Navigating Your Agile Testing Transition: An Interview with Mary Thorn

[interview]
Summary:

Mary Thorn sits down to talk about her presentation at STAREAST 2014, her affinity for agile testing methodologies, common problems facing teams transitioning to agile, her decision to become a ScrumMaster, and her testing background that spans automation and web-based systems.

 

Mary Thorn will be presenting a presentation titled "Seven Keys to Navigating Your Agile Testing Transition" at STAREAST 2014, which will take place May 4–9, 2014.

 

About "Seven Keys to Navigating Your Agile Testing Transition": 

So you’ve “gone agile” and have been relatively successful for a year or so. But how do you know how well you’re really doing? And how do you continuously improve your practices? When things get rocky, how do you handle the challenges without reverting to old habits? You realize that the path to high-performance agile testing isn’t easy or quick. It also helps to have a guide. So consider this workshop your guide to ongoing, improved, and sustained high-performance. Join Bob Galen and Mary Thorn as they share lessons from their most successful agile testing transitions. Explore actual team case studies for building team skills, embracing agile requirements, fostering customer interaction, building agile automation, driving business value, and testing at-scale—all building agile testing excellence. Examine the mistakes, adjustments, and the successes, and learn how to react to real-world contexts. Leave with a better view of your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and where you need to focus to improve.

 

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Today we have Mary Thorn, and she will be speaking at STAREAST 2014, May 4 through May 9. She's presenting a presentation called "Seven Keys to Navigating Your Agile Testing Transition" with Bob Galen. Mary Thorn is a director of quality assurance at ChannelAdvisor in Morrisville, North Carolina. She has a broad testing background that spends automation, data warehouses, and web-based systems in a wide variety of technologies and testing techniques. During her more than fifteen years of experience in health care, HR, agriculture, and SaaS-based products, Mary has held manager and contributor-level positions in software development organizations. She has a strong interest in agile testing methodologies and direct experience leading agile teams through Scrum adoption and beyond. Did we catch everything?

Mary Thorn: Something like that, yeah.

Cameron: Is there anything to add?

Mary: Nope, no. It's kind of crazy when you sit there and view your resume for the past seventeen years, so, yeah. It's good.

Cameron: It's an impressive resume. Since you are doing a session titled "Seven Keys to Navigating Your Agile Testing Transition," I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about that and about adopting and staying with the decision to go agile. The first question is, If a company hasn't transitioned to agile yet, why should they consider doing so?

Mary: You know the market's moving fast in many industries right now, and so with that said, the traditional way of doing waterfall projects, where you have all the gates and all the steps and all the paperwork that you have to do to get through all these gates, makes it really difficult to keep up with competitors. Agile has been one of the key needs of development process changes over the past few years that allow you to keep up with the next greatest product. Competition is fierce right now in the industry in a lot of different levels, and a lot of people are taking people's existing ideas and then just taking that to the next level. So if you're one of the early adopters who did a great product, like I said with ChannelAdvisor, now we have a lot of people coming in and automatically doing what we're doing. You've got to keep up with them, and in the traditional waterfall world, if we were circling through all those gates, we wouldn't make it. Agile is really allowing us to speed up the process and get things out to market along with all of our competitors.

Cameron: Why do many companies and people on teams try to revert to their old ways when they're kind of in that agile transition?

Mary: People don't like change. I mean, at the end of the day it's fundamental that within waterfall you have all your requirements, you have all your gates, and you know exactly who is accountable for what, right? Because you have these definitive steps. And when you're in agile, some of those gates and some of those steps kind of just disappear, and it comes a lot down to transparency and getting things to people in a different way. Requirements might not be fully fleshed out—testing might start in development, which we would have never done earlier on. So when you get people out of their comfort zone, a lot of times people don't see the value or don't want to see the value because they don't want to change. That's one of the biggest things I've seen as a resistance to change.

Cameron: Is there a specific aspect of the agile transition that is really pretty difficult or proves to be hard to change for most companies and most teams?

Mary: I think one of the major things—and people are starting to see that a lot around the industry right now—is scaling of agile. A lot of teams will start with that pilot one team, right? And that one team does pretty good. They're pretty productive and you can see them starting to take off. And then when you start to come out to do the second or third teams, or some companies will say, "Everybody stop—we're going all agile," and you have fifteen to twenty Scrum teams, that's a big difference in problems. Where I'm seeing a lot of the hard agile adoptions is getting past that first six months piloting and starting to roll out the scaling of agile. And I think a lot of things in the Scrum and agile community right now is the scaling agile framework, or "How are we going to get the planning for all these ten teams every two weeks or every three weeks or every four weeks done?" I mean, we have that problem where we're at where we just doubled our Scrum teams, and while five teams was easy, now ten teams is more difficult to plan for. We have a really fast changing market that we have to keep up with, with Google, Amazon, and eBay constantly changing APIs on us, and to be able to know how to do just-in-time planning between Scrum teams is difficult. That's one of the biggest challenges I have seen from an adoption perspective, is how do you get enough work to the people in a timely manner that's the right work to do?

About the author

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds's picture Cameron Philipp-Edmonds

When not working on his theory of time travel, Cameron T. Philipp-Edmonds is writing for TechWell, StickyMinds, and AgileConnection. With a background in advertising and marketing, Cameron is partial to the ways that technology can enhance a company's brand equity. In his personal life, Cameron enjoys long walks on the beach, romantic dinners by candlelight, and playing practical jokes on his coworkers.

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