Exposing and Erasing Organizational Bias: An Interview with Keith Klain

In this very informative and revealing interview, Keith Klain discusses where biases among testing teams originated from, and who’s to blame for its negative, lingering effects to projects of all shapes and sizes. We learned that testers don’t have themselves to blame exclusively, but some serious self-reflection is definitely in order.

Noel: You’ve mentioned the need to overcome “organizational bias towards software testing.” Where did this bias originate, and do you see trends that lead you to believe it’s decreasing or increasing in size?

Keith: Organizational bias towards testing originates from lots of different sources, but it is primarily driven by the culture of the team. Collective behaviors make up our “corporate culture” and drive what we value as an organization and through patterns you can identify how those values are articulated. Decades old attitudes about the value and role of testing and testers (coupled with how we act ourselves) only reinforces those views. I also lay a good amount of blame at the testing industry itself for not taking a stronger position to some of the themes over the last 15 years that haven’t been particularly helpful to a craftsman approach to software testing.

Noel: You’ve also mentioned that testers themselves can be partially to blame for this bias’ existence – what have testing teams done to allow this bias to continue, and what can they do to help eliminate it?

Keith : If people are ignoring the information being produced by the testing team, in my opinion – that’s the test teams fault. Testing produces some of the most vital information to make business decisions about risk, release dates, and coverage – how can that information be ignored! Speak the language of your project to understand what “value” means to your business. When you align your testing strategy and reporting methods to those, I guarantee you will not be ignored. In our organization, the responsibility of ensuring testing gets the focus it deserves lies with the test team, and no one else.

Noel: Do you feel that there have been some biases that have been around so long that testers and developers alike just assume they’re part of the culture? How do teams crack through that pessimism to begin to repair the damages that biases have caused?

Keith: Repairing the damage to the actual or perceived value of your team begins with a healthy dose of self-reflection. Knowing what you contribute to that bias and taking responsibility for changing your immediate environment is the only way it starts to change. There is a view in psychology that we teach people how to treat us, and not accepting ingrained aspects of culture will at the very least, make your own life easier and possibly change things for the better. People disregard things they don’t value and testing is an incredibly valuable part of the operation, so not allowing yourself to be subjected to that behavior begins with being able to articulate that value.

Noel: Once these biases are removed, what kinds of benefits should teams see outside of a healthier working environment? What kind of potentially positive financial impact does the absence of bias create?

Keith: One of the biggest benefits is that the conversation changes. It moves away from the standard (and boring) topics of quantifying your work, counting test cases, metrics, etc., to more meaningful ones like risk, quality, and business strategy. Testing teams often impose artificial limits on themselves and their relationship to the business they support, so when you remove those barriers their self confidence improves almost immediately. As well, we’ve seen the amount of extra work around training, coaching, and community support increase tremendously as teams are connecting with each other and sharing stories.

Noel: You’ve led the worldwide project, the Barclays Global Test Centre, to recruit and grow “highly motivated” testers. Do you look at this more as a level of motivation to succeed on a personal level, or to maintain, or even evolve the state of software testing today?

Keith: Our first and foremost responsibility is to provide great information through excellent software testing to allow Barclays to make informed decisions about their business. That’s the impetus for the change program in testing and our primary objective. I do believe we are having a positive impact on the state of testing outside of our direct control and as well, my teams know I have no less a goal for them than changing the software testing industry for the better! People get inspired when they feel they are making an impact and that’s a big part of improving how your team is valued and inspired people can do amazing things. As far as personal success, the test teams deserve all the credit for anything we’ve done as they do all the work!

About the Author

A resident copywriter and editor for TechWell, SQE, and StickyMinds.com, Noel Wurst has written for numerous blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines. Noel has presented educational conference sessions for those looking to become better writers. In his spare time, he can be found spending time with his wife and two sons—and tending to the food on his Big Green Egg. Noel eagerly looks forward to technology’s future, while refusing to let go of the relics of the past.

6 thoughts on “Exposing and Erasing Organizational Bias: An Interview with Keith Klain

  1. Good interview, Keith. Thanks for posting.

    I think this is an interesting thought

    > If people are ignoring the information being produced by the testing team, in my opinion – that’s the test teams fault.

    Discovering the mission and producing relevant information are a huge part of testing but that does not mean testers have control over what is done with that information. All of the stuff (bugs observations and whatnot) testers produce get prioritized since it is not all of the same importance and time is constrained. I think a little narrative to develop context would help that statement out a lot. Either that or making it not read like an absolute. I wonder how teams working for you have responded to this idea?

    • Thanks, Justin, and I agree that the information produced by the test team should be put in context of the mission and its variables (time, risk, priority, etc…) . The focus of my statement regarding information is more in line with your use of the word “relevant”, than the decisions made post its discovery. Also, I emphasize “ignoring” as in disregarding intentionally, not de-prioritizing. In my experience, testers impose a lot of artificial limits on their relationships and do a lot of the “de-valuing” of their work themselves through how we communicate. Empowering people to take ownership of that process and focusing their interactions on value has generally improved things for the testers.

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