Experiment your Lean Testing / Testing maturity level with our card game.

When a tester joins an agile team, the tester should inspire within the team by enabling [Laing 2016]

In this implementation, the tester will act as a test coach within the team in the same way as [Moustier 2019b] :

  • The Scrum Master who is a coach on Scrum: he leads the way on agile practices
  • The Product Owner who is a coach on the product: he explains the customer's needs
  • The Developer who is a coach on the technical aspects: he shows the feasibility

To help him, a good knowledge of testability and Lean practices is essential, but before achieving excellence, it is probably necessary to allow the team to acquire the prerequisites that are essential.

Maturity systems

To achieve this, [TMMi 2020] provides a scale of progression inherited from a maturity system close to CMMi [CMMi 2010] and is presented on 5 levels with for each level a gradation of practices from level 1 (the organization is capable of producing something but with a random level of quality) to level 5 where the processes are defined, managed, measured and constant optimization based on the measurements makes it possible to move towards excellence.
In an equivalent vein, [Rohen-Harel 2010] proposes ATMM (Agile Testing Maturity Model) with a gradation rather oriented towards the agilization of different aspects of testing on 5 levels:

  • L0 - Waterfall": the team is able to test these products but testing and development activities are clearly separated and sequenced (testing comes last)
  • L1 - Forming: testers start to be involved in all activities
  • L2 - Agile Bonding: testers are fully integrated into the team
  • L3 - Performing: the team develops a mindset of understanding and acting on the test objectives
  • L4 - Scaling: testers guide the team through multiple quality-related concepts

As with CMMi with its generic practices used to institutionalize each practice, ATMM also provides a path to maturity [Rayaprolu 2020]. This kind of system dates back to the 1970s [Mettler 2011] and tries to correspond to the classical learning curve of [Thurstone 1919] by anticipating the needs of the next phase [Gibson 1974] but these systems have some drawbacks:

  • The models all propose a vision without explaining the reasons for these choices [Mettler 2011] and if the initial assumptions do not match, only a strong experience of the stakeholders will avoid failure
  • Assessing the level of an organization is tricky because it relies on the people interviewed and biases can be introduced voluntarily because of political games in the company or simply through ignorance; moreover, in a company made up of several dozen teams, maturity is not homogeneous and the slowness of the assessment process can make the measurement imprecise
  • Once level 5 is reached, the real difficulties begin because maturity is only the beginning

Moreover, the agile culture is so much about demonizing anything pushed from the top of the organization; one can recall Henrik Kniberg (the 'creator' of the Spotify model) demonizing SAFe, as a rehash of an old model named RUP that comes from the top. Although he recognizes the wisdom contained in it [Kniberg 2015], the company's base (the employees) rejects the very idea from the start and reduces the chances of success. Also, the model regularly cited is rather the Japanese term "Shuhari - 守破離" in which ATMM tries to fit:

  • Shu (守, "protect", "obey") - traditional wisdom - learning the basics. This first kanji consists of the components
    - 宀: the roof
    - 寸: the measure, the dimension, small, 1/10th of a shaku (i.e. ~3cm)
  • Ha (破, "to break away", "to digress") - to break with tradition - to find exceptions to traditional wisdom, to find new approaches. In some styles of Japanese music (gagaku and noh), it is also the middle of the song. The components of this kanji are
    - 石 : the stone
    - 皮: skin
    This kanji can be understood as the shell, the mask, the surface
  • Ri (離, "to leave", "to separate") - to transcend - there is no traditional technique or wisdom, all movements are allowed. This kanji consists of the components
    - 亠 : the lid of the kettle
    - 凵 : the open box
    - 禹: this component refers to the Chinese emperor "Yu the Great" deified as the governor of the waters following the invention of irrigation techniques that enabled the control of Chinese rivers and lakes. Yu is associated with perseverance and determination and is said to be the origin of the Chinese proverb "Failure is the mother of success"
    - 隹 : the bird
    This kanji can be understood as "The opening of a bird's cage that will yield something great through perseverance". It can be noted that Ri contains the radicals 冂 - "the upturned box" and 厶 - "oneself". However, we can also note that under the lid, the box contains a small cross, this is the radical 凶 which means "bad luck, disaster"...

Catalogue of good practices

Another approach is to provide a catalogue of good practices from which the team can draw. The table proposed by [Rohen-Harel 2010] provides an evolution of each aspect of the test by describing the effects, but it is difficult to design a catalogue that would contain one half of a practice, so each practice in such a catalogue can be characterized by [Jacobson 2007] :

  • A description of the problem the practice addresses
  • An approach to solving that problem
  • Aids to solving the problem (tips, documents, skills needed, other related good practices)
  • Means of checking that the problem has been addressed

But such a catalogue does not dispense with the notion of interaction between individuals as proposed in the agile manifesto because :

  • Its content may be incomplete, badly formulated or misinterpreted
  • The part of tacit knowledge in a practice cannot be neglected

Some underlying principles and practices

Experimentation generates guides that form frameworks from which principles emerge. This is how Craig Larman developed LeSS [Larman 2017]. In turn, the principles are a foundation for the culture and practices that tools can implement.

Hierarchy of key aspects of Lean [Micklewright 2010].

As we have seen, a maturity system is a tool to achieve progress in a given direction. The few practices that follow are also complemented by principles that must be observed. To help you understand them :

  • A set of cards is provided for you and some more will arrive in time...
  • Each element is summarized here with some references so that you can go further
  • This deck of cards can then be used to help you move teams forward at their own pace (see "Moving an organization forward").
Sample of a maturity card
Sample of a maturity card

The description that can be found behind the QR Code is a generic description close to a "state-of-art" with adherences to tests aspects and test automation with Agilitest. The description of the practice as per [Jacobson 2007] should be done within your organization to adapt it to your culture.

Organizational development

The progression of a team is a delicate matter. Beyond the practices and principles that might be relevant to an organization, two factors compete at the level of each individual who is subject to two competing models [Argyris 2010] [Moustier 2020]:

  • Model I: 'defensive thinking' - designed to protect the individual from change; this is the reaction that each individual may have when confronted with a proposal that they know does not fit the culture of the organization and the postures that go with it include
    - Having unilateral control
    - Winning and not losing
    - Suppressing negative feelings
    - Reacting rationally
  • Model II: 'productive reasoning' - designed to prevent the counter-productive consequences of defensive reasoning and includes
    - Seek valid and testable information
    - Create an informed choice
    - Monitor vigilantly to detect and correct errors

For example, when someone tries to promote peer programming, which has real added value and profitability, yet has been proven by studies [Gilb 1993] [North 2006] [Shull 2002], but the view of the hierarchy that may not understand could be detrimental to a manager subject to this conflict of reasoning. Argyris explains this conflict of positions as a form of addiction where the I-model feeds on what it generates and the first step out of this rut is to :

1. Work on the traps that appear in everyday life (notably through testimonies)
2. 2. Use education on the problems generated by Model I practices, as a way of combating addictive behavior (e.g. "The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous")
3. Gradually replace Model I reflexes with Model II reflexes
4. Build a consensus
5. Taking action

To do this, the proposed card game can be used for the different stages and provoke discussion around each of the themes. For steps 4 and 5, this can be done in a workshop:

  • Define 5 columns on a table
    A. "In place"
    B. "To be tried for the next iteration"
    C. "Later"
    D. "Not applicable
    E. "What is it?"
  • The whole team, together with the Product Owner (PO), takes each card and puts it in the column that corresponds to the team's situation; the content of column B will depend on the return on investment desired by the PO. The assignment to each column is a consensus with exchanges, discussions around concrete examples so that everyone can judge the appropriateness of the column chosen
  • Actions related to columns B and E can be carried out in the spirit of OKRs

Inapplicable practices or principles (column D) are due to :

  • Part of the problem is held by several actors possibly spread throughout the organization
  • A generalized I-model in the organization

In addition to education that may emerge from communities of practice and coffee discussions, Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless propose a workshop called "15% SOLUTION". It is part of Liberating Structures and is designed to be scaled up [Lipmanowicz 2014]. Its aim is for everyone to contribute to a general problem. This workshop can be combined with other LS workshops such as :

  • PANARCHY to get a systemic view related to obstacles
  • TRIZ to get rid of counterproductive activities and behaviors
  • TROIKA CONSULTING to obtain practices from colleagues that can be useful
  • And so on.

It's up to you!

In 1994, James Bach had already pointed out the inadequacy of a maturity model such as CMMi [Bach 1994] because they are not built on any theoretical foundation other than the views of experts and experiences of other companies than yours. In contrast, a simple catalogue of correctly formulated practices should help each individual, then each team and eventually the organization to find its own way by applying the principle of subsidiarity [Appelo 2010] [Moustier 2020]:

"The responsibility for action remains with the individuals until they can no longer perform the task effectively"


Related cards

To go further

© Christophe Moustier - 2021