Lessons Learned in OZWSTing

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Random Ramblings

Note – this was difficult to compile, as there were so many ideas, discussions and so on floating through the room throughout the two days, and regrettably only a few could be captured in a blog post. If the writing is a little rough, apologies – it was quite a task to sort through and batter the notes into a presentable shape.

On the weekend of the 3rd to 4th August, a motley gathering of diverse individuals from disparate locations escaped the confines of their every-day lives, invited by the indefatigable Dave Greenlees to come together, share stories and contribute to the whirlpool of discussion that would roil around a relatively nondescript room in Sydney. Oh, they would also be collaborating… to dig deeper into the fascinating subject of collaboration.

These people were the participants of OZWST 2013.

On the surface, collaboration seems… well, maybe just like common sense decision making. Short of looking up the dictionary definition, it’s just people helping people, right? Au contraire, as keen debate and enthusiastic discussion would help uncover.

These are a few brief expressions of the ideas and lessons I picked up at OZWST, in no particular order. Some have been re-worded to make more sense or retain relevance to me. They were far from the only ones, and not necessarily the best ones at that, but for one reason or another, all struck a chord with me.

1. Informal engagement – approaching stakeholders outside of a formal setting (be it in the pub or just in the hall) – can be used to great effect. People are less likely to be guarded or constrained when outside the environs of a formal meeting or discussion, making that an ideal time to approach. “Lightning talks” (as Rob called them) could be used to “ambush” stakeholders with quick but relevant questions.

2. Collaboration often has a lot of emotion and feeling involved, which can be both a positive (getting people to care and involved, bringing the team together) and a negative (non-productive arguments, divisiveness).

3. Attacking a project as a “skunk-works” (an unauthorised software side project) can be done to keep it on the “down low”. This may help to minimise damage to an already low credibility of the test team.

4. Different parties may have different (or even opposing) goals, but collaboration can still be achieved if there is an element of commonality between those parties to achieve a shared outcome.

5. Group consensus can become the objective of a team, with the actual intended outcome being lost in the “kum-ba-yah” moments and back-slapping.

6. “Isolated innovation” – There can be occasion where collaboration just isn’t required, and a motivated individual may provide a solution. However, there is a risk that if the “DIY” approach is used too often, a team may come to rely on the “manna from heaven” and their initiative or problem-solving skills (as a larger unit) may wither.

7. Collaboration != Manners. Personal skills may play a part in being able to encourage or facilitate collaboration (which make them worth working on), but it’s far from the be-all, end-all.

8. It can be easy enough to have a feeling of success, but it can be a difficult task to quantify or measure that success (especially if there has no preparation to track or measure progress beforehand).

9. Is urgency being a sign of effective collaboration? While there was some strong disagreement around this applying to collaboration in a broader sense, it was acknowledged that in an organisational context, urgency could be a valid attribute for successful collaboration.

10. “You have to be an active participant. You can’t be a passive participant in collaboration.” But how do you define “active”? We started to explore this, but perhaps didn’t get into it as much as we could have.

It’s interesting to note how little any of the above pertain specifically towards testing, but how much they have to do in working with others – the core activity for any person in any software development team greater than one. Point 7 in particular resonated with me, in that while collaboration involves a heck of a lot more than just good personal or communication skills, they may provide a base in which you can develop more co-operative and collaborative skillset from. It’s something that’s stayed with me since I got back, and something I’m keen to start looking into.

  1. Hi Dean

    this is the type of writeup I would have liked to have written if I had taken proper notes. So thank you!

    My take away was number 4 ” Different parties may have different (or even opposing) goals, but collaboration can still be achieved if there is an element of commonality between those parties to achieve a shared outcome”. Visually I see it as the centre of a venn diagram.


    • Thanks Anne-Marie,

      Great observation, the Venn diagram is just about the perfect way to represent that (and if I remember correctly, didn’t you draw one to illustrate this point there, or was that for another discussion?)


  2. Great to hear you had so many ‘take-aways’ from OZWST dude. That’s what it’s all about!

  3. […] of note-based riches, I’ve decided to list eleven (being one more than ten, which was so last year’s OZWST post) of the many things I took away from the […]

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