Monday, 23 January 2017

On the Joys of Sleep (Tester Edition)

Tonight in the part of Sydney, Australia I live in it is 11pm at night and 26°C with 65% humidity. Last night I couldn't sleep well and tonight is likely to be worse. The aircon isn't making much difference and in any case is bloody noisy. Some random alarm just went off outside. Instead of visiting the land of Nod I am up and feel a bit rubbish. I am no stranger to insomnia at the best of times but this takes the biscuit. What a better time for an impromptu testing rant blog?

Of course performance in every job short of professional sleep deprivation test subject is diminished by sleep deprivation, however I find that the particular skills required to do testing properly are shattered by a sleep deprived brain. Doing manual and exploratory testing, I struggle to concentrate for any length of time at all without good sleep and my productivity nosedives. I find myself nodding off at meetings (same if I have a big lunch), or at the very least listless. My ability to communicate to other testers or management or choose the right words to say or write is diminished to the point where people start wondering if I have mysteriously forgotten how to speak English - not good if you are a consultant and expected to be sharp and knowledgeable all the time. Meetings and conferences are interrupted by my incessant yawning. I act like a moody brat. And so on...

Think of the things that we do on a daily basis that require us to be mentally on top of our game. We need to be focused and observant for long periods, creating in coming up with new test scenarios, precise in our plans, defect logging and status reports, analytical in our study of requirements, able to communicate precisely and tactfully with management, technical staff and  stakeholders in providing the data they need to make go no-go and project decisions.

And yet the demands of IT, the pressure of overloaded agile development cycles and crammed final testing periods in waterfall, the need to test production deployments out of hours, the delays we get due to development overruns and tough, large defect retest backlogs, non-negotiable release deadlines - in some stints I have had resulting in working many lates, one or two all-nighters in a row and giving up weekends - are such that we are often made to push ourselves to the limit without suitable rest. The effect and disruption this causes on our family lives and health and the stress this causes mean that we are even less likely to have a good night's sleep. The cycle perpetuates. While it is true that jobs need to be done and deadlines need to be met, the culture of expecting productivity from people who are heading for spectacular burnout and mental exhaustion does nothing for the success of our projects. Of course my insomnia tonight has nothing to do with the above, however I see it as motivation to write about a much wider problem in the industry.

Why is this so unusual, it happens in other fields? Project managers, developers, business analysts, CIOs also have it. That is true and I have every sympathy, however being the author of a testing blog I have the licence to write uniquely from a tester perspective. I do believe that the particular nature of testing as a role imposes demands that even a small amount of mental exhaustion make difficult to achieve.

It is hard to speak up about it. How many of us, often contract testers and consultants working on client sites are able to challenge the processes, workload and deadlines of management? We don't want to "let the side down" or appear weak to our bosses and colleagues, we want to be seen to be team players and professionals. Maybe we fear the next round of offshoring and redundancies - even the cancellation of our visas and deportation if tied to our employer. The stakes are high and to speak out takes guts and persuasion. Luckily I work for excellent managers on an easier project and am able to voice my opinion about timelines and resourcing, but my experience in IT has told me that these things are a privilege not widely shared and projects have a momentum of their own that can slide into stress and trouble if not managed well.

So what is required? More considerate industry practices? Better timelines and test estimation by test leads? Testers to be more assertive? More caring and proactive management? Better scoping? A testers union maybe? I don't have the answers but would love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, I will try to hit the sack. It's hot and I don't fancy my chances but we shall see. Goodnight ;-)

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