Gamifying Your Software Testing Career & Workplace: Part 2
By Melissa Eaden & Heather Reid
Gamifying The Workplace
A workplace can be full of routine. Meetings, deadlines, and priority changes abound in the halls of any business which makes software its main product, or its main method of delivering a service. Social issues can come to the fore fairly quickly in environments where people are stressed.
The easiest way to begin to alleviate some stressors or bring light to a tough situation might be to add a little bit of social gaming to a typical meeting or story planning session. Perhaps you’ve noticed that not everyone on your team is getting a say when they should have an opportunity to, or you don’t really know other teams in your workplace that well. Gamifying the workplace can help to ease some of these barriers and enable smoother communication throughout your team or company.
How To Gamify Meetings
Getting some easy-to-do gaming ideas, techniques and strategies into a meeting might be challenging. These ideas are meant for less formal meetings or settings where you don’t have the entire corporate team waiting for an answer. In our experience, these ideas will definitely work at the team level or department level. If you find you are dealing with a few problems in team or department meetings, see if you can introduce one or two of these solutions to help. Modify as necessary. If something isn’t working to help the original problem, toss it and try something else.
You set a meeting slot of say 10am-11am. Sounds great on paper, the meeting should be over by 11am. What happens if there are things left on the agenda and you have to leave the room because someone has it booked after you? Or worse, that person who took over the meeting to talk about what they wanted to address insists that everyone stay in the room until they feel like everything has been discussed. There goes your day! Timeboxing agenda points for your meeting or timeboxing discussions around user stories in sprint planning can be useful for this. The first time it will be messy, do not think this is a magic quick fix but it doesn’t take long to see the benefits.
For example, if you have a meeting slot of an hour and you have 4 agenda points, you could give each agenda point 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, you have 1-2 minutes for everyone to explain their understanding of the conclusions, encourage the explaining part rather than head nods of “Yes we understand”. If there needs to be further discussion you can come back to this point after all the others have been discussed. Some points may need more discussion than others but start with them all equally and see where the time box takes you. A useful way to deal with points that come up that are outside the scope of the time box is to jot them down, move on and address them at the end if there is time.
Timeboxing can help with effective communication. If you know you only have X time to talk about a topic, you will generally focus intently on that topic and try to communicate your ideas as efficiently and effectively as possible. You can iterate on this process, perhaps the second time you try it everyone votes on how long should be spent on each topic at the start.
Giving Everyone A Voice
Noisemakers can be used for a variety of different things. You could agree on a set of “bad” words in your team. The word “just” for example. If someone misuses the word “just” in a meeting then the noisemaker will sound. An example of misuse could be “We’re just going to re-architect the whole system” or “There’s just testing left on that feature that took 3 days to develop”.
Noisemakers could be used to signal the end of a timebox as it gets everyone's attention quicker. You can use a noisemaker to indicate that people have gone off topic, particularly in the timeboxing e.g. user story should be about a login page and someone starts to talk about when their parking meter is due or what they’re having for lunch. If you use something to make noise you can try to get the discussion back on topic.
If the noisemaker proves to be a bit too interruptive, maybe you could try some buzzword bingo.
If it ain’t broke
Problems Solving Through Activities
A bit of real life activity can make all the difference with group interactions, or even cross team interactions. Working those into a work day or into a meeting schedule can be challenging, but the result is worth it.
Getting Out Of The Office
You don’t have to go full on gaming to involve your co-workers. In a 99 second talk at TestBash Brighton 2016 “Not the boardroom” (at about 15:40) the idea was raised about having meetings somewhere other than the boardroom.
Sometimes returning to ideas from our childhoods can release our inner creative self and boost our morale.
You could extend the idea further if you wanted to. Perhaps someone on the team has an issue with you or vice versa, getting out of the office and doing something you both enjoy could be a way to get to the root of the problem quicker than in the work environment.
Feedback is an important part of this process. Maybe some team members would prefer to go to the pub or a favourite restaurant of theirs. There will be no one rule fits all for involving co-workers but embrace the differences on your team and play them to everyone's advantage.
Life Sized Architecture Ideas
Example architecture ideas from flipchart session in Mark Winteringham's Testing Web Services course
Another idea to try is, particularly when starting a whole new project from scratch, get the whole team together with string, post-its and flipchart pages. (You may need a bit of floor space for this!)
Using these supplies, you can map out your architecture ideas. The flip chart pages represent the major functions or user interfaces of the system. The string represents how each of these connect to each other. The post-its can be of different colours so one representing inputs or buttons that might be on the page, one possibly representing calls to other functions or redirects at certain points. Maybe there are some pages that have things only visible to certain user types. It can be a really fun game to start as a user on the login screen and do something like mob programming having the mob decide where you should move to. If you have to direct the person around the system standing or walking it can really emphasise the user journey. This helps to highlight missing functions or pieces of the architecture. It can also help to alleviate misunderstandings or allow for questions in a more game type space.
These can be a bit of a Marmite type of game, people either love them or hate them. If they work in your company they can be a great way to get different departments to interact with each other. There are a few ways you can do this. You could get the whole company involved and ensure that teams have no common people from the same department in them or you could pitch departments against each other and have them try to find different things in each others office space.
Marmite; some love it, some hate it! Image: David Martyn Hunt
Start by creating a list of things to find throughout the whole office. Some of these things would be hidden by the person that created the list e.g. 37p in 1 and 2p pieces. Others would be in plain sight around the various departments e.g. company branded post-its. The fun is to make a really long list and set a time limit to find the items. The team that finds the most items by the end of the time limit wins a prize.
You’ll soon find that with a time limit people feel more stress to find the items and some of their natural shyness is put to one side. Once you and the marketing executive have beaten that developer and office manager to finding the 37p you may find it easier to communicate with each other about work related topics.
Using Card Games
Card games are a part of a lot of cultures. They have been used to solve all kinds of problems. These card game ideas are geared towards helping your team, or department, organise, plan, and learn.
There are generally three types of teammates when it comes to story estimation:
The chronic under estimator
The bang on estimator
The play it safe over estimator
The under estimator can be the loudest voice on a team. The result of this is a lot of people agreeing with this person/people so they can get out of awkward sprint planning meetings or avoid confrontation. What happens next is a series of sprints that have been grossly underestimated so stories begin to spill into the next sprint and so on. Management start to question why they aren’t seeing the features that were supposed to be delivered.
An excellent way to deal with this is by getting a deck of planning poker cards.
How it works: everyone gets a set of planning poker cards with numbers on them. In sprint planning when discussing a user story everyone picks a card from their deck that they think represents the amount of story points the story will require, they place this face down. Once everyone has voted, the cards are turned face up and the estimates from each person are observed. If there is a huge variation in the estimates that everyone had added then the story needs further discussion. If the variation is small it indicates that there is some level of shared understanding amongst the team of what this story will entail. It’s not a perfect science and some stories may slip through the cracks but it is a great start.
It also reduces the possibility of the others on the team bowing to peer pressure as they are given the opportunity to explain their choice.
TestSphere is a deck of cards that can be used in many ways but the primary way is to get testers talking about their testing and experiences. The cards are sectioned into five categories; Heuristics, Quality Aspects, Patterns, Feelings and Techniques. Each card contains a short description linked to the card title and three examples that help you to think about the topic in different ways.
Example pattern dimension TestSphere card
Whether you’re a new tester looking for a fun way to learn about testing or one with many years of experience behind you, TestSphere aims to unlock barriers that you didn’t know were there.
Perhaps you find yourself bored, blocked, sad or stuck? The best thing you can do at those times is learn something new. Start by drawing a random card from the deck. Then ask yourself if this idea can infuse your testing in a new way.
Have you tried the “too many” heuristic?
Have you tested the “Accessibility” Quality Aspect?
Could you try doing some “Pair Testing” Techniques?
How would an “Irritated” or “Angry” user use your application?
TestSphere can also be used as an ice-breaker. Have you ever been to a conference and spotted someone on their own, wanted to approach them to chat but weren’t sure what to say? TestSphere offers conversation starters that can help you with this. Draw a card from the deck, approach that lone person and ask if they would like to discuss it with you.
Some of the uses of TestSphere from the community are described on The Club. In fact, there is a whole section on The Club dedicated to TestSphere containing useful links to it and some featured cards with forum discussions about them.
There is also a use for TestSphere that is not on The Club, the person who came up with this idea preferred to remain anonymous but the idea is too good not to share!
Storytelling games are an interesting way to generate better communication. You have to give enough information for your audience to be able to visualise the story or feel like they are in that place. If you know the people you are telling the story to, chances are your visualisations will align but have some differences. If you don’t know the audience it can be an excellent way for them to get to know you.
John Stevenson brought a wide selection of games to TestBash Brighton 2016. He wrote a blog about them with a bit of an introduction to each. They served a great purpose at TestBash as they helped people who had never met before get to know each other. They can also be useful in the work environment, particularly when it comes to writing user stories and communicating with your team.
Dixit is a wonderful game to help with communication. The deck of cards also has some pretty awesome illustrations in it! The trick with Dixit is to communicate enough information.
How it works: Each player is dealt a hand of the beautifully illustrated cards. When it is your turn, you tell a story about a card you have chosen from your hand. You then place this card face down and the other players have to choose a card from their deck that they think matches the story. The cards are shuffled, turned face up and aligned along the edge of the board. Players then have to guess which card was yours. You get to the end of the board by communicating enough information about what is on your card that most people playing guess your card when you tell a story about it. You don’t get points if everyone playing or nobody playing guesses your card.
Dixit can be really useful particularly in teams that are struggling to get their requirements communicated effectively. Even for teams who feel like they have the best communication, there is always room to improve.
Rory’s Story Cubes
Rory’s story cubes are a great way to improve storytelling skills among a team. The game has 9 dice or cubes with pictures on each side.
Rory's Story Cubes! Image: Sergey Galyonkin
How it works: the dice are rolled, the player to start the story picks one of the dice/cubes and starts a story with the picture that was face up on that cube. This player ends their section of the story on a cliffhanger, the next player then follows the same pattern picking up one of the cubes and continuing on the story with the picture that was face up from the cube they have chosen. The last cube to be picked up from the 9 is the cube that the story ends on.
Another way to use the cubes is to have someone roll the cubes and order them. Each person in the group creates a story around the ordered cubes. At the end, you compare how different the stories that the group came up with are. Maybe you felt you thought the same as some other person on your team but your stories are completely different. You know what they say about assumptions! This approach can be an excellent way to make people aware of biases and assumptive thinking.
These cubes are another way to help with storytelling and communication but they can also be a great way to get an idea of how your colleagues think. You’re pretty much guaranteed that at least one player will throw in a curve ball at some point in the story. It can be an interesting insight into them but also the next player to see how they continue on from that curve ball.
There’s also a Club post about Using Rory’s story cubes for a retrospective which is another possible way to use the cubes.
The Difficulties Of Implementation
There might be some mild or strong resistance to adding games or game techniques to meetings. People might not enjoy what they might consider a “lowering of seriousness” with the subject matter. It will be necessary to gauge when it’s appropriate to add gaming techniques to a situation.
Knowing Your Audience
When there are folks in a meeting which are known to not like games of any sort, and would rather get on with meetings and then move to the next, acknowledging that will be important. Alienating a team member because they don’t like games is contrary to adding a game-like feature in the first place. Making someone uncomfortable is not the goal.
The best way to get buy in across the team is to explain the benefits and expected outcomes from each of the games. You could lay out all the options and let the team come to a decision about what game they feel is the best fit. Maybe others on the team have identified different areas that gaming could help in.
Toning the activity down could be another option. Instead of using a squeaker or a noise maker, maybe they can hold up a colour slip of paper. Maybe you can apply a similar technique to meetings that Toastmasters uses which has a defined outline of how the meeting should proceed and time limits for each section of the meeting.
The whole point of adding some kind of game interaction is to shine a light on what might not be working for a team. Pushing an outlandish gaming culture where one is resisted can only create more problems in the long run. Try to find a happy medium where some things might be more acceptable while others won’t be. Do what’s comfortable for your team and the time you have. Be respectful, be inclusive, and try to get everyone involved. Bribes of coffee and edible things work wonders!
Retrospective Gaming Activities
No matter what the activity is, it’s always good to get feedback on how people thought the activity went. Whether it was a buzzer to keep people on track, hand signals to show agreement or make folks aware of time, or a full on quiz show with all the trimmings, always gather feedback about the experience from participants. It can help organising the next meeting or event, or it could reveal information which could help modify the event to be more inclusive the next time around. If you are the one running the meeting or event, you’ll want feedback as a way to improve yourself and your own skills. Having more information about the activity and yourself can always reveal ways to make things better.
Games Are Not Just For Kids
As the gamer culture moves into adulthood and the mainstream, the idea of playing video games, or games in general, is a very common notion now. The next logical step is applying some of the gaming knowledge gained as children to our lives and workspaces. A lot of gamers have probably already done this without realising it. Normalizing games, as a way to deal with tough social complexities, or help encourage folks into other skills sets or stretch roles, should be much easier now than a decade ago. For many in Generation X, and younger, games could be the go-to process which can help co-workers find commonality with each other. Keeping a playful spirit at work can help with morale and retention. It could also recruit more people looking for a less stifling corporate culture. No matter the need, adding a little play into the mix can’t hurt, it can only help.
References & Useful Links:
Melissa Eaden has worked for more than a decade with tech companies and currently enjoys working for ThoughtWorks, in Dallas, Texas. Melissa’s previous career in mass media continues to lend itself to her current career endeavors as Content Editor and Staff Writer for Ministry of Testing, supporting their community mission for supporting software testers globally. She can be found on Twitter and Slack as @melthetester.
Heather Reid has been a tester for 2 years. Her passion is helping the software testing community. She is a co-organiser of TinyTestBash Belfast and TestBash Dublin. This all started when Heather discovered the Ministry of Testing through TestBash 2016. When she's not testing she's usually exploring or working on restoration projects. You can find Heather on Twitter where you will also find a link to her blog and on Slack as @heatherr.