I have recently found myself enjoying the latter stages of a fine British Summer (really, no sarcasm intended) and headed down to Cornwall to attend the Agile On The Beach conference. This was the first non-testing conference I’ve attended in a very long time, so it was certainly an interesting experience and a chance to compare and contrast what I see on the testing “circuit”.
This was the sixth running of this not-for-profit agile conference and it was sold out with 350 participants. It was traditional in its structure, with an opening keynote each day followed by five tracks of 45-minute sessions punctuated by morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. One idea I’d never seen before was inviting all the speaker to give elevator pitches for their talks immediately following each morning’s keynote. This gave the speakers a good chance to promote their slot and also gave the audience the chance to hear an up-to-date description of their content.
The highlight for me was the opening keynote, from well-known agilist Linda Rising (and perhaps best known for her book Fearless Change) with “Better Decision Making: Science or Stories?”. Her talk discussed whether the adoption of agile is being based on stories rather than scientific evidence. Do we even need evidence as agile practices are seen as “common sense”? Linda argued that we’re reluctant to believe science/data and find stories (experience reports) much more compelling. Science validates but doesn’t always convince people (and scientists suffer from confirmation bias). Could Agile be a placebo? Does it work because we believe in it? Linda noted that organizations don’t really encourage scientific method as decision makers want action rather than investigation. Does any of this sound familiar from the testing world, particularly the context-driven part of the world? I’m a big fan of the idea of experience reports as evidence, they make for compelling presentations and provide me with stories that I can relate to the challenges I may be facing in my testing. Interestingly, Linda also mentioned Thinking, Fast & Slow (Daniel Kahneman), a much-cited reference in the testing community these days.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, but there was very little talk about the role of human testing in software delivery in agile teams. Only one presentation I attended mentioned exploratory testing, with all others only talking about automation/automating all the tests/automating away manual tests. Some of the continuous delivery talks made claims along the lines of “you can only do CD by automating everything” so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more frequently delivered bad software if this mindset prevails.
In terms of takeaways, I noted:
- The agile movement is mainstream, but still with little consensus about many aspects of it.
- Testing as a specialization is not widely discussed, with most experience reports talking up automation but failing to recognize the requirement for human testers to help teams build quality in. “Code quality” (as defined by various static code analysis techniques) was also commonly mentioned.
- There was a lot of mention of metrics in various talks – avoiding vanity metrics and identifying useful metrics that drive your desired behaviours (rather than choosing “industry standard” metrics that are often prone to encouraging bad behaviours).
- Continuous delivery is a hot topic, moving agility up from the CI level to deployment and release. CD is again being used a reason for automating all testing when it should the opposite – building better quality in, with the help of people who specialize in helping the team to do that, is an obvious way to reduce risk of simply deploying bad product more frequently.
- “Business agility” is also a hot topic, moving other parts of the business – not just software development/IT – to a more agile means of working is a big challenge especially in larger organizations.
- Speaker elevator pitches are a great conference idea (as is a conference party on the beach, take note Aussies!)
(The conference organizers are kindly collating photos, blog posts, presentations, etc. at http://agileonthebeach.com/media-content-blogs-photos-2016/ if you’re looking for more detail.)