Friday, August 25, 2017

CAST 2017 - Recap and Content

Quick post, mostly to make the content available. 


  • Submitting more than one topic so that at least one will get picked up - can backfire and both might picked up. 
    • It was fine.  The biggest issue was being responsible two conference nights in a row because I was speaking the next day.  (three if you count getting up at 6 for my flight the third day)
  • Going to conference away from your hometown is better.  Being in the hotel meant that I didn't run home to do family things and instead met people and talked and built some relationships. This was more lacking in Vancouver last year.
  • The first talk, Augmenting the Agile Team, if there was a talk that had me nervous, was this one.  I knew the material and certainly understood it but the other talk was one I was more connected to, more passionate about and really just knew what I wanted to say and in what order I wanted to say it.  I could have done my 40 minutes without slides.  
    • Turned out fine.  There were a couple of hiccups (partly due to interruptions) but I was back on track pretty fast and someone told me they didn't even notice.  My flow and energy were good, the message was pretty clear I think.  Question period was full, complete and had interesting questions.  The questions indicated that there was some real value for people.
    • Got the best feedback I've ever had for a talk.  My talk came after a pretty good keynote that I found very mentally invigorating and thought provoking.  But a person I respect in the community came up to me afterwards and said, "You know, I got more out of your single talk than I had hope of getting out of the entire conference."  So to get that after a keynote I enjoyed was pretty amazing.  Better yet, if that's the start of her conference, think about how much better it would be able to get?
    • There was definitely some positive reception to the core point that doing Agile doesn't mean following a prescribed path.  That it is OK to find something that will work for you as long as you're doing it intelligently.
  • The second talk, middle of the second conference day, Technical Nomads was amazing.  Theoretically I left Testing Games early to do a quick last minute prep on this one the night before but got caught up talking to my family and didn't do any last minute review/prep.  
    • Turned out great, for me at least.  I had great energy, great feedback.  Was able to move with the energy of the crowd.  Came up with some jokes while speaking that got laughs (and not the nervous awkward kind).  I came out of this talk with a pretty solid buzz. 
    • Questions were intelligent and showed that the talk had value for some people. 
    • Feedback was a little less thoughtful but still pretty good.  One person said it was "Fan-f***ing-nomenal!!!"  A new phrase for me, but definitely not a bad one. 
    • I had been a little more worried about reception of this one.  It had been turned down by a few other conferences before this point while the other one had gotten better attention.  ie - it's a little less mainstream in it's appeal.  But I think that the content is actually pretty near and dear to people's hearts, whether a manager or a tester and people liked knowing that it was being thought about out there.  There were definitely people toying with doing some of the concepts at their own organizations already.
  • Most of the content I chose to go to was interesting, vibrant and useful.  I really only had one dud talk.  Definitely wish I could have gone to more of them but I'm really happy with the ones I went to.
  • The Gaylord Opryland Resort is a palatial megaplex.  Four (maybe more) separate fully sized conference areas.  An indoor jungle, well, two separate ones.  An indoor river with boat rides.  17 restaurants.  A starbucks.  A gellato and a separate frozen yogurt place.  It was 2000 steps from my room to the front desk, that's close to 2 km's.   But it was gorgeous.   Very high service, very friendly.
  • Conference Food - the breakfasts were passable but I was happy with lunches and the reception.  The restaurants in Gaylord were ok.  I had a great burger at Fuse but PaulH had the worst nachos known to peoplekind.  
  • Tester Games - This was unexpectedly awesome.  I mean i already liked board games quite a bit but playing board games with new people you've just met but kind of all share the tester brain is beyond cool.  It really helped to make some connections to people that you couldn't really do in the corridors.  So awesome that we even did this rogue, stealing into a random conference room one night instead of the beer-crawl.
  • CAST is really a conference apart.  It really is about testers from all over the world coming together to talk about their passion.  (that's testing, if that wasn't clear)

Ok, my quick thoughts stopped being quick about 500 words ago.  Below are links to my slide decks.  Happy to continue the conversation about these in the comments.  Or on twitter or wherever. 

Augmenting the Agile Team - A Testing Success Story 

Technical Nomads - Stemming the Migration of Senior Talent

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Presentations, Evangelizing, and Personas

As first posted on LinkedIn

The other day I was sitting down with a client and we were talking about one of my people that works with him. We'll call my person Ned for the sake of this article. As is generally part of my client touch-base discussions we talk about our people on project and how they are doing. His quick and immediate response was a good one. "Ned's great," followed by a thoughtful pause and, "Ned's good," less of a correction and more of a filling the gap in the conversation while he was still thinking. This is a good thing to hear, life is much better when your client likes the people you have working with them.
Then the client continued, "If I was to sit down with Ned for a beer and he pressed me for some feedback I do have something that I'd talk to him about." From there we proceeded to have a conversation about Ned's presentation skills. As part of our client engagement Ned was responsible for advocating for some new testing processes, technologies and models to up their quality organizationally wide. Part of this deliverable ended up being presenting BDD (Behaviour-Driven Development) to the implementation teams as well as following it up with real-time mentoring as they adopt the methodology.
The core goal of the presentation was not really to teach people how to BDD but rather introduce the concepts and gain their buy-in to why the new methodology was a good fit for the organization and therefore why they should adopt it with enthusiasm. Or to put it as the client did in our conversation, every presentation is your opportunity to 'evangelize your perspective.' He even took it a step further, as a high-concept design digital media company they give training to every team member on improving the quality of their pitches. Internally or externally, they practice excelling at their presentation skills.
Now Ned, as a tech professional at a fairly senior level has given a lot of presentations in his time. I have been there on a number of occasions when Ned has been presenting and he is really not bad; above average for most tech presenters. But, as many of you may be aware, that's a pretty low bar. He had, however fallen prey to one of the most common pitfalls in presenting, creating a PowerPoint with a lot of text in it and then reading from the slides more than owning the material as he was presenting it.
The key to absorption and retention of your presentation materials is always engagement. It doesn't matter if you have the most important information imaginable, if you can't engage your audience's interest they probably won't absorb and understand your message as you deliver it and even if there is a glimmer of understanding it won't be retained. Probably the most intangible part of engagement is your ability to capture the attention of the room. The internet is filled with tips to accomplish this, so it won't be covered her in depth but one of the cornerstone concepts to this is passion and enthusiasm.
An audience can tell when a presenter really cares about their content. They know the content so well that they don't have to refer back to their slides with anything more than a cursory glance. The presentation is filled with anecdotes, examples and explanations that seem to come from their own experiences. Their eyes glow with excitement when they tell one of their stories, or similarly you can see them remember the pain when the story isn't one of success. This presenter never has to read from the slides, they know each slide and what they want to say about it intimately. This comes through and forms a connection with the audience. They feel this passion and it produces a feedback of passion for themselves and results in better engagement.
Perhaps the most important factor in capturing the attention and interest of your audience is that of presenting your content in a way that relates to each member of your audience personally. It's often said that you have to know your target. This isn't always easy, often in a technical presentation you will have multiple interest groups present for the meeting. This doesn't, however, change the need. Coming back to our example of Ned, he was presenting to his audience their first view of BDD. The goal was to create a shared interest and base level of knowledge that would allow the team to adopt the use of BDD in their next project. At an even more core level it was to build enthusiasm and buy-in for the BDD methodology. Buy-in is the secret sauce in adopting any new approach. People will be much more tolerant of adoption pains if they believe in the end goals.
In this case the audience consisted of four main groups, developers, designers, user experience (UX) and project management. The presentation was well put together technically and had no problem at all capturing the hearts and minds of the developers. This, however, wasn't to be unexpected because BDD as a methodology is targeted to solve a lot of pain points for developers. The goal that it didn't attain is converting the designers and UX members of the audience to becoming advocates of BDD themselves. They were left a little confused and nonplussed. A part of this may have been the presentation delivery, or at least a more powerful talk may have won more people over. In unpacking the situation a little further however we discovered that the problem may have been more around the concept of targeting the members of the audience. Perhaps the presentation didn't do a great job of building a connection with everyone present. In this example this problem was actually quite short lived. In the next phase Ned ran a workshop to kick off BDD that all parties were present for, and the parties quickly became aligned with the goals and value of BDD. In a workshop, not only did the methodology itself speak to its value but Ned became impassioned and obviously checked-in. This was something that was felt and embraced by all members present.
When I was looking at this situation with fresh eyes an example quickly came to my mind. What if, in one of the early slides, Ned had said to the designers and UX people, "Have you ever worked your heart out producing a great design for a beautiful product and handed it over to development, who took it and worked their hearts out building something great. Then when they handed it back to you, you took a look and your first thought is, 'But why did you build THIS?'" Then, when he saw the nods from the crowd he could have said, "Breaking down communication barriers and building alignment for the targets early eliminates this kind of situation. THIS is what BDD does for you!" Instantly he would have buy-in because this is a real pain point for everyone building a product. This buy-in would translate to engagement and people relating to the material quicker and understanding more.
Ned and I sat down after my client meeting and we had a chat about everything I've said above. Ned is a great guy, one of those rare birds that is absolutely receptive to feedback about his performance. We were having a great conversation about some tips and tricks that could improve his presentations. I said to Ned that on each and every slide of his deck he should be ask himself, "What do I have on this slide to speak to each member of my audience?" By asking this question continuously you ensure that your are going to capture and retain the interest of everyone in the room. It would be a little onerous to ask this question of each and every member of the audience. But you don't need to do that, you can assign people to personas. A persona is a short (one paragraph) description of a typical user or audience member (in this case) grouped by their interests. It describes what they do and more importantly what they care about at a base level in doing their job. Ned could assign 3 or 4 personas for the people in his audience and ask the question about the representative description. Another suggestion I had was to spend a little time at the beginning of preparing your presentation to put together a slide that lists the personas that you intend to target with your presentation. You would mark this slide as hidden but be able to quickly refer to it as you prepare your presentation and then later as you prepare to make the presentation. It is always good to have a solid idea of your targets in mind throughout your delivery.
In the end I don't have any fear that Ned is on his way to becoming a masterful presenter. The odds are good that he will surpass myself any day now (I don't claim to be masterful at presenting myself). Ned will accomplish this by an unwavering focus on who is in his audience and remembering to target each of them throughout. By asking that question on each slide and referring back to his personas captured in the hidden slide he can practically guarantee engagement. Ned should also remember to be himself, own the presentation, and not be afraid to demonstrate his passion.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Some Speakings

Some speaking dates set up for this year.

CAST 2017

I am speaking, two talks, at CAST 2017 this year in August, in Nashville.
- Augmenting the Agile Team - A Testing Success Story - and
- Technical Nomads - Stemming the Migration of Senior Talent

More about CAST 2017 over here - and my talks are summarized here.


I am giving one talk at StartWest this year in Anneheim in October
- Augmenting Regression Testing in Agile Teams

Talk summary over here - includes a promo video that I created.  (you can tell I created it)


And in December I'm giving two talks at Confoo.  This one's in Vancouver.
- Augmenting the Agile Team - A Testing Success Story - and
Lessons Learned in Adopting a Guru Track Career Path

More about Confoo Vancouver  over here.  

You may have noticed something, there are really only 2 talks here.  Some titles and summaries vary but the core contents are the same.  Which is ok, I'm not sure I have the time or motivation to come up with a 3rd or 4th talk this year