Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Price vs. Value

Thanks for the comments on my most recent article, TQM is Not Just Dead, It's in an Unmarked Grave. I especially liked the additional tag added by my friend Jim Anderson in Florida, who added, "and the unmarked grave is surrounded by armed guards to ensure nothing miraculous occurs."  I love it. If you have a similar comment, please let me know.  By the way, I plan on writing some book reviews and other articles to keep the thoughts on processes and systems alive. It's not about documentation - it's about profits and effectiveness!

On a different note, I was in a store yesterday with my wife and grandson just to pick up a few small Christmas wrapping items. They had some action figures for $1, and my grandson really wanted one, so I thought, "OK, what the heck." and bought it for him.

Of course, I knew that for a dollar, not to expect too much. However, my 3 year old grandson was expecting more.

When the figure didn't hold the sword very well, he started getting frustrated. He also didn't understand my explanation about "you get what you pay for."

Why am I going down this trail?  It reminded me of how people think first of the price of services, but fail to consider the value (or lack of it).

For example, a prospective client may ask for a price quote for me to come in and train their people. When I provide the quote, I also convey the value of the services, such as more defects found, better information provided to management, etc. I encourage people to consider how many defects prevented or found it will take to pay for the training. I have known some companies that measure defects that have found an average defect costs in the neighborhood of $5,000 to fix in production use.

However, some people just look at price alone. They will get a variety of quotes (nothing wrong with that), but then the comparison is on price alone. They may choose the cheapest option and then ask me to match the price but still deliver the same value as with my normal pricing. I will work with people to get a "win-win", but I don't play the car dealer game to match my competitor's lowest price. I just feel that it's a no-win situation. The client doesn't win because although they might get a low price, I'm not feeling good about my end of the deal and I don't like to risk that affecting my delivery of the service.

On the other hand, when I'm making my rate I go the extra mile for my clients and the results are spectacular. I have clients who think I should be charging higher rates. How often do you hear that?

I know this seems self-serving, but I don't talk about rates very often and it's on my mind so I thought I would blog it. Setting rates is a strange art, but I believe that someone's rate should be based on the benefit delivered, not on the "going rate" or how much it takes to keep the lights on. Consultants and trainers often get a black eye because the service doesn't give the value in relation to the rate. My motivation is to deliver the value in excess of my rate. I like for people to know my thought process about rates.

Speaking of rates, sometimes people ask why I don't post them on the site. I feel that 1) the rate depends on the job and each job is unique at some point and 2) I don't like to let my competitors know. All I'll say is that I'm not cheap, but I'm good!

So, if you ask me for a rate quote and choose someone else, I'm not offended. I just want to make sure you understand that just like the $1 action figure, you get what you pay for.

Have a great day!


Friday, December 14, 2007

Lessons Learned in a Boston Snowstorm

Well, I'm trying to get home from a class (Adding Value to QA and Testing Processes) I presented in the Boston area this week. It was a great session and I really enjoy teaching people who are engaged in the topic. I was so glad to be able to actually get to the class because in Oklahoma City we were hammered last Sunday by a devastating ice storm.

There were lots of trees destroyed and 700,000+ people without power at some points. (My thanks to the folks at OG&E and the people who came in from outof state to help us! God bless you!) In fact, my flight was one of the first to take off Tuesday afternoon, as the airport had been pretty much shut down most of the weekend.

As it turned out, I was jumping out of the refrigerator into the deep freeze!

As those of you in the U.S. know by now, Boston was hammered by a snow storm on Thursday (Gee, it seems like last week already!). Here's what made it interesting.

Despite the warnings and planning, most of the state was paralyzed. In fact, the warnings may have actually contributed to the problem in a major way.

It took me 4 and one-half hours to travel about 16 miles on the highway. The highest speed I reached was 15 mph, and the average was about 4 mph. I was not alone. In fact, I fared pretty well as compared to some.

The crazy thing was that the snow wasn't that bad. Listening to the radio was a riot. People who have lived there all of their lives were ranting about "what's happened to us here?" I'll admit, as a "Okie", I was thinking that even we handle winter weather better that this. (No offense intended.)

Here's what I think happened and it applies in other situations as well. Warnings went out the day before that the snow would hit during the evening rush hour, so people should plan on leaving work early. So, as people are (including myself), we waited until it started snowing around 1:00 p.m., then left. It was snowing about 1" per hour, so it didn'y take long for it to start getting messy.

However, because EVERYONE left work early, rush hour started at 1:00 instead of 3:00 or 4:00. So, the snowplows couldn't move the snow because of all the people trying to get through the snow. What irony! You might say, the perfect storm.

As much as the weather caused a problem, so did people's response to the weather. I think we may have been better off just giving the forecast and letting people figure out for themselves when to leave work.

We see the same thing happen with software and systems. Consider the web site to buy concert tickets that only gives people two minutes to complete the transaction. Because of the heavy load seen when the tickets go on sale, it's hard to get the response time to finish in two minutes! (As you can tell...I have experience in this scenario.)

When thinking about system performance, give very careful consideration about what people may do that could actually aggrevate problems (like hitting the Enter key multiple times just to make the system go faster). That's why good system performance (and weather response) needs to be well thought-out.

While we can't control what people do, we can influence what they do.

OK, lesson learned. If all goes well, I should get home to Oklahoma City just in time for another snow event. I think I feel a "sick day" coming on.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

StarWest 2007 Recap

Hi everyone!

Janet and I had a good week at StarWest last week, along with 1,300 or so of our fellow software testers. I thought I would pass along a few observations for those of you who didn't make it there.

First, many thanks to SQE for inviting me to speak again this year. And many thanks to those who attended by tutorial on Becoming an Influential Test Team Leader and the track session on Taming the Code Monolith – A Tester's Perspective. I plan to have the narrated slide show posted this week sometime.

The full-day leadership tutorial is always a joy to present because I get to meet so many people from all over the world that want to be the best at leading their team. We had over 100 people in the tutorial, which can be a challenge in terms of exercises, but those went well.

I sometimes wonder why some people do the things they do, but I also realize that you can learn a lot by just observing. Case in point – there was one lady on the very front row that from the outset of the workshop chose to read a magazine. Everyone else was engaged and appeared to be interested.

At the first exercise, she left and didn't return. The interesting thing is that the exercise involved working in small teams and everyone getting a card. Each card had a different action or indicated a role. She must have gotten the card that read “You are the Leader!” because that team started the exercise and learned they had no leader. However, someone in the team stepped up with no prompting and led. I guess I know who the real leader was!

I wasn't offended that she left and I truly hope she found a session that was more to her liking. I just could not help but note the contrast between the people who were engaged and those who just sit back and watch. That's why I give everyone a chance to participate – ask a question, share a tip, debate a point, you name it.

So, if you ever attend one of my leadership workshops be prepared. You may be called upon to lead!

By the way, we also made our own list of major testing challenges. We arrived at 30 of them! Guess what, there were none that were purely technical. Most were human in origin and a few were both human and technical.

As for keynotes, one of my favorites was Dot Graham's and Mark Fewster's (Grove Consultants, UK) keynote address on the “Five Doings of Software Testing”. It's not easy to do a duet keynote and they did it very well. On every “doing” they kept the audience engaged. The five doings are searching, checking, assessing, measuring and sampling.

Another keynote address I really liked was Lee Copeland's “The Nine Forgettings.” It was all about the things it seems we software testers have forgotten in recent years, such as lessons from the early pioneers of our field. (Only a few people could name even three out of seven of the pioneers on the slide.) It was a great session to remind us that we need to keep the foundations in mind. Lee handled an interesting group of questions toward the end on topics ranging from the future of testing to the value of test certifications.

My favorite presentation on SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture) was by Brian Bryson of IBM. He used the basic Eclipse framework to build and test a simple web service. He presented some lessons learned by the teams at IBM and was just overall a very informative presentation. By the way, there was a decent sized group in the room and it seems that quite a few people are looking to learn how to test SOA. That's encouraging as I am rolling out my new SOA Testing course in two weeks!

I finally got a chance to attend Julie Gardener's (of Grove Consultants, UK) presentation on classification trees. Julie did a great job and her session brought me up to speed quickly on this technique which I plan to add to my intermediate testing course.

Speaking of the “Grovers”, they all did a great job and I appreciate them making the long trip over. They always share very valuable information in very engaging ways. Lloyd Roden presented his Top Ten Testing Myths and Illusions talk, which is always a great session to get people thinking about testing.

(Thanks to the Grove Players for inviting me to be part of their "A Christmas Carol - Testers Version". That's one of my favorites!)

One final note is on Robert Watkin's presentation on the Top Ten Signs You Need to Improve Your Testing Process. I felt a special sense of appreciation for his presentation since we both hail from Oklahoma City and I was able to give him a little advance feedback. Robert had a good sized group in his session and I liked the way he opened up the session for other people to contribute their experiences. Job well done!

I regret that I didn't see the “Testing on the Toilet” presentation by Bharat Mediratta and Antoine Picard from Google. I heard good things about it.

As I close this posting, my thoughts and prayers are with the people in California who have lost their homes and possessions in the fires which started last week. Last week was brutal weather-wise. Temps were in the high 80s+, winds were very high (clocked at over 100 mph on the mountain tops – I estimate about 60 mph at the hotel) and the smoke was everywhere. In the DFW airport on the way home I saw the interview on Larry King's show with Ken Blanchard, who lost his home in the fires. His attitude and faith are an inspiration to me. His words of wisdom were that his family was safe and that's what mattered most, He told about how his church and Christian friends had rallied around him and the other victims. That's how it should be – the Church being there for people.

Thanks for reading this long and winding post. More to come soon.

Best regards,


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Making the Leap to a Mac

Last week was a very difficult week for me, technically speaking. On Monday morning, about 3 hours before leaving to conduct workshops in Chicago and Indianapolis, my Toshiba notebook would not boot. Actually, I did get it to boot after waiting about 30 minutes.

Thankfully, I managed to burn a CD of all my presentations for the week, but it was with a sense of fear and dread that I powered it down. Long story short is that Windows went bye-bye on me.

You might be thinking, just reinstall Windows, right? No, Toshiba didn't make it that easy. Their “recovery” CD is actually a reformat CD, which formats the hard drive before it reinstalls Windows.

So I found myself in downtown Chicago (with no vehicle) early Monday evening searching for a new notebook. I've had it with this Toshiba. Nothing but problems since I've had it. Even as I type this, I realize that “hey, the cursor doesn't randomly jump four or five lines above where I'm typing.” That's nice. How sad that I had grown to accept such poor quality.

First stop was Staples. At first I was excited because they were having a blow-out sale on notebooks. The bad news was that they were all blown out. The shelves were empty of computers.

Next stop was Office Max Express where they only had pens, paper clips and other office supplies for the office worker in a paper-based emergency.

Finally, I headed up the Magnificent Mile to the Apple Store. Things seemed to be leading me to this choice. I've been thinking about switching to a MacBook for sometime now and I guess this was the right time.

After explaining my situation (er, crisis) to the salesperson, she hooked me up with a sweet little 13” MacBook that is a pleasure to use. The next evening, I got the Parallels application and Windows XP, so I can now run my Windows applications that won't run on a Mac. It looks odd to see the XP desktop on a Mac (desecration, I'm sure some would say), but aside from a procedural bug in Parallels, the whole thing with XP works great. In fact, it seems to run faster than my Toshiba, which isn't much of a surprise.

Another cool thing is the 30 second boot up time. That may not last for long, but for right now it's great.

I am having to get used to the differences in usage, such as the mainly single-click and the no right click (it's ctrl and click). I'm a fast learner, though!

I've been working now for over 2 hours and the batter is still going strong. My Toshiba's battery life was down to around 8 minutes (really). I had bought an external power source just so I could work on the plane.

And then there's the coolness. I've never owned a cool computer (and I'm not talking about not overheating like my Toshiba does on occasion). No longer than 30 minutes after I had bought the MacBook, two people commented that I wouldn't regret buying it. Some expressed envy.

I really don't think I'm going to regret the switch. One week now, and things are still great. No regrets at all - only smooth computing. I'm sure I'll have to work through a few issues along the way, but for now, it's just nice to be able to work on the road with a fast, reliable, usable and , oh a cool, computer.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Losing Respect for a Mentor

No, I'm not going to name names.

I just experienced something yesterday that concerned/disturbed me and it got me thinking about the role model aspect of being a mentor.

I have many mentors. Some are personal mentors who I meet with for lunch or at least I can personally correspond with and can interact with them. Others are what I'll call "impersonal" mentors who I may never meet, but I learn much from them, their books, their tapes, etc. Examples would be John Maxwell, Zig Zigler, Jim Rohn, etc.

I'm working on a project right now that requires about 5 or 6 mentors (seriously!) and I need each and every one of them.

About a month ago I came across a guy who had some great teaching on business, personal growth, and matters related to being the best. I bought his mp3 series and have listened to it several times. I also subscribed to his e-mail list for updates.

Yesterday, I received his "rant" (That's what he called it as well) and I was OK with the rant and even though I disagreed with some of his conclusions, I fully agree with his freedom to express them.

The thing that really put me off was the prolific use of the F-word, followed by his announcement that he would be leading his weekly study group at his church.

In that moment, he went from a 10 to a 6 in my level of esteem for him.

I can understand and forgive a "slip" of the tongue, but this caused me to ask some questions:

What does this tell me about his respect for his audience?
What does this tell me about his judgment in general?
Is this being consistent?
Is this the type of person I would like to emulate?

Then I thought about some of the other people I mentioned above - would they do this? I know 100% for sure they wouldn't.

I don't expect my mentors to be perfect, but I do expect them to be good role models. I also really try not to be judgmental, yet I do need to exercise discretion. Some of my biggest mistakes have occurred because I didn't listen to my own sense of discretion.

Here's my lesson learned/reinforced - Give a mentor relationship time so that you can learn about their character as well as knowledge. You may learn that they have great knowledge, but do not exhibit the type of behavior that you want to exhibit. By the way, the behaviors can be much worse than the use of profanity!

Before you put your mentor on a pedestal, be careful. People do fall off those things! (That's what Bing Crosby told Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas, except he was talking about knights on white horses.)

I like what Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries says, "When you pick a hero, pick a dead one. That way, they can't disappoint you!"

On the flip side, as a mentor to others, it causes me to be on my guard about how I act and the example I set for others. Once again, perfection isn't the issue, but intent and judgment are critical things to model. It's painful to hear from someone that you've done something to hurt a mentoring relationship. Although I would want to know about it if it did happen, I would prefer it not happen in the first place.

Have you ever had an experience where you were "put off" by a mentor? Let me know in the comments!

Have a great weekend,


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whoda Thunk It? A Tropical Storm Hits Oklahoma!

Normally when it comes to weather events in Oklahoma, we're 1) so dry the ground is like a brick 2) so hot it seems like we can fry eggs on the sidewalk, or 3) dodging tornadoes.

So, it was surprising even to me to see people being rescued from flood waters by helicopters, boats, jet skis, etc. You may have seen this on the national news this weekend.

Well, folks, that's not normal for us. I looked online to see where the rain was heading and I saw a perfectly formed tropical depression swirling just north of Oklahoma City. There was even an "eye"!

What I was seeing were the remnants of tropical storm Erin, which made landfall in Texas and moved north, even gaining strength along the way.

Some towns got 10 inches or more of rain. At my house we got about 6 inches in less than 24 hours. There were flash flood warnings, but hey, we've been getting those quite a bit this year.

The thing that made this event even more unique and devastating (at least 6 people have died) was that the ground is so saturated, the water ran off the ground very quickly.

All this got me thinking about the local forecasts for the weekend. I think we had a 40% chance of rain going into the weekend. Even during the event, I saw no urgent evacuation warnings on TV. To be fair, much of the rain fell in the early morning hours of Sunday. Things that everyone agree on were that 1) this was a really big and unusual weather event, 2) it was largely unexpected and 3) we were totally unprepared.

By the way, there was also a tornado verified during this event!

What does this have to do with testing?

I've been giving this presentation on the Risks of Risk-based Testing lately. My premise is that even though risk-based testing is a good way to test, it is possible to miss risks for a large number of reasons. At this point, my list is at 12 reasons, but I think I have #13 ("We ain't never seen this before!")

There are some risks that we simply don't realize because we have never seen them in our context before. This weather event was an example of that in a non-software context.

In the context of software, perhaps a software application may fail in a way you have never seen before, in a place you've never seen failures before. A big part of dealing with those situation is to be able to identify them quickly and react accordingly. This applies big-time in dealing with security threats, which there is sometimes the surprise of a totally new type of attack.

As you plan your tests, keep in mind that "You don't know what you don't know" and keep an eye out for things you never seen before. As some say "Expect the unexpected." Oh, and a good set of hip waders can come in handy at times also.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Are You Competent or Extraordinary?

I'm going to keep this posting short, since I'm busy putting final touches on a workshop I'm conducting next week in Norman, OK - Software Testing for Weather Applications. I've always been a weather "enthusiast" and being in Oklahoma we get our share of wild weather for sure!

I was watching a program on CNBC the other evening in which a panel of millionaires were giving insight into their motivations for becoming rich. The thing that really stuck with me and I think applies to anyone that wants to be successful (regardless of how much money you make) is that really successful people go way beyond just being competent in what they do. They work hard to become the best. They are exceptional in what they do.

I've taught for many years that testers need to build "core competencies". I'm thinking I need to start teaching that is just the starting point. Just being able to write a test plan isn't good enough anymore. How can you show your value in other ways?

In fact, in my workshop, "Becoming an Influential Test Team Leader" (which I'll be presenting in September in Indianapolis and October at StarWest) I describe seven ways you can add value and it doesn't require any money. It does require dedication and motivation, though.

This also requires that you work on yourself. The reason I know this is because that's what I've been doing the last 20 years. What I mean is that you have to become a person of character, trust, and integrity. You will be tested!

It means reading the right books - inspiring ones, not comics, listening to the right teaching to get a solid philosophy of life.

To be extraordinary doesn't mean you won't make mistakes. The panel of millionaires also agreed that they've all made plenty of mistakes. The key is to learn from them and not to be derailed by them.

Helping people become extraordinary is what I do. That's why I train all over the world and give stuff away on the web site ( If I can help you, just let me know.

Enjoy the journey!


Monday, June 18, 2007

Please...No More Eight Hour Training Days!

I'm sorry to be so remiss in my postings. If you think this is bad, you should see my personal journal! I promise to do better. (I say that in my journal, too!)

When I started this blog, I promised not to use it as a platform for rants. Today I would like to suspend my rule for one day.

I've been training testers, business analysts, and other professionals for over 18 years. However, I do not consider myself to be primarily a "professional" trainer. I'm a software quality professional that has learned to be a good trainer. I guess I've succeeded because people keep asking me to come back and train more people.

I do, however, pay a lot of attention to learning methods and how people learn. That's what brings me to my point.

I got an e-mail today asking if I had a 5-day course on a certain testing topic, with each day of training being 8 hours. This alone would not have bothered me much. But a couple of months ago I responded to a Federal Government proposal that assumed 8 hours in each training day. So, it seems to be on my mind more.

I'm thinking, "Are the organizers trying to punish people?" I might could handle sitting though a one-day course for 8 hours, but two days or more and I would be less than enthusiastic.

My standard is a 6.5 hour training day, not including breaks and lunches. I give the class breaks every hour or so because the human mind can only stay on topic that long. Actually, the experts say the average attention span is more like 15 minutes before some type of different activity is needed. I think the length of the day is also important. People can only retain so much information in one day.

I know that some people might be thinking they want to get their money's worth in training, but I've learned that the greater cost in training isn't the cost of the trainer, but the cost of the people being trained and being away from work. I have found that giving people the freedom to leave a little early and tie up loose ends of the day - e-mail, voice mail, etc., is very much appreciated by the people. (Actually, one of the great benefits of e-learning is being able to learn at your own pace in little segments during the week.)

When people are having a good time, they are more relaxed and retain more information. That doesn't happen on marathon training days. I suppose one exception to this are the true "boot camps" that are really hard core. But in those at least you know what you're getting in to when you sign up.

By the way, I have taught classes that were specified to be 8 hours long, but around 4:00 (hour 7), I get no argument from anyone, including the sponsor of the class, about ending "early".

So, if you are ever in the position of specifying the times and lengths of training, please...don't make it punishment. Keep the times around 6 or 7 hours and your team (and the trainer) will really appreciate it. You'll find that the overall impact of the training will also be much greater.

Thanks for reading!