maandag 28 november 2016

Scrum, burn-out and the Tai Chi-spective

(translated TestNet column)
According to research done by the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Netherlands and TNO, the percentage of IT-personnel that succumbs to burn-out is 17.2%. That is 3.2% higher than the national average. According to the investigation done, the causes are to be found in -amongst others- a higher work pressure and a higher emotional involvement for work.
During a workshop about absenteeism that I attended not so long ago the 'burn-out' was also discussed. One of the observations made in one of the discussions was that it seemed that especially in the younger population burn-out seemed to be increasing. We philosophized further on what could be the cause of this 'trend'. Was it the high work pressure? Was it the higher emotional involvement? We didn't thought this was the biggest issue. We made a link with the increase of working in an Agile way.
The Agile way of working, we were focussing on Scrum, is a way of working where the team is expected to have a high degree of (team)responsibility. The team as a whole is responsible for the results, and as a result one feels more involved. That is what makes working in a Scrum-team challenging and gives a high degree of autonomy. That autonomy is an important factor for motivation of employees, as various researches confirm. Thus far, there isn't any problem as it seems and one can safely conclude that working in a Scrum-team is both motivating and stimulating. Most employees will probably confirm that this is indeed the case, I'm convinced of this myself too.
But all that stimulation and performing can also have its downsides. Particularly, but not limited to, a young population. In the 'traditional project world' a 'youngster' was gradually introduced to the IT world by a test manager or test coordinator or mentor. Now these youngster are added to a Scrum-team where immediately the (team) responsibility for results count. Also 'oldies' experience this 'burden' in some cases, especially when they have worked in a micromanaged environments previously. Responsibility isn't a given fact, responsibility is something you have to dare to take, but sometimes you have to learn to take it.
Off course, one isn't responsible as an individual but as a team. But let's be honest, many teams perceive the new addition as a decrease of their velocity and this has to be brought up to speed as soon as possible. The expectancy is thus again relayed to the 'newbie' who, in all his or her enthusiasm and will to please excepts the challenge, not wanting to let the team down. The organisation asked for a sheep with five legs, excuse me- centipede- and the youngster is eager to comply. That can work out fine, but it can also backfire with absenteeism as a result. One has put his whole soul into his work, but loses his sanity in the process. When Vincent van Gogh stated this, he wasn't that crazy after all.
But I didn't get the 'aha-erlebnis' for this article by the 'burn-out-discussion' during that session about absenteeism, but during a course on Scaled Agile Framework. At a certain time there were a lot of references made on LEAN, KANBAN, Kaizens, GEMBA and what not more. I made a link with 'oriental' , and although Scrum hasn't got oriental roots, I noticed that a lot of Agile stuff has a link with the orient. I remembered the 'burn-out' discussion and the ((non)existing) relation with Scrum and made a connection.
A known concept in the orient is 'Yin and Yang'. These are Chinese concepts that refer to the opposing principles of forces in all aspects of life that permeate the universe. There in the Orient (yes, I'm generalizing now) people are more occupied with achieving the right balance and 'in the West' we tend to address this as 'hocus pocus'. There hardly arent any numbers on burn-out in the Orient, but if you search for researches done on the topic, burn-out is mostly seen in Western countries.
My argumentation: when developing in an approach with an oriental basis in a western country the chance of developing burn-out is bigger than in a country of oriental origin because apparently something is done differently.
What makes that difference? What doesn't one do, that is done in the Orient? I think it's because the awareness of the previously mentioned Yin and Yang and consciously being aware of these. When you walk through the average town in Asia and you pass a park or a square, you'll notice groups of people moving harmoniously. People charge themselves when they are tired, people take their rest when they are tired. People practice Tai Chi! which refers to a philosophy meaning one extreme (ultimate) and the other extreme (best) and refers thus to the philosophy of Yin and Yang.
So. My conclusion is that there is no other way than to add an extra ceremony in the Scrum-process to prevent imbalance and burn-out with employees; The Tai chi-spective (combination of Tai Chi and retrospective). I love to observe the teams and investigate what the effect will be!

donderdag 24 november 2016

Lullabies to Paralyze

For those of you who are expecting a blog about the 4th album by Queens of the Stone Age: I have to disappoint you. This blog has nothing to do with 'little sisters', 'broken boxes' or 'medication '. It has to do with testing, software testing that is.
I can no longer ignore some of the expectations and assumptions that are made about testing, I have to speak up. I have observed, for quite some time now, that testing service providers, independent testing professionals, testers, etc. etc. are advertising their activities in a way that I find is not what testing should be about and it worries me. It bugs me and as a tester I really dislike bugs...
I assume this advertising is done because companies who hire them (or the actually the people who hire them) have a soft spot for this kind of message. I find this alarming. Time for a wake-up call.
Slogans and sentences like: "Be Quality Re-assured", "we are testing so you don't have to lie awake at night...", "We will take your worries away", "hire us and you'll be certain and assured of...", they have one thing in common: they are lullabies that paralyze!
Testing should not be about taking worries away nor should it be about giving the customer a warm and cosy feeling. The customer on the other hand shouldn't be expecting this. They shouldn't assume that hiring testers or paying for testing(services) will suddenly make every worry go away nor should they think having 'testing' in place will abstain them from certain responsibilities.
Lots of testers (and/or companies) have taken up the role of pacifier, they are singing their lullabies and the client let's them sing. They feel comfortable, they don't have to worry and everything is alright.
People who know me a little, know I fancy a sturdy rock song. Maybe sometimes it's uncomfortable to listen to and a lot of lyrics are about ugly truths, but it certainly keeps me energized, aware and awake! Testing should be like a rock song, not the lullaby that features little white, fluffy sheep, soft and warm kittens and twinkling little stars...
Letting testing become the lullaby has its downsides. A lullaby has the goal of making you sleepy and that is exactly what I see happening in an alarming rate.
When you think everything is all right and warm and cosy, you won't be as receptive for dangers and risks.
Testing won't take away dangers or risks. Testing is about providing information, about providing insight on fitness for use, performance, security and what not more. But you'll have to act upon this information to actually mitigate dangers and risks and to address issues with performance, security and other things that testing will point out. That's not a responsibility of testing departments, testers or testing services; no matter what they tell you or what they promises.  That's the responsibility of the organization or team as a whole.
I think that as organisation you should be aware of testers (or services e.a.) that sing lullabies, that make you feel comfortable, that make you feel completely at ease and where you feel you haven't got a thing to worry about regarding your software and systems. Testers that 'Rock' are the ones you want. Testers that make you aware, energize you and wake you up. They make you think!
Organisations should also stop wanting to listen to those lullabies. I've got plenty of examples where the information provided by testing is ignored, because - like in a lot of rock songs- it contains some painful, ugly truths. If you don't want to listen to the songs, why buy the record? 
Thirdly I'd like testers, testing service providers etc. to stop lulling their customers into sleep. Besides the downsides I've already mentioned, they are also digging their own graves businesswise. Because when somebody feels very safe and has nothing to worry about, why would you pay for testers? Hey... no risk, no test right?
So from now on the only Lullabies to Paralyze you are listing to are those by The Queens of Stone Age J