Tag: Teamwork

When the Firefighter is the Arsonist – Tales from the Trek

A number of years ago, I read a headline that said, “Ex-Forest Lake fire fighter pleads guilty to arson“. The story went on to say,

“Once considered a hero as a firefighter, John Berken was accused of starting a fire that burned 2,000 acres of nature area.”

This story got me thinking about a common pattern that I have seen on software development projects.

Heroic Measures

Many teams glorify the team members who take heroic actions to save a project. These team members, who work nights and weekends for weeks, or even months, at a time to pull a project success from the jaws of defeat, are held up as positive examples for the company and lavished with praise.

However, too often, the very same people who perform the heroic deeds are the people who created the near-disaster in the first place.

As a QA Sherpa, one of my top goals is to prevent the need for heroic actions at the end of a project. I feel happiest when we successfully implemented Embedded Quality and find no important bugs during the last few weeks before going live. In this role, I’m particularly attuned to those “heroes” who actually created the problems in the first place.

These are the people who dramatically underestimated their work, skipped unit testing, refused to work with the testing team to practice Embedded Quality, and generally eschew any form of teamwork or foresight. Despite all these negative traits, they end up being celebrated for “going above and beyond the call of duty”.

True Firefighters

True firefighters do need to be heroic at times, and it’s important that they are ready and able to be heroes when necessary. However, their bigger goal is to prevent fires in the first place. In addition to preventing fires, they work hard to put measures in place to limit the damage of fires when they do occur.

The bulk of a fire department’s efforts are not spent putting out fires. The bulk of the time is spent educating people about how to prevent fires, ensuring that the fire code is effective and that buildings follow the fire code by implementing fire walls, fire doors, sprinkler systems, alarms, and fire extinguishers.

Similarly, a solid development team should be spending their time implementing automated unit testing, working with the test team to implement Embedded Quality, performing peer code reviews, and getting feedback from key stakeholders throughout the project. All of these actions work both to reduce the odds of a disaster and to limit the damage when a disaster occurs.

As I said earlier, heroes are still needed at times, but you should take a second look at those heroes when the disasters are too frequent. If a city has way more fires than the norm, the fire department probably isn’t doing their job well. If every project requires heroic measures, it’s time to look a little closer at why that’s the case.


I’m interested in hearing about your experiences with fire fighters who may also be arsonists. Have you worked on a project where team members who seemed to sabotage the project early on were held up as heroes at the end of the project? If so, do you think it was due to the individuals on the project or due to a broken system?

Setting Expectations – Lessons From a Little League Umpire

I’ve found through the years that projects go more smoothly when expectations are set at the beginning. Whether I’m in a Business Analyst or Quality Assurance role, I’ve found that the project goes more smoothly when the processes are laid out clearly up-front and the known limitations of the project are called out and addressed before the project starts. When people are not aware of the time that they need to dedicate to the project or the limits of the project scope until the project is well underway, they can get quite upset.

My most memorable lesson on the importance of setting expectations is still the one I learned while umpiring little league in high school.

Strike One!

I umpired my first game when I was 14 years old. The league was a city-run little league program, and some of the divisions had kids as old as me. Other than watching a lot of baseball, the only preparation the city gave me was handing me an armful of equipment and a copy of the rulebook. I read the rulebook several times and felt that I was as ready as I could be.

I set up the bases and put on my equipment for the first game. I said hi to the two managers and nervously took my spot behind the plate. My calls were a little shaky, but I was surviving. Surviving until the third batter, that is.

I lost my concentration on a pitch and uncertainly called, “Strike?” The batter’s manager yelled at me, “How can that be a strike?!? It hit the dirt before it even crossed the plate!”

I sheepishly said, “It did? I guess it was a ball then.”

Needless to say, the managers, players, and parents argued with me vehemently on nearly every call after that. I wasn’t sure I’d ever want umpire another game. However, the manager of the umpires was desperate for warm bodies to call the games and convinced me to finish out the season. I never had a game as bad as the first one, but every game was stressful and the managers, parents, and players argued with me regularly.

Year Two – Setting Expectations

In the next year, I read a book called “Strike Two” by former Major League umpire Ron Luciano. His stories about handling some of the toughest personalities in baseball gave me the insight and confidence that I needed to try umpiring again. The difference this year was that I was going to set some expectations before every game.

I met with both managers before every game and explained the following:

  • I’m the only umpire, and I only see each play once. Don’t bother arguing any judgment call such as ball vs strike or safe vs out. I won’t change my call.
  • I call a big strike zone. If any part of the ball is over any part of the plate from the top of the batter’s shoulders to the bottom of their knees, I’m calling it a strike.
  • I’m not a professional umpire. I may make an error in the rules. If either manager believes that I made an error in the rules, let me know. I will call a time-out and meet with both managers to review the rule book and make an adjustment to the call if warranted.

Taking the time to set these expectations made a huge difference in my ability to manage the game. The managers would tell their players that I have a big strike zone and that arguing with me was pointless. The players swung a lot more, put the ball in play a lot more, and I got very few arguments.

In addition, after the games, parents would tell me that it was one of the best games they went to all year, especially for the younger age groups. Apparently, in many other games, the batters for each team would simply draw walks until they reached the 10-run mercy rule for the inning. This was boring for everyone involved. Because players were swinging more when I umpired, the ball was put into play more, and the kids and parents had a lot more fun.

Your Experiences

I’d like to hear about your experiences with setting expectations. Have you found that setting expectations up front helps your projects? Have you received any resistance to setting expectations at the start of a project?

Influencers – Jayme Edwards

There are a number of blogs that I enjoy reading about all areas of the software development process. The software development process includes project management, business analysis, development, and testing, of course. In addition, delivering software that works requires consideration of concepts around management, sales, and business organization.

I’d like to share some of the blogs that I find influential when thinking about how to build software that works.

Jayme Edwards – Consulting and Continuous Delivery Expert

Jayme Edwards is someone who I’ve known for a while. We’ve had many great discussions over the years about consulting and continuous delivery. I’ve gained a lot of insight from him directly and from his blog posts.

One blog post that recently resonated with me was titled Establishing Trust to Make IT Development Process Changes. His points about authenticity and setting realistic expectations up front are keys to a successful client/consultant relationship. In addition, he referenced Peter Block’s Book, Flawless Consulting which lays out three roles that a consultant can have when interacting with a customer: Expert, Pair of Hands, or Collaborator. I have been in all three roles, and although I enjoy them all, I especially enjoy working with a client in the Collaborator role.

Jayme Edwards’s is also incredibly knowledgeable in the area of Continuous Delivery. He is intimately familiar with the theory of Continuous Delivery. More importantly, I have seen him successfully move multiple clients into a successful Continuous Delivery model. Because Jayme Edwards has put the theory into practice many times, I find his posts on the topic to be particularly insightful and credible. If you’re interested in learning about Continuous Delivery, you should check out his posts.


What do you think of Jayme Edwards’s blog and the concepts he writes about? What blogs and resources do you find particularly interesting and useful for building software that works?

The User Acceptance Testing Death Spiral

In a past role, I joined a test team that was in a User Acceptance Testing (UAT) “Death Spiral” that had caused the user base to lose confidence in the integration testing team. Based on conversations that I’ve had with others, I believe that the UAT Death Spiral is a common scenario that people encounter, and it can destroy a test team. It took some work, but we were able to pull out of the downward trajectory and regain a functional, productive partnership between the business folks and the integration testing team.

What is the User Acceptance Testing Death Spiral?

Our company had an understaffed integration testing team, aggressive deadlines, and a culture that valued meeting deadlines above all other goals. This meant that software often had known major bugs when UAT started. Even worse, there were typically areas of code that hadn’t been tested at all by the integration testing team before UAT started. It was common for the UAT team to find major, obvious bugs.

Because major bugs made it past the integration test team, the business felt a need to create a more formal, robust UAT team that would catch the numerous errors missed by the integration test team. The business folks assumed that the bugs were missed because the integration team wasn’t very good at their job.

As UAT became more robust, they realized that they needed more time to complete their testing. The company culture of tight deadlines meant that release dates could not be extended to accommodate in-depth UAT. Instead, the business insisted that the integration test cycle be shortened and that UAT start earlier.

I think you can see where this is going…

When UAT started earlier, they found even more bugs and the business lost even more confidence in the integration test team. The business then insisted on testing more of the functionality in UAT and starting UAT even earlier. This death spiral continued until the business had lost complete confidence in the integration test team. However, because the UAT team was not made up of experienced testers, the business was not finding all of the bugs either.

Basically, the integration team didn’t have time to do their job, the business was spending a huge amount of resources to test everything, even features already tested by the integration test team, and the quality of software in production was as poor as ever.

Breaking Free

Breaking free of this downward spiral was more than just a logistical problem. It was a political problem as well. The integration test team feared that the UAT team was trying to take over their jobs and the UAT team felt that the integration team wasn’t competent. Rebuilding trust was critical for any new process to be successful.

I worked with both the integration and UAT test teams to plan a new strategy. The strategy was that the integration test team would first test anything that did not have a user interface. In addition, the integration test team would write, maintain, and run automated regression tests. Basically, they would test the areas that required their expertise. Only after these areas were tested and any major bugs were fixed would the UAT team start their work. We would divide up the test cases to reduce any overlap of testing between the two teams as much as possible.

Even though the UAT team agreed that this plan made sense theoretically, they feared that removing the redundant testing would mean that bugs were missed and worried that starting UAT later would mean that they wouldn’t have time to complete their work. I convinced them to give the plan a try on a smaller project. If the advantages to the new plan didn’t materialize, it would be easier to adjust for the lost time on a small project.

Fortunately, on the small project, everything fell into place. The integration test team was able to adequately test their portion of the plan before UAT started, and the UAT team knew exactly what parts were and weren’t tested by the integration team. The UAT team had a shorter test cycle both because they didn’t run as many redundant tests and because the initial quality of code was much better. Each bug takes time to find, fix, and retest.

Best of all, the software went live and had no problems in production.

For the rest of my time with this team, we followed the new process. This resulted in higher quality code with lower cost, and it had the added benefit of greatly improving the working relationship between the two teams.

Your Experiences

I’d like to hear your experiences with User Acceptance Testing issues. Have you been in a situation where the business users lost confidence in the development team or integration test team? If so, what do you think were the root causes of the issues?

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