Monday Musings

I just listened to someone telling a story about giving and receiving feedback. The story itself didn’t particularly resonate because it was outside of the realms of my interests and experience, but the takeaway did – namely, that if you can’t assimilate the feedback you’re given in some sensible fashion, you’re going to find it difficult to progress. You’re likely going to remain stuck, or making very little progress in whatever area that feedback is being given.

One of the things I’ve realised throughout the course of my contracting career, and latterly during my time spent working remotely as a contractor, freelancer and full time employee – is that feedback comes in many forms. Not only that, but it often comes in forms that aren’t obvious and require some interpretation. As a contractor, performance reviews were few and far between. And as a remote worker, communications over different time zones, languages and cultures present numerous challenges.

When you can’t rely on some formal mechanism to provide you with the necessary feedback on your work, your behaviour, your communications or whatever and wherever else you need feedback, you need to get creative about other ways to generate it. Thankfully, there’s plenty of tools that enable the kind of sharing that needs to take place when working with both co-located and cross-geography/timezone based teams, and that helps facilitate much needed feedback on your work.

Some of my favourites:

  • Google Drive/Docs – I use Google Drive extensively to share, collaborate on and receive feedback both in the form of direct edits and comments on spreadsheets, documents and presentations. I’ve never found it particularly useful as a drawing tool though. Perhaps I’m missing something? Google Drive is useful mainly when sharing documents outside of the immediate organisation or team in which I’m working. If the work is more team-centric, I’ll switch to Confluence.
  • Confluence – I didn’t much like Confluence as a collaboration tool for a while, but the more I use it, the more it’s growing on me. I’m particularly liking the ability to be able to create templates for the various forms of documentation I’m producing (and I produce a lot, these days!), and the ability for people to edit in parallel, and leave inline and blog-style comments. And of course, integration with Jira is a plus.
  • IM – I don’t know many teams who aren’t using Slack, HipChat, Stride or some other messaging tool these days. Unfortunately, I’m using all of the above and more besides. I’d like an IM tool to rule them all, but I imagine such a thing would lose out on some of the rich integrations tools like Slack and HipChat offer. In any event, having dedicated channels for various work streams (e.g. Dev, Test, Product, Leadership etc) means I can present artefacts to the right people, ask for and get more or less immediate feedback, taking into account people’s geographies, timezones etc.
  • Conference Calls & Screensharing – I spend a lot of time facilitating conference calls and screensharing sessions. I use them as a mechanism both for gaining feedback (grooming discussions, roadmap and customer calls) and for giving feedback (on-to-one’s, retrospectives, demos). Working 100% remote can be a lonely business at times, and although it comes with benefits (the ability to set aside large chunks of time for focused work being the main one), it’s good to talk to people and I try to set aside a lot of time for doing so.
  • Screenshots & Video Recordings – if there’s one thing I learned as a tester, it’s that I can only explain so much with words. Providing annotated pictures and videos to express my thinking goes further than my words ever could, particularly when it comes to a Jira ticket or some kind of technical issue. Giving people more than just a few paragraphs of text goes a long way to eliciting the right kind of feedback, faster.
  • Retrospectives – when I need some feedback from a team about what’s really going on and how we can try to make some improvements, getting them into a (virtual) room together for a retrospective is one of the most effective tools in my arsenal. Combined with a conferencing/screensharing tool and Trello to stand-in as post-its and a whiteboard, there’s little better that I’ve found for digging into the behaviours and issues within a team, as well as getting feedback on how I can better support them.

Other stuff:

  • I’m hosting a webinar on Thursday with Jeff Langr (contributor to Clean Code, author of Pragmatic Unit Testing & Agile in a Flash). Jeff’s going to be sharing some of his thoughts on how to successfully implement BDD to deliver better quality code. Go sign-up here if you’re interested.
  • Philosophy’s not an area I’ve studied in any detail, but I found this post [Why Philosophy is the Cornerstone for Tomorrow’s Education] interesting probably because of the overlap with homeschooling, tech and mindfulness (AKA Vipassana) meditation. If you read onto the linked post [The ultimate way to enhance your problem solving], you can see some potential parallels with exploratory software testing also as meditation combined with contemplation seem like useful skills for focusing/defocusing.
  • My Coursera stack is filling up, mainly with product management and design material. Now with added Introduction to Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.
  • I found the Enterprise Ready site pretty useful for some product research I’m doing currently
  • Currently reading GameStorming (Grey, Brown, Macunufo) and Use of Weapons (Banks)
  • I’m still watching The Wire (just started season 3).
Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.

Cheers,
Simon

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