Ten Answers from a non-manager

Last week Jurgen Apello put up a list of ten questions to ask your possibly new manager during a job interview. Since I found his list of compelling, I was immediately tempted to answer the ten questions. Though I’m not considering myself a manager, here is my take at it.

  1. What do know about management? What models do you use?

Personally, I know something about management. Portions of it from the books I read, portions from self-experience. When I have difficulty at my job, I seek feedback from respected peers via Skype or Twitter or (private) mailing lists. The management lessons I got from my peers helped me realize the problems and see them in a different light.

Regarding the models which I use, for social human aspects I use the DISC-model, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) model together with the derived Kiersey-Bates temperament model. In school I learned about Kohlberg’s moral development model as well as Freud and Piaget. Further models related to management include general systems thinking, including Brook’s Law, Weinberg’s and Cockburn’s generalizations of the same, and the Satir Interaction and the Satir Change models as taught by Weinberg in his Quality Software Management series. Beyond that I’m familiar with Weinberg’s Motivation-Organization-Innovation (MOI) model on leadership and the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) model, though I just use them rarely. On personal development I refer to the ShuHaRi model, the Dreyfuss model, and Hersey’s and Blanchard’s situational theory model.

  1. What books and blogs do you read? Which managers are your source of inspiration?

There are many blogs I read. Among the most relevant to me on management is Johanna Rothman, Alistair Cockburn, Mike Cohn, and Esther Derby. The managers I seek for inspiration include Alistair Cockburn, Jerry Weinberg, and Tom DeMarco – including their books on management topics, like Becoming a Technical Leader, Quality Software Management, Peopleware, The Deadline, and Agile Software Development – The Cooperative Game.

  1. Are your teams self-organizing? How? And how do you add value?

The team I once created was self-organizing to the degree, that we sat together to decide what we’re going to do. Then we planned ahead two to three weeks worth of effort, got started, and reflected back over our course. Personally I facilitated the reflection workshops we held and organized feedback meetings from our stakeholder. There is more elaborate description of this in the paper I wrote for the Agile Testing Days 2009 in Berlin filled with many more details.

  1. Can you give examples of your teams being happy about what you’ve done for them?

In the example mentioned earlier, we were able to get from a maintenance nightmare occupying ten testers with automation to a test automation approach in which we could survive with just one and a half tester for a little more than a week. Beyond this, there are a no examples, since I’m not a manager. In the last year I lead a recent project to co-location during a critical phase by talking to the team lead, but there were different problems in the project at hand. Personally, I would be glad to give more examples here, but since I’m not in a direct manager role, I don’t have many examples on this. (At least I try to be honest.)

  1. How have you motivated your team members?

I motivate my team members by talking to them, observing what they are doing, asking in regular intervals, and seeking pro-actively feedback from their project duties. After problematic projects I sit down together with them and work through a mini-retrospective to generate insights for myself as well as them. Continuously I try to challenge their systems thinking to spot possibilities beyond the current topic-of-the-day.

  1. What kind of direction, rules and constraints do you impose on teams?

I have problems answering this question. Usually I don’t try to give rules or constraints to my teams. The direction I set up is to involve themselves, pro-actively search for feedback and possibilities to bring in their unique skills to the work at hand. I try to encourage my team to bring in test automation were necessary and useful and to rely on manual testing where the trade-off indicates it. I help my colleagues to see these opportunities and explain my reasoning behind it.

  1. What kinds of impediments have you removed lately?

None of which I would be consciously aware. I suspect there are some impediments that I removed by lateral leadership. I don’t think actively about impediments there, though I try to bring in my expertise where I see it fits in well enough. Thereby we improved our test automation in the last year while implementing everything anew in the difficult project we were involved starting from summer. There was some test automation, but is was not checking everything relevant thereby forcing us back on manual testing. I sat down together with a colleague and we agreed on how to approach a new test automation effort there, thereby freeing more and more time from him to cope with the two developers who worked towards him.

  1. How do you develop competence and craftsmanship in the teams?

We sit down regularly and deliberately improve our skills in a community. We had lunch & learns during last summer, currently we’re playing with an idea which I called “Testing Dojos”. We have lots of whiteboard discussions alongside with test-driven development of our test code. Beyond that I try to challenge assumptions from my colleagues which I overhear and have them think critically about their mental model.

  1. Am I free to use social tools and networks, like Twitter and Facebook?

As long as it does not negatively impact your professional work, it’s fine with me. Be aware, that we use pair programming where indicated, thereby of course reducing some of the time you may spent on these platforms.

  1. Can I have business cards without a job title printed on it?

Sure. We got a corporate template for this.

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2 thoughts on “Ten Answers from a non-manager”

    1. Linda,
      of course, they would, but it shows courage to answer these questions congruently. Showing the openness to answer the questions would show me personally that it’s worth to work in that environment. Though, I wouldn’t ask these questions myself at a job interview.

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