laying out a clear plan of attack together. Second, we get the value of realizing that we’re actually in this together, and that we have the potential to work as a team. It’s plans and morale, both for the price of one.

WaveMaker

Back in the eighties, my best friend’s dad sometimes took his Mac SE/30 home from work. We ended up exploring it’s every nook and cranny. Probably the best piece of software on it (aside from the game Dark Castle) was HyperCard. It was the precursor of the wave of multimedia development environments that rolled in during the nineties.

HyperCard was awesome. You could easily create interactive storybooks and simple applications with scripting. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for a replacement with HyperCard’s impact. This, of course, is when more experienced software people feel obliged to comment that ”that myth of making everybody a programmer has been around since the beginning of computer’s”. Well, maybe it has, but it won’t be a myth once it’s true. Or, if it really is a myth, I still choose to believe in it.

Why would anyone want a tool that makes it easy to create programs? Why wouldn’t we? With computers, we’re sitting on the most incredible piece of universal machinery ever created. But, for almost everyone, the power of the computer is still locked away behind arcane programming languages.

The untapped demand for accessible development environments is evidenced by, for example, how Excel is frequently used to develop ad-hoc solutions to computing needs. Professional programmer’s would say that’s not using Excel but abusing it, but the fact remains: Excel might just be the most widespread non-programmer’s development platform. Heck, even people who now how to code for real create stuff in Excel, like Space Invaders, for example.

This week, a tweet flew by about something called WaveMaker. It sounded like an attempt to create just that kind of accessible environment, so I checked it out, and it turned out to be some kind of browser-based development environment. I just downloaded it now to have a closer look. I don’t think WaveMaker is what I’m dreaming of, however. I managed to create a simple ”Hello, world!” app in a few seconds, but that’s just because I used to be a programmer. All in all, this looks more like a programmer’s IDE than the everyman’s toolbox I’m dreaming of. That doesn’t mean WaveMaker isn’t awesome. It does mean that it’s not what I’m looking for in this regard.

What’s a Test Strategy?

My friend from the AYE conference, Fiona Charles, has a great new article out. It’s called ”Basics Revisited: Test Strategy”. In it, Fiona takes a clear and pragmatic look at what a test strategy is. Fiona takes a stand against huge documents filled with boilerplate text. Instead, she urges us to understand what it means to have a test strategy:

”A test strategy is the set of big-picture ideas embodying the overarching direction or design of a test effort. It’s the significant values that will inspire, influence and ultimately drive your testing, and the overall decisions you have made about ways and means of delivering on those values.”

Fiona also asks us to think about the medium we use to communicate our strategy:

”I have used one or some of: a mind map, sticky notes, a drawing on a board, a colorfully highlighted diagram, an outline document, or presentation slides. The choice depended on the organization I was working with and the nature of the test. Whatever medium you choose, it should work as a tool you can walk around with to talk to stakeholders, or use in meetings to promote discussion.”

Also on the testing side, I found this neat report from StarEast 2011, written by agile tester Lisa Crispin.

Stay Uncomfortable

Finally, Andy Hunt has some good advice for advanced agile practitioners: stay uncomfortable. If you’re starting to think you know what this is about, that may mean you’ve stopped thinking hard about how to developer even further.

This Week Online – Saturday, May 7, 2011

Here’s a mixed list of some of the things I appreciated online this week. They might turn out to be useful to you as well.

Fake and Shapes

Randy Rice published a blog post that listed different testing tools that came up during a tutorial session he hosted at StarEast 2011. I don’t work as a tester, but I’m fascinated by the field, and like to follow it from the sidelines. Plus, I love a smart tool.

One of the tools that stood out on Randy’s page was Fake (USD 29.95), an application that wraps a web browser with some Automator-like automation. I probably won’t be using it to automate tests, but I’m already keeping my eyes open for some boring web-related task to automate.

Lots of Mac software is made by small and creative software shops, so when I find a nice piece of software, I always look for other interesting offerings from the same developer. This time, I found Shapes. As with Fake, I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks interesting. I needed to help a client with some diagrams a year or so ago, so I bought a license for OmniGraffle. I can’t stand it. I will never learn to master it’s cluttered interface. Shapes might be what I need for those occasions where a napkin sketch isn’t enough. We’ll see. It’s only USD 4.99, so I could afford trying it on for size.

Balancing action and reflection

Esther Derby’s writings are thoughtful and balanced. This week, Esther published a piece called ”Fixing the Quick Fix”. In it, she argues for a balance between deciding and act fast and decisively, and not acting before you have understood the underlying problem.

I know from my own work with clients that this can often be hard to discuss. It’s not uncommon for organizations to be in constant conflict over this. On one side of the battlefield, department A wants to see higher speed in execution. They are wondering why nothing is happening. On the other side, department B wants things to slow down. They wonder why the organization has to spend so much time fire fighting, and so little solving the true problems.

What makes it hard to discuss this? Well, depending on where we’re coming from, we look at speed in different ways. An experienced and skilled agile team, for example, will think it perfectly natural to execute in high speed. They can move fast, in controlled formation.

A less experienced, less skilled team, will struggle to move fast. They don’t yet have the knowledge and understanding they need to speed up. Asking them to ”just move faster” is a recipe for disaster.

Do you know which of these situations most resemble your current workplace? This is where the questions Esther poses in her article come in handy. They are about uncovering the facts of the situation, so that you can take appropriate action. This too, is hard work, and follows the same laws of speed as everything else. If you’re skilled at asking them and if there is trust between you and those you ask the questions to, then gathering this information will be less of a struggle. When you do it for the first time, there is some risk that other will see you as the one slowing things down: ”If it weren’t for all your questions, we’d already be done with this”.

Esther’s article also goes into what you could do once you have a better understanding of the current situation. Specifically, Esther advises us to see if we can back up our ideas with hard data. This too, is often challenging, in my experience. Many organizations won’t be able to produce the numbers you need, because they do not yet operate in a way that makes extracting such numbers possible. Still, trying to get some data and finding out it can’t be done, is also valuable. It tells you a little bit more about the organization.

By now, you might you’re ready to decide. Hold it for just a little longer. Take Esther advice one more time, and generate at least three options. Generating options is a key part of any creative process. We don’t always have to be super creative, but we do need creativity at all times. Without creativity, companies end up being about as good as, or worse than, their competitors, and that’s no fun way forward. One of your options now is to escape from this weekly summary and dive into Esther’s excellent article.

Innovations in Management

Via John Seddon’s regular news letter, I found a blog called ”Gary Hamel’s Management 2.0”. You might have read it already, because apparently Hamel is a big management guru in the States. Somehow, I’ve managed to miss him completely. By the way, if you’ve already read Jurgen Appelo’s ”Management 3.0” book, it might seem that Hamel is running behind, version number wise. I’m sure Hamel will upgrade soon. Probably to 4.0.

Anyway, the reason Seddon mentioned Hamel was that one of Seddon’s clients – Owen Buckwell – has been awarded a prize instituted by Hamel, for his work in transforming the housing services organization he manages.

Apparently, Hamel has started something called the Management Innovation eXchange, which aims to highlight potential game changers in the field of management – and that’s what I wanted to tip you about. Pay a visit to the Management Innovation eXchange site, there’s bound to be something there that can inspire you.

How to Start Up …

Speaking of management, I have to share this link to a blog post that contains, essentially, a checklist for how to start a web company. All you have to do is follow the steps. I might try that some day. In a way, it still managed to inspired me a little bit, even though it reminded me of Paul Davies’ absolutely wonderful book How to Build a Time Machine. It’s pretty easy if you know how to do it.

… and how to start starting

Finally, for this time, I learned about the book ”The War of Art”. I believe I read about it in Kent Beck’s Twitter stream. This book is about resistance, specifically the kind of resistance that rears it’s ugly head whenever we want to start some kind of creative endeavor. I bought it for my Kindle, or rather for my iPad’s Kindle app and started reading last night. It’s a very smooth read, which is kind of funny considering the topic of the topic. There’s no resistance in reading this book about resistance.

I guess the advice in the book gave me a little push, since I sat down to write this Saturday morning post, just as planned.

Also, speaking of resistance, I found my way back to one of many great pieces by Dale Emery on the topic. It’s called ”People Resist Change?”, and deals with how we related to change. An absolute must read if you ever deal with change. I guess you do.

I’ll let that be it, for this week.