Tracking off-board tasks… on a board

I think it’s a common theme for me (and for many other testers) to feel that you have so many strands of work going on at the same time that there aren’t enough hours in the day to remember everything you need to do, never mind getting round to actually doing it.

When I first started as a tester, my work was very much tied to the JIRA board. Pick up tickets that come into Ready For Testing, test them, put them in Ready For Release, pick up the next one. At some point, do a massive regression test and then a release. There was no guidance for what I should be doing while there was nothing in test on the board, so I’d spend that time doing Javascript tutorials or watching dev talks I had no hope of understanding. There were often times in the first six months where I had no actual work to do for as long as two or three days, though that was mainly due to poor onboarding and management, which has since improved magnificently.

I couldn’t say there was a particular day or moment when that changed, but over time I asked enough questions and found enough half-answers to be getting on with. I started going to meetups – and then TestBash happened and everything exploded in my brain. I now had one billion trillion gazillion things to try, both as an individual and with my team, and the idea of having two or three days free in which to implement any of it is one of my saucier dreams.

“Horses are the worst” – everyone who has tried to draw a horse, ever.

As much as I’d dreamed of coming back from the conference like a badass knight on a flaming horse, to bring forth the light of my new deity Quality, the reality is that I was no different a person than before. I was no more able to make plans, lead or influence than I had been a week earlier. I’d found out who I needed to be, but heck, I didn’t know where to start being that person. I’d heard all these talks, had all these conversations about people getting to xyz state and implementing abc – but actually doing it is different, and difficult, and long.

The one thing I knew for sure was that I needed to improve, and improve fast. At everything. Coaching? Need that. Coding? Good idea. Test Charters? Gosh, tell me more. I suppose I should read up on leadership, personal brand and test methods. Oh, and I should blog everything, right? Right.

Well, doing that all at once was like knocking on the door of a house while simultaneously climbing in through the window, down through the chimney and up through a tunnel I had dug for myself – and building a bulldozer from scratch just in case. All so I could do a bit of hoovering.

Being the type of person for whom it is physically impossible to admit defeat – biting off more than I can chew? ahahah watch this! aggressive chewing sounds – I decided that it’s not that I’m doing too many things. Of course not. It’s that I am not keeping track of them well enough to be efficient about it, and not giving these tasks the weight they deserve against the need to save us from the potential of a piece of text being 2px larger than design, or the button colour being #2f3033 instead of #2b2f30. What a disaster, am I right? Our users simply won’t stand for that sort of thing!

That was an incredibly long intro, just to say that I decided I do a lot of work outside of the JIRA board, and that I should track that work in a similar way to everything else. I’m a great lover of free tools, and for me Trello is a good ‘un.

My lil’ personal trello board.

I’ve set it out pretty simply. At the start is the ‘backlog’, tasks that I recognise but haven’t started yet. Then we have Doing for tasks in progress, and lastly a bunch of Done columns, separated by week. This is so that I can remember and recognise what I’ve achieved in any given week. It’s too easy to trick yourself into believing you haven’t provided any value, that you’ve just got everyone fooled and soon they’re going to realise how useless you are and fire you, just like you deserve. I’m hoping that keeping a log of tasks completed every week will help fight imposter syndrome, anyway.

You can add/customise a bunch of labels to keep track of different types of work, and enabling colour blind friendly mode adds textures to make those clearer for everyone.

These are my labels, see explanations and examples below.

Cross-team comms tasks involve getting or sharing information with people from other teams, for example as part of understanding how to modify our testing feed I spoke to a member of the Data Management team about how it’s structured, where the data comes from and what changes are upcoming to the architecture. I popped the task on my trello board, and thus could not run away from it or forget about it to avoid speaking to another human (which everyone knows is an awful and difficult thing – that’s why Slack exists.)

ADS team comms are the same, for working with people in my own engineering team. An example from today would be that I’m conducting a bunch of 5-10minute ‘interviews’ around what problems we have that could be solved with changing our mock data or the way it is updated, stored and served. We had a super big meeting around this a couple weeks ago, which was a total disaster because everyone came into it with a bunch of solutions, but no one could explain what problem these solutions were actually there to solve and it turned out everyone had different ideas about what the issue was in the first place. Hence me organising a bunch of quick, informal 1-1s to get to the bottom of it.

Domain learning is my favourite. It includes researching topics of interest to my role and personal development. I currently have “Read Slack book” as an action I am completing, and when I’ve finished reading it (Slack by Tom DeMarco) then it will go into the Done column for that week – as valid a useful/productive task as anything else. I spend a lot of my between-tasks time reading articles or books, watching videos and completing exercises, and I never ever counted it in my productivity for the day. Well, I do now!

Extra work activities is the catch-all for tasks not directly related to my role, for example my contributions to our push for Diversity and Inclusion. This week, I wrote a blog post for the Fresh8 Medium page and I’ve read through the entirety of our Employee Handbook to make suggestions on how sections could be improved to be more inclusive.

An example of a card’s details

As you can see, Trello allows you to add a bunch of detail to the ticket. You can assign them, add deadlines or attachments, or even write checklists (I do love me some box ticking). It’s a lot simpler than JIRA, though I suppose that means it’s missing a few bits like subtasks and extra pages for backlog and release management. It’s definitely a nice tool that’s free and easy to use though.

Code task is pretty self-explanatory. Anything that involves writing or learning about code is in this group. An example I completed this week is “Multiply VRTs”, which was to update the cross-browser Visual Regression Tests I wrote to build out tests for a bunch of different ad configurations from one file. I had already done this for my Puppeteer-based tests, so it was a matter of applying what I’ve already learned to a similar situation. I’m gunna move myself up to Advanced Beginner for coding in the Dreyfus model…

Work knowledge is a weird one, and I might change the name if I think of one that better reflects its use. It has some cross-over with other labels, so might drop into obscurity over time anyway (you can add multiple labels to cards though). It’s similar to domain learning, but instead of high-level topics this is concerned with information that is specifically useful to my job at Fresh8. For example, I am often underprepared for our mini-refinement sessions after stand-up every morning, so I can’t always suggest ways of mitigating risk in those pieces of work. Therefore, I have added a task for setting aside time at the end of every day to read through at the tickets that will be refined the next morning and think about or research them.

Self spection is the label for tasks such as introspection, reviewing my own work and ways of working, reducing the impact my weaknesses have on the team and maximising what we get out of my strengths. An example from this week is “Review actions from review, make actions”. Great name, Bruce.

For this task, I’ve taken the suggestions for improvement anonymously given to my manager for my one year review, and put them into a tickbox list. When I think of one or more actions I could take to improve on a list item, I add a card for it to the backlog and then tick off the item on this list. I’m not sure what action I could take to have more confidence in myself though, and I don’t think I want to add writing more Fresh8 blog posts to my list of responsibilities when I already have a personal blog that I struggle to keep updated. Having said that, my brain is just chock full of ideas all the blinkin’ time, and it just takes a suggestion of a job and I’ve thought of a million ways I could be doing it so nicely.

Speaking of blog posts, Personal brand is the last label. It exists for any tasks that involve putting myself out there, mainly blog writing but I suppose I could add going to conferences and meetups to that.

I might add another label for Morale or something similar, which would include things like baking treats to bring into the office, and making memes or drawings for retrospectives and company demos. Perhaps even trying to organise lunchtime games or meals out, walks and the like. Then again, I need to stop adding to the pile of things I convince myself that only I – the chosen one – can complete. This is how I got myself into the whole mess of needing a personal tracking board to begin with, haha.

It’s been about two weeks since I started putting bits n bobs on the board, and so far I’ve only cried at my desk once in that time (the one true metric for measuring work related stress). A great improvement, and I feel optimistic moving forwards that this will help to reduce the stress of managing everything I want to do, and lift up what I’ve already done. I just need to avoid putting pressure on myself to complete more of these tasks than is physically possible in the time I have.

Reading through everything I achieved last week has given me a boost. I feel like I did great, and if I did great last week then I sure as pants can do great this week too. I’ve also added a new label called Testing tasks, which are for non-board related bobs like the timeboxed exploratory testing session we’re doing today. I feel like everything will be fine, and I will reach my goals with the help of this tracking board.

Unless I start getting competitive with my past self, and this ends in another spiral of working harder and harder to do better than last week. Hopefully, I learnt my lesson with the whole Toggl debacle and am now a much more level headed person. _manic laughter of my distant future self_

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