How I Became a Samurai Test Manager

During late 2000, I began taking an interest in the Samurai way of life, reading various books and making a short trip to Japan. This interest culminated in me presenting a paper at EuroSTAR 2002 in Edinburgh, Scotland entitled “Testing 2 Die 4”. Since then I’ve employed these learnings to great effect in my role as a Test Manager and Change Consultant. Here is a précis of my journey….

To start with the basics – the word Samurai means “to serve (with pride and passion)”. It is a common misconception that Samurai were warriors and/or fighting machines. The truth is that they were loyal servants of their lords and masters who only resorted to violent confrontation if all else failed. Among their beliefs was that you do what is appropriate, maintain perspective and focus on ideas (not opinions). For me, this translates into today’s context-driven testing techniques and holistic management styles.

Samurai focused more on “being” than doing. Being “in the moment” is far more efficient than looking to the past or future. Making a decision based upon feel/instinct (of the current situation) is far more effective than pouring over history or defining numerous (possible) outcomes. Feel is usually the result of countless hours of practice and preparation, so that when the time comes to act you act swiftly with precision and certainty.

Timing is of the essence (when it comes to action) and therefore knowing when to act and when to wait is paramount. When to apply pressure and when to back off also falls into this category. General Patton once said “A good idea executed today is worth a dozen perfect ideas executed next week”. In many of our Testing scenarios we wait for optimum circumstances, yet we can achieve our goals far more effectively and efficiently if we are prepared to compromise on some of our expectations. Perfection takes too long, we cannot control all of the variables.

Paying great attention to detail is another primary skill. Effective Test Management requires the ability to see the big picture, but also get down into minute detail; often needing to move between these states almost instantaneously. Defect Triage is a good example of where this becomes very useful as we may be discussing the precise activity of a piece of code while relating this to an overarching organisational function or process.

The study of other professions and practices is also key. I have consciously moved between as many industry and government sectors as possible in order to provide the most flexible and rounded perspective for my clients and customers. Moving from a Test Management role with a Tier 1 bank to an Organisational Change job with a small Transport business and then onto running a major Test Practice gave me plenty of opportunity to study the different types of people and practices found in these businesses.

Staying current with new techniques (and technologies) is also essential. Being able to discern fads from future staples is very key here. If you jump too early (with a new technique) you may end up down a blind alley and if you jump too late, an opportunity has been missed.

You must invest in your team as well as yourself in order to ensure that staleness does not set in. Ordered flexibility is a concept based upon the various states of water. If we are too rigid in our thinking, stubborn and closed to new ideas we will perish. Water adapts by freezing or steaming, returning to a fluid state when the circumstances permit. Water moves around an object, rarely through it; thereby, wasting no time on unnecessary actions. Water evaporates and takes the higher ground in order to return as rain and therefore sustain a larger terrain. We must learn to be flexible in our approach and skilful in our execution. We must know when to re-group and find another path to a better outcome.

Fear of failure is another area of focus. We must visualise success and the steps to get there. There is no advantage to an outcome if you dwell on (possible) failure. Acting in fear just constrains your actions and reduces your chances of success. A Tiger is always a Tiger, no more, no less. You stand a far better chance with your eyes wide open and your spirit calm. However, this must not be construed as an attitude of “certainty” (in an outcome), as this will also undo you and lead you to overlook minor details and almost certainly lead to the failure you were fearing.

Finally, in our brief introduction to Samurai Test Management, we must consider focus. Focus is essential if all the other elements are to be effective. Our focus should always be on weaknesses and where we find the most weakness we must attack with the most ferocity. If I am interviewing someone and I feel the potential team mate has a weakness (and we all do) I take several routes around the weakness and decide whether or not to disclose it. I need to know far more about the weaknesses of potential team members than their strengths as it is their weakness that will undermine our success, while their strengths are usually a bonus. I recruit based upon attitude (fundamentally pride and passion) and flexibility. A passionate committed Tester who is flexible is worth ten technically-sound but inflexible/opinionated practitioners.

As I said at the beginning, I read extensively and studied hard to understand and apply these techniques to our profession and two of the books I still have in my Test Managers Toolkit are “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi and the “Book of Five Rings for Executives” by Donald G Klaus. I recommend them both unreservedly.

If you want to see my original (Testing 2 Die 4) presentation from EuroSTAR 2002, you can retrieve it from the EuroSTAR archive, along with the other presentations I’ve given at that Conference. It’s only a black and white PDF, so if you would like a copy of the original in full blown technicolor with Samurai background graphics, just reply to this blog post for a copy.

As a final offering, I wrote several Haiku (traditional Japanese verse) when I originally presented this paper and here is one of them – remember this was written over 10 years ago and the technology has (thankfully) moved on.

Windows NT crashes
I see the Blue Screen of death
No one hears my screams

Dateline: Bagshot, Surrey; Friday February 1

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