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Why Your Retrospectives Have Become Unproductive?

Retrospectives provide teams with an opportunity to reflect. They’re an opportunity to discuss what is working and what isn’t with the goal of iterative improvement. The meetings should create a safe environment for team members to share and discuss processes and practices constructively so they could come up with actions to resolve problems or improve how the development team functions.

Yet, often this isn’t the case — retrospectives break down, become unproductive or just don’t happen at all.

Here are 3 core failings with retrospectives, along with potential causes and remedies:

1. Retrospectives That Don’t Lead to Real Change

The desire for continuous improvement is at the heart of retrospectives. The feedback gathered during the meetings should result in action items. These action items, upon completion, should deliver positive change. But if the action items aren’t completed or the true cause of problems is not identified, then the faith in the process can wane.

This can come about for a few reasons:

  • Too many action items

It’s important that you don’t try and tackle too much and fail to make real progress with any of them.

  • Items are vague or have no clear resolution

The action items you create need to be specific and have a definitive end point. Items like ‘improve test coverage’ or ‘spend more time refactoring’ lack specificity and need to be quantified. Concrete action items provide demonstrable results — allowing the team to see and feel the improvements achieved by following the process.

  • A lack of responsibility for actioning items

Often the facilitator can end up with all the issues or items are assigned to groups of people. This is a mistake — each item should have a dedicated owner who is in charge of ensuring to get it done, even if a team would be completing them.

  • Too much emphasis on technical issues

Working with tech is what we do so identifying problems about systems, servers, libraries and tooling are easy. But you need to ensure that you give just as much attention to working practices, communication, and people problems. Otherwise, these key impediments to improvement will hold you back.

Whatever the reason is, it’s important that you’re completing the action items. So prioritize them and focus on just a handful of items that you know can be done before the next retrospective. Break down larger issues so that you can begin to make progress with them too. Track items raised at previous retrospectives and review results in each session. This sense of momentum helps to build and maintain a belief in the process and fuel future improvements.

2. Retrospectives That Don’t Occur Often Enough

If retrospectives don’t happen often enough, it can cause a number of knock-on effects:

  • Too much to go over in any one retrospective

This results in meetings that fail to get to the cause of issues. Or due time isn’t spent on issues important to attendees, which can be disheartening.

So much has changed since the items were identified that the issues raised are no longer a priority. This doesn’t mean they aren’t important. More often, it just means you’re compounding them with others and you’re missing an opportunity to improve.

3. Lack of Participation in Retrospectives

This can often happen if the meetings aren’t managed effectively:

  • Sessions are long-winded

You should decide on the agenda before the meeting to avoid straying off the topic and unfocused discussion. You might want to consider time-boxing sections of the meeting. This helps to ensure discussion on one section or type of problem doesn’t consume all available time and attention, and that all areas get adequate attention.

  • Sessions have become stale

Change things up. Try removing seating for one session, so people don’t just sit back and switch off mentally. Or change the format so you aren’t just repeating the same old questions. There are plenty of different techniques: from the Starfish and 4Ls to FMEA if you decide to deep-dive on a specific issue. Or just pair off and discuss items to bring back to the group. Some people open up better in smaller groups. And one-to-one force a conversation, otherwise, things get awkward.

  • There’s a lack of trust

A lack of participation can also result from a breakdown in trust. You should only invite team members to take part. Observers, especially management, despite noble reasons for attending, should be dissuaded from doing so. It may seem to make sense to share feedback so that other teams can learn from it too. But the specifics should be kept in the room. People might not contribute if they know there will be a long-term record of it, or if attributable comments are shared. Just share the action items or areas you’re looking to improve.

  • Sessions are too negative

Retrospectives should encourage introspection and improvement. But this doesn’t mean it’s just a time to moan. It can be too easy to focus on the things that aren’t working or you failed to do. So it’s important to make an effort to highlight improvements, and not just from the last iteration but over time too.

With a few changes and a renewed commitment to the process, retrospectives can be a great way of ensuring you’re constantly improving. They can be an important part in making the working lives of your developers better and more productive.

How Low Should You Go? Level of Detail in Test Cases

It can be difficult to know just how much detail you should include in your test documentation and particularly in test cases.

Each case has a different set of needs and requirements in terms of purpose, usage, frequency and admin needs.

If it’s written at a too high level, then you’re leaving it open to too much interpretation and risking the accuracy of the testing. If it’s at a too low level, you’re just wasting your own time. It makes the maintenance more difficult and there’s an opportunity cost to other projects with demands on your time.

In this post, we break down some of the factors you should consider helping you find the right level.

Understand the Wider Context

Each of your project’s stakeholders will have concerns that will impact the amount of detail you need to provide. From your organization’s internal politics and appetite for risk to the extent to which the product is relied upon etc. This will provide a wider context for your test cases and start to improve your thinking. The documentation expectations at a lean startup may even differ greatly to that at some of the financial institutions.

Test Requirements and Resources

You need to provide enough information to describe the intent of the test case. This should clear all the elements that need to be tested. A special consideration should be given to any specific input values or a particular sequence of actions.

The amount of time you have to invest in the test case and the human or IT resources you have to enact the tests is obviously another key factor.

Know Your Audience

Also, consider the audience for each case. How technical are they? How much product knowledge do they have and how experienced at testing are they? More experienced testers who are familiar with the product will need fewer details but is the team likely to change in a foreseeable future? If so, then you might want to head off re-writes later by providing extra details now for those with less experience.

Some organizations have specific requirements to provide evidence of test coverage. Usually, it’s to show adherence for compliance to a standard or certification or for other legal issues.

Test and Product Considerations

Each test is different, from the importance of the test, to how long it will be in use for. If it’s likely to convert to an automated test script in the future, then including more details at that time might make it easier to do. There are similar considerations about the product you’re testing. Will the application be used in long-term? And are whereabouts in its lifecycle? The amount of change that you can expect for a recently built, an agile application is far greater than for some old system you’re maintaining. Unless it’s a wild, testless code beast that is.

There’s a Balance to be Found

These factors don’t necessarily mean you should include more detail but crucial and long-lasting tests justify the time if needed. However, there’s a balance to be sought. If you create highly specific tests, then even minor design changes or functionality alterations may mean you have to re-write the cases. They also lead testers to raise bugs for what end up creating problems with the test documentation, rather than impacting customers. They can have a knock-on effect too. They encourage the tester to only consider the specific paths through the application detailed in the case. Meaning they might not consider the functionality from a broader perspective.

There’s no silver bullet for coming to a conclusion, each organization’s requirements differ. And these requirements change depending on the project, product and individual tests. However, considering the factors above, you can find a level that works for you and your team.

Taming A Wild, Testless Code Beast and  4 Steps To Improve Test Coverage

Whether you’re working on an existing or new application, you’ll often find yourself playing catch up when it comes to tests. Soon deploying code changes feels like poking at some ugly, sleeping code monster — you aren’t sure what’s going to happen, but you know it won’t be good.

Here are the 4 things you should do first to tame the beast and improve test coverage:

1. Add the Right Tests

Start by adding tests in the areas where it is easiest. It’s important to consider the order in which you do this to make sure you get the most out of your scarce resources. You want to start adding tests in the following order:

  • i. Create tests as you fix bugs

Add tests to prove that your specific fix is working and keep them running to show that this does not break again. This prevents from being somewhat targeted — you are creating tests in your weakest areas first. The weaker it is (i.e. more bugs) the faster you will build up tests.

  • ii. Create tests with all new features

All new features will need to include tests created to prove that the feature works as expected. If you’re covering the new aspects of your application, then at least things aren’t getting worse.

  • iii. Create tests as you add to old features

When updating old features, add tests as you go to show that the older functionality is not breaking in unexpected ways.

  • iv. Create tests in identified risk areas

Talk to the developers and testers on your team and ask them to point out any weak spots or issues they have experienced. Also, you talk to your support team — they are an excellent resource with a direct line to the customer. They’ll know the features of your product that frequently causes issues.

2. Turn on Code Coverage

Code coverage is a tool included in most continuous integration systems (or one that can be added with a plugin). This tool will instrument and monitor your code as you run the tests to determine how much of your code used by the tests. For this to be useful, follow these steps:

  • Start running code coverage against all your code
  • Get a baseline

Find out what the tool can see, where you are currently at etc.

  • Determine areas that you want to exclude.

There are likely areas of your code that you don’t want to cover — third-party tools, ancient code untouched for years etc.

  • Determine coverage goals

Sit down with your team and discuss what your current coverage is and what your ideal can realistically be (usually 90% or above).

  • Work-out steps to improve your coverage

You aren’t going to fix this problem overnight. Put in place some specific tasks which are going to help you achieve your goals over time.

  • Determine your pass/fail criteria

Is staying the same OK, or should it always go up? Do you define any drop as a fail?

  • Run Code Coverage constantly

Use automation to run your coverage test and use the criteria you determined as a team to report a pass/fail and do this constantly. It is a lot easier to add tests when the code is still front and center in your mind than later on.

3. Run your Tests on a Scheduled Basis

You should run your tests regularly, on several schedules:

  • Run them on every check-in

Use CI tools like Jenkins to run (at least) your unit tests on every check-in. Run them simultaneously if they are taking too long to run at this frequency.

  • Run them on every build (package)

Depending on how your systems work, your CI infrastructure can help you with this. This could be on every check-in if you are on Continuous Deployment, or every day/week/month that you use. This should be a clean install on a test environment and a full run of all your automated tests.

  • Run them on every deploy

You should run all your automated tests against your environments immediately after a deploy.

  • Run them every X days/hours/minutes

Run your automation suite against your constant environments as often as you can (Production, Staging etc). This should be at least a “once a day task” and take place during ‘off-peak’ times when it does not interrupt others too much. You can increase the frequency further if your tests are short, just be mindful not to overload the system.

4. Provide a Button to Run the Tests

Again, use a tool like Jenkins to turn test runs into a self-service operation. A developer should not be delayed by asking a QA person to run a test for them. Get a system in place where your tests will run and just give them a button to press. Remove as many barriers for everyone to run the tests as possible.

If you follow these steps, over time, you’ll see that you are able to turn an unwieldy application into something more manageable. First, by adding tests to the key areas, then making things as easier as possible, you can build confidence around your code changes and deploys.

Stop More Bugs With This Code Review Checklist!

Checklists are a great tool in code reviews — they ensure that reviews are consistently performed throughout your team. They’re also a handy way to ensure that common issues are identified and resolved.

Research by the Software Engineering Institute suggests that programmers make 15–20 common mistakes. So by adding such mistakes to a checklist, you can make sure that you spot them whenever they occur and help drive them out over time.

To get you started with a checklist, here’s a list of typical items:

Code Review Checklist

General

  • Does the code work? Does it perform its intended function, the logic is correct etc.
  • Is all the code easily understood?
  • Does it conform to your agreed coding conventions? These will usually cover the location of braces, variable and function names, line length, indentations, formatting, and comments.
  • Is there any redundant or duplicate code?
  • Is the code as modular as possible?
  • Can any global variables be replaced?
  • Is there any commented out code?
  • Do loops have a set length and correct termination conditions?
  • Can any of the code be replaced with library functions?
  • Can any logging or debugging code be removed?

Security

  • Are all data inputs checked (for the correct type, length, format, and range) and encoded?
  • Where third-party utilities are used, are returning errors being caught?
  • Are output values checked and encoded?
  • Are invalid parameter values handled?

Documentation

  • Do comments exist and describe the intent of the code?
  • Are all functions commented?
  • Is any unusual behavior or edge-case handling described?
  • Is the use and function of third-party libraries documented?
  • Are data structures and units of measurement explained?
  • Is there any incomplete code? If so, should it be removed or flagged with a suitable marker like ‘TODO’?

Testing

  • Is the code testable? i.e. don’t add too many or hide dependencies, unable to initialize objects, test frameworks can use methods etc.
  • Do tests exist and are they comprehensive? i.e. has at least your agreed on code coverage.
  • Do unit tests actually test that the code is performing the intended functionality?
  • Are arrays checked for ‘out-of-bound’ errors?
  • Could any test code be replaced with the use of an existing API?

You’ll also want to add to this checklist any language-specific issues that can cause problems.

The checklist is deliberately not exhaustive of all issues that can arise. You don’t want a checklist which is so long no-one ever uses it. It’s better to just cover the common issues.

Optimize Your Checklist

Using the checklist as a starting point, you should optimize it for your specific use-case. A great way to do this is to get your team to note the issues that arise during code reviews for a short period of time. With this data, you’ll be able to identify your team’s common mistakes, which you can then build into a custom checklist. Make sure to remove any items that don’t come up (you may wish to keep rarely occurring, yet critical items such as security-related issues).

Get Buy-in and Keep It Up To Date

As a general rule, any items on the checklist should be specific and if possible, something you can make a binary decision about. This helps to avoid inconsistency in judgments. It is also a good idea to share the list with your team and get their approval on the content. Make sure to review the checklist periodically too, to check that each item is still relevant.

Armed with a great checklist, you can raise the number of defects you detect during code reviews. This will help you to drive up coding standards and avoid inconsistent code review quality.

What A Great Software Does?

Great software helps you out when you misunderstand it. If you try to drag a file to a button in the taskbar, Windows pops up a message that says, essentially, “You can’t do that!” but then it goes on to tell you how you can accomplish what you’re obviously trying to do (try it!)

Great software pops up messages that show that the designers have thought about the problem you’re working on, probably more than you have. In FogBugz, for example, if you try to reply to an email message but someone else tries to reply to that same email at the same time, you get a warning and your response is not sent until you can check out what’s going on.

Great software works the way everybody expects it to. What great software has in common is being deeply debugged and the only way to get software that’s deeply debugged is to keep track of your bugs.

A bug tracking database is not just a memory aid or a scheduling tool. It doesn’t make it easier to produce great software, it makes it possible to create great software.

With bug tracking, every idea gets into the system. Every flaw gets into the system. Every tester’s possible misinterpretation of the user interface gets into the system. Every possible improvement that anybody thinks about gets into the system.

Bug tracking software captures the cosmic rays that cause the genetic mutations that make your software evolve into something superior.

And as you constantly evaluate, reprioritize, triage, punt, and assign these flaws, the software evolves, it gets better and better. It learns to deal with more weird situations, more misunderstanding users and more scenarios.

That’s when something magical happens and your software becomes better than just the sum of its features. Suddenly it becomes reliable. Reliable, meaning, it never screws up. It never makes its users angry. It never makes its customers wish they had purchased something else.

Getting Started With Iteration Planner For Agile and Sprint Planning

Iteration Planner unlocks the power of the project management software as an Agile planning tool for software development. With it, you can combine sprints and milestones to graphically group cases into the scope of work that you’ll complete in each sprint. You can also balance the allocation of resources by dragging and dropping cases from one assignee to another. Iteration Planner is a lightweight way to plan work and manage teams using FogBugz.

Here are a few key suggestions to help you apply priorities in your projects:

  • 1–3 Minimum Viable Product
  • These are all of the cases that must be completed in order for your sprint to provide new value to the customer in the form of a usable feature.
  • Priorities 4: Hygiene
  • This is non-essential work that improves the product but is not required in order for the product or feature to be useful to a customer. Small amounts of this work are often spread throughout sprints to continue making small improvements to the product.
  • Priority 5: Incidental work
  • Don’t allow your scope to creep from a manageable size to something so huge that it couldn’t be completed in less than a decade by Steve Jobs and a host of efficiency experts. If you add something as incidental work that needs to be done during a sprint you need to subtract or deprioritize some other work that has an equivalent number of estimated hours. Keeping all your incidental cases under one priority allows you to group cases by priority and see how much time you are spending on cases that are not part of your MVP. At the end of your sprint add up the hours and determine whether or not the interrupts were a worthwhile use of your time. This discussion can be part of your retrospectives or done separately. Either way, the numbers should be useful for evaluating whether or not the work that was done during the sprint was part of the planned work.
  • Priority 6: Long-range work
  • Frequently teams are asked to take on a category of work that is not part of the MVP but does contribute to the overall plans of the organization. These tasks may be expected to take many sprints to complete and their progress needs to be tracked across multiple milestones.
  • Priority 7: Stuff we won’t do
  • It’s useful to declare this as a way of focusing the team and managing expectations about the work that will be completed in the sprint.

For Agile software development teams, Iteration Planner is a useful, graphical tool that allows you to visually manipulate the information you need for planning Sprints. With it, you can set the direction for your team’s work and monitor progress so you can deliver on your organization’s goals.

How To Keep Track Of Cases In Multiple Projects At Once?

Life is complicated and we all accept it. While we tend to categorize the different aspects of our lives, in reality, things rarely fit neatly inside the little boxes we carve out for them.

Our work life is another major compartment and when it comes to planning, it’d be nice if a single project captured all the details we might need to organize work for a project or product and across teams, but often that’s not possible

This meant at times, working with the Iteration Planner and Kanban boards in FogBugz could be kind of awkward. What if you maintain multiple products and each one has its own project? You’d want the “Planner” to show both at the same time, but it couldn’t. Or, what if several teams had multiple projects relating to a single product? You couldn’t plan without affecting the other teams.

Well, such things are not a problem anymore! With the cross-project planning capabilities in Iteration Planner and Kanban, you can keep track of cases in multiple projects at once.

That means you can view all cases relating to a product on one board, even if they’re in separate projects. And multiple teams can plan things without disrupting or being interrupted by others.

Here’s how it works

Site admins can create a new planner and associate it with one or more projects. Each planner may contain any global milestones and any per-project milestones for its projects. You can also optionally filter by project or area, and filtering down to multiple projects is allowed too.

For existing customers, each of their single-project planners migrated to the new versions. If you would like to add additional projects to a planner, view that planner and click “Edit Planner Settings” in the top-right, then “Add Another Project”, select additional projects and click “Save”. With that done, you can add milestones from those projects and any global milestones, and the filter columns shown will include cases from your selected list of projects.

If you use our Kanban board, the project selections for your planner also apply to each milestone when you click through to the Kanban view.

Take a look at our help site for more details. If you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch!

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