Monday, 2 March 2015

A Coaches Guide to Agile Testing - Growing Agile - A book review

There are a variety of books that testers can choose to read about testing, however there are not many about agile and testing.  I came across the book "A coaches guide to agile testing" by Karen Greaves and Samantha Laing after reading a review of it by Lisa Crispin on her blog.  As someone who works with agile teams I had been looking for a book which could help me get the message across about the testing activities within agile teams.  This book was the book I was looking for.

The book is written as a collection of workshops which you can either use as they are or adapt and change them for your audience.  The format of the workshops follow the same technique devised by Sharon Bowman in her book "Training from the Back of the room" called the 4Cs plan.

  • C1 – Connections: To get participants to connect with each other and the trainers, and to connect
  • participants to what they might already know about the topic
  • C2 – Concepts: Some facts and theoretical concepts about the topic
  • C3 – Concrete Practice: An activity or simulation to experience the topic
  • C4 – Conclusion: An opportunity for participants to evaluate what they have learned about the topic

Karen and Samantha introduce you to the concepts of the 4Cs and how they are used in each of the workshop sessions.  At this point it is worth mentioning that along with the book there is a trainers kit which contains template and slides for you to use when coaching.

The first few chapters of the book concentrations on introducing the 4Cs method of training along with what materials you may need and some suggestions for how the room should be laid out.  This then goes into an example of an 'ice breaker' for the first session and provides some useful information on setting agreements (rules)

The book really starts to discuss the agile testing subject from chapter 3 onward.  Personally I would like to have more in here, maybe something on retrospectives and test estimation would be really useful.  Hopefully Samantha and Karen will add to this book at a later date.  Chapter 3 introduces a workshop about the 'Agile Testing Mindset'.  I have used the exercises in this chapter to uncover what peoples perception and assumptions are about testing.  It provides some great insights and soundbites that can be used when discussing agile testing with others.  I especially like the following:

Agile is an activity not a phase

The chapter also discusses what is the role of a tester when testing and I found the following system a very useful one when informing people what the role of a tester is.:

"Don't try to break the system, instead help build the best possible system"

Other exercises within this chapter include being a tester rather than a checker and what the difference is.  Is it the testers job to find or prevent bugs?  Overall this chapter provides some useful material in helping dispel the myths and assumptions around what testers do.  For me this one chapter was worth the purchase of the book.

Chapter 4 discusses and provides exercises around the Agile testing quadrants.  It uses exercises to explain why the agile testing quadrants can be a useful tool to help classify different types of testing.  This chapter is a good introduction to the agile testing quadrants and how each quadrants has some elements where testers can provide a contribution.

Chapter 5 introduces automation and looks at some of the pitfalls agile teams fall into when attempting automation. It provides information on the automation pyramid and gets the team thinking about the right place and level automation should be aimed at.

The next chapter looks at the input of testers into scrum meetings and how they can add value.  This chapter is useful for those who feel that testers struggle when teams introduce scrum,  For me this chapter was a little weak in some areas and maybe it was because the title was misleading.  It maybe better to have a title of agile meetings rather than scrum.  This way it can cover the sprint planning, grooming, retrospective and also investigate the concepts of Kanban,

The book finishes with a recap of what has been learnt and asks you to go back and look at other material and resources you have come across during the learning journey that you could look at next.

The book is quite short containing  around 50 + pages but within these pages is a wealth of material and information that anyone involved in agile testing will find useful and informative, The book is not only for coaches it can be used by the reader to provide themselves with an understanding of agile testing.  What I did before I went and used some of the activities described in the book, was to go through each of the exercises myself and learn more about my understanding of agile testing.  This I felt was a valuable aspect of the book it was not just telling you what agile testing is it was providing you with ways to uncover what you already know and what you can learn about agile testing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is working in agile teams and want to learn more about agile testing.  As a bonus it provides ready to use teaching material so that you can then go and practice what you have learnt with others.  Included in this bonus material is a ready made slide deck for you to customize and use in your coaching.

The one part of the material that stood out for me was the Agile Testing Manifesto that Karen and Samantha have in their slide deck.  To me this sums up the agile testing approach.

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