Thursday, 11 May 2017

Three styles of automation

At Let's Test next week I have the privilege of presenting a hands-on workshop titled "Three styles of automation". The abstract for the session reads:

A lot of people use Selenium WebDriver to write their UI automation. But the specific implementation language and coding patterns will differ between organisations. Even within the same organisation, a set of front-end tests can look different between different products.

Katrina will share three different approaches to Java-based UI automation using Selenium WebDriver from her organisation. She will explain the implementation patterns, the reasons that differences exist between repositories, and the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Participants will download three different suites that each implement a simple test against the same web application. Once they have a high-level understanding of each code base, they will have the opportunity to execute and extend the test suite with targeted hands-on exercises.

In this post I share the code and resources that I'll be using in this workshop. Though you won't get the same level of support or depth of understanding as a workshop participant, I hope you will find something of interest.

Background

These three automated suites are written against a tool provided by the New Zealand tax department -the IRD PAYE and Kiwisaver deductions calculator. Each suite contains a single test that enters the details for a test employee and confirms that PAYE is calculated correctly.

Each suite is reflective of a framework that we use for test automation in my organisation: Pirate, AAS, or WWW. These public versions do not contain any proprietary code; they've been developed as a training tool to provide a safe place for testers to experiment.

Each training suite was created almost a year ago, which means they're showing their age. They still run with Selenium 2 against Firefox 45. We're in the process of upgrading our real automation to Selenium 3, and switching to Chrome, but these training suites haven't been touched yet.

The three suites illustrate the fundamental differences in how we automate for three of our products. Some of these differences are based on conscious design decisions. Some are historic differences that would take a lot of work to change. The high-level implementation information about each suite is:

Pirate
  • Uses Selenium Page Factory to initialise web elements in page objects 
  • Methods that exit a page will return the next page object 
  • Has an Assertion Generator to automatically write assertions 
  • Uses rules to trigger @Before and @After methods for tests 

AAS
  • Uses a fetch pattern to retrieve page objects 
  • Provides WebDriverUtils to safely retrieve elements from the browser 
  • Tests are driven by an HTML concordion specification 
  • Uses inheritance to trigger @Before and @After methods for tests 

WWW
  • Uses Selenide as a wrapper for Selenium to simplify code in page objects 
  • Uses a Selenide Rule to configure Web Driver 
  • Uses @Before and @After methods in the tests directly

Installation

There are pre-requisite installation instructions to help you get the code running on your own machine. To get the tests executing within each framework, you may have to download and install:

  • git
  • Java
  • Firefox 45
  • An IDE e.g. IntelliJ
You can download the three suites from GitHub. If you haven't used GitHub before, you may need to create an account in order to clone the three repositories.

Comparison

The beauty of these training frameworks is that it is easy to compare the three implementations. If you are familiar with the way that one works, you can easily map your understanding to learn the others. 

In each suite you will see different page object implementation. The enterUserAndTaxDetails method in the UserAndTaxYearPage is a good example of the different approaches to finding and using web elements:

The same functionality implemented in three different ways

There are different types of assertions in the tests. Pirate assertions are created by an automated assertion generator, in AAS the English language concordion specification holds the assertions, and WWW make use of simple JUnit asserts.

The navigation through the application varies too. Pirate passes page objects, AAS implements fetch methods, and WWW simply use the Selenide open method. 

These differences are apparent when reading through the code, but to really understand them you are best to get hands-on. As a starting point, try adding to the existing test so that a 3% employee KiwiSaver deduction is selected, then make sure that deduction is reported correctly in the summary.

Conclusion

I don't claim that any of these frameworks are a best practice for UI automation. However, they represent a real approach to tests that are regularly executed in continuous integration pipelines in a large organisation. I wish that more people were able to share this level of detail.

I find the similarities and differences, and the rationale for each, to be fascinating. Given the variety within our team, it makes me wonder about the variety worldwide. There are so many different ways to tackle the same problem.

This is a whistle-stop tour of a three hour workshop. I hope to see some of you at Let's Test to have the opportunity to explain in person! If you cannot attend and have questions, or suggestions for improvements in our approach, please leave a comment below or ask via Twitter.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Introducing testers to developers

While completing my Computer Science degree, I created a lot of software without testers. At the end of my qualification, I searched for my first role as a developer with a limited understanding of the other roles in IT that I would work alongside. I didn't know what a tester was, what they did, or how they might help me. I don't think this is an unusual position for a graduate developer to be in. 

At my first job we didn't have testers. Had I spent a longer period in that company, I may have become an experienced developer who still didn't understand what testers were. There are a lot of organisations that create software without employing dedicated testers. I don't think that a poor understanding of testers is an unusual position for an experienced developer to be in.

Developers who have never worked with testers are likely to have an understanding of testing, but as an activity rather than a role. Testing happens as part of their work rather than being lead by a separate person. Why would testing be delegated when a developer can successfully write and release quality software on their own?

If you are a developer with this mindset or history, it can be really challenging to encounter a tester for the first time. Allow me to introduce you through analogy.

No Tester

A restaurant chef is a creator. They make a meal that is delivered to a customer. Quality is determined by the skill of the chef, the quality of their ingredients, and the practices that they follow.

In many restaurants the food is made, delivered to the table, and consumed. The earliest feedback that the chef receives is from the customer. In the event that they have a negative opinion of the meal, it can be difficult to fix the problem. The damage is often done.

There are parallels to software development without testers. Quality is determined by the skill of the developers, the quality of their platform, and the practices that they follow. Feedback comes directly from the customer, who can be unforgiving.

Restaurants can succeed in this model, as can software development.

Waterfall Tester

As a student, I worked part-time as a waitress. In one of the restaurants where I worked the restaurant manager used a small workstation that was located directly outside the double doors to the kitchen.

The chef in this restaurant was temperamental and territorial, so the restaurant manager would rarely venture into the kitchen. However, during meal service, she would intercept the wait staff as we moved plates from the kitchen to our customers.

If the meals for a table were ready at different times, she would hold service until they could be delivered together. If the presentation of a dish was sloppy, she would tidy it up. In the rare event that she was unhappy with portion size or the quality of cooking, she would return the plate to the chef. 

The chef didn't like having his food returned. He would often over-correct in spite. You think the sweet and sour pork portion was too small?! Then you'll get double-sized dishes for the next hour! However he would ultimately settle into delivering a more appropriate size of meal.

On reflection, this restaurant manager was my first experience with a separate tester. Once development was complete she examined the final product. With a fresh perspective, she could identify problems that the kitchen had missed. 

The restaurant manager contributed to the quality of the product through small actions of her own or by reporting problems back to the chef so that he could make improvements. He may not have always responded well to these reports, but he did alter the meals, which improved what the customer received.

Testers bring the same contributions to software development - a fresh perspective to identify problems, fast feedback from someone with a customer focus, and the ability to make their own small contributions to the overall quality of the customer experience.

Agile Tester

The restaurant manager was improving quality of a finished dish. What if there was a way to improve the meal as it was being prepared? Then a chef could adapt as they worked, rather than trying to alter their end result.

Sometimes there are multiple elements of a meal cooking at the same time. As a chef, it can be difficult to keep track and sometimes things get burned. What if someone else had set a timer, noticed when it had lapsed, and could intervene?

Sometimes there ingredients in a dish that look similar and might be easily confused. This week I prepared a meal with two spices: tagine spice mix and couscous spice mix. What if someone else had noticed when I opened the wrong packet?

Sometimes there is a requirement for consistency between meals. How can a chef be sure that the crème brûlée they create today is the same as yesterday? What if someone else could check that the recipe, portion size, and presentation met a minimum standard?

Hypothetically, this all sounds reasonable. Realistically, if you're a chef who likes to cook alone, this might sound like a nightmare. Perhaps you would rather have to throw away the occasional plate of food that was burned or tasted strange than accommodate another person in your creative space.

There is a parallel to the role of a tester in agile development. Success relies on collaborative working relationships that can be difficult to negotiate. Dealing with feedback from a tester can be frustrating, particularly when a developer is not used to receiving it. The tester will need to explain and demonstrate how their perspective can contribute to an improved product. 

It can be difficult for the developer to adapt their approach and accommodate feedback. If they find that the information from a tester is not relevant, timely, or delivered in a constructive manner, then they should let them know. It takes time to form a useful working relationship and investment is required from both sides.

Every Tester

Whether a tester is contributing in agile or waterfall, they want to help deliver the best possible product to customers. If you are a developer who is encountering a tester for the first time, the first thing to assume is positive intent.

Testers bring a fresh perspective to identify problems, fast feedback from someone with a customer focus, and the ability to make their own small contributions to the overall quality of the customer experience. Allow them to influence the product. Ultimately they help to create a better outcome than what you could achieve alone.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Test Coaching Competency Framework

A few weeks ago I was wondering how to explain the skills required for a Test Coach role. Toby Sinclair introduced me to Lyssa Adkin's Agile Coaching Competency Framework. It's a simple diagram of the core experience and skills that an agile coach might have:

Ref: Hiring or Growing Right Agile Coach by Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd

An individual can take this diagram and complete a relative assessment of themselves or others by shading in each slice, for example:

Ref: Hiring or Growing Right Agile Coach by Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd

In a presentation about the framework, Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd explain how it can be used as a self-assessment tool, for hiring and developing agile coaches, or to help communities of agile coaches to grow.

I like the simplicity of the framework and could see an opportunity to apply it to the testing domain to explain test coaching. As a small disclaimer, I have never heard Lyssa and Michael explain their framework in person, so I'm not entirely sure how true my interpretation is to their original intent.

Test Coaching Competency Framework

The test version of the framework is almost identical to the original:


Starting at the top, testing practitioner reflects the relevant experience that a person has. Different people will have different interpretations of what this means. Shading of this slice might reflect number of years in industry, number of organisations, variety of roles, etc.

If occupying a role is reflected at the top of the framework, the knowledge that you build through that experience is reflected at the bottom as technical, business, and transformation mastery. In simple terms, shading of the practitioner slice shows what you've done, shading in the mastery slices shows what you've learned as a result.

Technical mastery in testing might include:
  • test automation frameworks
  • coding skills
  • continuous integration and delivery tools
  • development practices e.g. source control, code review
  • basic understanding of solution architecture
Business mastery in testing might include:
  • shift-left testing skills e.g. Lean UX, BDD
  • user experience, usability, and accessibility testing
  • targeted exploratory testing and development of test strategy
  • business intelligence and analytics
  • relevant domain knowledge
Transformation mastery in testing might include being a leader or participant in:
  • switching test approach e.g. waterfall to agile
  • continuous improvement in development practices
  • engaging beyond the development team e.g. DevOps
  • change management

On the left of the framework are the skills that are important to communicate mastery to others: training and mentoring. The distinction is in the size of the audience. Training is prepared material that is delivered to a group of people. Mentoring is transfer of knowledge from one individual to another. Both training and mentoring require the coach to have knowledge of the topic that they're helping someone with.

On the right of the framework are the skills that are important to enable others to find their own solutions: facilitating and coaching. The same distinction in size is present: facilitating is to a group of people and coaching is between individuals. A person conducting these activities is guiding a group or an individual towards the discovery of their own solutions. Skill in facilitation and coaching does not come from personal mastery of a topic, but instead in developing the ability to draw the best from people through questioning.

Using the framework

I needed to be able to explain the skills of a Test Coach in order to recruit. I have used my version of this framework as an activity in eight Test Coach interviews so far. I draw the framework on a piece of paper, explain what is included in each slice as above, then ask the candidate to assess themselves and talk about their decisions.

Here's an example of how one candidate responded:



I've found the test coaching competency framework is an excellent alternative to the general prompt of "tell us a bit about yourself". I use it at the start of the interview to give more structure to the opening conversation and clearly illustrate what I'm interested in hearing from the candidate. 

I've found that it empowers people to talk more freely about both their achievements and opportunities for growth. I like that it gives control of the conversation to the candidate for a period of time rather than asking them to respond to specific questions for the entire interview.

What do I do with the results? I haven't been seeking an individual who is strong in every area, but I am looking to build a team of coaches with complementary skills and experiences. The shaded frameworks are helpful in determining how a group of individuals might become a team. Once a team is formed, I imagine that this information could help guide initial allocation of work and allow me to identify some opportunities for cross-training.

I have found the test coaching competency framework useful and would recommend it to others who are looking to build test coaching teams.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

How do you hire a junior tester?

I recently participated in a workshop that was co-hosted by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and New Zealand IT Professionals (ITP). They're exploring the idea of creating a new qualification for software testing within our tertiary education system.

One of the topics of conversation that I found interesting was the question of how employers currently recruit junior testers. By junior, I mean a person with no experience in testing, regardless of age or other work history. As there are no dedicated testing qualifications* at present, where do new testers come from?

I sat in a discussion group with Aaron Hodder, Adam Howard, and Anna Marshall. We came up with a list of ways that we found the junior testers in our organisations that included, in no particular order:
  • the business - subject matter experts who show aptitude for testing
  • overseas - new arrivals to New Zealand may start in a junior role
  • internships - through programs like Summer of Tech
  • consulting firms - local consultancies who run their own graduate training and placement
  • graduates - those who are fresh from study

In my experience, finding candidates for a junior testing role is not a problem. When I've advertised a role that is suited to the wide audience defined above, I've had a lot of applicants. Testing is seen as a pathway into the IT industry, so there is a lot of interest.

I think that the workshop question is more interesting when it is considered in a slightly different way. As there are no dedicated testing qualifications at present, by what criteria do you recruit junior testers? In other words, how do you decide which person to hire?

I assess the testers who work in our agile delivery teams by six criteria that can be broadly summarised as:
  1. Testing knowledge and experience
  2. Automation knowledge and experience
  3. Agile knowledge and experience
  4. Domain knowledge
  5. People skills
  6. Growth mindset

I'm not looking to hire people who hit all of those criteria. I am looking to create testing teams with complementary individual strengths that mean we are collectively strong in all of those criteria. This applies across all testers, not just juniors.

When I hire a junior, I'm generally looking at the latter criteria in the list. While a junior may have knowledge of testing, automation and agile, it is likely to be entirely theoretical. I probably have strong testing, automation, and agile skills in the existing testing team anyway. The strengths that a junior might bring are their domain knowledge, people skills, and growth mindset.

I've talked previously about why you should hire junior testers. The benefits that I see in making junior testers part of the team, which largely focus on their attitude and behaviour, can be difficult to quantify. Similarly, the attributes that I am looking for in order to realise those benefits can be difficult to quantify, which means that they generally aren't assessed in an IT qualification.

I look for juniors who can communicate and work well in a team. People who are eager to learn, pick up new ideas quickly, and constantly search for a better way of doing things. Perhaps people with these traits are more likely to pursue higher education, but not necessarily. A person can pass a qualification without possessing these particular skills.

So, would it be useful to create a software testing qualification? Perhaps. If the qualification had a strong syllabus that was delivered in a practical manner, then hiring someone with this qualification might save some time when explaining basic concepts.

Would the presence of a software testing qualification change how I hire junior testers? Perhaps. The presence of such a qualification might increase the chance that I interview a candidate as I would spot it when screening CVs, but I'm not sure that it would have a significant bearing on the final criteria by which I hire.

Does New Zealand need a new software testing qualification? Perhaps. When I received the invitation to the workshop I thought it sounded like a great idea. As a trainer I was excited about the challenge of creating a syllabus. But the more that I've thought about it from the perspective of an employer, the less sure I become.

Now I'm curious. How do you hire a junior tester? By what criteria do you choose a candidate? Is there a software testing qualification in your country? Do you think there should be? I welcome your comments below.


*****

* ISTQB is a certification, not a qualification. A certification is an official document attesting to a status or level of achievement. A qualification is a pass of an examination or an official completion of a course, especially one conferring status as a recognized practitioner of a profession or activity.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Test Leadership Breakfast

At our usual WeTest MeetUp events we get a wide variety of attendees from all levels of experience in testing, as well as those from other disciplines of software development with an interest in the topic of the day. This creates an environment for a varied conversation and questions, but often the discussion feels as though it dances across the surface of what it might be possible to talk about.

A diverse audience has advantages, but for a long time I've thought that there might be an opportunity for more focused conversation if we restricted the audience of an event. If we could create an audience with a specific similarity - whether that was years of experience, domain of employment, gender, or some other attribute - then people would have the opportunity to dig into topics of interest based on their shared experiences.

In 2013, our second year of WeTest, we tried to launch two initiatives to test our theory. WeTest Warriors was aimed at experienced testers and WeTest Green was aimed at those who were new to the industry. We scheduled an evening event for each group to socialise and share their stories over an informal pub dinner.

Both events were poorly attended and the initiatives were ultimately abandoned.

At the time I was a little perplexed by this. When I spoke with individuals during our normal events they would offer feedback and commentary that seemed to validate the idea of having separate discussions with a targeted audience. I thought that these people would jump at the chance to speak with their peers. They hadn't, but I wasn't sure why.

This year I decided to tackle the same idea in a slightly different way. Selfishly.

As I've moved through the testing profession into a leadership role, I have found that I have fewer and fewer peers within my organisation. Test leadership can become relatively lonely. I could see people out in the community who were tackling similar challenges to me, but I struggled to identify close colleagues who were doing the same.

I spoke to a few people in similar roles, then decided to launch a monthly Test Leadership Breakfast. I wanted to create a forum to bring together a specific collection of people that I was eager to have conversations with. By the event description:

This breakfast is exclusively for people who are currently working in Test Leadership roles to discuss their challenges and share their successes. It will be small, just 10 seats at the table, and will run in a Lean Coffee format.

The response was immediate. The ten seats were claimed for our first breakfast in January within a day of the event being advertised. The same happened in February and March too.

The feedback from events so far has been positive. Through the Lean Coffee format we've covered topics of conversation that have been useful to the people who have gathered. I've personally gained a lot of ideas and insight from the other attendees, and hope to have contributed to their thinking too.

I see this as proof of the value of gathering like-minds. In comparison to the Lean Coffee sessions I have attended with a varied audience, or the discussion at a usual WeTest event, every topic of conversation has had some relevance to my own role. Our discussion has been focused, productive and delved into exploring the details.

The contrast with our previous attempt to bring experienced testers together has been stark. Why did WeTest Warriors fail where the Test Leadership Breakfast has succeeded? On reflection, I see five key areas where our approach changed.

Naming is important. Test Leadership Breakfast clearly identifies the audience and nature of the event with simple, gender-neutral language. WeTest Warriors was alliterative, but in retrospect it was a rather intimidating and unclear name for what we were trying to do.

Evenings are busy. People have evening commitments to their family and friends, sports, hobbies, and other entertainment activities. Perhaps there are less intense demands on people in the early morning? A breakfast event might mean setting an earlier alarm and making alternative arrangements for family transport, but not forgoing another commitment.

Time is precious. For the evening events we had a relaxed approach to time. There was a start time listed, but no end time. Our assumption was that people would stay for however long they wished. By contrast, our breakfast events run for exactly an hour from 8am to 9am. People know the commitment that they are making.

Scarcity creates demand. WeTest Warriors was an open invite to a pub environment that could accommodate flexible attendance. By contrast, the breakfast event requires a booking at a local cafe who consider ten people to be a large group. It seems that the limited number of spaces drives a quicker response as people don't want to miss out.

Structure is reassuring. The Lean Coffee format offers a framework for productive conversation with strangers in a relatively informal setting. It helps focus the topics and manage individual contributions. I can see how this might be less intimidating than navigating totally informal conversations in a pub environment.

Beyond these details, the community evolved within those four years. Many WeTest attendees received promotions, which changed the group of people who made up the target audience of these events. We have grown and now have over 700 members in Wellington, which is significantly larger than in 2013. This means that a smaller proportion of members need to attend an event to make it successful.

This experience has also been a general reminder that a solution that fails doesn't mean that the premise is invalid. Approaching the same problem in two different ways can yield entirely different outcomes. Sometimes you have to step back, think about an alternative, then try again.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Test Manager vs. Test Coach

I've been working as a Test Coach for almost two years and I will soon be seeking to hire people into the role. One common attitude that I hear is:

"Test Coach. Oh, that's just the agile name for a Test Manager."

It's true that if you work in an organisation that uses a traditional delivery model with separate design, analysis, development and testing teams, then you are more likely to see the title Test Manager for the person who leads testing. If you work in an agile model with cross-functional teams, then you are more likely to see the title Test Coach for the person who leads testing. But the two roles are not synonymous; it isn't simply a rebranding exercise.

Here are some key differences from my experience.

A Test Manager has a team of testers who report directly to them. They are responsible for hiring the team, determining and recording individual development goals, approving time sheets and leave requests.

A Test Coach has no line management responsibilities. The testers will be part of a cross-functional team that is managed by a team leader or delivery manager. A coach has a limited ability to lead through authority, instead their role is a service position. The Test Coach can influence hiring decisions and support testers to achieve their individual development goals. The language of coaching is different and it requires a different approach.

A Test Manager leads a group of testers who primarily identify as testers. If asked what they would do, the tester's response would be that they're a tester. The testing community is inherent, created by co-location and day-to-day interaction with testing peers.

A Test Coach leads a group of testers who primarily identify as contributors to an agile team. If asked what they do, the tester's response would be that they're part of a particular delivery team. They might mention that their main role in that team is testing, but to identify their place in the organisation it's often the delivery team that is mentioned first. The testing community must be fostered through planned social and knowledge sharing activities for testers who work in different areas, which are often activities lead or championed by the coach.

A Test Manager has ownership of the testing that their team undertake. They are likely to be accountable for test estimates, test resourcing, the quality of test documentation, and may be involved in release governance or sign-off procedures. 

A Test Coach has none of these responsibilities. In an agile environment they are owned by the delivery team who estimate together, review each others work, and collectively determine their readiness for release. The decision making sits outside of the Test Coach role, though they might be called on for counsel in the event of team uncertainty, disagreement, or dysfunction.

A Test Manager drives their testers. They're active participants in their day-to-day work, with hands-on involvement in tracking and reporting testing activities.

A Test Coach serves their testers. They usually won't get involved in specific testing activities unless they are asked to do so. Coaching interactions are driven by the person who needs support with testing, which is a wider group than only testers. The coach is proactive if they identify a particular need for improvement, but their intervention may be with a softer approach than that of a manager.

The Test Manager will know the solution under test inside-out. In order to properly meet their accountabilities they need to be involved in some degree of detail with the design and build of the software. Test Managers are also adept in identifying opportunities for improvement within the processes and practices of their team, or the products that they work with.

The Test Coach is unlikely to be an expert in the product under development or the wider system architecture. They will have some knowledge of these aspects, but as they are removed from the day-to-day detail their understanding is likely to be shallower than the testers who are constantly interacting with the system. A coach generally has a more holistic view for identifying opportunities for improvement that span multiple teams and disciplines.

A Test Manager is the escalation point for testers. Regardless of the problem that a tester is unable to resolve, the Test Manager is the person who will support them. The issues may span administrative tasks, interpersonal communication, professional development, delivery practices, project management, or testing.

A Test Coach is an escalation point for testing-related problems only. The types of issues that come to a coach are generally those that impact multiple delivery teams e.g. refactoring of test automation frameworks or stability of test environments, or those within a team that require specialist testing input to solve e.g. improving the unit test review process or fostering a culture where quality is owned by the team not the tester. These issues may not be raised by a tester, but can come from anyone within the delivery teams, or beyond them. A Test Coach might also be asked to contribute to resolution of non-testing of problem, but these discussions are usually lead by another role.

A Test Manager will identify training opportunities that are aligned with the development goals of their staff and arrange their attendance. They will be abreast of workshops and conferences in the area that may be useful to their team.

A Test Coach will do the same, but they are more likely to identify opportunities to deliver custom training material too. The coach has the capacity to create content, the knowledge to make the material valuable, along with some understanding of teaching to engage participants effectively e.g. learning styles, lesson planning, and facilitation.

Both roles are leading testing in their organisation. The roles are different because the context in which they operate is different. In a nutshell, a Test Manager leads testers and a Test Coach leads testing. The focus shifts from people to discipline.



I hope that this explanation offers clarity, both for leaders who are looking to change their role and for testers who are working within a different structure.

These observations are based on my own experience. If your experience differs, I would welcome your feedback, questions or additions in the comments below.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Not right now

I spent an hour of my Wednesday morning participating in Tuesday Night Testing, an online Lean Coffee discussion run by Simon Tomes who is based in the UK. There were a number of great conversations, but one in particular has stayed with me through the day.

Can you think of a time that you've been really busy at work? A day when it seems like every task you complete generates two more? Where you're ruthlessly prioritising and snatching every available moment between meetings?

Now imagine one of the rare occasions on that day where you're at your desk with a solid hour to focus. From the corner of your eye, you see one of your colleagues approaching and you realise that it's because they need something from you. It may be a quick question, it may be a request for a longer piece of your time.

Your heart sinks.

You want to help them, but you also want to finish what you were doing. You don't want to be rude, but you also don't want to allow them to interrupt your train of thought.

"Do you have a minute?" they ask.

What do you do?

This scenario was posed during our discussion and there were a few different strategies shared. As a person who struggles to say 'no', this topic made me realise that I've evolved an alternative approach to an outright refusal. Here's how you might approach this situation in the same way that I do.

Don't say 'no'. Instead say 'not right now'. You're still being upfront and stopping the interaction in its tracks. But instead of refusing to help, you're simply deferring the conversation to a later time.

Follow up the 'not right now' by taking ownership of resuming the conversation yourself. Don't ask your colleague to come back later. That creates another opportunity for them to interrupt you at an inopportune moment and force you to context-switch. Instead, offer to go to their desk or office.

Provide specific information about when that later time will be, so that it's clear to your colleague that you're not just attempting to avoid the discussion entirely. You might get back to them within the next hour, after lunch, before the end of the day, or the end of the week. Whatever the period is, be specific about when you're available to chat.

"Do you have a minute?" they ask.

"Not right now. I'll come and find you after lunch, will you be at your desk about 1pm?" you reply.

I don't use this type of response all the time. Often I am interruptible and, at these times, I really enjoy having spontaneous conversations with colleagues. But on occasions where I am particularly busy, I find this method of deferring, along with ownership of rescheduling, is one that works well for me.

Thank you Amit Wertheimer, Andrew MortonCassandra LeungClaire Reckless, Tracey Baxter and our organiser Simon Tomes for an interesting discussion. I'd recommend getting involved in future Tuesday Night Testing sessions.