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Quality Sense Podcast: Facilitating Agile Teams and Training Remotely

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Quality Sense Podcast: Facilitating Agile Teams and Training Remotely

Experiences in rapidly adapting in-person training to a remote setting, tips for working from home, and more with Janet Gregory's Quality Sense podcast.

· Agile Zone ·
Free Resource

In this episode of the Quality Sense podcast, host, Federico Toledo, interviews Janet Gregory, co-author of three highly influential books: "Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams”, “More Agile Testing: Learning Journeys for the Whole Team”, and “Agile Testing Condensed: A Brief Intro.”

Gregory is also a consultant who specializes in helping companies promote agile quality processes and is co-founder of Agile Testing Fellowship.

What to Expect

Toledo and Gregory discuss:

  • Finding the right mindset to embrace remote work and creating a structure in your day to enhance productivity
  • Gregory’s experience making what she thought was impossible, possible: taking in-person, three day training courses and creating a remote-facilitated online version
  • How the coronavirus is changing our interactions with one another and some of the positive impacts she hopes it will have on work culture
  • Tips for agile teams to overcome the challenges of working remotely (pairing, clarify communication channels, staying connected).

Listen Here

Episode Transcript

Federico:

Hello, Janet, how are you?

Janet:

Hello. I am good! Thank you, Frederico.

Federico:

Thank you so much for accepting the invitation, participating in this podcast. I’m really happy to have you here today. I remember that the last time we met, it was in Uruguay last year, right?

Janet:

Yeah, time flies. These last few months, it’s surreal. It’s just disappeared.

Federico:

It’s difficult to keep track of time with this.

Janet:

So yeah, it was last May, wasn’t it?

Federico:

Yeah, exactly. So how was your time there? Did you enjoy visiting our country? It was your first time there?

Janet:

It was my first time there, and I was actually very impressed with Uruguay. My husband was with me, so we did some tours and the people from the conference, TestingUY, were really friendly. It was a friendly place. The people were so nice. I felt very safe, walking wherever we went. It was great, and we really enjoyed it because there’s lots to do and see.

Federico:

I’m glad you liked it.

Janet:

Yeah, it was good and we were only there for… It was a few extra days outside of the conference, so it doesn’t give you a lot of time but we were able to see quite a bit, so that was good.

Federico:

Good. By the way, I remember that you did a great job in the keynote presentation in TestingUy. So you also had the chance to meet some people from the testing community in Uruguay?

Janet:

Yes. Yeah. It’s a thriving community. It was actually really good. One of the things that I remember is the organizers were really good about telling us what to expect, and all kinds of other things. So we had arranged for somebody to pick us up at the airport, and all of the things and we got to the airport, and there’s nobody there.

Federico:

Ooh.

Janet:

Well, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s one of those cultural things that we forget sometimes. So as simple as saying 5:00, means different things to different people.

Federico:

Okay.

Janet:

Right. So when I put down 5:00, is that 05:00, or is that 17:00?

Federico:

Oh. Now, I see.

Janet:

Yes. So nobody’s fault, just a… It’s one of those assumptions that people make that causes misunderstandings. We were able to catch a taxi and get into town and our hotel. Everything was great. 

Federico:

Now, I understand that you arrive in the morning, right?

Janet:

Yes, exactly. Yes, it was like 2:00, 2:00 AM or some silly thing. And so, we might have said 2:00 AM, but if you’re not used to seeing AM versus PM, you just automatically think, 02:00. It doesn’t matter. It was… Yeah.

Federico:

Yeah, but this is amazing because this is the typical kind of assumption that we make, even when we develop software… and that leads to different problems if people have different assumptions than you do.

Janet:

Absolutely. Even when we’re working remotely, it makes it harder because you’re relying more on the written word, versus having these conversations and saying, “Hey, I’m going to be there in the middle of the night,” which you would say in a conversation but not necessarily clarify. So there’s lots of little things that are interesting. So you have to have a little bit of excitement in your travel as you go. It wouldn’t be a normal trip if you didn’t have a little bit of excitement.

Federico:

Totally. Well, thinking about the main topic I would like to address today with you, it’s mainly related to something that’s happening now with this lockdown that we are suffering because of the COVID-19.

Well, for some people, probably it is the first time they have to face this, working remotely. I know that you and Lisa, and some other collaborators are offering your expertise and knowledge in Agile Testing with the Agile Testing Fellowship and you’re offering trainings all over the world with different collaborators. I know that also, Claudia Badell from Jigso Labs in Uruguay is one of those trainers, right?

Janet:

Yes, she is.

Federico:

And she is also, I mention her because she is also one of the organizers of TestingUy, the conference in Uruguay.

Janet:

Yes. She also translated the whole course, the presentations into Spanish.

Federico:

Cool!

Janet:

So we have quite a few trainers now in South America. We have one in Peru. We have Claudia in Uruguay and down south. We have one in Mexico. We have… Ah! It doesn’t matter.

Federico:

Brazil, I think?

Janet:

Oh, Colombia. Colombia, yeah.

So we have quite a few people down in South America that would like it. And of course, English is not their first language, and so it just made sense to put it into Spanish.

Federico:

Yeah, totally.

My question is how are you facing this situation of adapting? And I like to use the word adapting because this is probably one of the most important things in the Agile mindset, right?

Janet:

Yes.

Federico:

So now, you are forced to think about this. Now, you have to adapt.

Janet:

It is. It is. It’s funny because in years gone, I’ve been teaching our Agile Testing for the whole team, of course, for many years now and we’ve adapted it over the years, but it’s pretty solid now.

If I go back, people have said, “Well, could you deliver this remotely?” And my thought was I can’t see how because we do so much collaboration in the class. We do class exercises. We always have discussions and I couldn’t see it… and then we’re in lockdown and all of the classes all over the world got canceled. And I sat there and I went, “Okay. Now what?”

It really was… It was a little bit of a struggle, I will admit, but I had to open my mind and think about, all right, how can we do this? I started by really looking at some of the hardest. I looked at the hardest. Actually, I didn’t. I took the very easiest exercise and figured that one out. And then, I took the hardest exercise and said, “All right.”

Federico:

The hardest, considering how hard it is to do it remotely, right?

Janet:

Remotely, yes, because it’s even difficult to do in a class because there’s lots of questions. You need the collaboration and being able to walk around and see how it goes. And so, I thought how is this going to possibly work in a remote situation? I struggled and I struggled. So I worked through a lot of those, and then I would test them with people. I’d say, “So, what do you think? Could this possibly work?” And just kept going at it, doing it that way. So the course is the same course, exactly the same course, but we’ve adapted it. We have adapted the exercises, and we’ve adapted how we’ve done some things.

Federico:

You’re already offering it? It’s available?

Janet:

It’s ready. It’s ready. Last week, I did a “Train the Trainers” with not all of our trainers, not everybody chose to want to, which is fine, but I did it. All the trainers in South America chose to do it, and so I did these “Train the Trainers” because all over the world, I had to do it in two sessions because of timezone issues. And so, those trainers are ready to go.

Federico:

So you have your first test that passed?

Janet:

That was actually it. One of our very first exercises is writing your acceptance tests. What are you expecting out of this course, right?

And so, when I was doing it with the “Train the Trainers”, I wrote down, “Be able to deliver it to the trainers,” as one of mine. And so, it was interesting because we got a lot of feedback from the trainers, that it really helped to have them participate and try the exercises. And to say, “Hey, I understand this, and what needs more?” Because that’s the other thing is when you’re there in person, people can ask questions if they didn’t understand anything. If you’re in Zoom and you go into a breakout room, yeah, it’s not quite that easy, so you have to have a little bit more structure and make sure you explain a little bit clearer because you don’t have that immediate, just raise your hand and say, “Hey, what did you mean?”

Federico:

Yeah, or I can imagine also the informal interaction that happens when the teacher goes around the room. And maybe when you are close to me, I am there to ask you, “Hey, can you explain this to me more?” How should you replicate this when you are remote?

Janet:

Are remote, right. And that’s exactly it, so we tested a little bit with the chat function. In Zoom for example, you can raise your hand or you can ask for help. An instructor can come into your breakout rooms. So there’s different ways of doing things, but you have to be open to being able to see all of that. So for an instructor, it’s almost harder to treat it remotely. You’d think it would be easier because I can sit here, but it’s not because you have to have so many things and be watching, and it’s really quite draining.

Federico:

I can imagine.

Janet:

Yeah. So the other thing we did was change up the times.

Normally, it’s a three-day course, 20 hours, and we still wanted to do the same 20 hours but nobody… Well, at least I can’t… sit there for six, seven hours a day online. So, we’ve broken it up and we’re letting the trainers be a little bit more flexible on how they do it.

Federico:

Yeah, I can imagine that it’s even more difficult thinking that most of the people now are sharing the house with their kids.

Janet:

Exactly. Yeah.

Federico:

It’s not the same situation or the same concentration that you can have when you’re in the training room.

Janet:

Yes. Yes. And in the training room, as an instructor, all I have to worry about is people on their phone and chatting, and checking email, right?

But you can have some kind of control over that a little bit. But there’s a whole lot of things when you’re doing remote that you cannot control at all, right? And so, for example, lunchtime. There’s a lot of people that have to go feed their children. So if we’re doing that, then you have to allow that time to happen.

Federico:

Yeah, certainly. And now, that you are already having this new version of the training online, do you think or did you find anything that it’s an improvement? Something that is better in this new situation?

Janet:

That’s a really good question. My short answer, I would say no.

I still think the best [training] is to be in person. I really do, but recognizing that’s not always possible. So the one thing, if I was going to say anything positive, is that I would be much more open to when somebody says, “Could you deliver this remotely? Because our team is all remote.”

Now, I could do that. I would know how to do that, and so that would be the one positive thing that comes out of that, for sure.

Federico:

Because you know, this is something that I have been thinking a lot during this period, which is also thinking in the positive aspects of this situation because I think, one thing that’s really important, which is that some companies don’t think or don’t even consider it in the past, is the possibility of working remotely. Having their people working remotely.

Janet:

True. True.

Federico:

So now, we have the opportunity to show them that we can still be productive and do a great job working from home or working from a different office, or a different place to have the possibility to say in the future, “Hey, remember? We could do it.”

Janet:

Yes. Yeah, people are being forced to do it, right?

Yeah. So yeah, and so that would be a definite possibility and something to think about, right?

Janet:

Because [coronavirus] forced people to do it, and guess what? We can do it.

Federico:

Yeah, exactly. And maybe…

Janet:

Instead of saying no, yeah.

Federico:

Yeah, and maybe it gives more possibilities in terms of flexibility in times, you don’t need to travel to a specific place. Of course, I totally agree that nothing is compared to the possibility of meeting with people face-to-face and this, but at least we can save on travel expenses and be more open to meeting remotely.

Janet:

Though I’ve heard… I should say I’ve heard. This is something that I’ve… I don’t even know what word to use here. When people are talking and saying things about how they’re working, I think that they’re spending way more time on meetings or it feels like they are because they are having to keep in touch. So they’re calling it a meeting every time that it would do… Like we are just talking now, and so it feels like they have more meetings and then they are not getting any work done. So one of the things that I’ve been trying to say to people is instead of having a meeting, why don’t you pair with them and do work? You’ll get your conversation happening, but you’ll still get something completed, right?

Federico:

I like it.

Janet:

And so, it’s how you think about it. Otherwise, you will be spending your entire time, asking questions in meetings, and things.

Federico:

Yeah. Cool. It’s a big difference that you can make, like using the proper words, right? It’s also related to setting the right expectations.

Janet:

It’s just like you said a little while ago, and this only got clarified in my own mind when our marketing person was putting a banner together to talk about our course.

She had used in the banner, “Online,” and I went… there is something wrong with that because when I think about an online course, I go into, I don’t know, Pluralsight or InformIT and I look at the course, and I click on it and I listen. And so, I thought, “What can we call it?” And so, I’ve been using the term… and I look it a lot better… which is our course offered with remote facilitation because that’s what it is.

"It’s not an online course. It’s offered remotely with facilitation. You don’t just sit there and listen. It’s interactive, there’s discussions, and I think that is a subtle, maybe not-so-subtle, quite a big difference actually."

- JANET GREGORY

Federico:

Without meaning that the other type of training [online training] is good or bad.

Janet:

Yeah. Yeah, and they’re not bad. They’re just different, right?

Federico:

Yeah, but it’s totally different to see a bunch of videos and answering questions that maybe are automated or something rather than having a conversation instead.

Janet:

Yeah, exactly. So Lisa Crispin and I have an online course that you can go and sign up for and listen to it, and we have exercises we suggest you do, and then we talk about it afterwards, kind of a debrief.

Janet:

But it’s not… I can’t see what you do, and there is no guaranteeing that you are going off to do those exercises. So I really don’t know, did you get out of the exercise what we were hoping you would? So it’s very just… I talk, you listen, and that’s not what’s happening in our remote facilitation course. Yeah.

Federico:

Yeah. Another thing is do you see that any of this process that you have been facing, adapting to this new reality or this new context is applicable to software development? Is there any learning you have that you think you can share?

Janet:

Well, I think that it’s... I think the pairing idea is going to become much more important. So for example, you can still go off and work and do things on your own. I’m going to back to when Lisa and I wrote our book. We’ve always been remote. We have never worked together in the same place, not even in the same country, but we do a lot of work together. And so, we would get together. We would plan what we were going to do. We’d go off and do it. And then, we’d say, “All right. Can you look at this?” And we’d reverse things and edit, and then we’d get together and talk about it. 

So finding ways to work together, even when you’re in different locations and that goes for testing as well. I work with our Agile Testing Fellowship website. I have a remote team. I’m in Canada. My developer is in Bolivia, and one of the other team members is in Germany. And so, when we’re working, we have our little meeting, every morning, our daily stand up and we talk about what’s going to happen. But during the day, if I have a question, if I’ve been doing something and testing something, and I see something, I don’t wait until the next day. I don’t even write an email. We have a system where I send him a WhatsApp and I say, “Can we talk?” And he’ll say, “Give me five minutes.” And then, we get on and we share. I will share my screen, and I’ll say, “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” or if he has a question, “What did you mean by this?” Then, we do the same thing, and I think that that’s really important for programmers and testers to have that. Most companies at least have some kind of internal chat, so use that.

"Don’t write everything in chat. Pair. Show, because I think that’s really more important."

- JANET GREGORY

Federico:

Yeah, also to feel connected because it’s not the same. We don’t have to forget that, right?

Janet:

No, and that connection is really important, and it is, absolutely.

Federico:

I understand that also from what you say, that it’s really important to… I don’t know if to say formalize, but at least clarify the ways you’re going to collaborate. But because when you are in the same office, I think there are a lot of collaboration moments that happen spontaneously and maybe this is one of the things that you are going to miss.

Janet:

Yes.

Federico:

So clarifying the ways that you are going to keep these opportunities in the future is [crosstalk 00:23:21] important.

Janet:

I think so. And because there will always be people who work remotely, they just will. Even if they are just working from home because they have a child sick and they choose to stay home and work from home, finding those ways and keeping them, I think is important.

Federico:

And, thinking about positive things about this crisis, in the future… people will think twice before going to work at the office, when they don’t feel well, right?

Janet:

Yes. Yes, and that’s a positive.

Federico:

Because we are taking even more care of each other. Probably this is also something that is going to happen more. It would happen that more people will be working remotely from time to time, right?

Janet:

Right, and I think that that is a good thing and there are places, for example, in Canada, we have sick days. Every company allows sick days, and so people really do stay home when they’re sick, most of the time. But I have worked for companies that don’t do that. They have… I forget what they call it. They give you 15 days, and that’s combined sick days and holidays. What do you think those people are going to do if they are feeling sick? They’re not going to take off their holidays. They’d rather take it, right? So they come into work and maybe this is a different way. So yes, that’s a really good point. I like that.

Federico:

Hope so. I hope it happens.

Janet:

The other thing I think might happen is because we can’t… So when you’re chatting remotely with somebody, so I’m looking at you now. I know that the audience can only hear us, but when I am looking at you on your camera, I can see you from your shoulders and up. I am guessing by watching you, that you’re at a standing desk because of how you move and where you move from, right?

"I think what we’re doing is also learning to read body language and faces much better than we ever did before. We’ve relied on seeing the whole body, and we can’t do that anymore. So we’re going to learn to get our nuances from our facial expressions."

- JANET GREGORY

I still use my hands, as you can see, but that’s going to be, I think, a difference. I’m not sure if it’s positive or negative, but it will be a difference.

Federico:

On the other hand, when we meet in person in the future, maybe more people will adopt wearing something to cover their faces. So it’s going to be easier to recognize body language when you are remote, right?

One of the last questions I have, I have two more questions.

One is related to habits because I really believe that we can improve our outcomes or the way we achieve our goals by making small changes to the things that we do all the time. So I wonder if you have any habits you’d suggest that people should adopt or avoid maybe.

Janet:

Yeah, or to avoid. Well, I think one of the most important ones is to structure your day. I feel… So yesterday, I had a very productive day. I felt so good about what I got accomplished. At the end of the day, I do a little retrospective and think about why did yesterday feel so good and I go, okay, I know exactly why, because I’ve had those days before.

So I do Pomodoro. I have a person I work with. It happens to be my sister. She doesn’t do the same thing I do. She does something completely different, but we set timers for 25 minutes and so you can concentrate on anything for 25 minutes. I don’t check email, I don’t check anything. And so, I work for 25 minutes, and then we take a five-minute break. One of our rules is move. So when I’m at home, during those five-minute breaks, I go and I might empty the dishwasher. I might change a load of laundry. I might go start to clean a bathroom. It doesn’t matter. I might even do some exercise. You can do that.

So those little five minutes add up and then I come back and you spend 25 minutes again focused on something else and it is amazing to me, how much you can accomplish on both sides. Work and the rest of it, right?

Federico:

Yeah, this is also related to managing your energy, right?

Janet:

Yes

Federico:

It’s not only your time, it’s also…

Janet:

Your energy.

Federico:

Recovering energy for the next iteration, right?

Janet:

Yeah, and I think… So I try to do it myself when my sister is not on, or Lisa is not working at… Sometimes I work with Lisa that way too. And so, I keep a chat up and I just go, “Setting timer,” and then, I’ll say, “Time’s up. That was a good iteration. Take five. Moving.” And I keep a little log of what I’m doing on myself. It does not work as well as when you have somebody else to help keep you accountable, but it’s better than nothing.

Because if I don’t do it, my day is gone, and I go, “What did I do today?

Yeah. I’ll go, “Oh, I know what I did. I did a webinar this morning, and I did an interview this afternoon.”

Federico:

Nice. Okay. The last question because I know that I think we have been talking for more than 25 minutes, so your Pomodoro is…

Janet:

It goes off. It’s been enjoyable, so it’s fine.

Federico:

Cool. Thank you. And related to books, do you have any book recommendations? I can see that you have a shelf behind you.

Janet:

Oh, I do, but this particular shelf is related to my… So my company’s name is Dragon Fire and people often ask me, “Why the dragon?” My little logo, and it’s because I’m a fan of [inaudible 00:30:25] So those books behind me are the series from Anne McCaffrey of The Dragonriders of Pern.

So if you’re a fan, they’re friendly dragons, and so they’re my go-to novels. But as far as recommended books, I make it a habit not to say, “Well, I just read this book. It’s really good.” I’m going to say, “What are you looking for? What problem are you trying to solve?” Because if you’re wanting to learn more about Agile or about exploratory testing, I’d say read Elisabeth Hendrickson’s Explore It! If you wanted to know about testing in DevOps, I would say read Katrina Clokie’s book, A Practical Guide to Testing in DevOps. If you wanted to know general stuff about Agile Testing, I’d say read one of our three books, maybe starting with the small one.

So it really depends on what you’re looking for. Self-help book. There’s even from a self-help perspective, there’s lots of different kinds of things that you can look at. So I really hesitate to say, “You should read this,” because it may not be what you’re looking for at all right now. So books are a tricky thing to recommend. I can say that the latest one that I read is Leading Quality by Ronald Cummings and it was pretty good. I got stickies on it and some ideas, but not everybody wants to know about quality in general. I think they should. I think everybody should, but everybody is different in what they’re looking for.

Federico:

You mentioned different options for different needs, so thank you.

Is there anything you would like to invite the audience to do?

Janet:

Yeah. Actually, thank you. We just put out and actually just put it out last night, a new website. We updated it, and so if you check out agiletestingfellow.com, let me know what you think of it. We’ve done a soft release, so we’re not doing a major announcement. See how it goes. See if anybody reports any things, if there’s any issues. And so, next week, we’ll probably make a big announcement and say, “Hey,” but yes.

Federico:

I will check it out.

Janet:

But please go look at it and learn all about the Agile Testing Fellowship, and the courses we offer.

Federico:

Excellent. Thank you so much again, Janet, for this interview. I really enjoy it.

Janet:

Thank you.

Federico:

I hope you did too.

Janet:

I did.

Federico:

For sure in the future, I will ask you again to repeat this. We’ll discuss some other topic because I really enjoy talking with you.

Janet:

Thank you very much.

Federico:

See you soon. Bye, bye.

Janet:

Bye, bye.

Topics:
agile testing, coronavirus, pomodoro, remote work, training, work from home

Published at DZone with permission of Kalei White . See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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