Change or be Changed - Liveblog of Janet Gregory's Keynote at Agile Cambridge

Posted on September 26, 2013


Janet Gregory wrote the book on Agile Testing, together with Lisa Crispin.


Do we have a choice to change, or not. “There is notthing permanent except change” - Heraclitus. People on Hawaii are living on the lava of a vulcano, totally cut off from the grid and phone line etc. Next time the lava flows, their life will change.

What drives change?

Can we just flip a switch on change, choose whether we stay the same or change? Personal change is a lot easier. She bought a two seater (miata) because she could after the children did not need a commute anymore. The roads didn’t work well for it, so she bought a 4 wheel drive, got bored after four years and bought another one. Four years seems to be about the limit. Bored now, but haven’t found anything else yet, but probably will flip the switch in a little while.

For personal change it’s easier, and even then, circumstances influence what you choose. After various things, she fell into a job as ‘a tester’ on an agile team. Got to write a book, the opportunity was there, I grabbed it. Personal change can be like flipping that switch.

Organisational change

Often brought in from outside, e.g. from mergers. There are a lot of different ways change happens in organisations. Take technology like test automation, legacy code replacement, either piecemeal or as a whole. Introducing agile methods is a huge change for an organisation. How individuals adapt to those changes makes a big difference. 7Digital kept talking about culture in their experience report. How does HR reward individuals versus teams?

Structural changes, reorganisations, new VP’s or Strategic shifts.

Change brings opportunity

Opportunity is just one aspect of change. You either grab it or you don’t, you have to think about whether you want to grab it, or are content to sit back.

Back to personal change. Janet lost her voice, probably due to smog. She did a stress test and found that her blood presure was off the charts. If we can find a way to make a want in a need, maybe that will make it easier to accept a change. Before that, she was thinking she wanted to exercise more to keep up with her grandchildren, but did not really get around to it.

Some companies that made carriages changed to cars and survived. Others thought ‘that car thing’ would never take over carriages that were comfortable. They had an opportunity and chose to ignore it.

Sometimes you are engaging, sometimes you are blocking. Janet was ‘blocking’ when a friend told her that they were thinking of taking handwritnig out of the curriculum for schoolchildren.

Is there room for everything? When we look back thirty years from now, will we say “I was part of that, that was really cool?”.

What influences succesful change?

Influence for success, how do we introduce change? What is resistance? Maybe we have been through that change and we do not want to go through it again. It will pass. Sometimes it is different, it is passive, we are not even aware we are doing it.

We all can influence, so “the management doesn’t get it” is not an excuse. Do people feel safe to make mistakes, to try things? We want to try this new tool, but we don’t know if it is going to work. Will we get blamed if it does not? Maybe it is easier to let it go, not raise my head and try things, so that I do not get blamed.

How do we get to a learning organisation that says “what can we learn from the mistake we made? can we try a different tool?”. Sometimes safety is a really big and personal thing.

At one place the developers started with doing XP. Janet was hired as a coach to help the team of testers along. Her manager came along about once a month from the US, and asked how the testers were doing.

By this time she had been on a few agile teams that had functioned well. The manager was hands off, and would only come over to see things are going. Janet thought things were going slow, but well. THe manager asked to pay attention to what Bob the product manager was doing. She believed Bob was doing good, Janet is watching (but not sure what she saw). Mike, her boss eventually fired Bob, and did not tell the team. Bob was doing something that was not visible to the team. It took a week to get over the shock, and an engineer took over. AFter a few weeks the team functioned a lot better. Bob had a hidden agenda, she never figured out what it was, but without Bob the team functioned a lot better. They didn’t even notice it before.

She is not looking for it, but if things are not happening as it should, she will start looking around. Next time she would appreciate a bit more of a heads up from her boss though.

Change may evoke fear

I’ve never seen this on an agile team, but often the relation between testers and developers is antagonistic, they only talk through the defect tracking system.

“I’m a business tester and don’t know how to code, will I keep my job wit test automation?” “I’m 95% finished all the time, will I survive transparancy?”

How stuck is your team? How stuck are you?

Share the vision, encourage experiments

Sharing the vision of what the change is, and why it is there is critical. What is the reason we are doing it? Involve others. Think about the environment, are we going to create a learning environment, where people feel safe to take risks, so they want and need and can do things.

Understand the risks.

Janet does a little experiment, where half of the audience does an easy change (sit down, close their eyes), and the other half did one easy change (turn around) and a hard one (hold hands with the person closest to you). Some participants did, others did not. It was uncomfortable for some of them.

Scope of control, Janet can’t control what everyone does, but she can try to influence it. She can’t make the audience do things, and it got uncomfortable when ‘you’ were asked to do something uncomfortable.

The talk goes into a few change models, Virginia Satir . Kotter and others. There are tons of things to measure, if you measure the intent and way of measuring needs to be clear. What ever we measure will change. When we measure defects we will stop reporting defects, or measure everything that remotely can be considered a defect.

Use your inner change agent. Some changes take longer than flipping a switch. Maybe you don’t see anything for six months.

Watch, observe, listen what goes on around you and inside you.

We wrap up with some Darwin for good measure: “It is not the strongest that survive, but the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”

The list of references on the last slide is worth checking out, I hope the slides go up somewhere.

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