2017 Test Leadership Congress in New York

From May 1st to 4th I’ll be in New York, at the Test Leadership Congress in New York.

Why go all that way to New York? Well, there’s an obvious answer; it’s in New York for goodness sake, and there are interesting looking talks by some cool people. But for me the clincher is a one day masterclass that could hardly be better designed to lure me over the Atlantic.

Dave Snowden is presenting “A leader’s framework for decision making: managing complex projects using Cynefin“. That would be hugely interesting in any context, but when he’s addressing an audience of testers, with the added inducement that “a new collaborative project on software testing will be introduced to delegates”, well I’m checking out flights already.

For a few years now I’ve been fascinated by the understanding that Cynefin can help us gain of the environment we are working in and the problems with which we must grapple. I’ve written about this, providing an introduction to Cynefin, but that was aimed at the highest level of testing strategy, the worldview that shapes our approach to testing.

If you think about the world in the wrong way, if you make flawed and unchallenged assumptions about the nature of the problems you face then you won’t do much that is useful, and even less that is valuable. You can close your mind to all this and get on with working the process but the chances are you’ll be “faking the testing”, a phrase of James Bach’s that keeps coming back to me over the years.

Understanding Cynefin will help testers to choose an approach that will enable more effective testing; your approach will be aligned both to the way that software is developed, and also to the product or application under test. The nature of development means that we are mostly dealing with complicated and complex problems, with the most challenging problems taking us into the complex domain.

The essential feature of complex systems is that they are not predictable. There is no clear cause and effect. We might be able to discern them with hindsight, but that knowledge doesn’t allow us to predict what will happen next; the system adapts continually. In order to understand the system we need to probe it, make sense of what we discover, then respond. Cynefin is therefore likely to guide us towards more flexible, iterative development and exploratory testing. But exactly how should we use that understanding to conduct testing?

In particular I am keen to hear Dave’s ideas about how “safe to fail” experiments with complex systems can be applied in testing. Dave describes safe-fail experiments as follows.

“I can’t get it right in advance, so I need to experiment with different ways of approaching the journey that are safe-fail in nature. That is to say I can afford them to fail and critically, I plan them so that through that failure I learn more about the terrain through which I wish to travel.”

This cycle of probing and learning is obviously relevant to testing. You could say it is testing. I can’t wait for this class.

An added attraction that the Congress has for me is the class on the following day, led by Fiona Charles and Anna Royzman, “Strategic Leadership for Testers“. Test management is changing. Treating the job as a matter of managing the testing process simply won’t cut it in future. Both in testing and software development we’ve been poor at thinking strategically and that is one of Fiona’s strengths. That, combined with her incisive style and wit, makes this is a class I really don’t want to miss while I’m in New York. If you’re going to be there let me know. I look forward to seeing you.