Thursday, January 27, 2011


At school I used to hate running cross country/long distance.  Mainly this was because our sadistic gym teacher would leave cross country for the dead of winter, when the pitch was too frozen for Rugby.

I was dreadful – always at the back of the pack, keeping the asthma kid company.  My teacher used to tell me to beat the pain and the stitch by running faster.  Games teachers hey?

But that wasn't the whole story – don't write me completely off as the non-athletic science geek.  I was very good in Rugby, and also a fairly decent 100 metre runner.

But long distance – no way.

So I went through life convinced I couldn't run.  Until a few years ago an instructor at my local gym talked me into trying out a running program.  It was interesting – I told him “look I can't run”.  So he talked me through it …

The first week you run for just a minute, and then walk for a minute.  You do this for 20 minutes, three times a day.  “Hey”, I said, “I can run for just ONE minute”.  The week after you're running two minutes, walking for two.

Before you know it you're running 5 minutes, walking for 2, and doing this for 28 minutes.  Then two slots of 15 minutes, with a 1 minute walk between.  Then you're achieving a continuous run for 5km.

So this left me at 36 being a better runner than when I was 16.  On the face of it, it makes no sense – I don't feel fitter than when I was 16, I'm older, and certainly much heavier.

The difference was pace – pure and simple.

At school I never learned to moderate my pace – so I'd try and run cross country at 100m speeds.  Which is okay for 100m … maybe even 500.  But the pace isn't sustainable – and then it hurts.

The trick is to find a speed - and okay we're talking here about a slower speed - that's sustainable for your distance.

To be honest I tend to call any running I do “jogging” - it's faster than walking, even speed walking.  But it's no great speed – but heck I'm doing it.

At the Hutt City Triathlon (where the run segment is first), I was passed by a huge number of folk.  But then about half way around, I started to catch some of them up.  Their run pace was unsustainable, and they were now walking.  And as I say, I might not be lightening, but I'm faster than walking.

It was a good feeling – a kind of tortoise one-upmanship on a few hares.

Okay – so far so sporting anecdotes.  Why is this in a test blog?

In approaching testing for a big iteration, esp in a waterfall-esque project, we do tend to treat it as a race.  A race to test, a race to finish.

Unlike the hares on the triathlon we're probably more guilty of walk, walk, crawl, crawl … oh my God the deadline's nearly here – run, run, run!!!

The trick to avoid those last minute panic sprints is to try and work at a sustainable pace.  It's easy to say, but it's another thing to achieve it.

Especially in the early stages of a project, it's difficult to get hold of information or people – I'm getting at the moment for instance a lot of "look I'm too busy, I'll try and get back to you next week".  Which pretty much leaves the test group at an amber light – ready to move off, but not really able to.  And alas going around with thumbscrews only gets you so far ...

At the moment to keep up some kind of pace, we've identified we might need to use SOAP UI for testing the first iteration.  So we're trying to familiarise ourselves with that now, so we don't have to later.  Looking at what data we need, and preparing it – actions we might have left until a little later.

Keeping busy can feel a major occupation at times when the developers are running a month late, and you've nothing to test.  But it's an essential for a test team.  Lack of pace in a project is worse for the morale of a team than being overworked.

However giving team members tasks just to keep them busy and don't achieve things is also terrible for morale.  Some project managers I've known wouldn't give a hoot about team morale.

But in my book a team with good morale will feel more valued, be more engaged with their tasks, more creative with their solutions, but confident with interactions with other teams, and more diligent in their testing.

All that said – when it comes to running … I much prefer to be cycling.  Which let's face it is cheating!

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