Team Commitment to Quality

This sprint has been an excellent example of why the whole team must commit to quality for the team to succeed.

In the past few sprints, we started to slide into the bad practice of having leftover testing task cards that got carried over into the next sprint. Some of these were cards to write new FitNesse fixtures to automate tests for a particular new piece of functionality. Some were end to end testing cards that simply take a long time to complete. There were also development cards left over. A couple of stories had dragged on more than two sprints. This was getting awful! It felt like we were dragging through waist-deep mud of technical debt.

In last sprint’s retrospective, we got serious about solving these problems. Here are our action items:

  • Finish leftover cards before starting new stories in new sprint. This meant taking on less new work for the sprint.
  • Ask remote team member to work on existing cards before bringing in new stuff
  • Have main developer for a story put his name on the story card and take responsibility for making sure all tasks are done
  • Write “end to end” test cards for each story (these are cards that remind the developer assigned to that story to test that all the pieces work together)
  • Developer responsible for story should think about all task cards ahead of time, make sure all necessary cards are there
  • Ensure everyone needed is copied on emails
  • Stop checking in untested code

We focused on finishing all the “leftovers” first. For the new FitNesse fixtures, the developers asked that I first write example tests with my idea of how the test should work. The remote developer then wrote the fixtures and updated the tests as needed so that they pass. These fixtures were difficult to do as they had to use a lot of legacy code, but the ROI will be big because they test critical areas where we’ve had expensive production problems in the past.

There was only one incident of untested code being checked in, and we talked about it right away and discussed ways to ensure this stops happening.

6 days into the 2 week sprint, we still had lots of testing cards and not many development ones. The developers, of their own volition, decided during the Scrum to attack the test cards. By the end of the day, most of the test cards were finished! Then they went on to the stories that were new that sprint.

Since a glance at the online storyboard now tells us who the main developer is on each story, communication has improved. When more than one developer works on tasks for a story, they’re communicating better. Lots of pairing is happening too. Communication is better all around, including with the remote team member.

8 days into the sprint, a developer was writing up the information on the functionality he had changed for a batch processing story, and as he wrote, he realized that he missed a use case. He fixed it, but was concerned there wasn’t enough time left in the sprint to adequately test the new functionality. We decided to postpone that story to the next sprint. Consciously deciding to put off testing to the next sprint isn’t a bad thing, when there’s a good reason for it.

Although we are still very busy, it’s a great feeling to see our storyboard for the sprint with almost all the cards moved to the ‘done’ column. Since it’s holiday time, people are taking time off, so time is short. A task to automate testing for a new UI feature implemented with Ajax has been rolled over to the next sprint, because the test script is blowing up (anyone out there have experience with the mouseover command in WebTest?) Again, this was a conscious decision, not a case of “Oops, today is the last day of the sprint and we didn’t get this finished”.

Many teams struggle with trying to finish all the testing for all the stories by the end of each iteration. If this happens to you, the first action to take is to limit the amount of new work brought into the next sprint, so you can focus on finishing the leftovers. As you catch up and are able to reduce your technical debt by finishing testing and test automation tasks, you’ll be able to increase your velocity later, without sacrificing quality. This has to be a team effort.

Please post comments and questions and I’ll follow up on those. This is such a central factor to team and agile testing success, I’d like to talk about it more.

2 comments on “Team Commitment to Quality

  1. Testing cards are just one type of task cards that we use. We have task cards for coding tasks, database tasks, system admin and other infrastructure tasks, testing tasks, even task cards for our product owner or other customers if we need them to perform some activity. When we had a physical storyboard, which was a huge sheet of metal on the wall, we used color-coded index cards – green for task cards, white for coding cards, red and yellow for bugs, and striped for cards brought in after the iteration planning.

    Anyone can pick up any card. When we get behind in testing, our developers will pick up testing task cards and perform those tasks. Conversely, testers sometimes pick up database cards or coding cards that they are able to perform, such as updating text or content.

    Does that help?

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