Testing Mixtapes with Lena Pejgan

Testing Mixtapes: quality beats, curated by testers is an interview series by Qase. For each interview, we ask leaders from the QA, software development, and testing industries to share a little about themselves, dig into a topic they’re passionate about, and create a mixtape that matches their vibe.

So grab your headphones, pull up the latest Testing Mixtape, and get to know Lena Pejgan.

Can you tell us about your background?

I have been building software since 1999. After a decade of coding, I found my heart in testing. Today I focus on building organizations and growing people rather than the software itself but testing is still in my soul. Continuous improvement is a core value and I believe we should all strive to keep up to date and challenge ourselves, our assumptions, and the way things are done. I am the author and creator of "Would Heu-risk it?" (card deck and book), an avid blogger, speaker and workshop facilitator. On top of that, I combine skills learned through the years in my day job as an Engineering Manager.

I live outside of Stockholm, Sweden with teenage kids, partner, and way too many games, sewing machines, and books.

Can you give a brief overview of what “Would Heu-risk It?” is?

“Would Heu-risk It?” is a card deck and a book that are basically nuggets of learnings from my over 20 years of experience of building software in different roles. They focus on risk and what mistakes I’ve seen developers and testers do over and over again and while the card deck aims to force you to think outside of the box, the book expands on explaining those concepts in a lighthearted way, putting them in context through stories.

Can you share the origin story of the book and deck?

It started with me getting the opportunity to pair with Lisa Crispin on a workshop. We knew we wanted to do something about risk and we both felt heuristics was a hot topic that we would like to explore more. And on top of that, I was obsessed with the idea of gamification and wanted to try to make a game myself. It was a lot more work than I can explain in a few sentences, but with the help and input of different people around the world I ended up with 30 concepts I wanted to include. I was lucky enough to get Trish Khoo to take on the design of the cards. We based the design around the old RPG/trading cards that I used to love as a kid. And of course: rhymes. I have always loved rhymes.

Is there something that got you interested in heuristics for risk?

To be honest, the main reason heuristics got thrown into the mix was that we wanted to understand them better. What are they actually? If you ask ten different people you will get a hundred different answers and they range from being so vague that anything is a heuristic to so specific that very little is a “true” heuristic.

Depending on your own definition, all of the cards act as heuristics or just a few of them do.

I see heuristics as “mental shortcuts used to simplify problems without drowning in cognitive load,” and to me, that is my starting point when I need to think about risk in a more structured way. Not only risk, but definitely important when dealing with identifying the unknown — which, to me, is risk.

How do you develop the mindset needed to effectively use heuristics?

That is a great question and I am not sure I have a good answer.

I think all of us do this, all the time. The more skilled we become, the more well-trained we are in asking difficult questions, the more we use them. But I also believe most of us are completely unaware of the fact that we do. How many of us are aware of using mental models of doors to figure out a new type of door? I would suspect not many are. We just…do. And take it for granted.

But as with anything — deliberate practice. Practice identifying what heuristics you use, when you lean on them, and try to also think of tough things like “In what ways is this model wrong and what traps can that cause me to fall into?” Because as with all simplifications of reality — they are wrong in some way.

Coaching and mentoring sessions, team games, risk storming — there are a lot of structured formats to push yourself to use them. But I really believe the most important part is to reflect on it — whichever format you use.

What are some ways to use the cards?

There are a lot of different formats described on my webpage, but I would like to highlight three:

  1. Use them as a prompt to think about test design or risk, either for yourself or with colleagues. Draw a few cards and discuss what they mean in your context. Are they relevant to a problem you face right now? Is it an area you haven’t covered enough?
  2. When doing bigger sessions centered around finding risk or planning testing, either draw random cards or spread them all out in front of you and see which ones draw you in. Use the cards to come up with questions to ask and potential risks that need to be addressed.
  3. Use them to figure out your own strengths and weak points. Are there cards that you lean on too much? (For me that was boundary value testing. It is my bread and butter, but at one point it made me a one trick pony.) Are there cards that you either have no idea what they could mean or you feel uncomfortable approaching them? Then that is probably an area you should dive into. (For me that is for sure accessibility)

How do your cards differ from TestSphere?

This one made me laugh because at the latest TestBash, this was my least favorite question and I think Beren (TestSphere creator) and I should make a joint effort to explain this in a video or something.

TestSphere heavily inspired “Would Heu-risk It?” The principles it tries to teach are similar and a lot of concepts are covered in both. But I believe they take a different approach to it and will appeal to different people, or for different things.
TestSphere is pretty direct with what they want you to think about, while “Would Heu-risk It?” is intentionally ambiguous and wants you to decide for yourself what a certain card means. Risk storming is a fantastic exercise and for that I think TestSphere is amazing while “Would Heu-risk It?” would be... confusing.

But as I said — I would actually love to discuss and explore that more with Beren because people seem to keep asking!

Is there a reason you decided to self-publish?

I actually had a lot of help getting a publisher and we got a long way towards that. But Covid hit and the reviewers were not all positive (not everyone liked my way of writing, some felt it was unprofessional) so the publisher didn’t feel comfortable with the risk and the cost. It actually put me into a spiral of self-doubt and I couldn’t force myself to start over with a new company. In the end though, Janet Gregory gave me a lot of encouragement and she helped me through self publishing through Amazon KDP. While I might have my opinions on the company in general, it is difficult not to love their self publishing process to be honest. Leanpub was amazing for the digital version, where I started. I can’t recommend them enough.

What is the one piece of advice you feel is most important for the testing community to hear?

Figure out your worth. Communicate it. Don’t let the pendulum swing catch you off guard — find where your skills matter and dig yourself in there. Things will always change. Titles and role names shift, base needs really don’t.

Tell us a bit about putting together your mixtape

Open playlist in Spotify

I started with things I associate with risk and that gave me three songs that act as the root of the mixtape:

  • “Oops I did it again” because I often feel like that when I ask a question and see a solution fall apart.
  • “Take a chance on me” because it is just a brilliant song
  • “I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that)” because, as test professionals, I often feel we are pressured to cut corners and are forced to be the moral compass of a lot of teams

From there, I explored different words I connect with risk, software delivery, and testing. I found a lot of old gems and some new songs.

Where can we find you?

Don’t forget to listen to Lena’s Testing Mixtape!

Want to make your own Testing Mixtape? Fill out this form to be considered!

Testing Mixtapes: quality beats, curated by testers was inspired by the Tester’s Island Discs podcast originally created by Neil Studd and sponsored by Ministry of Testing. We are grateful they’ve allowed us to continue the concept to showcase some of the valued members of the testing community.

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