Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Abbott & Costello Meet Microsoft Outlook

I found this on Computerworld's Shark Tank and thought about the old "Who's on First?" bit. It's also a great example of trying to understand the users' true needs and expectations of software.

"He (Big Boss) wanted me to help him understand how Microsoft Outlook calendar appointments work with changing time zones," says fish. "I updated the online docs, then walked down the hall for the explanation to the big boss."

But as soon as the big guy hears the explanation -- how Outlook will automatically reflect the time-zone shift when the clock is changed -- he tells fish, "No, that's not what I need. I need to be able to set an appointment up for a certain time slot in the other time zone for next week, but then appear in the same time slot when I look at it with my PC set to my current time zone, this week.

"If I set it for 2 p.m. there, then it needs to show up as 2 p.m. on my calendar when I look at it from here, but for next week.

"And I want everyone else invited to the meeting to see it correctly when viewing both here and in the other time zone. And, oh yeah, it needs to show the correct time slot on my smartphone calendar, and on all the attendees' smartphones, next week when we're traveling."

Fish scratches his head and then attempts to explain that an appointment set in the other time zone will always appear in a different hour time-slot when viewed from a device set in the current time zone, and that it all depends on the time and time zone set on the device.

Big boss says, "No, you're not getting what I need. I need to be able to set an appointment up for a certain time slot in the other time zone for next week, but then appear in the same time slot when I look at it with my PC set to my current time zone. I can't believe that there isn't a way built into the software to do this!"

Reports fish, "I tried to explain it one more time, but in the end the big boss looked back with glazed-over eyes and said, 'Well, since the technology can't help me, I'm just going to print out my calendar and carry it with me to the other time zone.'

"Then he proceeded to print out next week's calendar on paper."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review - "Glitch - The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software"

I have a great interest in the topic of software defects, their impact and how software failures happen. Books in the past such as "The Day the Phones Stopped", "Bad Software" and "Fatal Defect" have been great sources of documenting what has gone wrong due to software defects. These books serve as case studies for anyone who is involved in creating, testing or buying software products.

So, I was excited to see that a new book has been written on the topic. I'm not crazy about the title of "Glitch" because it tends to convey that a problem is minor. We see this a lot in the popular media as major system failures are described as glitches. I think the problems that Papows describe in this book are more than minor ones. Setting the title aside, I was happy to see a very recent accounting of computer failures in many domains - financial, government, medical, etc. Of course, I'm not happy for the problems, but it's good to see recent information.

This book is written at a level that non-technical people can understand and technical people can read without feeling insulted. That's a nice balance. The information is also sourced well. When it comes to reporting about failures, there are ten sides to every story. But having some objective sources is helpful.

To me, the strongest chapter was Chapter 8, "The Way Forward." In this chapter, Papows (who was the former President and CEO of Lotus Development) describes what organizations and individuals can do to help reduce the risk of computing failures. This is the only place QA and testing are mentioned in the book, which was a little disappointing to me, but I come from a biased perspective. I think people need to understand the project management reality of rushed deadlines, skimpy testing and lax attitudes toward quality to truly understand why software fails. This book gets into that to some degree, but not very deeply.

In fact, much of the book is written from a top-down perspective as opposed to an "in the trenches" perspective. I was hoping for a more detailed analysis of why some of the problems happened.

I can recommend this book to business managers to raise awareness of software risks and to software quality professionals who need good examples of past failures to make the case for better software development and testing processes. However, it may disappoint those looking for root cause analysis of software defects.

Six Seats Left for Test Automation and Test Team Leadership Training in Salt Lake City - Jan 25 - 27, 2011

I just wanted to get the word out to anyone that is in the Salt Lake City area, or who may be able to travel there, that I have six seats open for two great workshops:

Practical Software Test Automation (Tues & Wed, Jan 25 & 26, 2011) - Learn hands-on techniques and approaches for building an efficient test automation architecture. We get into scripting and test tool integration. Bring your notebook computer!

Becoming an Influential Test Team Leader (Thursday, Jan 27, 2011) - This is an interactive workshop that will help you bring out the best in your test team. If you are a test team leader, or aspire to be in that role, this workshop will help you influence your team and those you interact with.

These two workshops are at special pricing for the Salt Lake City QA Focus Group, but I am extending that pricing to everyone! $750 for the Test Automation 2-day workshop (normally $1,400) and $375 for the 1-day Test Team Leadership workshop (normally $790).

The workshops will be held at The Pavilion Inn -

To see details and to register, just visit

Register soon to save your place! I hope to see you there!

Randy Rice

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tiger Woods Needs a Golf Teacher?

On my last trip to Rome, while flipping the two English channels in my hotel room, I happened to catch a story on CNN about Tiger Woods and his need for a new golf teacher/coach. This fascinated me.

Now, I’m not a golfer so that explains some of my curiosity about why one the world’s greatest golfers would need a teacher. In fact, Tiger is arguably the best golfer in the world today, although in tough times right now. I don’t even watch much golf on television, so I’m really a neophyte.

Tiger’s most recent coach was Hank Haney, who coached him from 2004 to May of 2010. Haney resigned because he felt he had taken Woods as far as he could.

But still, I kept thinking, if the world’s best (or at least in the top five) needs coaching, what does that say about the whole concept of personal improvement. How does that apply to what testers do?

After thinking about this, I started to see some reasons why even the best in what they do need a coach, teacher, or mentor.

1. Objectivity

We all need someone who will tell us the truth, no matter how ugly it may be. And, they need to be able to do that from an external and unbiased perspective. True, a golfer can have a video camera and other ways to capture their golf swing, but it takes a lot of experience and insight to see the one little flaw that can increase a score.

Tiger probably has lots of people he can ask for opinions, and most of them will tell Tiger what they think he wants to hear. I find managers like this all the time. They can’t get the real story because so many people are either afraid to give bad news, or they are people-pleasers.

2. Broad context

Hank Haney has coached thousands of golfers, and also many golf pros. He has seen more bad swings than just about anyone. He has also seen the best. He knows what makes a difference because he has seen the techniques work in practice. Haney understands the mental aspect of golf as well.

3. Accountability

If you want to improve at anything, you have to practice and take positive action. Things that are easy to do are also easy not to do. A coach or mentor can ask you if you are on track doing the things needed to improve. They can’t make you do things, but they can remind you of your goals.

4. Encouragement

Everyone needs encouragement. Encouragement is interesting because it comes from others. You can have affirmations and self-talk, but a little encouragement from someone does so much more than what you can muster up yourself.

The Results

The results of these things are motivation and improvement. You’ll notice that I didn’t include either of these in the list the coach brings. These must come from the one being coached. These are brought out by a good teacher or coach.

Likewise, desire and the choice to change must come from those wishing to improve.

Keep in mind that I’m not necessarily talking about large steps of improvement. Whether you’re at the top of the game or just starting out, one tiny change can make a world of difference.

What About Testing?

Since many of you who read this blog are software testers or involved in software quality in some way, here are some tie-ins to what testers do.

Objectivity – This is the value of independent testers. The reason testers are needed is that they have a fresh view of something. They can see defects that someone with a lot of familiarity may miss. However, some testers are fearful of giving the bad news. That’s why a good testing process with measurements and metrics is so important. The process can deliver the news, whether good or bad.

Broad context – Testers do best, I believe, when they have worked in different companies and on different types of projects. You may not have much control over this, but you can still explore and expose yourself to different things. You can read, attend conferences, and get training to broaden your horizon.

Accountability – Testers can ask probing questions like, “Has this code been reviewed?” or “Has the business user seen this requirements document?” If there are development and testing processes in place, testers can tell if those processes are being followed.

Encouragement – Testers can give more than the bad news of defects. They can also give credit for great work.

Doing It

I’ve been sitting on this article for two months. I’ve wanted to write it, but for some reason just could not get off the dime. Perhaps it was my own lack of motivation.

Then, this week I happened to be flipping through my “300 channels of nothing” on TV and came across “The Haney Project” on the Golf Channel. I had no idea what this show was about, but soon saw that it tied everything together for me. In this episode, Hank Haney was teaching Rush Limbaugh how to improve his golf game.

A couple of things that stood out to me were that 1) he told Rush to only think about one thing during his swing, not twelve, and 2) Haney was very encouraging. At the end of the program, Limbaugh remarked about how impressed he was about working with Haney. Unlike other teachers who had been negative and overbearing, Limbaugh found Haney to be supportive and positive.

When I watch TV, I like to watch programs that show how people can improve. I found this program very interesting just watching Hank Haney’s coaching style in action.

Oh, and after watching Rush play golf, I'm thinking, "Hey, I can do at least that good!" So who knows? I may actually dust off my garage sale clubs and hit the links.

The big take-away for me in all this is that we all need people around us to help us improve, to encourage us and to bring accountability. I encourage you to find someone who can be that coach to you or your team. If you need help in that effort, let me know.

I would like to hear your comments on this topic!