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Monday, November 09, 2009

Zappers = PEST + More Testing Fun!

Anyone who has been following the migration of the PEST events into the new format Zappers will hopefully have taken a look at the new community website and realised that this is now taking off with a very different flavour of its own.

I was at the last event in Bristol and it was brilliant, competitive and lots of fun. Take a look at the video that Guy and the team published today:

It is my hope that now Zappers has become its own entity, and is receiving support and sponsorship from a variety of places it can go on to become the true community initiative we had always hoped it would be.

Over the next few months I believe we are going to see more from the Universities and students along with the expansion of the calendar for 2010 to include USA west coast and east coast events along with those in Bangalore and the UK. The first phase website is also going to get a big lift in phase 2 to become the hub for the community and the events.

If you want to hold your own Zappers event then please get in contact with Guy or Cat via the main site and they'll let you know what you need to do!

Zappers = PEST + More Testing Fun! that's for sure :)

The TCL Vision and BHAG

It's the time of year when TCL starts to think about the challenges it faces and how to align progress and investments next year to the vision for the company.
While we do a lot of things inside the organisation to this effect, I also like to share the outline for our BHAG to everyone - and indeed anyone that will listen ;) - as I feel it helps for everyone in and around the organisation to understand what makes TCL different and why we quest for the World Class status..........

Our company has been founded on a vision. This vision is at the heart of everything we do, and so it's important that you understand it, that you debate it, that you recognise what you do and how you can work in the best ways to advance the company towards its goals.

We've set our biggest goal with a target date of 2020. If we can get there quicker it would be fantastic and will enable us to dream again and set another big goal for the future of the organisation that we want to see go on for a long into the future. It is only when we work together as a team, across all the sites and all the operations, that we will get to the goals we have set out and all get the most from the journey that is TCL.
So let me take a moment to share with you what I see when I think about our company at 2020…….

We have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) to be a world wide, world class, centre of testing excellence. This means that we want to establish TCL as a Centre of Testing excellence that has world class solutions and then be able to deliver them to any industry and in any country.

When we have done this we will see that:
Our company will benefit its employees and their families. They will benefit financially, emotionally, ethically, technically and physically through the way the company is run.
Our company will be financially robust and secure. We will have sufficient alerts and contingency plans in place to ensure we can survive economic peaks and troughs whatever the root cause.
The communities in which we operate will also benefit from TCL. We will actively make efforts to be involved in those communities and the issues that are important to them.
We will also ensure that each year some of our profits are given to worthwhile charities. These are charities that are important to the people in our company.
Our culture will be totally inclusive, with all levels of the organisation being informed and involved. Each person in the company will have a personal understanding and empathy with their colleagues in relationships that demonstrate integrity and respect at every juncture. There will be awards each year for long service and we will evolve a 'dynasty' organisation where people can join as a graduate and go on to have a full and fulfilling career with TCL.
We will gather views from across the organisation and set up a team to regularly introduce new ideas to keep the company aligned with the purpose, values and BHAGs and to be a proven source of information and inspiration around the company. Competition to be part of this forum will be high, and it will be necessary for the participants to undergo three month secondments to the team to get the work done.
The TCL solutions will be aligned and accredited with organisations such as ISO and the BCS. Our method SMaRT will be recognised as a management model and be used as a template and standard in blue chip organisations around the world.
Our employees will be proud to belong to TCL and will contribute to the company progression each day with energy and enthusiasm.
We will be using the latest technology and involved with the strategic decision making process with each of our clients having demonstrated consistently our ability to add value to that process.
Our reputation will be such that there will be healthy competition to join TCL, and the selection process will be rigorous to ensure that only people who display the core values and have the aptitude to support and contribute to the TCL vision are involved.
We want to take testing to a new level. A professional discipline that is consistently recognised for its value and resourced, planned and funded accordingly within all development lifecycles.
Our Research and Development capability will lead the way with innovative and intuitive solutions that are derived from the latest theory, technology and thinking across the world. We will involve and include academic research and consideration as well as commercial best practise.
Our solutions will have been benchmarked with companies in all five continents and proven within more than 10 industries including Defence.
We will be the testing partner of choice for Safety Critical Applications and SIL levels 3 and 4.
We will have offices on three continents and research and development capabilities at each. These will have links to Universities and we will provide some financial support and assistance to these universities in the areas of research that will help further the TCL purpose.
Our presentations at industry forums will be actively sought and solicited and our representatives praised for their credentials, innovation and inspirational style of presenting.
When a project declares that their testing will be conducted by TCL it will be perceived at all levels of an organisation that this is the best way to go and that both cost and quality will be in ideal balance for this delivery.
We will be seen for our Quality and Innovation but we will never be seen as overpriced – simply realistic for the demonstrable value we add.
We will never have been sued for malpractice or incompetence and our relationship with our core clients will span in excess of 10 years.

So, what is our company like now…
We have established a company that has succeeded for nearly 10 years in increasing its capability, Client base and delivery consistency. The company has grown to have a presence on three continents and is in the process of setting up a new operation in Switzerland. Our numbers are circa 100 over all operations, and we are maturing our processes, systems and teams to make a robust and sustainable operation at all levels.
TCL has remained profitable through good times and bad, and continually invested its time, money and energy in looking to the future. We've never stopped investing in our vision or preparing for the challenges of tomorrow, even when the challenges of today have taken a great deal to solve.
We have set up scholarship programmes with universities in the UK and the USA, and have run internship programmes with students from the UK, France, USA and India. We've set up management development programmes that use the best of what we know inside the company and combine it with professional training elements available to us commercially and from academia.
We've placed the needs of our customers and the needs of our people at the front of all our decisions, and evolved an organisation that is diverse and evolving with a strong set of cultural values that bind us all together as a team.
From all of this we can see that the state of our company is strong, despite the pressures and changes in the economy and the impact that this has had not only on us but on our Clients. We must not however be complacent, or for any moment think that this has happened easily or without measure or management. It takes vigilance and discipline to keep a company sustained through turbulent times, and in the long term. We must continuously seek out new efficiencies and innovation to meet the demands of the market and look forward to ensure that we are always ahead of our competitors, in the disciplines and services we chose.
Over the next quarter the company will be building its business plan for next year, and indeed looking out two years in its operational roadmaps. All entities will be involved and engaged, and they will be looking to first meet the basic needs of sustainability and then to move forward with the vision. To that end the following themes will be seen in changes over the next 12 to 24 months:
1. Research and Development
2. Charities
3. Succession
4. Efficiency
5. Heartbeat.
These things will not be easy, but they are exciting and they are the right things to do to move the company forward. This promises to be a very interesting and enjoyable next year, and indeed I view the next 5 years with great optimism.

I look forward to talking about the TCL vision with you, and what it means to all of us. I hope that you can see already how you fit into things, and how what you do at TCL is important and valued. I also hope that you can see ways in which you can make a difference to our pursuit of this vision and will be inspired to go out there to make it happen.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

MBA Dissertation : Being part of an Innovation Centre

I'm currently writing an MBA Dissertation on how being part of an Innovation Centre assists a business in its endeavours. It's a one company case study, of TCL and how we have worked with the Innovation Centre, and the University of Exeter, what we have got out of it, what we have given to it and what else we could have / should have done.
It looks at many aspects of things, including what the innovation centres are there for and how our business fits with that model, along with a perspective on how other businesses work with the innovation centre.
If you are reading this and your business is present in an innovation centre then I would very much welcome your views and response to this survey. All contributions gratefully received, particularly if you are part of the Innovation Centre in Exeter, but also if you are from elsewhere. The comparisons will be very interesting.

Note: The survey closes on Friday 06 November 2009.

Monday, November 02, 2009

NSPCC Annual Council Meeting

The NSPCC is one of the charities that TCL supports, and our support is more than just some donations of money. It's a charity that is very important to me personally, and one where we try to help them as much as we can. So this year I joined the Exeter Business Group, which helps the NSPCC to raise funds and network in the area. We've got some tough targets to meet, but it's going well. As part of my involvement I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the NSPCC Annual Council meeting in London. It gave me a chance to meet some people, see the launch of the strategy for the year and to get more of an understanding of how things work. It was a great experience.

So, this annual council thing. What is it? It's like a company AGM (annual general meeting). They vote in the new officers. They hear about the performance and successes last year and they hear about the strategy for the year ahead. Members get to vote on things, and there is open floor debate on any issues required. Quite a PLC AGM type thing. There is a huge difference though - it's not about money when you come to the NSPCC, it's about the very deeply held beliefs, values and vision of a huge number of people who believe that cruelty to children isn't right and can be stopped. This is a passion. This is a hugely driving force. It is quite something to see 400+ people in a room with such a passion. It got them from all corners of the UK to a council session in London. It provides them with the inspiration for the fundraising, and the work with children that many of them do. It's quite something to see.

As an observer I was given a brown ticket. This was important because if you have a green ticket - a member of the council - you can vote on stuff. As an observer I could speak if I wanted to - pose questions to the top team etc, but not vote. A weird experience for me - not having the ability to make a decision in the room!

The day was well structured. It had a clear agenda. It's production value and organisation was a little questionable at time - note to TCL team : we do a better job of organising our parties :). It had a diverse group of people presenting including the NSPCC Top Team, The Talk to Trustees group (young people from around the country who are directly engaged at the top level to provide insights) and guest speakers such as Floella Benjamin.

So, here's the top 5 things I learnt on the day:
  • Purpose - the common purpose that binds the NSPCC is quite something. The behaviours it brings out in people are amazing. The passion and compassion that binds such a large group together is remarkable and quite inspiring to experience. While a great many people are paid to work as part of the NSPCC a lot also do things for free and happily donate of their time and energies to further a cause in which they strongly believe.
  • There's not enough money - £160million is what the NSPCC raised last year. A lot of cash. The UK government spend >£6BN on child services each year though, and that shows how little the NSPCC can do with their £160million. Most importantly both lots added together, along with all the money spent by other childrens charities, is still not getting the job done, and everyone agrees they don't know what it would take to do it all. All they do know is that they can make a difference for some people and some children with what they do, and so they get on with it.
  • Charity vs Business - The NSPCC seems to be very well run, and a high percentage of its money goes directly into work that helps children. They run it like a business and have a high calibre top team to keep it under control. Interestingly, the top team are all equally passionate about the work of the charity.
  • Floella Benjamin is a legend - Giving the closing address Floella was an absolute legend. Employing all her skills and training as an actress she commanded a room of 400+ people with emotion and energy. No notes for the talk that lasted about 20 mins. It was told as all good presentations should be, in the format of a story - with a begining, a middle and an end. But Wow! what impact! Everyone left the room engaged and inspired and amazed. I was lucky enough to meet up with her a few days ago here at the University and was able to tell her how cool I thought the presentation was.
  • We can do more - there's a lot we can't do for the NSPCC here at TCL. We aren't trained counsellors for instance, and indeed some of us couldn't or wouldn't enjoy that kind of task. We can do more though. We can donate some time to help them with IT issues. We can go to more events and raise more money. We can volunteer to help at different things and we can, as they encourage us to do, take personal accountability and if and when we see things like cruelty to children we can report it and we can help stop it.

The most difficult part of the day for me was in listening to the new strategy for the NSPCC for the year. They said it like any business would....they said ' we recognise that we can't do everything and that we have a cause we believe in. We therefore want to do the most with what we have available to us, and to that end we recognise that some of our services and operations are not efficient enough, and by changing what we do, removing some services and re-organising the way we operate we can have more impact. So, next year we are closing or relocating some centres, phasing out some services and diverting our resources to several key campaigns. We are going to concentrate on awareness and education, and removing the root causes of child cruelty.'

So, I'm sitting there and I hear this, and I am split. One part of me - the businessman - thinks this is all very reasonable and the right thing to do. It will achieve greater results and that is very valuable. The other part - let's call him the human being - thinks this is not good enough.

If there is one place you should be able to do everything it should be when it comes to protecting children. Removing services leaves kids at risk and can lead to disasters. Closing down centres takes vital volunteers out of the loop and asking people to do more than they are already doing is probably going to prove to be difficult. I want them to seek out the wrong, and to shed light into the darkness for children who can't stop what is affecting them, and to do so with infinite vigilance and infinite capacity. But it just can't be that way.

So, I am left with a dilema. I finally see a charity running itself very professionally, but it doesnt make me feel good to see what it has to do to achieve that!

Then comes the engagement. The open panel of the top team. The open debate. The voicing of concerns. You start to appreciate that these decisions have genuinely been hard. That people feel the same anxiety that I had done. That the top team had felt the same anxiety too. But they could see that to do more with what they had was better than doing the same, or in believing that it would get better without them changing. They knew how far they could stretch £160million and they knew how much of a gap it left. They had found what was realistic for them to achieve. It was a very good session. I still didnt 100% feel comfortable with it all, but I did clearly recognise the value they were trying to create and that their intentions were good.

And so where does this leave me? I've come from the annual council meeting inspired to help them more. In understanding their needs and vision for the NSPCC I have seen ways in which I, TCL and indeed everyone can help them and I intend that we do so.

I've already engaged with someone to join our team to specifically own and drive new initiatives with the NSPCC and St Michaels Small School and I've stepped up my committments in 2010 to helping them raise funds. Part of the new Charities Officer role that Cheree O'Melia will be taking on will be to engage more with both the charities and everyone in TCL and to facilitate more endeavours across the organisation that support the works of the charities. She'll also be getting more information out to everyone and publicising more of what we do, and the benefits it brings. I hope too that by the start of next year we will also have updated our policy on Corporate Social Responsibility.

I hope that when reading this you recognise some ways in which you too can help, and look forward to speaking with you about those. I'd like to thank those of you that have already signed up for events like the Great West Run, and also to those who have expressed interest in getting involved next year. It is much appreciated.

GTAC 2009 - Brilliant!

So, I've just got back into the office from a week in Switzerland and I wanted to take a moment to share some of the experiences I had while away at GTAC 2009, the annual Google conference on test automation. It was an incredibly enjoyable, dare I say it almost inspirational event!

To start to get some understanding for the richness of content at this conference, take a look at the site and the agenda. An opening talk by Prof. Niklaus Wirth, one of the founding fathers of modern computing, and talks by people like Simon Stewart (of webdriver fame) and Jason Huggins (of Selenium fame). This wasn't a conference just about experiences of using tools and doing automation, it was where you got to meet the people that designed and wrote the tools themselves. Very geeky, but very cool! Lets call it 'GeekChic' ;)

So, what else is different about an experience at GTAC compared to other conferences? Here are some top moments for me:
  • Engagement - everyone I met there was smart, engaged and engaging. They had a passion for their profession and the work they do. They openly shared their knowledge and experience without hesitation or resistance. Everyone seemed very open to learn from each other too. This could be seen really clearly in the open forum session at the end of day 2 which ran from 5pm to 6pm. Open mic. Rotating panel of four people at the front, with people joining randomly from the main audience as they had something to say. Could have gone on for days - in a good way!
  • The Google experience - these people love to solve problems, and they do it for kicks. The whole place just makes you think differently. It could be the sugar rush from all the free choccies. It could be the slides or the fireman's poles between floors. It could even just be that they have a free bar, and a geekfest of a library to hang out in. It could be a lot of things....
  • The way you get in - Google had too many applicants to the conference, and they wanted to restrict it to 100 - so that everyone got a good experience, and they could keep it to a single track over two days. So they set up an automated voting system and the Googlers around the world voted for who should be there. Over 50% of the people attending were from various google offices around the globe. The rest of us were the lucky ones that got the highest % of the 2200 votes cast around the company. Knowing that makes you feel different about a conference.
  • The international and diverse nature of things - we're in Zurich, which is pretty international anyways, but the conference wasn't Eurocentric. A great many people from australia, USA, israel, etc etc. Very diverse. Very interesting. Great collective experience and perceptions.
  • No cliques - The one big turn off for me at the big conferences is the vested interests that strangle the sharing of knowledge and information. You see groups of independent contractors holding onto the 'power' and creating revenue streams for themselves over many years of talking about the same old stuff. It stifles our industry and it frustrates me. At GTAC they don't allow that in the door and they don't let it happen. As a result you see people from all companies - from Microsoft to the BBC, attending and also giving talks. It's about sharing knowledge and experience and helping people to do stuff. To get what I mean take a look at the videos-and-slides

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think that the world starts and stops at the beat of a Google drum, but I do think that they are cool, and that the people I have met there are quite impressive to say the least. I think that they have some interesting ideas and approaches to testing of web and mobile applications and I think it is clear that a great amount of the future for TCL and for the industry as a whole is in these fields so we can do well to keep a listening ear out to what Google do and say. With that in mind, take a look at:

The conference was not cheap. Well, it was free to attend, but the costs to go there were high. Flights and hotels and subsistence quite a bit, but the time - that's the big thing. I spent 4 days out there, including the travel. That is a lot. Nothing else would get that amount of time except going on holiday!

So what did we get for our investment:

  • Knowledge - a lot of things to share, and I'll be getting on with that soon enough. This article is the start of that work.
  • Ideas - I've had some inspiration to do some things differently and to introduce some new things over the next quarter that we should all find very interesting and exciting. Some are testing related. Some are cultural and organisational
  • Network - I've met 5 or 6 new, important, and interesting people that I have now connected with. With networks its not just about them knowing you, but how they know you. The GTAC conference is a great context in which to meet people and to grow a network. You get to know them, and they you, in the context of a mutual passion. That can't be any better!

Despite being a seasoned pro at conference attendance, I didn't do all that I should to make the most of it. I got on the Google Wave, I Tweeted and I shared, but I didn't manage to:

  • Get a presentation slot - only 10 people did. My submission didn't make the cut :(
  • Take loads of pictures - helpful with the sharing and bringing things to life for people
  • Set up specific meetings before I got there - this is something I would normally do for a big conference and helps to build the network faster.

I hope that we get more opportunities to go to, and present at, conferences like GTAC in the future. If you get the chance, then grab it with both hands and make the most of it. It will most likely be something very special.

Huge thanks go to Dr W for his guidance and inspiration to attend the GTAC. It's not something I would have made time for had he not made such a convincing case and indeed, as always, he was very right!

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