DEWT6: The Medium is the Message

From Friday 22 January till Sunday 24 January 2016 the sixth annual peer conference of the Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing was held at Hotel Bergse Bossen in Driebergen, the Netherlands. The theme was ‘Communicating testing during software development’. In this article we give a summary of the proceedings of the conference.

First off, as the conference chair I would like to thank the organizers and the participants for bringing their energy, creativity and inspiration to the conference.

Experience reports

Over the weekend, five experience reports were presented on different aspects of communication (for an overview, see the Program below). Susan van de Ven reached out to the group to help her with a problem of trust and caring.  She found herself in a position in which she was responsible for a release decision based on the quality of the product, and yet she did not have the authority to demand the information that she needed. As a peer, she had to elicit the information she needed from the other testers. Topics such as the sharing of responsiblity, caring, motivation and the building of trust were discussed. Ard Kramer told us a powerful story of risk and meaning. We discussed risk as a threat to value and about the tester’s ability to identify risk. To discuss risk is to discuss value and meaning and thus Ard presented a three layer model in which meaning (why) was at the center, surrounded by the organisation, the outside world (what) and the processes and the project (how). Risk can also be discusssed using personas and in this respect Linda referred to how she used personas from the movie Aladin to be able to identify certain risks. By discussing risks and meaning, the tester could be a ‘cultural broker‘ between different people in the project.

Thomas Ponnet approached the conference theme by doing some research on different aspects of communication. He provided us with a mind map that he created and some personal stories to go with the model. He regarded the framework as a starting point for investigating, for example, your own communication. Joep (Deepak) Schuurkes talked about a situation in which he hardly communicated about testing at all for the duration of the project. Joep presented his story in a very laid-back manner, which triggered different emotions with the DEWT6 participants. Some felt anger, others depression and others were happy because Joep’s story appeared to be a story of success. This, in its turn triggered discussions not what Joep was communicating but about the way in which he was communicating it. Because of that, the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ was introduced and the discussion touched upon this rather scary higher level of abstraction. The fact that the project appeared to be succesful without much communication about testing also triggered the question how much communication about testing is enough.

In the final experience report Philip and Femke presented their approach for doing pair testing, based upon the rules for back-to-back DJing. They talked about some of the sessions that they did, the main objective of which was to transfer knowledge about the product from Femke (who is a tester and subject matter expert of the product) to Philip (who is a tester and new to the project). They did that by taking control of the application by turn. The discussion touched upon the transfer of knowledge, making tacit knowledge explicit and the balance between narration and asking questions. Interestingly, Philip and Femke tested in different environments and the discussion also touched upon noise and interruptions from outside that influenced the quality of the communication.

A Web of Meaning / Chaos / Unmeaning

The closing workshop of DEWT6 was organized by Joep Schuurkes. It was entitled ‘Web of Meaning’ and its purpose was to connect the different reports to identify common themes. We split up into four groups and connected the reports using stickies. After that the stickies were aggregated into a huge map, the Web of Meaning. This map is displayed below.

DEWT6 Web of Meaning

The map is an expression of the discussion during open season, the hallway talks, the lunch chats and the late-night philosophies of DEWT6. But because of its chaotic nature it was also quickly dubbed the ‘Web of Chaos’ or the ‘Web of Unmeaning’. During the writing of these proceedings I found it very useful as a reference, but I think it was only useful to me because I was at the conference. Michael correctly remarked that such a collection of insights and phrases requires analysis and synthesis in order to be useful for a larger audience. This will be certainly be part of our effort during DEWT7.

Participants

DEWT6 was experienced in the gracious company of the following people.

Aleksandar Simic (DE)
Alexandru Rotaru (RO)
Andreas Faes (BE)
Ard Kramer (NL)
Ben Peachey (NL)
Beren van Daele (BE)
Eddy Bruin (NL)
Femke Boerrigter (NL)
Jackie Frank (NL)
Joep Schuurkes (NL)
Joris Meerts (NL) – Conference chair
Linda van de Vooren (NL)
Michael Bolton (CA)
Peter ‘Simon’ Schrijver (NL) – Content owner
Philip Hoeben (NL)
Rob van Steenbergen (NL)
Robert Page (NL)
Ruud Cox (NL) – Facilitator
Simone de Ruijter (NL)
Susan van de Ven (NL)
Thomas Ponnet (DE)
Wim Heemskerk (NL)
Zeger van Hese (BE) – Facilitator

DEWT6 participants

Back row (from left to right): Simone de Ruijter, Andreas Faes, Thomas Ponnet
Middle row (from left to right): Aleksandar Simic, Joris Meerts, Peter ‘Simon’ Schrijver, Beren van Daele, Zeger van Hese, Jackie Frank, Susan van de Ven, Robert Page, Linda van de Vooren, Ben Peachey
Front row (from left to right): Philip Hoeben, Femke Boerrigter, Ruud Cox, Ard Kramer, Joep Schuurkes, Alexandru Rotaru, Eddy Bruin, Rob van Steenbergen
Not in the picture: Michael Bolton, Wim Heemskerk

Program

Saturday
Susan van de Ven – The perhaps too informal approach to testing communication
Ard Kramer –  Is there a risk?
Thomas Ponnet – W5H3
Joep Schuurkes – The time I didn’t communicate about my testing. Or did I?
Sunday
Philip Hoeben & Femke Boerrigter – Communication during dynamic pair testing
Joep Schuurkes – Web of Meaning (workshop)

Some resources that were mentioned

Blogs about the conference

Sponsorship

Association for Software TestingDEWT6 was sponsored by the Association for Software Testing. On behalf of DEWT and the participants of DEWT6, I thank them for their support!

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