I Don’t Want to Talk about Bugs: STARWEST 2015 Interview with Janet Gregory


In this interview, TechWell speaks with agile testing coach and practitioner Janet Gregory. During the STARWEST 2015 conference, she presented the keynote "I Don’t Want to Talk about Bugs: Let’s Change the Conversation."

Josiah Renaudin: All right. We're back with another STARWEST Virtual interview.We have Janet Gregory. Janet, thank you so much for joining me today.

Janet Gregory: You're so welcome.

Josiah Renaudin: A lot of people probably recognize you because you were our first keynote this morning. You're done with that, all the nerves are gone. Have you had a chance to actually go around the entire conference, talk to people, get some feedback?

Janet Gregory: Right after the keynote, Lee actually had to chase us off the stage and out of the room because the next talk was coming. There was a group of people that we moved outside and had some good conversations. People having opinions, somebody said, "Come to my talk" and different things. It was some good feedback, I enjoyed it.

Josiah Renaudin: That's really great. I know a lot of keynote speakers who get to go out and they just enjoy talking to people, hearing all the feedback, hearing all the different things. I know I was moderating the virtual chat and there's a lot of good response to the talk this morning. We'll get more into ...

Janet Gregory: That would be interesting.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, it was really interesting. We'll get more into the actual content of your keynote, but just to start, for people who don't know, you're an agile coach, you're an author. What do you do on a weekly basis? What's your job? If you could, of course, I will let you plug your book, if you'd like to.

Janet Gregory: Okay, plug my book, I don't have to ... two books, actually. Agile Testing, the first one, was a beginner starter guide. How do you make that transition, from a testing perspective? The second one is a follow-up going into ... You've got your agile team, you're doing okay. Now, all of a sudden, you're in a different context, you're running into different issues. How can we expand that? It definitely is a follow up, and it's called More Agile Testing. It's about learning journeys. We try to get a lot of people with real experience telling their story to say, "Here, we were in this context in a data warehousing business intelligent. Here's how we did it." We tried to fill a book with those sorts of things, along with the theory behind it and different things. That's what we tried to do with the second book, to give people ideas that, "Look, it can be done. We can move it." You asked another question, though, what do I do with my days?

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah. What's the daily life? What's the workday like?

Janet Gregory: That would really depend on ... I spend a lot of time travelling.

Josiah Renaudin: As you are right now.

Janet Gregory: As I am, I'm here. Next week, I'm going to London to teach my three-day agile testing course. When I'm on the road, it looks a lot different. I get up early and I check emails because I get a lot of emails from the other side of the world and things. In the evening, I try to catch up on a little bit of things, too. When I'm at home, it's much more working on articles, changing my course. I learn something new, what can I adapt? Thinking about, "Can I write another blog post?" Though, I'm not so good at that. Presentations, I spend a lot of time on presentations. I end up sitting at my desk and at my computer a whole lot trying to get the updates done, trying to learn new things. I go on Twitter every morning is one of the things I do. I look for new blog posts, I look for new articles, always trying to learn new things because there is a lot of things out there.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah. Twitter's a great resource with that—new inspiration, new people talking about different things and articles. I don't even look at news sites anymore, I just go straight to Twitter. As an agile coach, you said you have these keynotes, you have blog posts, you have two books. As a coach, do you consider yourself this master of all agile? Or, do you feel like you specifically focus on testing, on agile development? Or, are you trying to do all of it?

Janet Gregory: I don't think anybody can do all of it. I think that when I go into an organization as a consultant or a coach, the reason they usually bring me in is from a testing perspective. "We're having trouble getting our testing into the iteration, what do we do?" A lot of times, it comes from that perspective. I like to work with the business people as well because I think that the testing and the business, they need to be able to talk. What I don't focus on is the development practices, like TDD, those sorts of things.

Automation, I'll talk about how automation fits in the theory, but if you need somebody to help you automate, I'm going to recommend somebody else. I'm too far out of it to be good at that, and I think that a lot of times, we spread ourselves too thin and don't understand our focus. I do have to have a really broad experience of agile. Most of the time, when I go in, they bring me in because testing is an issue, but testing isn't the problem, it's something else. It comes down to the features or the stories they're trying to do. They're not testable, they're not broken down, we don't understand them. I have to be able to work with the teams to be able to understand what the problem is.

Josiah Renaudin: Moving into your keynote, it was really interesting. You were talking about how you don't want to talk about bugs anymore. It's not about bugs, it's instead about solutions. Actually, I had written down one of your quotes. You were talking about how we shouldn't be looking behind for bugs, we should be looking ahead for risk. Can you expound on that, on the idea of risk management? A lot of people, like you had said, they don't think about the risk. They don't look back and think about the solutions in that way. Can you expound on that?

Janet Gregory: We get comfortable in talking about defects and talking about bugs. We get in there and that's what we know when we get in that, I called it the hamster wheel. When I'm talking about risks, not necessarily risk-based testing, but risks of the product. Risk from a stakeholder perspective, risk that we're building the wrong thing because we're solving the wrong problem. I think that testers, in particular, sit in a very unique spot. They're experts at asking questions, or they should be. What we were trying to do is let's ask those questions to expose the risks. I believe if we do that, it will help us build the right thing, it will help us satisfy the customer needs a whole lot better, understanding what their risk threshold is. It's a different way of looking at it, and we're looking ahead trying to prevent defects at that point of time.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, absolutely. Do you think in most cases that teams don't like to look at risk? Or, it's just that they don't know how to? Maybe, they don't have the correct methods down yet.

Janet Gregory: Yeah. I don't even know if there's a correct method. There probably is out there, but I think they don't think about it. They're stuck in their hamster wheel, they don't have time. That's the biggest problem I hear from testers themselves, "We don't have enough time. How can we possibly go looking at solution validation when we don't even have time to test what we're given?" Part of that testing what we're given then means logging every defect, trying to do all of that other waste, often work, which time never allows. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy almost. It's not that they don't know how to look at it, they've just never been exposed to it. Never thought about, "Maybe we can start moving into that discover part of it, rather than being over here all the time in validating the implementation."

Josiah Renaudin: That's a great thing about your keynote is you introduce that to people. You make them think, and that's what a lot of keynotes have really done. Who on the team do you feel is responsible for considering risk management?

Janet Gregory: There was a quote, I don't suppose you wrote that down.

Josiah Renaudin: Didn't pull all of them, I tried.

Janet Gregory: There was a quote that I used from Mansel, I think it was, "If the team looks at it in a holistic manner, looks at the risks in a holistic manner, then all of a sudden, everybody can be that contributor." It's not one person, the product owner or the ScrumMaster. It's the team because they can all participate in being part of that team, being a real contributor in the solution. I don't think it's one person. As soon as we start to say, "It's your job," then the rest of us can walk away and we don't have to think about it, which I don't think is the right answer at all.

Josiah Renaudin: No. Continuing with the keynote conversation, you were talking about changing people's mindsets. Talking about risks instead of bugs, solutions instead of bugs. As an agile coach, when you are introducing this to a team, if someone's talking to you and says, "We need help with agile," do you get a lot of push back? People, very often … change can be scary. Change can be this terrifying thing, even just a regular agile transition. When you say this to people, do they immediately go, "Oh, that makes sense." Or, is it more of a slow thing?

Janet Gregory: It will depend. Some people go, "Oh, that makes so much sense." To implement it, you can't say, "Oh, it makes sense. Bang, it's done." It doesn't work that way. You start small, let's take a little thing. The example I gave was just talking to the management to say, "What do you really need? What do you really want?" Then, coming back to the team and saying, "What can we give them that might work?" Small experiments with bugs if we've got ... There are teams with thousands of bugs in their defect database doing things like, "Let's be a little radical. Most of those bugs are five years old, what are the odds you're ever going to fix them? Why don't we just close everything over six months old? Now, we've got something manageable.

Let's start looking at those and see what we can do with those. Sometimes, it's just that, "Where do we start? Let's get rid of all of this stuff. It's a waste of our mental effort to manage those big blocks of bugs that we've been growing so carefully in our bug database." Sometimes, it's just giving them something small to start with, and they see, "Okay, I can get rid of that." It's like taking a weight off your shoulder, it's, "Okay, we've got something manageable. Now, we can deal with it."

Josiah Renaudin: Once you see it work in a smaller situation, instead of working like ... Don't change all at once, baby steps. If you see it work one step at a time, then you're able to actually understand, "Okay, we're going in the right direction. This is something we actually want to do."

Janet Gregory: Then, that's where you can start thinking about, "Where can we start measuring, then?" If we're not measuring defects anymore, what makes sense? As long as you're in that hamster wheel, it's really hard to look outside. It's really hard.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah. It's been great talking to you and, as I said, I was moderating the chat and we heard a lot of great comments. If anyone does want to reach out to you, ask you anything about your keynote today or anything at all, what's the best way to do that?

Janet Gregory: Email. [email protected] is easiest way. You can also go onto my website, which is really simple, janetgregory.ca, CA for Canada, and there's a contact form on there. Or Twitter, tweet out.

Josiah Renaudin: Easiest way.

Janet Gregory: It's the easiest way. I might not get it immediately, but I will get it. That's often the easiest way.

Josiah Renaudin: All right. Once again, thank you so much.

Janet Gregory: Thank you.

Josiah Renaudin: I appreciate it, it was a really great keynote. We'll be back in just a little bit with more virtual interviews.

Janet Gregory: Okay, thank you.

Janet GregoryAgile testing coach and practitioner Janet Gregory (@janetgregoryca) is the coauthor of Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams and More Agile Testing: Learning Journeys for the Whole Team, and a contributor to 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know. Janet specializes in showing agile teams how testers can add value in areas beyond critiquing the product. For the past ten years, she has been working with teams to transition to agile development. Janet teaches agile testing courses and tutorials worldwide, contributes articles to leading publications, and enjoys sharing her experiences at conferences and user group meetings worldwide. Find more information at janetgregory.ca or visit her blog.

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