Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Dev-QA Delicate Relationship

Success to your product is directly influenced by the ability of your QA and Dev teams to work well together. This is even more tightly coupled in the agile world when QA and Dev work and deliver under the same team. Symbiosis between QA and Dev will accelerate delivery time, create a more robust product, and overall will increase team member satisfaction. 

Saying the above is obvious. However, failing to understand the relationship between QA and Dev will take your product/team in the opposite direction. There is a delicate relationship between the two and a certain tension that must be confronted and not overlooked. Most of you probably felt it in your work place. You hear a QA's question thrown to the air, followed by a smug reply that is basically telling him that he will never understand since he didn't write the code. Or the other way around, when a developer asks a question about the product and the QA looks at him in a look that says "you really need to get out of your little world. There is a whole cosmos waiting for you..."

There are several symptoms/causes that can help you identify the level of tension in your workplace:

Domain knowledge is mostly in the QA hands

In this situation the developer works in a vacuum. He understands enough to accomplish his tasks, but not enough so that his code will be reusable. He can not foresee new advances in the field of interest. He is like an ox plowing in long corridor blind folded. 

Lack of respect

You all know it is there and from both sides. "This feature was written with so many bugs, my grandma would have written it better", or maybe "How dare he open this bug? It just shows me how little he understands..." Each side is building his own trench while accusing the other side in every single problem earth has encountered.

Over Testing

There seems to be a tendency to retest the entire product after each change (which should be prevented by proper sanity automated tests, and not by manual checks). Checks are too strict. This leads to slowness in the product improvement and frustration for developers.

Under Testing

Features are written under pressure, and as such are tested under pressure. Not all extremity cases are simulated. This may cause frustration in QA side, since they are the one that signed off the feature.

Who's the Boss?

Developers sometimes see QA as their personal assistants. They might ask the QA to complete tasks that are not directly related to QA but mostly to save "expensive" developer's time. 

Who is to blame?

In places where the QA is hold responsible for product quality every bug which was shipped with the product has the potential to flame a new fire. Who is to blame?

What can we do as managers to help reduce this tension?

  • Cross Functional teams. Putting them in the same team and make the entire team responsible for the product. As we said before this is already happening in the agile era.
  • Let them do each other's job. Let the QA do some Dev in the form of writing scripts or anything that will make them understand bugs are inevitable. Let developers do some QA so they will understand the horror of saying: "I tested it and it is ready for shipment"
  • The layer of team managers should originate from Dev and QA both, thus giving the management a broader perspective.
  • Management must have excellent interpersonal relations and be aware of the tension, confronting it when necessary.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gambling in Software

I want to tell you about a meeting we had a few days ago. It reminded me of “The Jack Story” (which was part of an old stage routine of Danny Thomas many years ago).

Here’s how it goes:
Traveling salesman gets stuck one night on a lonely country road with a flat tire and no jack. He starts walking toward a gas station about a mile away, and as he walks, he talks to himself. "How much can he charge me for a jack?" he wonders. "Fifty dollar, sounds reasonable. But it's the middle of the night, so maybe there's an after-hours fee. Probably another five dollars. Wait.... He'll probably figure I got no place else to go for the jack. Fifty dollars more."
He goes on walking and thinking, and the price and the anger keep rising. Finally, he gets to the gas station and is greeted cheerfully by the owner: "What can I do for you, sir?" But the salesman will have none of it. "You got the nerve to talk to me, you robber," he says. "You can take your stinkin' jack and shove it..."

The meeting was about a new feature requested by one of our customers. The feature was quite clear and we started talking about how we should implement it. At some point one of the participants claimed that if they need this feature they will surely need another related feature. A third guy immediately followed with: "if this is the case then we should also implement this feature…". This routine continued a few rounds until everybody were convinced that this feature was too big and should be rejected.

It seems that more often than one might think we follow 'The Jack Story" while building software. Fortunately, our story ends well. When we got back to the costumer and explained to him why we must reject the feature he stated that none of our guessing were true and he really only needs the original request. This time we got lucky. No extra work was done and we did not lose any costumers.

But it got me thinking. Did we do something wrong?

Now the typical agile practitioner would argue that we simply should not have added new requests on the original user story. Well...obviously my colleagues and I know this argument. We also know that the costumer often does not fully understand what he really needs. Moreover (perhaps not in this case) any company sometimes needs to be a head of the market instead of following it.
Actually, many times as software engineers we do more then we are explicitly requested (over doing). We enhance existing features. We build our code more generic and powerful than we currently need. We basically gamble on future needs, and I deliberately use the verb 'gamble' and not the verb 'guess' because there is a definite rewords for good bets. Naturally, 'Over Doing' also relates to a person character. Some will choose the 'Over Doing' approach more often than others. But everyone does it at some level.

Usually where ever there is a gamble there are measures and statistics. This must be done in order to track our gamble and measure the profit. This is also the case, for example, in software estimation which in essence also involves gambling. We continuously review our past estimation in order to improve our future ones. But this is not the case with 'Over Doing'. We never mark which of our work is mandatory for now and which is a gamble on a future need. As a direct result, we never come back to check if we were right.

So I answered myself: No, we did not do anything wrong. We should continue to gamble on future needs. But we also must find a way to document and review our gambling. It will enable us to estimate the profit of our gamble and help us improve future ones, avoid over engineering where it is not needed, and insist on generic code where we see future opportunities.



A key tool for a manager is matrices. We already know that traditional matrices in software engineering often provide little help for a project success. You can read about another matrices we suggested in Effective Unit Testing - Not All Code is Created Equal. In the agile era we are in a quest for finding new matrices. New things to measure which might help us navigate our project to safe shore. This post tries to suggest such alternative metric which might be useful.