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Friday, October 13, 2006

WOPR @ Exeter

Yesterday was a little weird and a lot brilliant!

WOPR is here in Exeter, and what was weird was walking out of my MBA study class to have lunch and realising that WOPR was taking place in the building next door. What was brilliant was meeting everyone and seeing how much they were all getting out of it.

Knowledge sharing is so important to our industry, and to our growth as a profession. It's fantastic that real practitioners want to share their experiences and to help other practitioners. Lots of new ideas come out of these types of events - and to be honest I dont think that there are enough of them.

It would be great if the organisers at SQE and Qualtech took a look at what has been going on at WOPR, LEWT and other events like PEST and aimed to incorporate elements of the approach more into StarWEST, StarEAST and EuroSTAR. It would really change the dynamic - and I think people would come out with a greater set of practical testing skills as a result. After all, Testing is about doing stuff!


Friday, September 29, 2006

Sharing Knowledge and Experience

We have a goal at TCL to become a world wide centre of testing excellence by 2020. Its a lofty goal, and one that we are perpetually seeking new ways to move towards - new ideas, experience, innovation and practices.

A big part of this is process is our knowledge sharing around the community. Its very much a two way process, but when we develop new ideas, or meet excellent people in the industry, we try to share the knowledge and experience whereever we can.

In that vein there are several events taking place in October which are particularly exciting. James Bach, known world-wide as an expert in the field of Software Testing and Rapid Software Testing techniques, is coming to Exeter University to deliver a (free) day seminar on Rapid Software testing on the 11th of October 2006. James will be discussing his experiences in Rapid Software Testing, and outlining the possibilities of Exploratory Testing.

The seminar will take place at the Xfi building of the University of Exeter - see for a detailed map of the University. Places are limited, so if you would like to attend please send an email at

TCL is also supporting WOPR - the Workshop on Performance and Reliability - which is taking place at the University of Exeter this year, from the 12th of October to the 14th of October. This is the first time that a WOPR conference has happened outside of the United States, and it is a prime opportunity to meet some of the best known experts in performance testing and learn in a sharing environment. For more details on WOPR, please visit

We also have people from across the company attending the SQS (ICSTEST) conference in London, StarWEST in Anaheim and later in the year we will also be EuroSTAR in Manchester.

All very exciting. Excellent opportunities for people to share and learn.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Things we can learn from History - Textiles in the 18th and 19th Centuries

As a reader of my Blog you are probably aware that I am in the middle of a part time MBA course. Its hard work, lots to balance with business and personal life commitments but its really worth it as I am learning a great deal of relevant stuff and coming up with lots of new ideas for how TCL can develop, broaden and strengthen.

In our current course we are looking at the making and integration of management. It's an interesting approach to bringing together all aspect of management with a view to understanding how we got to these approaches, why we are using them, who were the key people involved in getting us there and seeing what we can learn from them.

I found our recent short project on Textiles in the 18th and 19th Century very interesting and have copied an extract from my short paper on workforce management below. Hope you enjoy it.......

.....In the 18th century there was a manufacturing revolution within the textiles industry which brought it from ‘cottage industry’ where there were many small scale producers to a much more significant scale through the introduction of mass production. This revolution was facilitated by technological innovations in terms of the equipment that was developed to process the raw materials involved in textiles production.

Large volume production created a lower per unit cost, and thus enabled lower prices to the consumer, with better profit margins for the producer. This created mass markets which generated large profits for owners, and fuelled a period of intense competition.

Manufacturing plants brought people into unfamiliar environments which were crowded, noisy, unhygienic and in many cases unsafe. There were many issues related to staff recruitment reflective of the environment, and this was particularly seen in the countryside where a majority of mills were located.

When workforces were successfully recruited and trained they were likely to become transient, primarily in search of better wages but also in search of better working environments. They chose to suffer the individual problems of one factory for only short periods.

In the early stages of the manufacturing boom the owners and managers were faced with a very militant workforce. The harsh conditions spurred large scale demonstrations and unrest. Physical violence against managers, owners and overseers was common place and this in turn fuelled counter behaviours such as beatings and even shootings.

At the centre of a great deal of the unrest was the sentiment that this ‘new way of working’ was about concentrating capital at the expense of the labour force. It had made the owners and managers incredibly wealthy which magnified the situation, and created a social divide.

Over time things had to change. There was no way that the industry could continue in this way and in particular the owners had the following drivers:
• Factories being burnt down by militant workers caused massive disruption
• Couldn’t get workers into countryside factories
• Massively transient workforce created knowledge and skill difficulties
• Mass markets were creating large amounts of money and potentially large profits – people like Richard Arkwright were among the wealthiest people in the nation
• Heavy competition.

Recognition began to evolve that there was inherent value in the Human Component within the manufacturing process, and that as great investment was being placed in the technology of large scale manufacturing artefacts so should there be similar investment in the people.

A preliminary step forward was the offering of better wages. This is a natural market force, in that as the workforce became hard to attract the cost of those workers became higher. A plateau was soon reached on this approach though, as the market would not sustain perpetual advancement in this area.

The most consistently successful entrepreneurs were the ones that stamped their personal culture and values on the company and thus created a common unity and drive to their organisation. While not all these cultural models were utopian, they did create more ‘team working’ and generated greater efficacy from the human component of the process.

Within the more utopian models a great deal of social engineering took place, in that the companies:
• Built villages around the factories to house the workers
• Developed education and healthcare programmes
• Hired people with large families – and looked to employ most of them within the factory creating communities with the factory at the centre.

These approaches created dependencies between the workers and the company and effectively tied them to the location and to the specific factory. It also raised the standard of living for a great many people and this was something that other fields of endeavour would be unlikely to match.

There was a great diversity between the individual models used. Some seem to be derived from placing the workers at the centre of the process, others by military backgrounds or personal values. Examples of these include:
• Arkwright – A system of Industry, order and cleanliness
• Sir Robert Peel – Order, arrangement and subdivision – like a military drill
• Pollard – methods to institute and Maintain the regime – corporal punishment, fines and threats of dismissal

Towards the end of the 19th century great stock was placed in the notion that it wasn’t enough to drive the workers, but that it was more effective to motivate them. Related to this idea the concept of splitting ownership and control of companies started to carry more favour. It allowed the management to find a solution to meet the goals of the owners, without the owners themselves dictating what it should be.

In today’s working environment within the western, more knowledge based industries there are significant challenges around recruitment, staff retention, efficacy and motivation of the workforces. The solutions to these challenges seem most likely to be found within the cultural models and social frameworks which the companies themselves form.

A great deal of time and effort is expended on creating good team working. It is a firmly held belief that as organisations mature they need to continually re-invent themselves to create the right environment – and thus generate effective team working. At the root of this is that teamworking is contingent on shared goals. With Ownership and Control being increasingly differentiated under the ‘best practise’ governance around listed companies this brings us to the concept that the people within the company need to share the goals of the owners and thus ensure the longevity of the company.

Examples of this can be seen in:
• Semco – where it is run very democratically, even electing the senior management team
• TCL – where the company is run in part along the lines of a ‘mutual’ organisation, ensuring a very transparent organisation and recycling a high percentage of profits back to each employee.

I draw much inspiration from the idea brought forward by Robert Owen that:

‘managers who managed solely for pecuniary gain were destructive of the happiness of the nation and of society’.

To me, this shows us very clearly the reason as to why companies have to continually reinvent themselves and their organisations in that for only a few people, and for only a short time, will the destruction of a society or nation be tolerated and after that the people involved will force a change. This has been seen with industrial, political and civil unrest across the world and across history. Within a company if the people aren’t at the heart of the organisation and receiving value from their contributions then they will look to change it, enhance it or even destroy it.

A long term, successful company will therefore be a vehicle whereby capital is concentrated to be shared amongst those that help to concentrate it. The social and cultural frameworks put together by the company will therefore act in the best interests of the people, and thus overall for the company as a whole.

In this regard the socialist models along with the tools and methods introduced during the textiles industry revolution have a place in our thinking and management methods today. While our contemporary implementation of these models may be driven perhaps more by self interest and less for socialist reasons, the reality is that for businesses to exist and to have a long term future they must keep people at the centre of their thinking. Where they do not, they are likely to fail.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Can a benefits based testing approach be used in Safety Critical areas?

Here at TCL we have a benefits based testing approach, which we use to try and ensure that projects deliver their anticipated benefits and add strategic value to their organisations.

It’s a good technique - borne out of a very simple concept that testing, and indeed the project should be driven by a business need; that need can be expressed in terms of benefit - normally fiscal - and we should take a holistic view of the project which is led by that benefit.

This enhances and possibly even opposes the resource based logic that we would normally take through the more risk based approach.

My question today though is: Can a benefits based approach be taken to safety critical environments?

When I first started thinking about this I started to join up the idea that even in a safety critical environment there are tangible business benefits. Safety critical applications are focussed on not having defects that cause harm - and indeed that is a valuable thing to ensure is ok. Can that value be quantified though? Can it be transposed to fiscal terms? Should it be?

In the UK our culture aligns closer and closer to the US, and in so doing we see a more legal orientated approach to business. Perhaps, like Ford and their factory recall of a few years ago an evaluation could be done of the cost to make something compliant with safety critical requirements and the cost of a defect in terms of law suites? This approach doesn’t sit well with me ethically, but am I just nieve?

If we don’t take this kind of approach then I get a little lost in terms of how to quantify the business benefit of something being safety critical, how we would then link this into a business case and then in tern link to requirements. The answer is out there, but I think there is some more work for me to do before we can get this to work.

My colleague Barry is putting together a white paper on benefits based testing and if you get chance to read this it would be great to hear your thoughts on it, and indeed how benefits based testing could work in a safety critical environment.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How are we going to get Strategic Value from Testing

As the time to market for software products continues to decrease, the need to maximise the return we get for the money invested in development projects has never been greater.

As testers we are faced with a special kind of challenge - we dont write the code, we dont design the code, we dont belong to the business who will benefit from the code - so where do we fit in?

I think that we know the answer to that, but a lot of people around us dont. We need to find a way to speak their language, and transcend the barriers and perceptions between us. By approaching testing in a mature and professional way we can realise value to the teams around us, get a better product out the door and also generate unique management information on which to monitor and further refine the development processes.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently and also how I as a user of software products am becoming increasingly fault intolerant. The proliferation of systems and devices into every day life means that inherent defects can impact us in a very personal way e.g. cant get to my diary, recorded the wrong TV programme etc. I mean have you ever tried to use diary facilities - there's a system with a need for some serious testing commitment.

I notice that seemingly trivial bugs frustrate a great many people and as an end user community the only real power we all have is to show our feelings by finding an alternative product - its not like my mobile phone comes with a defect tracking tool, or even a very helpful customer service portal!

With this in mind I think that significant competitive advantage can be secured for the organisations that can test their software well and thereby deliver products:
Faster – bringing them to the market first, or at least earlier than the majority of their competitors. Getting them to the front of the innovation queue.

Cheaper – perhaps increasing the efficacy of testing earlier in the lifecycle to reduce costly re-work and help improve the total cost of product development

With higher quality – being the product of choice, with a reputation for quality and resilience will ultimately secure long term market share.

At TCL we recognise that a challenge exists to find these kinds of strategic value on every project and our solutions are focussed on providing innovative, structured and professional ways to engage with organisations to meet their unique challenges. But is this enough?

Where can we get more strategic value from? Who do we need to convince that testing has more to offer than it is currently doing? Why are so many testing projects making the same old mistakes, and delivering so little value? (not ours I hasten to add!)

Difficult questions - with no short answer. I'll share my thoughts with you as they develop....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Six Sigma and Vision, Values, Goals.

Went to a fantastically interesting and enjoyable presentation as part of my MBA programme yesterday. A representative from Vodafone came to the University and presented on Vodafone strategy (the module we are doing right now is on strategy) and in particular the use of six sigma across their organisation.

Very interesting to hear about the challenges and impact of six sigma - and that they have actually succeeded in making things happen and delivering real tangible worth within 2 years of starting the programme. Also very interesting to hear about how things fit into their vision.

For anyone that came to Anaheim or has read my presentation on aligning test strategies with corporate goals you would have seen that I used Vodafone as an example of a company with Vision. In March last year I was lucky enough to attend a conference in London where Arun Sarun (CEO of Vodafone) spoke about the Vision, Values and Goals of the organisation. I felt quite inspired and impressed by his talk which is why they became my worked example.

In his talk he talked about the vision to be:

The world's mobile communications leader - enriching customers' lives, helping individuals, businesses and communities be more connected in a mobile world.

Under Values he talked about:

Passion for customers: "Our customers have chosen to trust us. In return, we must strive to anticipate and understand their needs and delight them with our service.“
Passion for our people: "Outstanding people working together make Vodafone exceptionally successful.“
Passion for results: "We are action-oriented and driven by a desire to be the best.“
Passion for the world around us: "We will help the people of the world to have fuller lives – both through the services we provide and through the impact we have on the world around us."

and under goals he talked about:

Provide superior shareholder returns
Delight our customers
Leverage global scale and scope
Expand market boundaries
Build the best global Vodafone team
Be a responsible business.

Now for me here's the interesting bit. The Six Sigma approach being used at Vodafone meets up with all of this. They are trying to drive out wasted costs, improve service, get things better understood so that they can then yield advantages of scope and scale, create bigger market share and a whole host of things on the back of the way Six Sigma will improve their operating efficiency and ways of working.

As a tester, I also gained great encouragement from the focus they have in their Voice of the Customer campaign. In essence this is one big TTRM /VCRI where they get the Grumps and Grumbles from the customer (e.g. I went into your store to buy the new whizzy bang handset to find it was out of stock. So now I am on TMobile instead!) and reviewing their systems and processes that lead to that result e.g. Stock control, marketing, logistics management. By reevaluating these, and putting the six sigma approach at the heart of the improvements they look to remove the issue.

Lots of work, lots of process, lots of Testing. All good stuff :)

As I say a very interesting presentation. If you are interested in knowing more about it or perhaps getting the contact details for the presenter so as to ask them some questions please drop me an email.

TCL Scholarship at the University of Exeter

I am really very excited to be able to tell you about our new scholarship scheme at the University of Exeter. As you will know from the previous entries in the Blog, TCL has an aspiration to become a World Wide, World Class Centre of Testing Excellence by 2020. Part of making this happen is a commitment we have made to involve academic institutions in the development of software testing as a professional discipline.

This year we have developed a scholarship scheme for undergraduates at the University of Exeter designed to encourage people with the aptitude and passion for software testing.

Details of the scheme can be found at:

The University of Exeter has been a superb partner in our recent endeavours and we are all really excited about this new scholarship scheme.

By taking this approach, and getting involved in other things like R&D and Masters by Research projects we hope to see many expert testers of the future coming through the Exeter Degree programme. This is good for Exeter, Good for TCL and Good for software testing as a whole. A real win-win.

Very interested to hear any comments on our scheme, ideas for new innovations or from Universities that would also like to embrace software testing into their Computer Science departments.

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