Bad Meetings are Bad

Lots of talk about Shopify cancelling all recurring meetings with more than 2 participants. This talk led me to tweet this morning in response to a question from @AshColeman30

This brought out one of my favorite sayings, “Meetings aren’t bad, bad meetings are bad”.

They had an interesting response, which made me think about what makes a bad meeting bad, and a good meeting good. The following post is a quick stream of consciousness response to that question. Hopefully it is useful to some, and not too rambling.

My first thought was about different types of meetings, some of which I tend to find more or less “good”.

Status Meetings – A senior manager with all their direct reports giving an update on projects. Often people check out when it isn’t their turn. All of the same status updates are also reported in various e-mails, messages, or updates in multiple tracking systems. I rarely find these meetings useful.

Sharing Meeting – This is my solution to the Status Meeting. Gather folks with similar interests and let them talk about things they are working on. It looks a lot like a status meeting, however the audience isn’t the senior leader in the room, it is your peers. Folks from several departments are invited, though no one is required to attend. I have had at least one meeting similar to this on my calendar weekly for about 5 years now, and it is normally my favorite of the week.

Problem Solving Meetings – I love these meetings! The first portion of the meeting is clearly defining the problem (or often problemS) that needs solving. I write each problem down separately. The remainder of the time is spent proposing solutions, and tying those solutions back to the specific problems it solves There is no magic sauce here, but having all the right stake holders in the room to have these conversations can be very powerful.

Collaboration Meetings – Planned time to go heads down with team mates on an implementation of a solution is time very well spent. Normally that solution was agreed upon in a problem solving meeting. Meetings like this can last several hours, or even span days. Some people might call this pairing or just doing the work. But I figure if it is scheduled on a calendar, we’re sitting in a Google Hangout or Zoom room, it’s a meeting, and I enjoy them.

Coaching Meetings – An interesting thing if you read between the headlines on the Shopify meeting policy is that they still want 1:1 meetings. They cancelled recurring meetings with more than 2 participants, which means all those 1:1s are still safe. I have had lots of good 1:1s, and lots of bad ones. There are plenty of resources out there on how to make these effective. All I will say is it’s up to both participants to make good use of their time. Not all coaching meetings are 1:1 though, teams can work through coaching meetings as well.

Agile Ceremonies – I figure if I don’t put this in here someone will yell at me. Scrum defines a set of meetings that lots of people love or hate. Most of those meetings fit into one of the categories I mentioned above. If your big-A Agile ceremonies are bad, then use your retrospectives (a coaching meeting) to make them better.

Ash asked me about agendas vs. facilitation. I know I didn’t touch on that directly above, but I do think facilitation has much more to do with good meetings than agendas do. Agendas are one tool to assist in facilitation. I have been in plenty of great meetings without an agenda, and plenty of bad meetings with an agenda.

There are a few other thoughts I have about bad meetings that might stretch into a later post. Things like ego, lake of engagement, posturing, people who won’t shut up, and people who won’t speak up could all make their way into that post. If you want to hear more add some interesting comments on LinkedIn (here).

A couple thoughts on homeschool, learning, education, and COVID-19

Just wanted to share a couple tips about kids and education in this day and age. We have been homeschooling our kids exclusively for 4 or 5 years now, and these are the things I would share from our experience. Some of these come from what I have overheard my wife telling her friends repeatedly, some of these are my own observations. Hopefully some of this advice is useful.

1 – What most people are doing these days is not homeschool. That is meant to be freeing, not an insult. Lifelong learning is a great goal for everyone, and is definitely important to keep flexing the learning muscles through this time, but most people aren’t pursuing this as a new normal, they are just trying to keep their kids engaged and learning.

2 – All homeschoolers go through an adjustment period. It took our family 2-3 years of doing this full time to really figure out which curriculums, schedules, and processes worked for our kids. Additionally, each kid has different things that work for them, so once we think we have it figured out, we have to go back to the drawing board for the next kid. That is ok and normal. The fact that you don’t have a solid schedule figured out by week 3 is just fine. Give yourself some time.

3 – Don’t think you have to do 7 hours a day of school! The logistics of educating 25-30 kids in a school are so much different than a couple kids at home. Think about how much time it takes to explain the current task to a room full of 2nd graders, keep them all on task, clean up, stand in line, walk between rooms, explain the same project again, line up, walk back to the room, etc. I conservatively estimate that 50% of time spent in elementary school is in logistics of having a bunch of little kids running around. THat’s not even accounting for things like recess, lunch time, and independent work time. 30 minutes to an hour of structured learning time with a parent is nearly equivalent to a full day of instruction in school for small children. And older kids should be able to self-direct a bit more with reading and other assignments, but the same idea still applies. Don’t spend all day doing ‘school’.

4 – In the context of point 2 and 3, my wife suggests for most people to pick 1 subject that is the compulsory ‘school’ subject. Whether that is math, science, language arts, or something else, picking one topic (instead of all of them) gives you something to focus on, and keeps the learning muscles engaged. After the ‘school’ subject, let the kids pick another topic that is a little more fun, but still structured. Maybe science experiments are fun. Maybe Lego building is a good STEM class. Find some good books to read. Something that isn’t Netflix or video games, but isn’t memorizing facts either. Learning is fun, let your kids have fun with a topic.

Not Born to be Average

This week in conversation someone made the comment “no one wants to wake up in the morning to be average”.

This was reminiscent of a conversation I had just a couple of months ago with a different person, whom I greatly admire. He said ‘No one wants to be 2nd best’.

Both of these people echo a sentiment that I generally agree with, not only is competition fun, winning is fun. In yet another recent conversation, a colleague stated that his joy in life comes from tackling the impossible tasks, and knocking them out of the park.

Whether we are competing with other people, or with impossible tasks, it feels good to win.

As I contemplate on that topic a bit further, I wonder about the concept of win-win scenarios. For us to win, does someone else have to lose? I believe the answer to that question is ‘np’.

I’ve told this story before, but I go back to my grandfather giving me a paycheck as a young teenager for helping in his business. He taught me that any employment relationship should be a win-win. The employee is grateful for a fair wage, and the employer is grateful for a job well done. I believe these win-win scenarios are abundant in our life, if we only look for them.

It feels good to win, why not share the feeling?

Begin With the End in Mind.

I just finished reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While it was a lot of insights to digest, it was a good read.

One of the topics that hit home particularly today was step 2, begin with the end in mind. I was having a conversation with a colleague this morning, and he told me that his favorite part of his job was doing things others believe can’t be done. That feeling of accomplishment is huge for him.

Literally 2 hours later, sitting in a meeting present some of his work, a stakeholder made the comment, “I can’t believe you did this. I assumed you would have gotten half-way in and given up, saying it couldn’t be done!” Unprompted. Unscripted. She said exactly the things he loves to hear.

Whether you prefer to believe in the law of attraction, mental creation, prayer circles, or just good planning, the concept of creating your wants and desires in your mind first, then watching them unfold in real life is incredibly powerful. I have seen this countless times in my career, today just happened to be a fresh example.

There is power in understanding your future state. Our thoughts have this pesky habit of impacting our actions, which have the ability to create exactly the life we want to have.

Have you ever seen a surprising event in your life, created by first creating the event in your mind before watching it unfold If you haven’t I suggest trying it.


Know your ‘why’

The year is 2002. I am a sophomore in high school. At the end of another long and boring school day, instead of following the herd of students out to the school bus for the hour ride home, I stay behind at school to keep working for another couple of hours. As the building slowly empties down the stairs and out the back doors of the school, I make my way from the band room on the far west side of the school, across the crowds of students to the far east end of the building to the electronics lab. Zach Threlkeld and I were meeting with Mr. Beaman to plan our school’s first Engineering Day.

Through the process of planning this event, I learned how to do a lot of things. We had to do marketing, logistics, planning, and everything else to organize 15 different events for 150 events to commemorate Engineering Week the next February. One of my responsibilities was all of the fliers for the different events. Mr. Beaman gave me a cd and a license key for Photoshop, and said basically ‘this should help’. It didn’t. Photoshop came with an overwhelming amount of tools that didn’t seem to help me make a flier at all.

While I eventually figured out how to do the things we needed to organize the day, Photoshop is far from the most valuable lesson I learned in that process. Mr. Beaman liked to share little nuggets of wisdom as we worked through the planning process, and a couple of those has stuck with me ever since.

The first was true to his self-deprecating humor, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (He was a teacher after all). As I look back, I wonder if that statement set much of my attitudes towards education for the next 10 years, and not for the better.

However, he normally followed that couplet with another that has had a much more positive impact on my life. “Those who know how will always have jobs. They will always work for those who know why.”

I find that these words still bounce around my mind on at least a weekly basis, now 17 years later. I have built a career in a very how-based field. While I always figured out enough of the ‘how’ to be competent, much of my growth has come from understanding the ‘why’.

I have had several people ask me over the last few months if I would suggest to a new young person entering the workforce to follow a similar career path that I have taken. I would, but I always say that they need to focus on the reasons their work matters, and the people it affects far more than the technology or tools that help deliver that value. Being the best technician n a field is not nearly as rewarding as pointing that technician in the right direction and delivering value.

Do you now why the work you did this week matters? Can you articulate how that work supports to overarching strategy or values of your situation? If not, I highly suggest you go figure it out.

My Thoughts on Work / Life Balance

I have always hated the phrase ‘work/life balance’.

Good post, see you next week.

Seriously though, this phrase has always bugged me. At best, it creates a false dichotomy through lazy language. At worst, it causes us to buy into this false dichotomy and pushes people to believe that their work is somehow separated from actual life. I have seen this create internal strife as people try to keep in balance two competing forces in their world.

I believe that work and life are both part of the same thing, our life. Work is an important aspect in all areas of our life. The ways we chose to allocate our time and efforts are a part of our life. To separate work from, or even the time we spend with an employer from the sum total of our full life is folly. A much better phrase would be a ‘balanced life’, as this recognizes that all aspects of life are part of the whole.

One of the biggest problems I have with ‘work/life balance’ as a phrase is that it often comes from an employer touting work/life balance as a benefit fo working for them. This phrase seems to take the responsibility for building a balanced life off of the individual to whom the life belongs, and tries to put it in the hands of the employer. Not only does this fail to account for differences between individuals and what their balanced life may look like, it shifts the responsibility of boundaries away from the employee to the employer.

Individuals are just that, individual. Every person has different needs, wants, and desires that cause their individual situation to be slightly different. For one, spending 60 hours a week at the office engaged in deeply satisfying work may be healthy and appropriate, where that would be soul crushing for another. It is incumbent on each of us to understand what a balanced life looks like for each of us.

Once we understand what a balanced life means, we also need to take responsibility to live out that balance. Allowing an employer to dictate a concept of work/life balance in my opinion puts too much control in their hands, and is therefore out of balance. It is much better (at least in my view of a balanced life) to take ownership of our own decisions and invest our time accordingly at work.

That doesn’t mean we can say that our concept of balance means we only work 12 hours a week if we have committed to a company 40+ hours in a week. If you want to work 12 hours a week, then I suggest you find a job where that fits with the expectations of the role. Just please take ownership of your own actions in realizing that is what a balanced life looks like for you.

Quality Assurance vs. Software Testing

For a vast majority of my time in the Context-Driven community, I have loosely accepted many “truths” as presented. I have pushed back on some, argued with a few, and flat out rejected some others. The idea that Quality Assurance is an inferior title to something more appropriate such as Software Testing, Light Shiner, Information Gatherer, or Bug Master. Recently I have found that I have a loose agreement with this idea. This post is an attempt to come to a better understanding for myself, and hopefully others in the community.

So not long after my whole team took the RST course with Paul Holland, they decided as a team that the name of our team should be more representative of what we actually do. It was a unanimous decision to change the name from “Quality Assurance” to “R&D Testers”. This was indicative of the fact that we were first and foremost, members of the Research and Development team, and that the role we filled was testing, as opposed to “Assuring Quality”.

Great! I left our meeting that day thinking the team really listened to some of what was taught. I thought the process of changing the name of the team would be rather simple. Change a couple e-mail aliases, a couple quick conversations with the R&D team leadership, and we’d be done.

So I went to start those quick conversations, and it turned out that they weren’t as quick as I thought. Before I go on, I want it to be clear that these individuals I was talking to are engaged development leadership that really care about what we do, engage in community discussions on agile and kanban topics, and actually have my respect in some ways. This isn’t a “bash the ignorant” type of blog post. In that framework, I brought this idea to the R&D team leadership and was met with some resistance. In my side of the conversation, I parroted the arguments I have heard from others in the community, “testers don’t do anything to assure quality, we can’t be certain (or sure) of the quality of a product.”

This was not received as well as I thought it would be. I was under the impression that this was a self-evident truth. That others in the industry were simply too ignorant of what testing actually is to understand this, and all of this “QA” garbage that flies around are relics of manufacturing processes that get applied to software. Here I was talking to people that I share many beliefs about software development, and they disagreed with me. The main thrust of the argument was disagreement with the notion that testers do nothing to assure the quality of a product. In this person’s opinion every project and team they had been on, testers were very influential in increasing product quality and therefore the name QA wasn’t altogether misleading.

“But we don’t ‘ASSURE’ anything, impact perhaps, but not assure,” was my dutiful context-driven retort.

“Assurance doesn’t mean that the product is perfect, but QA people definitely bring a great value in improving quality,” was the response I got.

I was able to walk away from that conversation with a kind of do-whatever-you-want-to agreement from our team leadership, but I wasn’t satisfied. I went back to my desk to look up the definition of the word ‘assurance’ to prove that my point was right, we don’t assure anything as testers. In looking up this definition, this is where my agreement with CDT started to get a little looser.

The definitions of ‘assurance’ all pointed back to the root word ‘assure’. Miriam-Webster offered 4 definitions of ‘assure’. I pulled each one and started detailing why each of those definitions didn’t apply to what testers do (the outcome of that process can be seen here). I eventually came to a definition of assure that stopped me though: “to give confidence to”. For example, “The child was scared to go to the dentist, but her mother’s assuring words gave her the confidence to climb into the chair.”

This reminded me of a conversation I had with James Bach a few years ago. The first conversation that really pulled me into the CDT community was that they were the only people that seemed to agree with me on how testing is valuable. As James and I were talking he made the following comment, “I test because my clients are worried that something they don’t know about the product will hurt them.”

To me, that statement seems to agree that testing is done to build confidence in a product. At the end of testing, all wrapped up in appropriate safety language and carefully crafted words is a report about the level of confidence in a product, or at the very least information that is meant to affect some stake-holder’s confidence in a product.

The rest of the definitions of the word assurance I agree are misleading, even a bit scary. But the idea of Quality Assurance being a process of building confidence in a product, or gathering information for others to build that confidence, is one that I think I could get behind.

This isn’t to say that I dislike the term ‘testing’ or anything else that does a decent job of describing what a team does. What I am trying to do here is gain a better understanding of why the community is so opposed to the term “Quality Assurance”. Please let me know in the comments if you agree with how this is presented, or where I am way off.

My next post will be about the cultural impacts in an organization of changing the name of team from QA to Test. That is what this post was supposed to be, but I thought this was a better point to start the conversation.

January 9 2013 Update

So after letting this post simmer for a few months, I have decided that taking up the fight internally to officially change the name of the team wasn’t worth it. We refer to ourselves as testers. The rest of the development team understands that we are testers, but in terms of support, sales, marketing, etc. I didn’t find there to be any payoff to changing the team name. Heck, I don’t even have the energy/time at this point to write another full post about why I feel that way. That is why I am updating this post rather than writing a new one. I wanted to cover another topic in my next post, but didn’t want to leave this topic unsettled.

It’s good to be the tester! (HTC DROID DNA Review)

Sometimes, it can be good to be the tester.  And by good I mean really good.  By virtue of my love for testing, and HTC smartphones, I got the opportunity to get my hands on a pre-release version of the DROID DNA, the new flagship ultra-awesome 5-inch Android smartphone from HTC.  Woo! Continue Reading

The Changing Face of Test Management

Another week, another podcast.  I have been very luck to have the opportunity many times to Join Matt Heusser, Michael Larsen, and others on the weekly This Week in Software Testing podcast sponsored by Software Test Professionals.  This week was a good one.

If you remember back to my post on writing conference reports, in my report from the KWSQA conference I mentioned that as our team made progress towards more agile (small ‘a’) methodologies the testers and developers needed to move closer and closer together.  As the testing and development teams have merged together, we have gone from 2 distinct teams and now have 1 team.  This is great and has had a significant impact on the quality of the software we are producing (as I mentioned in my presentation at CAST 2012 last month), however it produces an interesting position for myself (the QA Manager) and the Dev Manager, as we now have 1 team with 2 managers.

Others in the industry are having similar problems, and this week’s podcast is a bit of our conversation along this topic.  Go ahead, give it a listen.

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

I taught myself a new word…I’m an autodidact!

For those of you that missed it, Test Coach Camp was a blast.  2 days of non-stop discussion with the best and brightest minds in the space of test coaching, and I got to go!

There were tons of great discussions, exercises, and lessons learned at TCC, but one of my favorite discussions was one that I was able to facilitate on the topic of autodidacticism.  We approached the topic from the angle that  the best way to teach testing is to empower people to teach themselves about testing, but how do you get people to do that.

Luckily, Michael Larsen pulled out his handy dandy portable recording studio and was able to catch the whole conversation and post it out to the interwebs.  Thanks to Software Test Professionals for hosting the recording.  The link is below:

Part 1 –

Part 2 –