The Pursuit of Scrutiny

“It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves” – Arthur Miller, The Crucible

I love scrutiny. I love it so much that I try to constantly surround myself with people who challenge my views. Either by directly asking for critique or by putting my work up to public review, I seek honest perspectives on my work to continually improve. I need scrutiny in the same way crucibles are used in laboratories or for scientific purposes: they withstand high temperatures to remove impurities. Scrutiny burns off impurities in my ideas and actions. It clarifies them. And I set the pace and tone for that scrutiny through how I give feedback to others: straight and to the point.

And guess what drives my desire for scrutiny: insecurity. That probably sounds funny coming from me, and might even sound like a weakness, but I assure you it can be one of your greatest strengths if used properly. My insecurity drives my quest for excellence in myself and in turn, in my teams. I am not confident we are always doing the right thing. I am not convinced we are always pursuing the right strategy for tools, process, and people. And it is exactly because I am not 100 percent secure in all my decisions, that I don’t just “like” scrutiny, I NEED it! In the never-ending pursuit of excellence, scrutiny is my compass.

Far too often I have seen testers get crushed under the weight of their own insecurities. And coupled with a fear of failure, that can have a paralyzing effect on either a person or team. Face your fears! Put yourself out there! Let the heat of challenging views and rigorous debate clarify and sharpen your ideas. At best you will have strengthened not only your position, but also your character, and if you fail, it would be, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I want my work to be excellent and able to withstand scrutiny, and if people aren’t willing to give it freely, I must wring it out of them. It’s my responsibility as a leader. I shout and bang my fist on my desk because I demand excellence from myself and my teams. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but through our pursuit, some awesome things are starting to happen. If testing is questioning a product in order to evaluate it, it is my opinion that questioning must start its focus on the questioner.

Recently, I have witnessed or been involved in several discussions and Twitter threads that seem to be equating challenging an idea with attacking the person who proposed the idea. I reject that premise as no idea, person or thing defines me – so it is impossible to offend me. But even if they did offend me, or I felt it was a personal attack – so what! Force it through the crucible of your own scrutiny and all the imperfections will burn away. Professional testers honing their skills should never shy away from challenges to their ideas – they should not just welcome, but court them!

I leave you these words to inspire you to seek your “crucible”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

12 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Scrutiny

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  2. ” I shout and bang my fist on my desk because I demand excellence from myself and my teams ”

    Do you *really* do that ? I can see it as a sign of passion – and I have had the occasional shout myself – but I don’t think I would want to give full frank and honest feedback to someone who shouts and bangs their fists. I might also not be inclined to ask them for feedback. I have bad memories of shouty people

    Do you also ‘demand’ excellence – or expect it ? What happens if I think I’m doing an excellent job but it doesn’t meet your standards ? Do you come over and bang on my desk and shout at me ?

    Face your fears and Putting yourself out there is a fine sentiment – but hard to do in practice. Have you always been able to do this or have you learnt how to do so ? I know a negative comment on my blog -or an answer being down voted on QA Stackexchange can ring my insecurity bell – there again, if I didn’t want the risk of it being rung I wouldn’t blog or answer questions…but someone shouting in a blog comment of a new blogger can stop them posting any more. Do we say they should have been tougher or ?

    As usual, a great post that gets people thinking. Nice work

    • I’m not a raving lunatic, but yes, I do actually shout – when needed. And yes, I do demand excellence out of people. Why not? As I pointed out, I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but the pursuit of excellence is what’s changing our environment. And it’s what you shout ABOUT that really matters…

      “Facing our fears” is not just a bumper sticker to me, I am actively trying to create an environment where people can fail, get back up, fail again, and through that process we will learn together. And as the leader of that group, I set the pace and tone, so yes – you can shout, you can cry, you can howl at the moon if you like – you can have a REAL emotional experience here. I agree it’s hard to do in practice, but you at least have to practice!

      To show how serious I am about it, every year I sit down with my team (all the senior test managers and test managers around the globe) and give them my report card ON MYSELF. Where I screwed up, where I feel I let them down, what I need to work on…and then we talk about it.

      Sincerely, you can contact any of my management team or anyone who works with me and ask them if it’s working. I solicit LOTS of feedback and feel very comfortable saying it IS working – it’s not perfect by any stretch, but it IS working.

      I can empathize with someone who has had a personal experience that may make being honest with someone who “shouts” difficult. But when they continually see, “Hey, Keith got mad at Richard, they talked about it, I understand why he was mad (Keith explained it to us), and look – there they are working productively again…” In my experience, that has a much more powerful affect on creating an open environment than trying to pander to everyone’s sensibilities.

      Thank you for this feedback, I NEED it!! 🙂

      • Thanks for the detailed reply, lots of food for thought – and I see from Twitter and other blogs that a lot of others are thinking it over as well
        I have also been reading the series of blog posts from Bob Marshal ( @flowchainsensei ) about Non Violent Communication which is maybe why your remark of shouting and banging your fist on the desk stood out.

        Why not demand excellence ? I have a problem with the word ‘demand’ – definition of that is:
        Noun – an insistent and peremptory request, made as if by right.
        Verb – ask authoritatively or brusquely.

        If you expect if of me, I am motivated. If you demand it I’m not.

        The other problem I have with it is the unspoken second half of the sentence:
        I demand X – and if I don’t get X then there will be negative consequences

        • Thanks, Phil and please done conflate my raising my voice with NVC, which is primarily concerned “coercive or manipulative language that aims to induce fear, guilt, shame, etc.” Again, I believe this is about passion and striving for excellence – both of which I have no problem demanding out of myself or others. Why not? Because we owe it to ourselves, our teams and primarily our business who pay us (which is not a right, but a privilege) to do excellent work for them. That should be motivation enough. And as in everything in life, there are potential negative consequences we have to take into account, but IME, those risks are mitigated in the pursuit of excellence.

    • That’s a very confused article conflating “niceness” with “softness” and being “mean” with “demanding”…I would agree with you if the only tactic was shouting, but there is more to it than that story wants to make of it, and as well, leadership is not the same as just being a “boss”…thanks for the share! 🙂

      • I agree that words like “nice”, “soft” and “demanding” can be confusing since they carry lots of connotations.

        But what I thought was interesting was this:
        “Tough” managers often mistakenly think that putting pressure on employees will increase performance. What it does increase is stress—and research has shown that high levels of stress carry a number of costs to employers and employees alike.”

        Keeping people on their toes might sound like a good idea but maybe it isn’t if one keeps a longer perspective in mind? And by “keeping people on their toes” I mean having your employees feel they have to constantly be sharp and alert or otherwise attract the anger of the boss.

        It is probably impossible to avoid increased levels of stress now and then at work. But evidence seem to suggest that the boss will to a greater extent help his co-workers to perform (and feel better) if he or she more often contributes to the lowering of stress levels at work than adding to the pressure.

        • I think the best way to alleviate stress at work is to be transparent about decisions and as well, getting into the trenches with people…when you are trying to do great work, being highly self reflective is very important and you want people to internalize that motivation…I don’t believe in keeping people “on their toes” as that just breed resentment…

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