EuroSTAR 2015 – Second keynote about “Testing Kanban and Lego”

The second keynote of the EuroSTAR day 1 was Kristoffer Nordström‘s talk about “Testing Kanban and Lego”. A very promising topic and to give it already away, the promises were fulfilled.

Kristoffer describes himself as a Test Developer who loves to automate, so that testers can focus on quality human testing, and he is utterly fascinated by the human side in software development. He has a favor for the humanistic approach, and he presents us his heros, who can be characterized by “putting the people first”. My photo does not reveal all the names and the big hero in the middle is missing: Jerry Weinberg, but from the pictures you might recognize them all.

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The story Kristoffer was about to tell us from his personal experience needed some more introduction of the humanistic approach. “Software Development is a social activity.” – Jerry Weinberg.

And he described to us what he calls the Human Software Development Manifesto:

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After setting the context straight for everyone his experience report began. Years ago Kristoffer worked for a telecommunication provider and back then every department had sort of started building their own test framework. Most of them ending up unmaintained and barely usable. When the need came up to create non-functional tests, he and his team created a generic test framework for non-functional tests. But it took time until it was accepted, which was at a time when he already had left the company. But it found acceptance, and short story even shorter, Kristoffer went back to that company to take over again the non-functional test framework.

The situation he found was not very promising. There was no successful build within 5 months, technical debt has piled up, the simple approach of using text files was changed to using Java instead, and users were disillusioned. But he took the challenge, built up a team and conquered the mess one by one.

They repaired the build system, they implemented continuous integration and continuous deployment tools, and they were able to produce stable builds and over time increasingly stable nightly builds. The backlog was trimmed to what really still mattered, and while they were at it, they introduced Kanban.

The approach worked, the framework became more popular and testers became engaged. To get them even more engaged, Kristoffer introduced gamification, which added a new level of engagement.

The Kanban board is made out of Lego tiles. Every team member has three same figures of his choice. There was a price-limit though, because we learned that “Darth Vader” is very expensive. The photos looked really cool. Sadly I did not take a good one.

But management wanted them to use an “Agile” tool they dictated for the whole company to use. And since the tool was horrible to use and for Kristoffer’s team a waste of time, they invented something really fun, geeky and nerdy. With a Raspberry Pi, a webcam and OpenCV there were able to capture their Lego Kanban board every 5 minutes, register which Lego figure is doing which task, in which status, and sending an update to the horrible Agile tool via an interface.

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For Kristoffer culture sets the constraints, especially in a “It won’t work” attitude he was working in. But he managed to overcome this constraint. His approach was a more holistic systems thinking approach, and a lot of factors influenced the success of his project.

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My summary: A brilliant presentation with great timing and the right amount of content. And the moomins can be proud of Kristoffer once again.

The Manifesto he presented, that stands for his view on how software should be developed, is a great example how you can put people in the center of software development and lead a project to success.

Most people I talked with afterwards want to have such a Lego Kanban board. I hope that there will be many created and used.

The factors to success are very important, and if one or two of them fail, the outcome won’t even be half as good. So you have a lot to balance or juggle, but when you do, it seems to be very rewarding.

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