Employees are People Too

What is this obsession that (far too many) businesses have with pushing their employees to the point of mental and physical exhaustion?

What sort of society have we created where people are encouraged to work 18 hours straight, without a break, just so the company we work for can turn a profit?

What sort of culture promotes profit over people?

I can tell you categorically, from very personal experience, that a business that puts profits before it’s people and encourages self-sacrifice is a business that will not last very long. Creating a business that truly supports it’s people, by mandating a balanced lifestyle of work, leisure and family, is a business that will thrive and remain successful. The true value of any business is it’s people, not it’s image or product. You can have a fantastic product, but if you treat your people like cannon fodder then you will have a short-lived business.

I’ve seen far too many people reduced to shrivelling wrecks because they have been put under unnecessary levels of pressure to produce an outcome (at all costs). How does the culture within a business get to a point where “toughness” is encouraged and “sensitivity” and “humility” are frowned upon? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard and/or seen the words “sensitive” and “emotional” used as negatives when describing someone’s personality. Since when did showing empathy become a negative?

As a Business and Technology Consultant for most of my life, I’ve been inside hundreds of organisations (from mega-businesses like IBM and CapGemini to small high street shops) and I can assure you that if you mistreat your people you will struggle to maintain a viable business. A simple gesture like an arm around a shoulder is very welcome in a good business, but is seen as harassment in a poor one. A word of encouragement is seen as supportive in a good business, but unnecessary in a poor one.

We need to encourage everyone to speak up (not put up) when they need support. We need to highlight and shame those businesses that encourage ugly and demeaning behaviour. We need to ensure that empathic businesses are recognised for what they are.

Humanity is supposed to set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, I see far too little humanity and far to much animal cunning in today’s business world. I, for one, am going to start highlighting and shaming businesses that lack humanity and discourage a balanced lifestyle. I may not change the world today, but maybe I can start a movement towards true caring and understanding throughout the business world.

If you work for a company that treats you inhumanely, LEAVE. If you are subjected to unnecessary pressure, seek support and guidance, THEN LEAVE. If you are harassed or bullied, write to the CEO, THEN LEAVE. Don’t rationalise. Don’t toughen up. Don’t support their ideology. There are millions of good businesses out there, you don’t have to work for a bad one.

“You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one” (Lennon).

Dateline: Melbourne, Thursday January 8, 2015

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25 Steps to Sustainable Freelancing

I didn’t sit down and plan my transition from permanent to freelance IT software developer, over 30 years ago, but I have successfully negotiated the freelance employment landscape in the UK, US, Europe and Australia since. Along the way I’ve developed some very useful techniques for anyone contemplating or currently enjoying a freelance career.

At first glance there appear to be significant financial advantages in moving from a permanent role to freelancing, but it’s not as simple as that. Freedom of choice (where, when and how to work) is not always possible and there are also challenges with staying current with technologies, techniques and the market. So how do you go about having a successful freelance career?

1) Make sure you have (and continue to have) marketable skills. This one may seem really obvious but there is no point in expecting to be continuously employed if you have skills that only a handful of organisations worldwide will want to utilise.
2) Invest in your skill set. I allocated a MINIMUM of 4 weeks EVERY year to my own professional training and development. This didn’t always take the form of expensive commercial training courses and with the technology available today it is even easier to achieve.
3) Develop an “Annual Goals” Plan (even better if you can make a 3 year plan). Only you know what goals you need to achieve, but you need to write them down and commit to them. I still set financial, academic, physical, social and philosophical goals every year – I don’t always achieve them all, but then some are more aspirational than practical.
4) Create an annual budget. I developed a spreadsheet (available upon request) that broke down each 12 month period into time allocated to working, training/development, holidaying/resting etc. to ensure that I achieved my annual goals.
5) Plan to work 200 days each year. For me, 200 is the magic number – it’s an easy multiplier and equates to 40 standard (5-day) weeks. This means my budget is built around 200 days of income and 365 days of expenditure! I allocate a percentage of each days’ income to a series of non-working day buckets (holidays, training/development, sickness and investment in the future). If I work more than 200 days I treat this as a financial bonus (by allocating the extra funds to wherever I need them most). I usually set aside around 40% of my daily rate for non day to day living expenses.
6) Be flexible when negotiating a contract. I never hold out for the ideal daily rate. If you create an annual budget you’ll know what your annual spend is so as long as you can service your basic requirements don’t play hardball for another $10 or $20 dollars a day. Remember, each day you’re not working is another you have to compensate by dipping into your non-working day bucket.
7) Plan your next contract as soon as practically possible. If there is a possibility to renew your current contract (assuming you want to) make sure it’s sorted at least 4 weeks before it’s due to expire. If there is no renewal in the pipeline I start checking the market about 8 weeks out from my contracted end date. This gives me the chance to have choices regarding my next contract.
8) Be prepared to travel. I regularly travel inter-state or sometimes overseas for work. If you aren’t prepared to be flexible regarding location then plan to be out of work more often. You don’t have to travel long distances but a 2-hour commute (each way) is sometimes necessary.
9) Be prepared to take on roles that aren’t necessarily your core business. I have traversed into many alternate roles. While initially being employed as a Test Manager I have morphed into Business Continuity Planning, Project & Program Management, Environment Management, Change & Release Management and many others. I have always enjoyed these excursions as they provide perspective and breadth to my main skill-set as a Test Manager / Consultant.
10) Don’t over-promise. There is a big difference between taking on a stretch role and being out of your depth. I have never taken on a role I wasn’t qualified to perform.
11) Don’t get involved in internal/company politics. It’s essential to know who the real decision makers are and those with real power, but don’t ever assume that you have a role to play in policy or strategic direction (unless that’s what you were hired to do!).
12) Build and maintain a professional network. The power of my professional network is more important today than at any time in my career. Every job that I have undertaken since 2001 has come from my professional network and not from me contacting recruitment companies.
13) Be comfortable with interviews. I have probably been interviewed more than 100 times in my career and I’ve have a success rate of around 90%. Not bad when that spans almost 40 years and includes interviews I attended “just for practice”.
14) Be resilient in the job market. Not every job opportunity will lead to a job so be prepared for rejection. I’m philosophical when it comes to job offers – if I am unsuccessful at interview I see that as a decision based upon cultural fit or technical misalignment. Given that I’ve also hired hundreds of people over my career, I know it’s not personal.
15) Don’t be desperate for work. Feeling and/or acting desperate comes across to those interviewing you. Be confident, open and honest about your capabilities. I’ve got jobs in the past even though I wasn’t necessarily the best qualified, but I did fit the culture or improve the team balance.
16) Arrive early or stay late (whichever suits your body clock). I have always been an early starter and therefore I like to be the first one in the office each day. I’m rarely the last to leave, but I always put in more time and effort than is necessary – it’s easy when you are passionate about the work you do!!
17) Learn to really listen and observe. Listening is an under-estimated skill. I have found that by listening to and observing what is really happening around me I can anticipate what is required. Be prepared to go above and beyond in terms of contributing to the goals of the project. I am far more of an observer and doer than a talker or shower.
18) Be yourself. Don’t ever try to be something you’re not, whether it be professionally or personally. You are good enough as you are and you don’t need to impress others.
19) Stay true to your ethics, morals and belief system. I never compromise my ethics, morals or beliefs either professionally or privately. I have refused to work for specific organisations or businesses because I disapprove of their ethics or business models.
20) Don’t worry, be happy. If you are unhappy, make changes or leave. Sometimes you can change a situation but be realistic when you can’t. There is no need to be a martyr, if a situation makes you unhappy, don’t tolerate it, just walk away. I have walked away from many situations that made me unhappy – it’s just not worth the aggro…
21) Only work with/for people you like. It took me many years, but I finally decided that I would only work for people I like. It’s usually pretty obvious during an interview whether you get on with those who are interviewing you. If you don’t gel with each other from the outset it’s unlikely that magic will happen!! I want to be happy at work and the people around me are the biggest obstacle to me achieving that.
22) Don’t be obsessed or a “slave” to the money. If your only reason for working freelance is the money, you’ll never be happy. Money is important, but it’s not everything. I would always take less money if it meant being happier in my surroundings.
23) Focus on your strengths but be very aware of your weaknesses. It is essential to work to your strengths, but always try and eliminate your weaknesses. Self-awareness is critical to being successful in the marketplace.
24) Take regular and relaxing holidays. It is essential to recharge your batteries regularly and not become jaded or stressed. I have always taken at least two holidays each year with at least one of them being overseas in order that I completely get away from my work.
25) Find a Mentor and/or Coach. I have been very fortunate over the years to have excellent Mentors and Coaches who have guided me throughout my career and have been there when I really needed them. I have also become a mentor and coach for others, it’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

Dateline: Monday August 4, 2014

20 Reasons Why I Became (& Still am) a Software Tester

1) (It was 1986 and) the company I was working for needed an independent view for assessing whether solutions were fit for purpose (this was the first time that I became aware that software testing existed as a separate discipline within IT)
2) I like to help people
3) People like to “bend” software to do things it was never designed to do; I’m far more realistic about the capabilities of software
4) I like to solve problems and puzzles
5) (After almost 20 years) Coding/Programming had become boring
6) Software is innately complex and someone (other than the Developer) needs to understand how and why it does stuff
7) I’m good at discerning/discovering patterns
8) I don’t like it when people say “Don’t worry, it’ll work when we Demo it to the Customer”
9) Humans over-estimate their capabilities and are far too optimistic when it comes to solving complex problems
10) I started to see Developers writing code straight onto a computer screen and this scared the shit out of me (as an ex-Developer)
11) Too many folks in IT think that they could solve any Business problem with a technology solution
12) I can translate “geek speak” into “non-geek speak”
13) I wanted to have a bigger say in how (and when) projects were implemented
14) I love it when someone says “That’s much better”
15) I was fed up with hunching over a computer all day and not dealing with the recipients/users of the solution; I wanted to talk to REAL PEOPLE
16) (In the late 80’s and early 90’s) IT solutions were becoming integrated on a far greater scale (this was when the www was still using single line text commands)
17) As a Developer, I was spending more and more time fixing other people’s code, I wanted us to get it right the first time
18) As system complexity increased and interfaces proliferated (both inside and outside organisations) more and more bugs appeared in software – some of us enjoyed going on bug hunts
19) I saw software testing as a progression from writing software
20) I’ve met and been inspired by some of the greatest (software testing) brains in the world; a very personal “thank you” to Dot Graham, Mark Fewster, Bill Hetzel, Martin Pol, James Whittaker, James Bach, Paul Gerrard, James Lyndsay, Ross Collard, Lee Copeland, Julie Gardiner, Mieke Gevers, Donna O’Neill and Shane Parkinson

How to Manage a Happier Test Team – 25 Tips from an experienced Test Manager

Last week I provided a list of 25 mantras to help us all deal with some of the day to day frustrations we experience in our software testing worlds. It seems that this struck a chord with many more of you than I anticipated, so this week I’m going to focus on doing something about some of these frustrations. This week I’m providing 25 tips for Test Managers who want a more harmonious testing environment. As with my list last week, this was built from my own personal experiences and you may want to add to it either privately or via my Comments Section at the bottom of this Blog.

This is my list of 25 tips to help a Test Manager manage a happier Test team.

Learn the art of listening, your Testers are usually closer to the heartbeat of the project

Build smaller teams (or groups within teams), big teams lose focus more easily

Spend more time thinking, it makes the doing more effective

Anticipate issues – feel the mood of your team

Approve as many training and development requests as possible, encourage learning and diversification

Don’t reduce the severity of a bug just because you can, negotiation is always best

Speak face to face with your team every day – I call it “Management by Walking around”

Ask your Testers what is their greatest challenge each day – and then do something about it!!

Ensure everyone in the team is working for the team – heroes are dangerous

Trust (and empower) your team members – you hired them to do a job, so let them do it

Categorise meetings so that everyone knows why they are being held – there are always too many meetings

Always approve Annual Leave requests – people need holidays and project schedules always slip

Always keep ownership of the schedule, don’t allow others to dictate it

Have an open door policy – make sure you are always available to talk to any member of your team

Celebrate team achievements and don’t single out individuals – the annual review process will recognise individuals

Take responsibility for failure and share recognition of success

Build a positive culture, but don’t be in denial – shit happens…

Delegate responsibility – everyone needs to learn how to deal with it

Get each team member to score each day out of 10, it’ll help them with perspective and context (share your own score with them too)

Develop a buddy system – sharing a problem is always helpful

Make sure you can do every task your team is expected to do – empathy is always under-estimated

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you don’t have to know how to do everything

Accept that not everyone wants to speak in front of the team, embrace introverts

Do something together as a team at least once a week (even if it’s only a coffee or tea break)

Laugh as much as possible – don’t worry, be happy 🙂

Finally, a message to all you Testers who have read my tips. Please don’t be too harsh on your Test Manager, if they don’t do all of these things (or any of them), believe that they are doing their best and remember that they are only human. We should all look to improve ourselves each and every day.

Why I Recruit Based Upon a Belief System

Recruitment is very time consuming and also very difficult in my experience. It’s a bit like buying a house, if the right house isn’t on the market when you’re looking, do you just “settle” for the next best thing or do you drop out of the market and come back later? Unfortunately, when we’re recruiting it’s usually because we need some NOW!

I’ve recruited hundreds of Testers and Test Managers over the past 25 years and have developed several tools to assist me along the way. Behind these tools is my inherent belief that we can teach someone technical and business skills, but we can’t teach them how to be. How to be is usually what matters most when being with other humans. During my later years (since I turned 45) I have applied a rule to my own job searching and that simple rule is that I have to “like” the people I am working with. So, the obvious question is “How do you work out if you like these people”? For me it’s quite simple – I listen to and watch how the people interviewing me respond to various questions and answers that I provide. It usually takes me less than 5 minutes to decide this, so the rest of the interview is about enjoying the chat or working out how to close it down.

When I’m the one doing the recruiting I use my “A to Z of Beliefs” to determine whether I want someone on my team. This list is not cast in stone and I usually share it with my management team so that we can massage it for the specific company or project. The way it works is that we look for specific qualities in the people we are interviewing and if they possess more that 80% of the qualities we believe are important then we offer them a job. Obviously some qualities are more important than others and therefore we usually prioritise the “Top 3” and make sure these three are always present.

You may question some of the beliefs listed below, but as I said these are my beliefs in relation to what is important in creating an effective software testing team. So, here is my current “A to Z of Beliefs” that I recruit to:
Ambition
Bravery (in making decisions)
Creativity
Daring (to be different)
Equality
Family & Friends
Grace
Healthy Lifestyle
Instinct
Justice (for all)
Knowledge (the quest for learning)
Love (for one another)
Maturity
New Ideas (open to)
Optimism
Passion
Quality
Respect
Sustainability
Tolerance
Understanding (of others)
Vitality
Wisdom
Xcellence (yes, I know that’s a slight cheat)
Youthful (in attitude, not necessarily years)
Zealous

This approach has worked really well for me in both assessing prospective employees and employers. I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts on this approach and list.

Dateline: March 12, 2013; Melbourne

Why don’t Testers want to be Test Managers anymore?

I love testing software; so, why did I change roles and follow a career path that led me to be a Test Manager and later a Test Strategist if I loved the cut and thrust of breaking software? Because I wanted a greater challenge and the opportunity to make a bigger difference (ok, it was mainly ego). However, what I have seen increasingly over the past 5 years is a tendency for others to shy away from following the same path that I have trod and stay closer to the doing jobs (rather than the managing and leading roles). It is therefore quite natural for me to ask why this is so and why do we have a shortage of sufficiently skilled Test Managers.

Having spoken to many people around Australia on this subject, I hear one response over and above the rest – “I don’t want the hassle and/or pressure to compromise my role as a QA or QC professional”. When pressed on this, the majority feel that Test Managers are over-worked and under-appreciated. They sometimes add that while they enjoy the software testing arena the last thing they want is to be in the headlights of some oncoming Project Manager looking for a reason why he can’t go live with his project.

Many companies hire a Test Manager and then don’t allow them to implement strategies and processes that enable them to perform the duties for which they were hired. Many Testers sit in meetings and see their Test Manager coerced and cajoled into signing-off a software release that is outside the (previously) agreed acceptance criteria. The stampede to market is getting in the way of good old-fashioned QA & QC and this is leading to more and more software testers becoming disillusioned and wary of seeking higher office.

I never allowed myself to be coerced or brow-beaten into submission when it came to recommending what should happen next, be it:

  • Another phase of testing
  • A repeat of the same phase of test phase again
  • A recommendation that the business provide sign-off with respect to the quality and risk attributed to the product or project

I would rather walk away from an unrealistic Project Manager or Business Sponsor than have daily battles with them over the readiness of a solution. I never wait to discuss readiness until towards the end of the testing phase, I talk to the PM and/or Business Sponsor as soon as I am engaged, so that I can develop a Test Strategy that will meet their requirements.

Good Testers don’t always make good Test Managers but we should be concerned that more and more Testers are not even prepared to try. So, how do we deal with this issue? I believe that education would be a good start. Not just for the Testers but also for the PM’s and the Business Sponsors. In the mid 90’s I worked for a fantastic company called Planpower and we were predominantly a Project Management company. What we discovered very early on in our existence was that most of our clients were really bad at being stakeholders and sponsors for the projects they’d hired us to deliver. So what we did was to develop a series of half-day training courses to educate them in how to be effective in their roles. This reduced the possibility of our projects failing and increased our clients understanding of how to run successful projects. Guess what? In the 5 years I spent at Planpower we had a zero failure rate – and during that period we took on what was the highest risk project in the country at the time (a three-way bank merger) and successfully delivered it. No bad for a company that had 5 staff when I joined it!!!

We also need to educate the Testers, so that they don’t feel exposed when they are in lead roles. We need to assure them that they won’t be alone in the firing line and that they will receive support at all times. We need to ensure that we don’t rush their development. I recently had a bright young Test Analyst leave my team because he thought we were developing him too slowly – he wanted the glory of running his own Test Team. I strongly advised against this, but he went anyway. He’s really smart and he may turn out to be a great Test Manager, but he will struggle and he will fail occasionally – I just hope he has a great deal of support when he does.

I have attended and spoken at many conferences and seminars around the world and the value of these should not be under-rated when it comes to gaining access to very experienced software testing professionals. In fact, one of our premier software testing conferences kicks off in Amsterdam on Monday (November 5) – EuroSTAR 2012 and I will be sad not to be there. I have spoken at Eurostar on four occasions (most recently last year in Manchester, England) and attended as a delegate another three times and every time I learn an amazing amount about how to manage and strategise testing outcomes. Best of all, I meet loads of great testers who share their experiences and passion.

Test Management is an amazingly rewarding job and I encourage as many of you as possible who want to try it to grab the opportunity with both hands.