Working with the testing debt – part 3 Martin Jansson

This is a follow-up from Working with the testing debt – part 1 [1] and part 2 [2]. The reason for the clarification is that you so easily come up with a tip without a context or example.

Tip 3: Grow into a jelled team (read Peopleware [3] by Timothy Lister and Tom deMarco for inspiration). Peopleware identifies, among other things, things that you should NOT do in order for a group to grow into a jelled team. As a team it is so much easier to gain momentum in testing and especially so if you are jelled. Do you need to reconsider how you work as a team?

In one project I was test lead and tester. I had two fairly inexperienced testers assigned to me. I used a somewhat exploratory test approach to the planned tests, but they were far from organised and not well communicated. The tests consisted of a long list of one-liner test cases/test ideas. They were quite vague, thus enabling the tester to think for him-/herself. I had added some very specific test cases that were meaningless to run several times, but they were mixed in with the more vague ones. The testers thought it was meaningless to run the test cases several times, but I wanted them to do it anyway. Still, my intention was that they only use them as a guide. I did not communicate well and the testers did not feel like they were part of the test planning (which they weren’t) and thought I had set it up wrong. The mood in the team was foul. The testers had a hard time working with me for several years after that. Looking back I think they spent quite a lot of time that did not give any new information from what we had.

In another project I was assigned as tester together with my regular test group. We worked as consultants at the time. We did not know the project manager, test lead or any of the other testers that well. We were assigned test cases in different areas of the product suite. The test lead walked around and handed out test cases. There was no collaboration in the team. Sometimes when we talked over a coffee we noticed that we had done double work. Some tests were to be run in quite advanced configurations that took 90% of the time to setup. After a while we realised we spent 70-80% of the time setting up configurations, 10-15% of the time reporting bugs and the rest actually testing. By collaborating more we could have saved time to better switch tests around in the configuration that were needed between us. The team composition was 70% new consultants and 30% perm. employees.

And in yet another project the test team had worked together for quite some time. The whole team was involved in creating test missions/charters. Everyone tested and assisted in changing the test plan. When there was a major area that needs to gain some focused testing we assembled a group who generated test ideas, did some test design and did collaborative notetaking on the specific area. During the day the group debriefed several times and changed the test scope based on the feedback. Everyone was involved and felt great.

At one company we had assembled all testers into one big team (see [4] and [5] for setup) where we assisted all projects, the support organisation, the marketing organisation as well as taking on special missions from managers at different levels. When we started we had some unresolved conflicts, but as the team grew and as time went by the conflicts diminished. We worked hard together serving the organisation as best we could. As the team set forth we had the Black Team (inspired from Peopleware) in mind. We challenged the organisation to give us more to test, we could take on anything. We might have taken a bit too much pride in our work, but still I think that was needed after years of being looked upon as the nagging, complaining test team.

At the same company as above we sat in groups of four. When we got a new build we were armed to the teeth with test ideas, assigned areas for investigation and energy to shot down (not literarely) anything coming our way. During testing someone could shriek out in delight as a critical bug was found. The whole group would sometimes plung in and attack the same area from different angles to root out more issues, then continue on the track that they left earlier. We longed from the untouched (by testers mind) new features. We overwelmed the organisation with bugs, never having to consider that we might be the bottle neck at any time.

We all act differently depending on the context. With experience you hopefully learn from many of your mistakes. After you have been in a jelled team, you wish to be in the same situation again. You now know how good things could be and when you are not in that flow, you try to determine how it could be so. The book Peopleware is one of those things that might get you ideas on what you or people around you should stop doing  in order for your team to become jelled. Do not be afraid to tell management things that they that will stop you from growing. In some cases they might not know that they are doing it in a way that corrupts.

How does this affect the testing debt?

The benefits are obvious, a sentence to rise a cautioning finger about, but perhaps somewhat valid in this context. Part of the dilema is how you perceive the team that works well together. Do you see it is as a Clique (roughly described as an arrogant group) or as a Jelled Team? For my description I emphasises on a team that see itself as a jelled test team. When I say to increase the testing debt I mean that your backpack is getting heavier. Each time you start a new task, new project or new assignment you take the content of your backpack into consideration. Being a jelled team enables you to move more smoothly and become more flexible, thus able to become quicker and hopefully deliver better result.

We should also consider that there are differences between a team that is jelled consisting of various roles (such as a cross-functional team) and a team with only testers. Both constallations have different issues and both will have an ever growing testing debt. Some tips would apply to one constallation and not the other, naturally.

Kay Johansen and Anthony Perkins identified a few interesting ideas in their paper Establishing an Agile Testing Team: Our Four Favorite “Mistakes” [6] that I think is relevant to building a jelled testing team. We also have a paper by Elizabeth Hendriksson on Agile Testing [7] that identifies things you should not do as a tester if you intend to be agile. They are most relevant when considering what role testing should have in a cross-functional team or what your attitude is as a test team. Brian Marrick has made a compilation of articles [8] on Agile Testing, somewhat old ones but still valid as a way to consider when trying to become more effective and build a jelled test team. Marrick has also created the article Classic Testing Mistakes [9] that is valid still and should be considered when trying to identify why your team is not jelled yet. I’ve also written two blog posts about growing test teams: Uncertain team composition [10] and Progress [11]. Both tries to focus on things you should not do in order to get a jelled test team.

Some specific things that I see a jelled test team do, that decrease the testing debt, is:

  • Build on each others test ideas. With this I mean that we are triggered on each others test ideas to create new ones until we have no further ideas.
  • Easy of changing direction. I often promote the concept that the test team or the team in general need to be flexible, thus the naming of The Flexible Test Team. If the team works well and trust each other it will be easier to accept change.
  • Collaborative notetaking. In a team where you want to work together and where you enjoy cooperation it is the teams effort that counts, not the individual. This is also true for taking session notes. This is no best practice (as none exists), but a practise that is good in some situations. That the team have the ability to do this is a bonus.

With an unjelled team, a group of people that do not collaborate as well as they could, thus increasing the testing debt, I instead see:

  • Stacking of test ideas. This means that each individual identify test ideas and they are summed up, with duplicate ideas removed. An unjelled team is more inclined to do this than a regular jelled team.
  • Double work and duplicate testing. This might be the result of bad leadership and test leading, but based on my experience I think it is more common than in a jelled team.

What things do you consider for a jelled test team or a jelled team that has mixed roles but with testers in it? What have I missed as you see it?


[1] Working with the testing debt – part 1 -

[2] Working with the testing debt – part 2 -

[3] Peopleware -

[4] Flexible testing team -

[5] Resource planning in a flexible test team-

[6] Establishing an Agile Testing Team: Our Four Favorite “Mistakes” by Kay Johansen, Anthony Perkins -

[7] Agile Testing by Elizabeth Hendriksson -

[8] Agile Testing by Brian Marrick –

[9] Classic Testing Mistakes by Brian Marrick -

[10] Growing test teams: Uncertain team composition -

[11] Growing test teams: Progress -

Rikard Edgren July 11th, 2011

I think the most important aspect is motivation.

Dan Pink discusses intrinsic motivation and there are three factors that seem applicable both to good testing and jelled teams:
Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

Autonomy: I think you need to control your test strategy and test design in order to grow to a jelled team. At least you need freedom and responsibility during test execution.

Mastery: You need the feeling of knowing how to test your software. Being able to work effectively, and trust your ability to solve difficulties (a jelled team is never blocked)

Purpose: You want to know that what you do is valuable, e.g. customer stories, feedback from other parts of the organization and/or experiencing how the product, with your help, is getting better over time.

Dan Pink TED talk:

Simon Morley on motivation in testing:

Martin Jansson July 11th, 2011

I think those three factors are excellent for growing jelled teams.

The main issue though, is that you can rarely affect them yourself. Still, you can point it out to management. If you are in larger corporations it will be a lot harder. So, I agree it is the most important aspect in some contexts, but not all. When you have a hard time affecting the organisation and where things are heading, you can always start with yourself and your team.

If you feel you cannot change your organisation or cannot accept the way things are, you can always change where you work.

Kevin Porter September 5th, 2011

I agree, I think if it get’s that bad you can always find somewhere else to work.