Thursday, November 14, 2019

Seasonal Fluctuation

It's that time of the year in Finland where days are feeling shorter and shorter, with the dark period of the day taken more than half of the day. The lesser amount of light is bound to have its impact: it's dark when we go to work, and it is dark when we get home from work.

Just like people's moods have seasonal fluctuation in response to the visible external impacts, a phenomenon very similar happens for our testing at work.

The easy season to spot for a lot of us in software is ahead of us, with Black Friday starting the Christmas shopping season and the webshops all around the world are under heavy loads from the eager shoppers. We just had a lovely discussion Lisa Crispin from MABL hosted online to cover that one.

But let's think of the visible external impacts a little more. There's more to seasonal fluctuation than the day of heavy load e-commerce sites prep for, and knowing your company's and businesses annual clock gives you insight into priorities that can really make you shine in your choices of how you test right now.

Budgeting and End of Year

I think we've all received the emails towards the year closing that we need to remember to invoice whatever expenses we have. Budgeting and end of year are are such a common cycle in companies that it is hard to miss.

You want to ask for a raise, your odds of getting that are very much tied to the annual cycle.

You want to go to a conference, and you could notice a pattern on it's easy end of year ("we have to use our budgets, or we won't get one next year!") or next to impossible before the year changes.

The computer systems have a lot of logic around the year changing, and the budgeting seasons are a specific feature of financial systems of many sorts. When on a normal month we run some batch processing sets, the end of year can be a very special one and we only get to rehearse it once a year, and with little rehearsal, there is often a surprise ahead.

Christmas Freeze

A seasonal feature I have seen a lot is driven by a company's IT and operations department, scheduling annually a freeze time when changes to production don't happen. For other companies, the same period seems to be the time of taking the huge new systems into production, while everything else around is not allowed to change so that granularity for identifying problems is better.

The time just before Christmas freeze is often critical. Make sure you're risk averse at that time, because fixing is slower and harder. It starts with the assumption it should not happen unless it must happen.

The Events

You might have noticed that the plans the company you work for have a spike at some time of the year, and especially the new-cool-feature is something that creates a special kind of buzz a certain time.

The big event your company must show new stuff at is bound to have a spike in what is expected of you. The requests of "just one more thing" come from many directions. The emphasis of how important this is eats up a significant chunk of focus. For those of us with a bit of nerves, the seasonal spike promises we must watch out for symptoms of burnout, and create those personal ways of managing the stress the managers of all levels popping in to check progress cause.

The Two Spikes A Year Principle

A more subtle fluctuation I have noticed is that a lot of companies find it necessary to tell something big an important to customers two times a year. If you recognize those times, there's relevant goodwill to collect on paying attention to these spikes and ensuring all the changes we deliver in an agile fashion sum up to a story worth telling. Also that story gives food for thinking about tests we might not have considered in the continuous flow of changes and a timely heads up can be greatly appreciated.

The Human Tendency to Seek Achievements

Two more spikes I see annually come from categorizing people into two boxes. People in the management side bring out a spike in around October, ensuring all the dreams and wishes from the whole year they have been planning for get done before the year ends. This is a time when I see a lot of plans, meetings, workshops and the like. People in doing side, the spike comes earlier, right after summer vacations with fully refreshed minds tackling problems they now have ideas and energy to improve on.

Removing fluctuation

Over the years, agile and continuous delivery has changed a lot of the seasonal fluctuation to feel less intense and I welcome the less stressed continuously flowing value approach that can come with it. But the fluctuation is there, and if we notice it, and are able to react appropriately, it can really amplify the impact we have as individuals, and the perceptions of how helpful and useful other people around us consider us.

What is your annual cycle? How about chatting on that the next time you sit for a cup of coffee at work chatting work? The powers that impact us are good to know. 

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