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:
Bravery (in making decisions)
Daring (to be different)
Family & Friends
Healthy Lifestyle
Justice (for all)
Knowledge (the quest for learning)
Love (for one another)
New Ideas (open to)
Understanding (of others)
Xcellence (yes, I know that’s a slight cheat)
Youthful (in attitude, not necessarily years)

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

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 prĂ©cis 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