Monday, October 24, 2011

Challenge 9: Organizing The Grand Tour

When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it's time to die... - Lillian Smith

One of the most important sources of ideas for change is ideas that have already worked in a similar organization. Moreover, one of the most supportive acts you can perform is to ask someone to teach someone else what they do well. When people teach other people about what they are doing, it forces them to become aware of their own processes.

The Challenge
Your challenge is to organize a tour of your work place for other change artists. Have the people in your workplace teach the change artists "what we do well that others might want to imitate."

1. I thought this was a silly assignment—until it paid off with a savings of about $40,000 a year in our printing operation. One of the programmers on the tour had never seen an actual high-volume printer in operation. Once she understood the way things worked, she easily changed one of our major applications so that weekly printing was significantly faster.

2. We found that their performance analyzer did things that we never imagined. We felt a bit foolish using the crude tool we had concocted, but I was proud that we didn't defend it in the face of an obviously superior product (change artist training helped with that). With more than a little help from their team, we switched tools—and, as a side benefit, no longer had to maintain our homemade kludge.

3. The effect on my group was fantastic, and that really surprised me. First they grumbled about all the trouble it would be to prepare for the tour, but then they started cleaning house. It was like when my mother comes to visit—I clean the toilets and put away things that have been laying out for months. The group did the same thing with their code and their supporting documentation. I don't know if the visitors got anything out of their visit, but they sure saw a clean operation. And—this is the best thing—it stayed clean. Actually, I do think they got something out of it, because we've been asked to give four more tours to groups where someone wants to clean house.

4. Well, we didn't learn much, and they didn't learn much, except that we do things pretty much the same way. I guess that's confirming. And I learned that they're nice people. Perhaps in the future we'll be able to help each other, and that feels good even if we don't have any specific current benefits to show.


This post is part of the series, adapted from the book, Becoming a Change Artist.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: September issue of Tea-Time for Testers

I've just finished reading September issue of Tea-Time for Testers, a free and useful e-magazine for the testers of the world. Here's a few comments I have to offer the magazine and its readers and potential readers.

- Selena Delesie's article is a gem. I wish all testers would copy the article and use it to lay out a learning plan for themselves. She leaves us no excuses of the sort "I don't have time for learning" or "there's simply no learning opportunities where I work." On flaw: she writes, "See my website for some books, websites and blogs I recommend." I tried the link, but couldn't find the list she mentions. I wish the link went directly to the list of recommendations that's hidden somewhere in her site.

- Anurag Khode's article on testing network connection speed is on a topic that interests me. It's highly specific and useful for that reason. Conversely, for a tester without these specific problems, probably nothing is lost by skipping the article. I wish Anurag had given a few general conclusions that might help testers in other situations. As it stands, the article itself is one model of setting up tests, but I suspect few testers will take advantage of that feature unless it's specifically pointed out.

- On the other hand, I look forward to Joel Montvelisky's articles precisely because they address the issue of applying intelligence. In this article, he tackles the application of intelligence in an area that many testers think doesn't require thinking at all: automated testing. He deserves a medal for courage, because I fear that some advocates of automated testing will lambast him for suggesting that you need to think once you've automated some tests.

Anyway, those are a sampling of the articles I enjoyed in the September issue. As usual, I read TTWT from cover to cover (even though it has no covers). As for the issue as a whole, I always love the colorful illustrations throughout the issues.

You can find the latest issue at

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Trying to Change a Dysfunctional Organization

Today, I'm continuing my problem-solving series with a letter from Rory, asking how to change his organization. Rory's situation should be familiar to anyone who has been literally thrown into "testing" in a dysfunctional organization.

Your books have already helped me and are continuing to help me, but I have a specific scenario at work right now and I have what I think is a good solution, but I'd really appreciate your take on the matter.

I seem to be very unhappy in Variable or Routine organizations, and I really want to work in a Steering organization, but as I've learned from you they are few and far between.

By Variable, Routine, and Steering, Rory is referring to the cultures described in my Quality Software series.

Therefore, I want to try my hand at changing the organization I work in because a) I'll be happier (I think) and b) I think the company will be better off as well. However, after re- reading Chapter 12 of "Becoming a Technical Leader" I'm very mindful of not inflicting help. I went through an exercise where I documented the situation objectively, and then observed my feelings about it. I will include what I documented below my signature. I wanted to share it with you because I thought you might find it interesting, but I'm also interested in any help you could offer on the matter.

Rory's Exercise
The situation:
- Product Manager mentioned a new scenario to me one day before the product was supposed to be released to production.

Strike one. Strike two. And Strike three. Out already.

- The application is currently in the staging environment where testing is supposed to center around verifying the configuration is correct.


- The new scenario revealed a bug.

Was anyone surprised by this?

- The developer in charge of the part that was broken updated the stored procedures to account for this.
- After testing it again there were new errors and the feature did not work at all.

Was anyone surprised by this?

>- After an additional change the new scenario is still not working
>correctly and an old scenario is no longer working correctly.

Was anyone surprised by this?

More context:
- The work for this feature was handed down by a manager. Each programmer was assigned a certain area of the application to code.

Meaning the manager had already done design work?

- I started testing this on my fifth day at the company after the design reviews were completed and I report to a different manager than the programmers.
- The product manager reports to a different manager as well.
- We have never held a retrospective on the feature.
- The feature design is not documented.

Was anyone surprised by this?

How I feel right now:
frustrated, sad, stressed, unhelpful, confused, detached from team, hopeless

How I feel about the feelings:
- I feel a little silly for letting something that is not life or death frustrate me or make me sad.
- I feel weak for not knowing how to change the situation or myself so that I don't feel these things.

Don't try to get rid of the feelings. Instead, learn how to use them productively. If after all this, you weren't feeling frustrated, sad, stressed, unhelpful, confused, detached from team, then there would be something wrong with you.

As for hopeless, well, there isn't much hope there. There's an enormous amount to do to change an organization that acts like you've described, and you can't do it alone. So, the first step for you is to quietly see if you can recruit a few allies. If you can't, then you should leave and find a better organization.

- I feel afraid that I may lower my professional integrity in order to increase my happiness which in the long run may make me less happy.
- I feel incompetent for feeling confused.

No, in fact, only an incompetent person would fail to feel confused in such a situation.

And just how do you mean, "lower my professional integrity" in order to increase your happiness? In my experience, people who lower their professional integrity soon become terribly unhappy that they did it. So don't!

A brief summary of what I think bothers me the most:
We aren't working together as a team on this issue, and I feel unrelated to the problem and to the other people working on it.. I believe we're working in an inefficient way which doesn't fulfill my need to become more competent at delivering quality software. My autonomy is compromised, because I feel like the developers are using me to re-test something just to check that the code fix they made worked instead of checking it themselves before taking my time. (I feel guilty for feeling that way.)

If it's true, then there's no reason to feel guilty.

You need to be talking with people about your feelings. That's the way to find allies--or to find out there are none to be had.

I also want to sincerely help the company deliver a great product and spend as little time and money as possible to do it, and I don't see us finding ways to improve.

You have to find others who see things that way.

What I would like to do:
If I were an outside consultant (and I was asked to help) then I would probably schedule a meeting with the actual people involved and hold a retrospective. Then I would go from there.

That's too big a chunk from where you are. You need to recruit support, one person at a time. If you're seen to be doing this, and then you're labeled as "subversive" and/or "not a team player," then the place is hopeless.

However, I was involved in this, and I think that some people would be offended that I'm asking them to come to another meeting.

Again, don't try to get everybody. Change happens one person at a time.

Based on this I think my best option right now is to ask someone who was not involved in the feature and who seems to have a lot of respect and admiration to schedule and facilitate a retrospective for us.

A good idea, but it won't happen if you're the only one supporting it. Develop allies!

Hope this helps.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Switching Topics at Conference Presentations

My problem-solving letters seem to be very popular, so I'll continue this series whenever I have an interesting situation to discuss. Today, it starts with a letter from a writer colleague, let's call him Edgar.

Edgar's Letter
This weekend I'm presenting at a conference.

This morning I got a revamped schedule and suddenly I'm doing a break out session on "Coping with Foreign Withholding Taxes."

I'm in a bit of a panic because I've spent the last three months putting together a totally different presentation about "Working with Translators." Nothing like giving a presenter last minute notice. :}

Problem is, I have zero experience with foreign withholding taxes. I keep thinking I need to look into it, but have never had the time. If anyone has experience or thoughts that I could share at the conference I could really use some help.

Jerry's First Thoughts
This is an excellent example of a person offering a solution idea, rather than a problem statement. Edgar is asking for information on foreign taxes, presumably to help him cobble together a last-minute talk on the subject. In other words, he's already decided that he has to solve this problem by giving in to the organizers' totally unreasonable demands.

If he does that, his presentation will merely reveal him to be a fake, a pretender, not the real expert people at the conference would have a right to expect. In the long run, that's only going to tarnish Edgar's reputation as a professional, so I recommended a different approach altogether.

Jerry's Reply
Edgar, I sympathize with your predicament. In half a century of presenting at conferences, something similar has happened to me twice.

The first time, I didn't know how to handle it. I bungled around trying to wing it on the new topic. (I knew a bit about it, but probably not as much as some people in the audience, and in any case, I wasn't prepared.) I looked fake, and/or stupid, and news in our profession travels fast. Especially bad news.

Some years later, the same thing happened to me. This time, I knew what do do. I came to the session room a few minutes before the start time. As people arrived, I warned them that the announced topic had changed. But most people came just at the last minute, so they didn't hear my warning.

I gave them a few minutes to settle. Then I said, "The topic you see in your program is 'Coping with Foreign Withholding Taxes.' However, four months ago, when I agreed to do this session, I was told the topic was 'Working with Translators.' So, I have prepared on that topic for four months, but I haven't prepared at all for the Foreign Taxes topic. In fact, I know virtually nothing about that topic. So, if that's what you want to hear about, this isn't the place to hear it."

I went on to say, "If, however, some of you are interested in Working with Translators, stick around and I'll make my presentation."

Most of the people actually stuck around, and liked the presentation. If my topics had been like the two you mention, I might have said, "I assume you came here today because you're interested in doing business overseas. One way to help that happen is to handle the taxes wisely, but another way is to obtain good translations of your writing. After all, if you have no overseas business, you won't have any foreign taxes. So, this presentation could serve your purposes after all, especially since there are no other presentations on translations."

I may also have said (I don't remember, but I was younger and more impetuous then), "If you're unhappy about this last-minute switch, you might want to tell the conference organizers about your feelings. It won't help to tell me, as I had nothing to do with it."

I hope this story helps you a little. It's the best I have to offer.

If you'd like to learn more about my approach to solving problems such as this last-minute switch, you might want read one or more of my books, such as The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully; More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit; and Are Your Lights On: How to know what the problem really is.

Links to each of my books can be found on my website:

If you enjoyed this little essay, please sign up to come back for more.



Sunday, October 09, 2011

Moving Through Molasses

Here's a letter I recently received from Agnes, one of my writing colleagues. I think it illustrates yet another one of the indirect changes arising from the changes in publishing technology. Here's the letter, followed by my response. (Edited, of course, to protect identity.)

The Letter

Currently I feel like I'm moving through molasses, going incredibly slow, and not getting anything done. I guess I've been feeling like that all year, since I began epublishing a year ago.

I've been annoyed with myself, because this past month, I've only gotten one chapter written on my new novel. I haven't got another novel in print yet though it is up electronically, and I've only gotten one more novel up on Smashwords and Pubit and not on Amazon yet. Blah. It's a strange feeling, like I'm just not moving at all.

But when I look back over the year as a whole, I have to think that feeling of not getting anything done is an illusion. Since last October, I've published electronically a dozen books and half-a-dozen short stories. And put eight of those books out in print.

What I can't figure out is why it feels like I'm not getting anything done at all, when if fact I'm being somewhat productive. It's just crazy.

My Response

Not crazy, Agnes. Just unfamiliar. I've been feeling the same way ever since I started publishing electronically, and I've put up over forty books.

I think, for me, it's not experiencing the various "mileposts" of traditional paper publishing: the letters back and forth from and to various editors, the contract, the galleys, the phone calls, the page proofs, more letters, the cover designs, ...

I didn't realize it all these years, but these mileposts made me feel I was accomplishing something—though of course I now realize they meant just the opposite. They were all delays, preventing me from seeing my work "in print."

Now, once I finish my part(s) of the publishing job, it's finished. Done. Ended. And on sale and earning royalties. And I'm left with the feeling I haven't really done that much.

One thing that helps me is watching the sales figures climbing every day. I know some of our colleagues say you shouldn't do that, but it takes less than five minutes a day. Those five minutes give me a sense of accomplishment, a sense that motivates me to do more work that day.

Anyway, that's the way it is for me. Perhaps it's something similar for you.

If you enjoyed this little essay, take a look at Weinberg on Writing, The Fieldstone Method. You can find it listed at these stores

• Barnes and Noble bookstore:

• Amazon Store:

• Apple Store:

• Smashwords Store:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Medium-number Systems

A reader recently wrote asking about Medium Number systems. I thought other readers of An Introduction to General Systems Thinking might be interested in my answers to his questions:

Reader: I'm interested in learning more about the "Law of Medium Numbers" described in your book of An Introduction to General Systems Thinking. I feel the "Law of Medium Numbers" sheds light on many puzzles I have run into in dealing with nature and society. Thus I wonder whether I may ask you a few related questions? -

1. As I searched the literature trying to learn more about this subject and the "Law of Medium Numbers", I was surprised by how little I could find. I wonder whether I was not doing right searches or you may have more insights into this?

Jerry: It's not a popular subject with many scientists, because it shows how science—though amazingly successful in some areas—it's awfully limited in dealing with some of the most interesting problems. As someone pointed out years ago, "Physics is merely the study of those systems for which the methods of physics work."

Reader: 2. I wonder whether the "Law of Medium Numbers" might imply a kind of defiance of classical Western science and technology (which emphasize certainty and perfection)?

Jerry: That's well put. We'd like things to be different, but they aren't.

Reader: 3. Perhaps human individuals are medium number systems and thus may explain why we all have certain limitations (in other words, no one is perfect). So medium number systems may also be called imperfect systems. Am I right on this?

Jerry: Precisely right, except it's not the systems that are imperfect, but our understanding of them. You can see this idea worked out in detail in my book on software testing: Perfect Software and Other Illusions about Testing. It's extremely popular among software testers. They use it to explain to their customers what amounts to the Law of Medium Numbers applied to software. And, a few software developers have shown violent reactions to the claim that perfection is simply not possible.