Improving the State of your Testing Team: Part Two – Principles

“But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”Thomas Jefferson

To inspire intelligent, thinking people to work together to solve large, organizational problems is a tremendous challenge. Creative people should not be constrained by process or managerial constructs that don’t add any value to their work. I truly believe, as Daniel Pink illustrates in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, that getting the best performance out of people requires heavy doses of autonomy, and truly getting out-of-the-way.

But what if you need to change the way a team operates? What do you do if you need to change the perception of your testing team across an IT organization with thousands of people, spread across multiple time zones and continents? How do you get people to not just understand your goals, but more importantly, realign their behavior to meet those challenges together?

As in my earlier post in this series, the only way I have succeeded in improving the performance and perception of testing, is to align the foundations of our work environment. Starting with the shared values that underpin our approach, I then outline the principles of managing testing that everyone – from senior test managers to test analysts, can pattern their behavior. The following principles are from our orientation that everyone in the my teams attends, and are expected to show in their work. They define how we measure and manage careers and are the anchor points for what we call “What we Expect out of You”.

1. People start ignoring testing when it is no longer relevant

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

 2. Being responsible sometimes means rocking the boat

Software testing is the primary deconstructive process in a largely constructive activity. People who do analysis and development are going to be naturally biased towards confirming that something works and occasionally, you are going to have to tell them…wait for it…that it doesn’t! So what! I understand that testers want to be seen to be contributing to progress, but being a “service” to a project does not mean you are a “servant”. Critical thinking and challenging ideas to test them means you are going to rock the boat, and in fact, being “responsible” almost ensures it. Not everyone is going to like you…if you want a friend – buy a dog!

3. No one has the market cornered on good ideas

I’m pretty sure you don’t, but if you think your manager, or their manager, or the head of your company have all the good ideas – you’re wrong. You know where you’ll find loads of good ideas – all around you! Get to know the people next to you, on your team, on another product group – in the industry, so that you can learn from them and REUSE their ideas! Being efficient with project resources means discovering and using those resources no matter where they originate from. Get to know your peers and you can use the force multiplier of combined experience to tap in to all those great ideas lying around you.

4. Never stop asking why – question everything

The question “why” is the hammer in the tool box of the thinking tester. In “An Introduction to General Systems Thinking“, Jerry Weinberg states “As we work in less and less familiar situations, our inherited and learned perceptual capacities become less and less effective.” A great measure against the degradation of our perceptions is to continually clarify them through a rigorous course of “why”!

5. Invest 80% of your energy in your top 20%

The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. I use this review my schedule to make sure I am spending my time on the right meetings and people. I also use this approach for managing teams. It cuts across the trend to reward everyone for participating, but I believe we should be spending our time on the people who contributing the most to achieving our goals. And those people are not always the management team.

It’s also a great tool to help manage your career. Finding out what is important to your company, what the leadership team values, and then aligning yourself towards those gives you a better chance of being in the right place at the right time. No one is going to advocate for your career better than you, so find out who is in that top 20% and chart your own path.

6. Leadership = Simplification

Due to various factors in the testing industry, the state of training and education for testers, and very often the project environments we find ourselves in, over complication can be a crutch employed to prove our value. Stop! The technology and projects are complicated enough, (and getting worse) and when you add all the people problems, complexity goes through the roof. Leadership = Simplification.

The ability to distill a complex set of ideas into simple expressions is an advanced skill, and sign of maturity. Your value as a tester is not measured in degrees of complexity in expression. Decisions are often made on less than complete and perfect information, and in my business, at a rate that requires quick and agile thinking. As a very senior manager once told me “Keith, you’re giving me the Ph.D version and I need it in Crayola!”

7. Don’t take it personally

Executing against any of these principles or in alignment to our values, is almost impossible if you are personally attached to your ideas. As a reminder – you are NOT your ideas. Your ideas are made up of multiple variables with diverse and complicated origins, that are then viewed through the often times, foggy lens of your immediate perception. All those factors work together to put a thought bubble above your head. Some days that bubble has a light bulb  in it…other days, a scribble. Change any one of those factors and you would get a different idea. If you are too attached to what is floating around in your head, you can’t take on new perspectives or view and more importantly – change your mind.

8. Think first – then do

Lastly, if we are living all are values and adhering to our principles, we will be self-reflective in our decision making process and extremely agile in their implementation. We will not be chained to personalities or bias and have the ability to change our mind without fear of failure or repercussion. All of this will allow us to get on and get things done for the test team and the organization.

In the next post, I will talk about how I think you should go about linking your testing team to your company’s strategic objectives. Thanks