National Software Testing Conference 2016 - Talk: "The Art of Questioning to improve Testing, Agile, and Automating"

photo from conference

May 2016 in London, at the National Software Testing Conference 2016, I presented a talk entitled "The Art of Questioning to improve Testing, Agile, and Automating"



With only 25 minutes to present, I had to make very sure I was conscious of the main points I was trying to drive home. This was always going to be a topic overview, but I wanted some very obvious and actionable insights for attendees. And hopefully spur them on to future research.

The presentation draws on lessons learned from various forms of fast, brief and systemic psychotherapy. With a few simple points:

You can read some early work I did in this area (2004) on my 'NLP For Testers'' papers.

The Pitch

I don't often respond to 'calls for papers'. I'm often invited to speak. For this conference I was invited to speak. But I still go through a call for papers process. i.e. we have to negotiate what I'm going to talk about, and I have to convince the organiser that my talk is relevant to their attendees. I'll describe that process in this section.

The Outline

Before being accepted to talk, I have to 'pitch' the talk. This is prior to knowing what I will talk about, so I generally create a break down of things I want to cover, then create a pitch from it.

My outline was 'practical examples of asking questions to improve Agile processes and approaches to Automating.':

In reality, this is the outline for a much larger talk. I didn't realise at the time, that the NSTC talks are only 25 minutes long, 20 minutes if you leave time for questions.

So in the finished version a few things didn't make it.

Instead I concentrated on the general topic of questioning and how questions relate to models of the world. I didn't spend as much time on decision making.


The outline, becomes a pitch, to the conference organiser so that they know that thought has gone into the content, and structure - even if it was only 30 minutes - as the talk has yet to be written at this point.

I had in mind a talk covering Questions and Decision making - in general, in testing, in Agile and Automation. A more general title would probably be: "Questions and Decision making in Agile and Automation. The examples and content would span the following areas of interest mentioned in the call for papers:

Examples would be drawn from my experiences working in: Agile, BDD, Test Automation, Continuous Delivery.

Much of my work as a consultant involves quickly building a model of the team system, identifying risks and gaps, and identifying the most appropriate questions which help the team take responsibility for addressing the problems we expose in their answers.

The rest of my work often involves me getting hands on to help the team implement fixes, and 'lead by example' the process of asking questions to continually improve and to responsibility for our decisions while implementing those decisions in code.

This talk will describe experiences of doing that, examples of the questions and decisions, and a model of how I do that. Rather than going into detail of specifics of approaches used when automating and showing code, which I don't think is suitable for the target audience listed on the 'Who Should Attend?' page.

Since I haven't written the talk yet, I'll describe a rough outline of what I think I would cover.

The blurb was as follows:

Asking questions is essential for effective decision making. Unfortunately, when we don't ask the right question, we often make decisions based on belief rather than fact. Questions run through our entire software development process. Testing can be modelled as a 'questioning' activity where testers identify assumptions and presuppositions in a system, and use those to create test ideas which ask questions of the system as exploratory testing. Automating can be modelled as a 'questioning' activity where we codify questions and expected answers. In this talk Alan will provide practical examples of using questions to improve Agile processes and approaches to Automating and testing. Alan will also provide a model of questioning. A model that management can apply to help practitioners improve, even when they don't fully understand the technical details of the task. Attend this session to learn how effective questioning helps you take responsibility for improving your process.

Social Media Collation

A few people wrote some kind words about the presentation on twitter that I spotted:


I have even been featured in the adverts for the National Software Testing Conference. Modeling at its best. Which catalogue wants to contact me first?