New Years Resolutions and OKRs

Computer The Business Key Online Success Keyboard
I searched, and this was my Key Result

New year is so often resolution time.  And it’s 15th January already, so it’s already about the time that the first of those resolutions start to drop by the wayside.

We’ve been trying Objectives and Key Results (OKR)s at my place of work (the link gives you a better summary and range of info than I can achieve here).  I’m still very new to these and learning, but I quickly realised that one of the strongest things about OKRs is the idea that you’re not trying to hit 100%.  Even if you’re not “doing OKRs” I’d recommend considering the idea of setting a bunch of goals where you’re not expecting to hit more than (say) 70% or so. Just by doing that, you win three things.

  • Ambition – you can shoot for things you don’t know you’ll be able to achieve.
  • Flexibility – you can dump things that turn out to be boring (in exchange for doing well on things that are fun and engaging).  Likewise you don’t have to keep working on polishing something after you’ve already got most of the value out of it.
  • Motivation –  100% resolutions are binary.  If you slip one thing, one day, you can’t get it back, and the pressure and motivation fall off.






A tester, or interested in testing, or learning and developing further – but not sure what to do or how?  The Ministry of Testing are running a “30 days of testing challenge” which has 30 straightforward and different things that you can do.

They range from the trivial to the complex, and they’re all differnt, but crucially they’re all straightforward, simple, achievable SMART objectives that you can knock off alongside your normal work – it’s “Do one thing” at it’s finest.

These are aimed to let you safely and easily explore outside your comfort zone.  If you do them all, I’m sure that you’ll find more than a few things that you’ll enjoy and do more of.

See the MoT Site for all the details.  Happy playing.



Games for Testers: Penultima


I like testing – by which I mean in this case I like investigating and understanding things – and so it’s not surprising that over the years I keep coming back to a few games that revolve around trying to work out what’s going on faster than someone else.  Penultima is one of these.

The rules are pretty simple:

Two players sit down at a chessboard and play a game of chess.  They take turns to play a move and the aim for each is to capture the opponent’s king.  However, the rules for each piece are known only to a third (or more) player who acts as both spectator and umpire.

On their move, a player attempts to make a valid move until such point as they succeed in a valid (though not necessarily good!) move.  Then it’s the other players turn.  They continue until one checkmates the other.

As a group we’ve tend to play such that the spectator/umpire names all the pieces to both players up front, where the names produce a theme and give hints as to how they might move.

Part of what makes this interesting, is not just that you’re trying to explore, discover and understand what’s going on, you’re trying to keep your understanding secret!  That means that you want to test your understanding in subtle ways – not just blandly play the best moves you think you’ve got.  On the other hand – you’ve also got to play the game, so don’t waste time making terrible moves!


UKTMF – Communication Games


Last month, I was at the UK Test Management Summit. One of the talks there was by Graham Thomas who showed us some games to help us think about how we talk to each other.

One of these was a form of Taboo, where we tried to explain well known ideas without using a group of bad words. The second of these was to write down what some of those well known ideas mean in (Up Goer Five).
This really made clear to me how much we use shared knowing of words.
The first game showed us that it was very hard for us to explain the very well known ideas without using the small set of bad words – and these were ideas that we all thought we knew very well (like <>). The words form a handle for the picture of the idea in our heads and in always using the word when talking to people, the picture inside our heads becomes less clear – so when we need to share the picture using other words, we find it very hard.
Even more interesting, when we came to break into groups for the second game – writing down the ideas in Up Goer Five – the different groups came up with pictures that were different in important ways. The same words meant very different things:
With Exploratory Testing, some people said the key part was not having to have a plan. For some people, the key part was being free to go where you want and not have to stay long in areas with no problems. For some, being able to use what you learn as you go. It was not until being made to write down our thoughts in Up Goer Five that we were able to see the different ideas.
I am planning to try this game with others in my place of work – to see what pictures we have in our heads for the different words we all use! I think that if you try it you will surprise (and maybe scare) yourself at the number of changes there are between what people who work together think is the same thing!
Foot note: This piece – except for the ties to other places on line – has been written in Up Goer Five, so using only the top ten-hundred most used words.

The User is Drunk

What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?

I’m not a UI expert by any means, and in fact most of my current testing role doesn’t include a lot of UI testing.  However, I found this to be a useful, entertaining, and thus  easy-to-remember summary of what it is a user wants and needs.

Happy testing.

Kanban, the key point that no one seems to get



So this post started life as a rant about Kanban and how it seems to be misused / misunderstood by many software teams who want to use the magic buzzword to make everything more efficient.  I’ve tried to mangle it into something a little more constructive though.  If you know nothing about Kanban, then this post isn’t the right place to start – I’m assuming lots of context.  Instead, I’d direct you to this excellent book, which is what lead me into thinking about Kanban (The Kanban bit is actually covered in an appendix).

Right, still here?  Good, good.


Here‘s Kanban as used at Toyota.  The key revolutionary idea behind Kanban is that you don’t *ever* push work into or through the system.  You *only ever* pull it out.

You don’t say “I need a car; I’d better start by building some wheels, and then… and then… and then spray the car and then sell it.”.

Instead you say, “I need a car, so I take one off the end of the production line… which creates a space in the finished car showroom for the spray finish robot to spray finish another unpainted car… which creates a space in the unpainted car pile for………..  which eventually creates space in the pile of wheels for the wheel-making robot to make another four wheels.”  It’s like a sliding block puzzle – the finished product moves first and everything flows backwards from there.

Flowing from that, Kanban then lets you identify where the pain points / inefficiencies are in your process and reduce inventory.  I’m not going to get into how – go and read about it.

Now here‘s Kanban as used as a software development process, which doesn’t mention that key principle at all, which is a shame because then people implement Kanban with no real feel for how it works and how it can help them.  Which leads to stupid decisions like squeezing extra tasks into the Kanban board rather than than realising that the board has probably identified a pain point that you can fix.

So if you’re using Kanban, STOP and check  that you’re thinking properly.  Make sure that your thinking is all about removing work from the board, not adding it.  Work on whatever gets work out of the system, and if you can’t take something out of the system, work on whatever immediately unblocks that, and then backwards.  Don’t start at the beginning, shoving more designs and code in the front, and then worry about what those have to push through in order to fit in the board.  Pull the work out of the board, to create space for those lovely new projects to start into.

Here endeth the rant.