EuroSTAR: Moving Beyond The Status Quo – Differentiating Ourselves and Demonstrating Value

Bob Galen presented in the final keynote at the EuroSTAR conference about how to move beyond the status quo.

Bob Galen had a sad story to tell about passion. He joined a rather large company as an SQA director. Everyone was speaking about cleaning up the QA, the test team. They didn’t know the value of their test team. They looked incompetent, and thoughts raised around off-shoring them. Galen explained that he took the job, and was interviewing the team. He explained that he found valuable and skillful testers there, despite the complaints from earlier. He assessed the results and what he saw about the company. Galen had the chance to fire the whole team, but he didn’t do this. All he had to do was to expose the diamonds in the team he found.

The “One Thing” Galen found was, that they were not communicating what testers were doing very well. They shared their metrics on the walls. They had burn-up charts, burn-down charts, they provided information to the stakeholders. The problem rather was that the managers were not paying attention to the information that was there.

Galen challenged the audience to state how to communicate to project stakeholders about a troubled project. What do you report when everything is running smoothly? Galen asked why don’t we report our status in terms of our customer’s issues. Let’s give our VP data about the progress our project is making.

Galen reminded that we are constantly communicating. As Test, QA and Process engineers, we’re representing the product, its correctness, completeness, and overall quality. We are engineering our test team and ourselves. We are the living embodiment “how is it going?” and “are we there yet?”

Galen worked the audience through an information exchange between two unknown persons each. WE shared our background information and overall experience, our biggest challenge we face at work, and ideas how to solve them.

Galen explained that we should practice a 30 second commercial as an elevator pitch. You take the time to develop your own commercials, with a few variations. He took the concept into the testing work, and explained 30 second testing “commercials”. We should have several of these in our toolbox. Exercise this as status report of your current work. What is new? Do you need help? If you had one message to send our your status, one twitter message, what would you send out? Which parts of the program need to improve?

Galen presented the keys to effective communication. If you can only say two to three things, which would they be? Focus on the headlines like in a newspaper. All forms matter, written, verbal, non-verbal, defects. Target your communications. Remember the functional role you are talking to? What does he want to hear, what does he need to hear? What do they do with the information you are giving them? Consider the reactions of your communication partner. The outcome of the communication is always your responsibility as well. Use dynamic and active listening to receive the reactions clearly.

Galen mentioned personality types. He referred to the Myers-Briggs model with a sidenote. He explained there are data gatherers as well as gut feelers. There are types which prefer to show them the money. There are quick decision-makers, and quiet and thoughtful assessors. There are several instruments that try to categorize your personality profile, like Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and the DISC system.

He referred to chapter 4 – Bug Advacocy in Lessons Learned in Software Testing. Your bug is your representative. Don’t try to let your bug report go on, and on, and on. You loose your own credibility. As a test lead Galen explained he reads bug reports to know what is going on. How are testers following things up. Be clear about the problem. Have passion when reporting your problem.

Galen continued on the perceptions of testing and testers. What is the value of Testing & Testers? We need to construct, articulate, and market our value proposition. Insure that our customers and colleagues understand what we bring to the table. How do we do this? Conversations, training and leading by example are the answers to this. Use short commercials to report on your value.

Galen explained that tester bring to the table an understanding of the product and the risks. We also bring an understanding of the discipline of Testing and QA, like test coverage, thoroughness and completeness. The first thing a test manager has to do when seeing a problem in the field, ask the testers what the product does. Testers understand the customers as well as the requirements.

Galen referred to an article in the future testing column of the ST&P November 2005 issue. How do we move beyond commodity testing? With deep product knowledge, broad-view commentary, cycle time reduction, and outsource thinking. We wouldn’t amplify all of them at the same time, but we should hang our head at one of these.

One thing Galen likes about the Agile methods, is that big part of collaboration and getting the whole team including programmers and testers in the same team. Agile is creating a partnership focused on what businesses matter about.

Our attitude is effected in many ways, Galen explained. He liked Lynn McKee’s presentation from Wednesday on this. Attitude and presentation include our level of engagement and enthusiasm, our level of open mindedness, our capabilities in verbal, and non-verbal communication. He called for help of colleagues which overreact, or are disinterested.

Galen explained to always be positive, and use data in your exchanges. Present scenarios. Present your assessments from the perspective of the team. Watch your body language. In a word, it’s communication why they don’t understand me.

He closed with asking what you would say to your boss when coming back from this conference about what you learned, and how much detail you would go into. How different would your response be when your colleagues asked you the same questions later that day? What are your headlines, the must’s, and the don’t’s?

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