Simple Design and Testing Conference

The Simple Design and Testing conference consists of two days of Open Space discussions between a small group, primarily developers with a keen interest in Agile. It kicked off in London on March 12th with lightning talks for introductions, before lining up the Open Space sessions.

On Day 2, Liz Keogh held two sessions that were closer to presentations than discussions: Feature Injection and The Evil Hat. Both were excellent, and it was quite a nice contrast to the open space sessions to have a couple that were more structured.

Tell Don’t Ask

Tom Crayford kicked off the session by asking what if all methods returned void? There was a lot of discussion about the patterns followed in the “GOOS” book before the group moved on to talking more about functional programming. Although I didn’t contribute much the discussion was interesting – I’d love to try a coding kata one day with all methods returning void, it sounds like an interesting challenge and I’d like to see how it turns out :)

Writing Tests against a Legacy Codebase is a Good Thing

I was looking for good ways to convince people that doing testing – unit and acceptance tests – against a legacy codebase is a Good Thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and plan to post more about it later, but what I found most interesting was the difference of opinion even within the group. Coming around to really, truly seeing and believing in the value of writing and maintaining automated tests can be a very long process.

Speculative Coding

Many teams and organizations still build software a layer at a time, with teams divided along technology and architectural lines. Entire APIs are built before the client that will consume them is started, with work being wasted because we speculate as to what will ultimately be needed. Finding ways to get fast feedback such as attacking the most complex and interesting scenarios first can help to avoid this waste.

Wicked Problems

I’m still a bit of a newbie when it comes to Systems Thinking, and I hadn’t heard of Wicked Problems. The definition is that this is a problem that doesn’t have a solution. You don’t know when you’re done, and you can’t experiment – every possible solution is a one-shot operation. Like testing software. You never know the best ways to test the software until you’ve done it. Liz pointed out that the same could be said of analysis. It was an interesting way of looking at things, and I definitely left the session with even more respect for testers.

Simplicity Debt

If we try to keep things simple, do we just defer complexity to a later date? Complex problems usually require complex solutions. We quickly realized that we didn’t really have a common understanding of “Simple”. Does it mean the least amount of effort, or the most elegant solution? Is simple really the opposite of complex, or do we actually mean the opposite of compound? I think we all came away from that session thinking wow, simplicity really is quite complex.

Feature Injection

Liz explains feature injection as a pull system to derive the requirements for the features we want by starting with the vision for a project. To meet the vision, we must achieve goals, which require the system to have certain capabilities. Features work together to form capabilities, and features are further decomposed into stories. Liz suggested that stories having true business value in their own right is often a myth – the main value of stories is that they can be completed on their own and provide a means to get feedback as fast as possible. Most stories can’t be shipped alone.

The other really useful insight from this session was that we often talk about stories from the point of view of the user, but in actual fact most of them are not for the user’s benefit. Does the user really want to see adverts on the page? If we think about the story from the stakeholder’s point of view, it’s far easier to articulate the goal – As a stakeholder, I want adverts on the page, so that when users look at the page I make money.

Why do we estimate?

Estimates, Daniel Temme proposes, are lies. There’s no value in lies, so why do we persist in trying to estimate all of our work? Why can’t we just put the work on the board and pull it in, and it’s done when it’s done? It’d probably be done faster if we weren’t wasting time estimating (and complaining about it). There are companies out there like Forward and DRW who are doing this successfully, blogging and talking about it. I haven’t made up my mind where I stand yet on this one.

Liz’s Evil Hat

I thoroughly enjoyed the Evil Hat talk. I think I just like hearing other people’s horror stories, and Liz has some great ones. It’s also a really interesting point of view to take, which is that most measurements and metrics are really just opportunities for people to game the system. Even if you don’t do it deliberately, that little devil is always on your shoulder, whispering in your ear.

Types of Testing

This session had been born out of a confusion in a previous one between terms for tests like functional, integration and acceptance. I think in the end, we were in general agreement that functional and acceptance tests and scenario tests are pretty much all the same thing. Integration tests usually test the interaction between two or more objects, but not the entire system. In the end, I think the most important thing is that your team have a common understanding of what you mean. Your functional test by any other name would still be green and shiny :)

Jasmine Testing Dojo

We attempted to run a jasmine testing dojo later in the afternoon, but ran into technological challenges (Liz had the only projector adapter, and she’d left for lunch …) but we managed to write a few tests and use some spies! I’d love to create a short Jasmine testing workshop to run in a user group in future, so watch this space!


We all agreed the weekend had been a great success, although for next time hopefully we can get more publicity and a slightly larger group. Finally, off home to rest my brain and have a well deserved glass of wine …

One thought on “Simple Design and Testing Conference

  • March 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Thank you for a great write-up of a great conference!

    Now I wonder if I have to mention that I’m nowhere close to having made up my mind on the whole estimation thing either. :) But it was really nice to get so much input on it during qcon and sdtconf. I do need to write that up at some point.


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