On creating reasonable expectations in test automation – A TestBash Netherlands workshop

Last week, I had the incredible pleasure of co-facilitating (with Ard Kramer) a workshop on creating reasonable expectations in test automation at the second edition of TestBash Netherlands. In this post, I’d like to tell you a little more about how we got there, what the workshop was all about and, of course, how it all went down on the big day.

The build up
The adventure started when I was contacted by Huib Schoots, who has been responsible for organizing the conference, with the question if I’d be interested to host a pre-conference workshop. We discussed several subjects back and forth and, in the end, decided upon a workshop that would help people create better test automation strategies. Since I do have a lot of experience with hands-on test automation workshops where people work on exercises on their machines, but much less so with coming up with and organizing workshops where facilitating group discussions plays a big role, we thought it was a good idea to bring someone on board that has much more experience with this type of sessions. Ard was very high on both of our lists, and luckily, he was up for it as well.

Our combined experience in test automation, testing and facilitating workshops turned out to be a great match. During a number of preparation sessions (for those of you thinking of hosting similar workshops: it sure takes a lot of time to prepare!) we came up with a series of exercises, carried out either individually or in smaller groups, that ultimately would result in people coming up with three or four actionable items that they could take back to their jobs on Monday, answering tangible problems and addressing real issues that they faced in their test automation efforts.

The workshop
As said, the workshop consisted of a number of exercises that would help people identify and address gaps and opportunities in their test automation strategy. It would take way too long to describe the entire workshop, but here’s the gist of it..

We started out by having the attendees come up -individually- with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (indeed, a SWOT analysis) in their current test automation efforts. To help them on their way, we presented them with six aspects of a test automation strategy, with some example questions that you could ask to help identify strengths or pain points. These six categories (or aspects that we think make up a solid test automation strategy) are:

  • Technical
  • Knowledge and experience
  • Means and resources
  • Process and methodology
  • Organization
  • Business value

As you can see, in our opinion there’s a lot more to creating and implementing a successful test automation strategy than throwing tools at problems!

We then had the attendees discuss the challenges that resulted from the SWOT analysis in five different rounds, organized in groups based on the aforementioned categories. Each participant had the opportunity to address a subject in four different categories. For the fifth round, they had to play the role of facilitator on a subject they felt knowledgeable or comfortable about. These discussion rounds made up the larger part of the day.

Cards and forms for the discussion rounds

Finally, we had the attendees pick and pitch their most interesting improvement point and create a 99 second pitch for it, which they presented to their group of 5-6 people. Each group would then pick the best or otherwise most interesting pitch, which would be presented to the entire group, on stage. The intention behind this (and basically, behind the setup of the entire workshop) was to have people discuss with and learn as much from as many other attendees as possible.

The big day
For the day, we had a total of 27(ish, I’m not 100% sure tbh) attendees, which made for perfect group sizes. It’s always exciting to see how a new workshop or training course turns out in practice, you can think of a lot of things that might happen – and we sure did think of a lot of scenarios – but in the end, you never know what’s going to happen on game day!

As the day unfolded, Ard and I were very happy to see that the group went about our exercises with enthusiasm. Of course, there are always things that could have gone better, but all in all, discussions were going strong throughout the day and we didn’t have to correct course much.

Participants hard at work during the workshop

It does help that the general audience of TestBash conferences is made up of people that are willing to open up to, discuss with and learn from their peers. In this, these conferences are of a truly high quality, and we as facilitators learned just as much as the participants.

The part of the day I am probably most proud of is that at the end, we had some great 99 second pitches presented on stage, and at least two of the people presenting their pitches to the workshop participants repeated their talk on conference day, in front of an audience of 150-200. We sort of hoped that this would happen, but you never know how it turns out. It was truly rewarding to see this unfold in the way we intended it to do. The only downside is that I wasn’t there in person as I wasn’t able to make it to the conference day, but I can assure I lived it vicariously through my Twitter feed!

The aftermath
The workshop day flew by, and at the end, we asked the people to do a ‘dot vote’ and give us some honest feedback on what they liked, what they were indifferent about and what we could have done better. As you can see in the picture below, I think we did a decent job overall..

Feedback on our workshop

For me personally, preparing and delivering this workshop has been a great learning experience as well. As I said, the exercises in my training courses are mostly completed individually, on laptops. I’ve learned a lot about this type of workshop from Ard in the process, something that I’m sure will be of great value to me in the future (thanks again, Ard!).

I’m already looking forward to facilitating this workshop many more times in the future!