Improving the State of your Testing Team: Part One – Values

As I run large testing teams for fairly large organisations and have done so for some time now, the questions I get asked most often are about how to improve testings position and how do I talk about testing with “senior management”. Quite frankly, I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded in meeting all my goals in improving testing for the companies or clients I’ve worked for over the last 18+ years, but my approach has evolved significantly to set myself (and my teams) up for a better chance at success.

Over the next couple of posts, I am going to map out what I think are the essential elements for motivating, driving innovation, and improving the perception (and reality) in testers in any organisation…enjoy!

Test Management Values

Typically, the first thing out of my test teams mouths when asked “how can we improve the state of testing here”, usually relates to something that OTHER people should do. Very few people or teams take an introspective based approach to improvement, or state their management values, but the ones that do, typically have great success. Ray Dailo, who runs the worlds largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, has had tremendous success in attracting talent and has articulated a very self-reflective and personal vision for his team and how he expects them to run.

More senior management support, better appreciation of testing’s value, higher visibility into the organization – all the roads to those improvements start with YOU. And in my experience, the first step is defining your teams values. I talk a lot about values with testers, and after the look of confusion about why a testing team would talk about values, it usually starts to sink in.

I talk about values in testing, because they drive a lot of your behavior. Your values influence where and how you work, and with who and where you spend your time. Defining a testing “value system” is a great way to create common goals, align behavior, and lower the management overhead of your operation. In relation to the state of testing in your organisation, I find that defining your teams values in precise terms and being able to  articulate them with specific examples, is the first and most essential step to improving things.

The great thing about value aligned improvements, is that people can tie together stories they can propagate throughout the company. So with that, here are the values I outline for my teams during orientation and discuss on a regular basis .


You’d think this would be an easy one, and it is for most of us – when it comes to being honest with other people. But I believe it is essential to be honest with yourself – and THEN with other people. If you are not getting the recognition you deserve, the right level of regard for your team, your testing is not respected – why is that? Is it because of everyone else…or is it because of you? When it comes to honesty, too often testers do not point their highly focused lenses of perception at themselves and what they are doing to add to their problems.

One of my favorite quotes is from French physiologist Claude Bernard who said “It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.” I try to live honestly every day, with every interaction with my teams – whether it be about finances, compensation, strategy, or any aspect of my operation.

HR departments have criticized me in the past for being TOO honest with people! Aside from being the right thing to do, I find being radically honest with people actually helps keep attrition down even through bad economic cycles, as teams manage their own expectations better. Additionally, we spend a lot of time and energy recruiting intelligent people, so why when would we then treat them like children when it comes to managing our business!

Regardless, a healthy dose of self-reflection and being open about our strengths, and more importantly our weaknesses, is the only way to level set expectations and understand where to start. Nothing will undermine your efforts to improve more than tolerating dishonesty or deceiving yourself – remember, the only common denominator in all your dysfunctional relationships – is YOU!


Now that we’ve been honest with ourselves about what is and is not working, and more importantly, what we are doing to contribute to the situation, the next value to address is integrity. Learning about our strengths and weaknesses does not give much benefit if we don’t change our behavior to show that knowledge. Integrity is a key aspect to changing the perception – and reality of how your testing team is treated.

I’ve found that having the integrity to find shortcomings and change your behavior to address them is a sign of maturity that people in “senior management” typically identify with and respect. It sounds counter-intuitive, but learning from your mistakes is what earns you the right to have an opinion, because as the saying goes – all opinions are not created equal.


Finally, not making excuses for why things are (or are not) happening and taking full responsibility for getting things done is at the very least a path to happiness. If you are being honest with yourself, have identified what you need to do to change, but then do absolutely nothing about it – well then, you shouldn’t be surprised when your role is processed, packaged, commoditized and shipped somewhere to chase FX rates around the world.

Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics, George Bernard Shaw said “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” Being accountable for taking ownership of getting things done – upwards and downwards – is what people expect out of their leaders, and will move the test team higher up the value chain.

So that’s step one. Defining, discussing, and living your values. Not a lot of teams, testing teams or otherwise, actually take the time to do something as simple as write them down, ask big questions, and then figure out how YOU want your team perceived. Taking control of that will bring a congruence of action that people will notice and give you a starting place for other improvements.

Next up will be the test management principles that are underpinned by these values…thanks!

7 thoughts on “Improving the State of your Testing Team: Part One – Values

  1. The good part about “what is the right thing to do” is every one knows. Bad part about it is not many follow. But the tough part about it is “How to really do the right thing” and also to see success stories by doing so. Keith – you have put your words in a very encouraging tone that will help other practitioners too, to set their values and know it will only benefit to follow them. Very interesting read indeed!!

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  3. Several of the points resonate with me. The idea that so many find it easy to see how others should improve performance but seem surprised they should consider changes themselves is common. I also find the understanding that we run into many problems based on what we think we know (but isn’t so) as important and something many people miss.

    In Dr. Deming’s management view the second point is explored as part of the theory of knowledge. I wrote about this

    People do have to be responsible to do what they can to perform and improve the system. I worry about “accountability” because so often it is managers designing and enforcing bad management practices which make good performance difficult and then use “accountability” to blame those in the system for the results of the system.

    “the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort.

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  6. Great stuff Keith! This is pretty much “the talk” I gave my team which i derived from your talk at starwest 2011. I’d love to pick your brain some more over a cup of coffee.

    You really nailed it on the head when you said:

    If you are being honest with yourself, have identified what you need to do to change, but then do absolutely nothing about it – well then, you shouldn’t be surprised when your role isprocessed, packaged, commoditized and shipped somewhere to chase FX rates around the world.

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