Two weeks ago I went to the Test Leadership Congress conference in NYC, absolutely loved the content and speakers. It was at a very opportune time while we were working on IT transformation and myself looking after the processes and quality expectations in our new ways of working.

With the prevalent wisdom of fully automating ‘testing’ and less need for test leadership, the conference was loaded with evidence on the contrary. In the post-agile apocalypse, the system level thinking and the pivotal role of testers to question what and why we are building what is user story says and the current build demonstrates, is all getting lost in the mushroom cloud of buzz words and time to market.


There were a lot of amazing sessions including psychological techniques to figure out your own and your organizational values, using Improv to make a point and learn look at things from a holistic perspective, playing games designed to improve thinking and test design and a board game to understand the important aspects in continuous delivery. Most of the sessions were so great, it was hard to pick which one to go to.

The organizers especially Anna and Andrea did a great job in choosing the speakers to have a great mix and schedule the activities. Typically you would see topics around specific tools or technologies, this one was more about developing leadership which I feel is need of the hour.

Key learnings

It’s going to take me a while to digest and share my thoughts around the sessions. On top of my head here were the few learnings that really stuck with me:

System Theoretic Process Analysis – STPA.

Dr John P. Thomas’s keynote on systems approach to software testing was very refreshing. Having a similar background of working with safety critical systems, I have always felt the absence of certain things in the agile world like spending time in understanding and questioning the requirements, mapping the entire system and looking at how the control flow works. STPA was a process introduced to us by John which felt like a systematic process to codify how that system thinking is supposed to be done. Will share more in a separate post.

The Protreptic dialog.

Ive always struggled with finding out values of other people to act according to their and the organization’s commonly held values. I always try to do ‘only’ the right thing which now I feel might not always be the best way. In most cases should try to be resonant of the organizational values and try to start operating from there instead.

The protreptic dialog explanation and demonstration in which Ole and Anders did a great workshop which showed a way to understand other people’s perspectives and learn more about their values.

In the dialog, you ask the other person to describe an event and have follow up questions while being genuinely curious to understand what it means for them. Try to understand:

  1. What do you sense about the person (hear in their voice, body language)
  2. How do you think they feel (deduced from what you sensed above)
  3. Ask the person to reflect on their feelings
  4. Ask why this means so much to them, why does it matter to them.

If You Really Want to Make a Difference, Be the Flexibly Robust Leader

Ole S Rasmussen talk on Personal leadership was great and this stood out for me out the whole workshop. He explained what being robust and flexible meant and how to become a ‘flexible robust’ leader.

The technique to do a self assessment and find out what your personal values are and your own limits. In a short exercise we identified what does fragility mean for us and what corner is most significant for us in the philosophical triangle (shown below). It was a good demonstration to see how to journey inwards and understand your own self.

As a leader, understanding your own self is very helpful, gives an idea of your own limitations, strengths and weaknesses. For me the exercise revealed Fragility for me meant fearful, and from the triangle ‘attention to what matters most’ was most important. stitching them together we figured I may be fearful of not focusing on the right thing and waste my energy and my team’s on doing what does not matter the most.

The game of continuous delivery

Tanya’s session on continuous delivery was nice in which she explained the guiding principles for DevOps – CALMR. Working on SAFe framework I had been exposed to these principles, but what was new was the second half of the talk, a continuous delivery board game!

Looked like monopoly of DevOps. I’ve always been very passionate about having dry runs of complex problems to do some up-front thinking instead of just trying a whole bunch of failures and then finding what works. The board game instilled the importance of certain aspects in coding CI/CD which are otherwise hard to comprehend without practical experience.

For instance, how it’s important for features to be in production instead of having a whole heap of them at different stages in the pipeline, unless it’s out there, you cannot make money!

There were many other sessions which were great, I’ll add more details on them in separate posts. I learned not only in the sessions, but outside the workshops and presentations networking with others was a great opportunity to learn. Talking with leaders in other organizations and practitioners there was so much more we learned from each other.

‘No one’ has it all figured out

The biggest take away from these talks was: “EVERYONE IS STRUGGLING WITH CONTINUOUS TESTING”. One would assume the big names and thought leaders in our industry would have everything figured out, but we are all struggling, some are quite close, others might be far behind, but it seems no one has it nailed down with all their products working in a complete DevOps culture across the enterprise

That means,

those of us looking for greener grass on the other side, try to cultivate some green grass where you are, no one has the magic formula to continuous testing.

Fun with a Capital F

The games and round table session was amazing. We all had a blast designing test strategy for products of our choosing and then demonstrating them.

There was a separate games time in which Eddie and Jordan organized a lot of different games. I got pulled into playing story cubes, we all enjoyed it very much, it was so hilarious the kind of stories we came up with.

End of last day we had an after party, lots of great conversations and new friends. Had a wonderful time.

The most inspiring event

A fellow tester and I tried to meet during my last time visit to the US. This time he was determined and I’m glad we did it. He had to travel such a long distance in one day, just to learn and improve his skill set. I shred the details of the story in this post.

Travel back

Met a lot of people I had been interacting with in the testing community on social media, Ajay being one of them. While traveling back from the conference Ajay and I happened to be on the same flight. While waiting at JFK we recorded a short video about how the conference went and what we liked about it.

Accompanying me on this trip was Head to QA at Emirates, to whom I had suggested the conference. She loved the setup too and while going back we recorded our thoughts, what we learned and some key take aways, you can watch in this video.

And enjoying the comfy Emirates A380 business class 🙂