Richard Bradshaw - Just Say Hello!

Yesterday a group of testers took part in the inaugural Midlands Exploratory Workshop on Testing (MEWT). The basic idea being that it’s an opportunity for testers who are passionate about their craft to get together and share experiences, war-stories and insights into what worked or didn’t work in a particular context. What follows is a brief summary of the day’s events, with commentary and personal insights from yours truly.

The format that we followed for the day was tried and tested. Each of us got 10mins to talk about a topic, and then 20mins of subsequent discussion. If numbers had been greater than time permitted, we would have voted on the topics, but as things turned out this wasn’t necessary. With a total of eight attendees, each of us could talk for our allotted time and all still be finished in time for tea. 🙂

As one of the co-organisers of the event, I’d been involved in the selection of the over-arching theme. My suggestion was Increasing Tester Influence, which was what we ended up settling on. As a result, I felt under a bit of pressure to deliver something worthwhile in this regard, spending some time before the event angsting over my material and worrying that it wouldn’t be up to par, while at the same time being aware that there probably wasn’t a requirement for me to come up with anything too dramatic since the idea of the workshop was to explore, right? In the end, I’d probably prepared about an hours worth of material to discuss and explore and only really ended up using approx 20mins of it. Perhaps I might add the entire piece to a future blog post…

In any event, after introductions from Bill Matthews – I kicked of proceedings with a discussion on measuring tester influence. Using the hypothesis “Testers have a high degree of influence over the projects on which they work” – I had gone some way down the road of trying to identify, within the context of a software engineering project, what areas testers have influence over. It seems fairly self-evident that testers would have a high degree of influence over the area for which they are directly responsible (i.e. testing – though this may not always be the case… ), but what about other areas? E.g: project management and scheduling? Or the architecture and technology choices of the product being delivered? Or the methodology by which it is developed, etc.

After some brainstorming, I suggested that influence might be considered to be a function of some tester characteristics:

Influence = {experience, seniority, confidence, skill etc}

We discussed this further and I finished off by polling the room and taking some measurements in respect of experience, seniority (job title: analyst, lead, manager etc) and how much influence we felt we had in the areas mentioned above.

I’d planned on continuing and talking about some ways in which we might widen or increase our influence in specific areas, but after having explored the issues above as I went along – my 30mins was up! 🙁 Fortunately, the rest of the room had actually stuck to the theme and we had plenty of opportunity to explore ways and means of influencing people further as the day wore on.

Bill Matthews on Increasing Tester Influence

Bill Matthews on Increasing Tester Influence

Next up was Bill Matthews, who shared some of his experiences and tips about influencing those around him on projects. Some of the main insights for me were:

  • Being visible
    • Don’t just be that tester who comes in 9-5 and spends the day huddled over their machine. Walk around, be seen, get to know people.
    • Make sure you get into meetings where tester presence is needed. Too many testing discussions take place without any testers present!
  • Staying in touch
    • Keep in contact with people/projects you’ve worked with in the past. That way, when they need some testing – you’re at the forefront of people’s minds.
  • Problem solving
    • Think outside of the box. Get involved in the project. Don’t be constrained to just writing, running test scripts etc. Be aware of what other issues or challenges the project faces and try to find solutions for them. Be involved in the discussion at least!

After Bill came Richard Bradshaw, AKA @FriendlyTester – who lived up to his moniker with his talk – Just Say Hello! The emphasis of his thinking being that as testers, we are often at the centre of things and we should be able to connect and influence everyone. How do we do this? Well we can start by just saying hello! He emphasised that we should also be careful to tailor our choices of words and the way in which we communicate to our context. Both in terms of the domain in which we work, and in respect of the persons IT and testing knowledge. During subsequent discussion, Bill Matthews expanded upon some of Richards points and posited that as influencers, we should be facilitators and connectors – joining together those with a problem to those with a solution.

Richard Bradshaw - Just Say Hello!

Richard Bradshaw – Just Say Hello!

Chris Legget shared some of his pain at being left out of the testing loop next, talking about how the [internal] customer for one of the products on which he works had decided that testing [by dedicated testers – i.e. Chris] was unnecessary, and that the job could be done as well by simply taking the product developer and sitting and working through any issues with them in isolation. Chris was concerned that this was likely to set a precedent within the organisation and would result in lower quality products being delivered to customers.

After some initial suggestions that it’s probably time to just look for another role with an organisation that does value testing, we identified that probably the way forward was to determine what the problem actually was. Why has the customer made this decision? What benefits do they see from following this path? It was also noted that the product under discussion was internal, and that much more attention was paid to the testing of products delivered to external customers.

After some lunch, and a quick TestBash ROAR! from yours truly, Stephen Blower told us all to Stop Moaning and Prove Your Worth! Stephen asserted that testers are often seen as second class citizens for three basic reasons:

  1. Anyone can do testing
  2. No-one wants to though because testing is boring and repetitive
  3. What does testing mean anyway? (It’s not very well understood.)
Stephen Blower - Stop Moaning and Prove Your Worth!

Stephen Blower – Stop Moaning and Prove Your Worth!

Stephen went on to talk about ways in which we could address these issues by learning to define, and communicate testing better. We also debated whether or not testing was a science in itself, or whether we simply apply scientific (and other e.g. engineering, journalistic) principles to it. Testing ethics and integrity were also the subject of some discussion at this point.

Luke Barfield went next with a brainstorming session on ways in which we might choose to influence people. Some of those identified included:

  • Force/intimidation
  • Position
  • Exchange
  • Respect
  • Timing
  • Tools
  • Seeding
  • Silver tongue
  • Enthusiasm
  • Documentation

Various discussions followed regarding the efficacy and ethics of following the approaches identified.

The ubiquitous Mohinder Khosla followed Luke with a SWOT Analysis approach to examining our levels of influence.  I haven’t used SWOT much before and this actually seemed like it might be quite a useful tool to identify our impact or conversely barriers to our having an influence in a project context. For example, one might isolate something like communication skills as being a weakness that prevents us from having the desired level of influence. Other people’s agendas may also threaten our ability to be a force for change. I plan on investigating this further at a later date. Thanks for the idea Mohinder! 🙂

We concluded the day with a Q&A session from Vernon Richards on how to motivate and enthuse testers to be better at their jobs. Various ideas were discussed including meetup’s, conferences, brown bag lunches, tester games, The Testing Planet, coaching etc. One of the main points here (for me at least) was that if you want 9-5 testers to invest in their career, you have to give them time out of their working day in order to do so. For example, if you want them to read a book, or some blogs on testing – set aside a couple of hours a week as reading time. Don’t expect them to do it on their own time.

Sad, but true. Not all of us are so committed to our craft, that we’ll take time out of our own busy schedules to learn and improve our skill sets. And this, to some extent, sums up the day for me. It was a time set aside for the über-committed to talk, and to learn, to discuss and debate the skills that we apply as professional testers in the projects on which we work, to help deliver the best quality product that we can. Not necessarily by directly applying our skills to the software under test, but by being a force for good in a wider sense. By identifying communication, or process issues and by being aware of and increasing our influence as testers, we can shape and guide the direction of an engineering project, for good or bad. Since as we identified during Luke’s talk, every interaction has an influential outcome. Being aware of, and improving our ability to influence for the good is definitely something that we as testers should be aiming for.

We plan on organising MEWT2 for sometime in September/October. It would be awesome to see even more committed testers getting involved. Please do watch this space for more information in the future!

 

- Simon

P.S If you're interested in learning more about performance testing, checkout my Performance Testing 101 course here.


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