• Toby Sinclair

Agile Testing and BDD Exchange Conference Review

On Thursday 6th and Friday 7th November 2014 i attended the “Agile Testing and BDD Exchange” run by Skills Matter in London.

Here are my 5 highlights:

1. Capturing Requirements or Solving problems – @JeffPatton (Key Note)

The conference got off to a great start! Jeff introduced us to a new model for approaching problems and “changing the world” because as he puts it, thats our job as software professionals to change the world with the software we build.

Jeff talked a lot about “Design Thinking” which was a new concept to me:

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

A key part of Design Thinking is Empathy with users and Jeff challenged us to “Go to where the people work. Get out of the building, way out of the building!” As a tester this really resonated for me as often i don’t spend enough working with my teams user base to understand their problems and what value they want from our products(Quality). Understanding more clearly our users can help inform and guide our testing. This is something i’ll be taking back to my team for sure.

2. Improving the Value of BDD – @DavidEvans66

David talked us through some great experiences he’s had with applying BDD. What i really liked in this talk was the concept of “Yak Shaving

Yak shaving is what you are doing when you’re doing some stupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to what you’re supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causal relations links what you’re doing to the original meta-task.”

He related this back to BDD and how often a lot of the time in BDD all we are doing is Yak shaving. I’ve seen this in many BDD Scenarios where it’s impossible to see the intent of the scenario as it’s blurred with useless information. It’s also prevalent when people apply the techniques of BDD blindly even to things that fall into the simple domain such as user login.

3. Delivery Mapping – @tastapod and @PapaChrisMatts

With “the band back together” as they phrased it, Dan North and Chris Matts presented their ideas around Delivery Mapping, something they’ve just started to share amongst the community. They talked through a model that brings together Impact Mapping, Skills Mapping and Delivery Mapping.

What really stood out for me was the Skills mapping ideas. Dan and Chris talked through how to use a skills matrix to understand Organisation and Individual needs. The model maps what the needs are of the business are, what skills are currently available and what skills are needed. The ideal is the centre of the model, the gold point. The place you probably don’t want to be is where there is a business need that cannot be met but current skills or desired skills of the workforce. If you ever have the opportunity of meeting Dan North, you can ask him about “The Tiger in the tree”

Another great learning was the concept of “Skills Liquidity

4. Q & A – Dan North and Lee Nicholls

This was a nice change. Instead of a presentation Dan North did a Q&A with Lee Nicholls, who has managed the Agile Transformation at a “Large American Bank”. This was really interesting for me because i work at “A larger American Bank” so the context of the discussions were directly relatable. Lee’s usage of measurement during their teams Agile Transformation was awesome in particular how they had used lead Time and Cycle Time. He also talked about “Marginal Gains” something which Dave Brailsford introduced to the UK Cycling Team. Using the measurements Lee’s teams can work on frequent marginal gains to improve and track their progress. Some of the concepts raised in “Beyond Budgeting” were also discussed. In particular making information transparent and Lee referenced an example from the book where a company needed to make reductions to their expenses cost. Instead of reducing hotel, mileage, travel allowance etc. they introduced a policy that all staff had to put their expense claims on a big visible board in the office. Everyone soon took ownership of keeping their expenses down for the success of the whole team.

5. Experiments with Flow – @13enWilliams, @Jon_Whitaker and @TommRoden

In this highly interactive session we ran through a game to demonstrate Kanban concepts of Flow, Cycle Time and experiments. Ben, Jon and Tom introduced us to the importance of Limiting Work in Progress and the effect that too much work or too little can have on our cycle times. We broke into groups of 10 and were tasked with the following exercise:

After each iteration we had a quick retrospective as a team and reviewed our Cumulative Flow diagram and cycle time measurements. We were then encouraged to try some small experiments to see their effect. We tried a few different experiments such as changing the shape of the group, moving responsibilities amongst the team and using a pull based system instead of push. It was amazing the effect some simple changes could have and seeing the results in black and white really helped to review the impact of the experiments. I will definitely be looking to run this game back with my team.


Agile Testing and BDD Exchange is really a conference for the Whole team. There were many times during the conference i thought, “Our product Owner could find this useful, our developer, our testers, our BA….” I’ve taken away so many learnings that i can share with the whole team. I’m excited to return to the office Monday with all these ideas!

Thanks to everyone who helped make the conference a success!

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©2020 by Toby Sinclair.