On visiting an office, audits and virtual training.
I started working from home full time a week or so before the start of the first official lockdown. Aside from a very short visit to collect some equipment, this week was the first time I have returned to do some work in our office. A large portion of our IS department was based in an area on the ground floor but this has been put to use as bookable team collaboration spaces and the whole office now has a reduced capacity, COVID-safe layout. I’m not sure we will ever return to the way we worked in 2019 but I am sure we will get back to some level of face-to-face working. It will probably be done deliberately for specific purposes rather than the default way of working. We’ve started to experiment with things like the Team Canvas1 so that each of our teams can think about their unique circumstances and agree what will work for them.
A new engineer has joined our finance and workforce systems team recently so we have started to rebalance the work around the team. As we move people into new areas we need to allocate some time for on-the-job training and pair working, but this is actually a positive benefit as it will increase our resilience and give us more flexibility for covering absences such as annual leave.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been helping coordinate some of the evidence we need for an external audit. This hasn’t been as easy as it should be, partially due to lack of familiarity. A year or so ago we were running some of our monthly processes for the first time and now it is much more familiar. Recently we completed our first year-end on the new systems and a few of the steps were difficult as they were new. This is the first audit of this kind for these new systems so, in some cases, we need to gather the audit evidence in new ways or clarify what is needed to take account of the fact that we are now using cloud computing services run by a supplier rather than computers running in our own data centre. Next time around will be much easier.
A few weeks ago we formed a small group looking at how to improve our testing practices and I joined another catch up with the group this week. Testing is one of those things that everyone knows a little about and it gets more complicated the more you find out.
Most people get involved in a bit of testing occasionally, for example, checking that things seem to work just before a big change is going to be made. For other people, testing is their full time job and they will work with teams right at the start to clarify the goals and expected outcomes which will shape what tests will be needed and how they will be done. For occasional testers, finding an error is disappointing and a cause of anxiety. For testing specialists, finding no errors probably means the tests are not good enough and that is a cause of anxiety.
Some teams actually construct tests before they construct the thing they intend to test. Other teams are working with things created by external suppliers which have already been thoroughly tested but, because things can still slip through, they perform even more tests locally for critical elements. There are lots of ways that we can improve and it is great to have a group like this that is passionate about what we should do.
We are hoping to return to Agile on the Beach2 in September to continue the story that we started to share at the last event in 20193. I am part of a small group pulling together some stories we can share, which stay true to the spirit of the conference pitch we submitted over a year ago without pretending we haven’t been through a once in a lifetime crisis. I’ve started to sketch out a couple of these stories and it has been really useful to go back over past weekknotes4 as a reminder of what happened and what I felt about it at the time.
Delivering training has been one of the most satisfying parts of my work throughout my career. I was training people in how to write programs5 within months of starting my first proper job and have been delivering training on and off all my career. It was great to get the chance to run some of our introductory agile training last week and there is more to come.
We have used external training providers with mixed results. A lot of agile training is linked to specific frameworks and recognised certifications and the courses can feel like cramming for an exam rather than building skills and understanding. A lot of generic agile material can feel like common sense. The hard part is applying it in context and dealing with the specific constraints and compromises you have to face. I hope that sharing our trainers’ experience of applying the ideas and techniques in practice in the same environment will turn out to be more valuable than ticking a certification box. Let’s see what the initial trainees share in their feedback.
I have to admit I found the shift to virtual training really hard. I like to go off script and respond to trainee feedback during a course. Sometimes this can be in response to a question or comment but, in a training room setting, it can often be people’s facial expressions, unconscious sounds and body posture. You will get signals that people are tired, want to move on or are struggling to keep up way before anyone will put it into words. It is electric to experience the wave of nods, smiles and quiet exhalations when a group suddenly understands a difficult or subtle concept. Sometimes, it might take an unscheduled group exercise or on-the-fly rescheduling. Sometimes, it just takes a different visual aid or even just a change of position in the training room. Loads of these signals and responses are muffled in a virtual course. This should have been easy to anticipate but I realised too late that I hadn’t prepared enough for it and hadn’t developed enough virtual alternatives. I’ll do better next time but it will take a lot of research and experimentation to break my old habits and find new ways to train virtually.
Sorry if you are getting fed up with this but here is my regular reminder that codebar6 is a group of really great people trying to do some really great things. This month’s session was fun and challenging again. I was helping someone get to grips with the sorts of testing expected in a professional environment. You can get quite a lot done with software without thinking about testing but once you work with something more complex, or as part of a team, then testing quickly becomes an essential skill that you need to master. You often need to be quite knowledgeable and proficient with the programing language to make full use of the testing tools as well but we got there in the end.