Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Farming Experience

Yesterday I talked a little bit about pure obstinacy, how we have to do our own thing in the wake of a lot of good advice.  It's a natural phenomenon of the world.  It's also a huge part of the difficulty of life.

These two blog posts were inspired from Twitter, where I get a huge source of inspiration from,

Ah yes, that feeling when you don't feel listened to as part of a team.  Especially where you've been brought in for your expertise, but sub-sequentially sidelined.  Been there, and look ...

I'm going to put this unpleasant experience under the microscope, and I did a bit of the ground work yesterday.

Let's revisit the "alcohol abuse" scenario again.  Sorry, but we have to!

My parents gave me advice, and it's good advice.  And it's based on their experience.  But I ignore it because I want to get drunk.  The fundamental problem here is their experience is their experience ... it's not mine (until the morning after).  Until that experience is my experience, I'll only pay lip service to it.  It's human nature.

I find the older I get, the more I empathise with my parents.  It's a very weird experience, but probably an important part of growing up (yeah, I'm in my 40s and talking about growing up).

I'm often brought into projects to "bring in your extensive experience" in IT.  I'll roll up my sleeves and ... no, you're not going to do THAT are you?

Often as the subject matter expert you have an uphill battle.  People can want you there, but not really do what you advise, if it's contrary to what they'd like to do.  Like a lot of people, I can sometimes get very annoyed and frustrated about this.

Here are some steps I take to try and turn things around

Look first to yourself

I noticed something I do from looking at my post from yesterday.  I'll get annoyed about something, some way that people have behaved.  I might be ready to pull out my soap box ... but wait.

Something I try and do first when I find fault in others is to first find fault in myself.  I'm annoyed at people who voted for leave in Brexit, I'm annoyed for people who voted for Trump.  I'm angry that people can be so self-focused, lack empathy and just roll their eyes when any kind of "expert" gives evidence against the politician who is offering them free lollies, so they just yawn and go ...

Many bloggers would just launch into an attack, it's easy to do.

Though as I covered yesterday, although my parents weren't the most supportive people when I had a hangover (my mum would sing opera very loud if I had a bad head), they brought me up that before I find fault in others, I should try and find fault in myself first.

The older I've got, the more important this is.  So at the beginning of my talk yesterday before I talked about people who ignored all the evidence and voted Trump, I talked about the times I just plain refused to listen to my parents because "I have to do my own thing".

If I have an experience where I've been a jerk in a similar way to the way to somebody who's currently infuriating me, it raises a very important point.  Maybe their behaviour isn't so much spiteful as some kind of human behaviour.

At this point, I have to take a quite critical look at myself, and it's really an uncomfortable thing to do.  The question is, "do I still behave like this, and it not, what changed me?".  I really hope the answer to that question is always a "no, you grew up".  But not always.

If the answer is a "no", it gives a very important starting point.  Something changed me, what was it?  That experience is my ally, because what worked for me might be an inroads for working for change with a group or other person.

Exposing to experience

Let's look to how my parents looked after me.  They would leave me to feel dreadful for having a hangover, and would gloat over how bad I felt.  But there was an incident where I had a combination of alcohol and cold remedy which was nearly fatal, and they got medical help for me.  So you let people feel rough, but you avoid them getting into danger.

As said above, you want to expose someone to some of your experience, for things to get a bit rough so they feel the heat a little.  That is how your experience becomes their experience, but it's your role to save them from the worst (but note, not from everything).

What you need is the equivalent of what you get in sitcomland where the father of the house catches their 10 year old trying smoking, so they get them to try some cigars with whiskey, to create an inevitable vomiting episode which will "teach them a lesson".  Of course this can sometimes go horribly wrong ...

One thing I'm a huge fan of is workshops and activities.  Within such activities things can go wrong, but it's a safe environment.  That's why I use activity for my introduction to testing workshop at Summer Of Tech, and why I'm working more on workshops over presentations this year, especially at TestBash Brighton (come see my strategy workshop).

It's also why I feel the Software Testing World Cup is a must for people to have a go at, we really enjoyed competing, and why I'm trying to get some of my company at Richard Bradshaw's LEGO Automation Workshop.

It's also why I try and work so hard at the water cooler.  I try and use people's experience to give me an inroad, to socialise my message, put it into terms they understand.  You can tell I went to one of those Churches which encouraged us to evangelise about Christianity whenever we could ... well I do that now about testing.

Someone excited about a space probe?  Let's talk about how NASA tests (not so much ESA right now).  Actually, I lie, something like how the ESA Mars Schiaparelli lander is great to talk testing.

But currently in agile, my job couldn't be simpler.  As I talked about previously, it's not my job to make every sprint a success, it's my job to do my best.  If the rest of the team want to do something that I think is risky, but won't listen to me, then sometimes the way to find this out is to go down this road, and revisit at the retrospective.  With luck there'll be something, and so they'll get to feel the heat just a little, but enough to go "hey, let's not do that again".  Now they should have a bit more experience, they played with matches, burnt their fingers but you're on hand to make sure the whole house doesn't come down.  Also, "hey Mike, why were you standing next to the fire extinguisher?"

What I've found to work is when it does happen, just give them a gentle nudge.  Don't do the whole "oh I told you, and you didn't listen".  I wasn't too keen to hear that from my parents when I had a hangover, although it did reinforce things.

Say "this is why we need to X", and leave it at that.  This is how you build your reputation in a group, and as people come to trust you more, they'll listen to you more.  I work with two amazing testers in my company whose behaviour seems impossible.  They are the opposite of me, being quite quiet and reserved - but by simply making their case, nudging in retrospectives, and not making a big deal of lessons learned, they've built up a great reputation and a lot of trust, to the point where they've quietly pushed a mandate for testing, but using a great deal of patience.

I've learned a lot from these two.  But speaking up, giving space, reinforcing points without using blame can change things.  Often frustratingly slowly, but it's real change.

Edit - December 2017

During the year, this has been a major theme of a lot of what I've done.  Running internal workshops and indeed at TestBash Brighton and Agile Test Days.  It's not the only way to learn, but it's something I align very strongly, and it has a name called "kinesthetic learning" or "learning by doing".

Now Playing: "The Others", TV Rock vs Dukes of Windsor


  1. Change is hard... I've found that most people need to feel a lot of pain before they're really motivated to succeed with a change. And, even if they intellectually agree with what I say - doesn't mean they're going to do it.

    I like doing retrospectives and identifying just the ONE biggest problem everyone can agree on. Then brainstorm experiments to make that problem a little smaller. The key is to figure out some way to measure the success of the experiment, or progress towards chipping away the obstacle or working towards the goal. It takes a lot of thinking sometimes to come up with measurements or milestones that make sense and are doable.

    I think we can all be change agents, we can help lead change but we can't make anyone do it. I've had a lot of success with Linda Rising and Mary Lynn Manns' _More Fearless Change_ patterns. They're small and easy to try, and if a pattern doesn't work I can just try another one.

    1. Such a great point there. In science you try and vary just one dimension at a time to discover a relationship. I know we can be too tempted to have scattergun changes after a retrospective. When you have 5 initiatives for next sprint, it's hard to know if individually they worked out.

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