Testing and Management Mistakes: The Inner Team

I found this old draft blog entry while going through some older blog entries. Since this has been laying around for many years now, I figured, it should be time to publish it now. Enjoy.

A couple of years ago Michael Bolton started a blog series on testing and management mistakes, to which I contributed four follow-up blog entries with an introduction, replacing blaming with placating, congruent responses, and causes. All of this was based on a single psychological model, or better, my understanding of it after having read through most of Jerry Weinberg’s work.

Recently I started to dive into some topics in psychology. While working through work from Schulz von Thun, I remembered this series when I crossed the idea of the inner team. I decided to revisit the original conversation and discuss it in the light of the inner team.

Schulz von Thun describes the inner team as a collective of personalities that each of us develops and carries with us. In any conversation, we face the struggle of forces for or against an argument. We also have a team leader, which could be stronger developed with some of us, or weaker, thereby yielding to different responses – sometimes even incongruent ones depending on the inner team member that cries the loudest at any given time.

Let’s revisit the conversation of the project manager asking a tester to work over the weekend, and take a closer look at the inner team within this tester.

A note of caution: I derived the following inner team conversation completely on my own. Since this conversation will vary from person to person, even from one communication partner to another, it is likely that you will find different team members in your inner team.

I will also put the original conversation in blockquotes to distinguish between the external communication and the one from the inner team. There are several team members raising their voices during the whole internal conversation. I will introduce them just in time when they enter the (inner) scene.

Magnus the Project Manager: “Hey, Tim. Listen… I’m sorry to give you only two days notice, but we’ll be needing you to come in on Saturday again this week.”

As a first reaction to Magnus entering the room, Tim puts up an ensemble of inner team participants: the subordinate employee, the husband, and the critical thinker.

The husband: “I haven’t seen my family for eight weekends straight. How can he dare to even consider approaching me again?”
The subordinate: “Oh, be careful. It’s your boss. You can’t talk against him. He will fill out your job evaluation when this project gets finished.”
The critical: “C’mon! This will never happen! This project has been delayed the past two years, and anyways, Magnus is wasting more time drawing these Gantt charts than actually managing the project!”
The husband: “Exactly. And our two children already forgot my name!”
The hero: “Sure, but without us, Magnus may be doomed. I am the only one that can save this project! And I will!”

The inner team is unsure how to deal with this struggle. There is a lot of conflict potential. Tim feels he has to respond. His inner leader did not yet solve the situation. So, he takes the approach to spend minimal effort on external contact with Magnus while trying to settle the conflict of his inner team.

Tim the Tester: “Really? Again?”

Magnus: “Yes. The programmers upstairs sent me an email just now. They said that at the end of the day tomorrow, they’re going to give us another build to replace the one they gave us on Tuesday. They say they’ve fixed another six showstoppers, eight priority one bugs, and five severity twos since then, and they say that there’ll be another seven fixes by tomorrow. That’s pretty encouraging—27 fixes in three days. That’s nine per day, you know. They haven’t had that kind of fix rate for weeks now. All three of them must have been working pretty hard.”

The hero screams: “Yes, this is our chance to get lots of fixes out the door and rescue our face from so many disappointed customers.”
The husband: “Yeah, or we could be the hero for our family and actually be an example for the kids.”
The subordinate: “But it’s your boss. He will be so proud of you, probably giving you a raise in your next evaluation.”
The critical: “Oh really? Do you think those stupid developers this time really fixed the bugs and did not introduce any new ones? We’ll be continuing to come in on weekends for the next months at this pace.”

The leader steps onto the stage, takes the last comment from the critical and responds:

Tim: “They must have. Have they done any testing on those fixes themselves?”

Magnus: “Of course not. Well, at least, I don’t know. The build process is really unstable. It’s crashing all the time. Between that and all the bugs they’ve had to fix, I don’t imagine they have time for testing. Besides, that’s what we pay you for. You’re quality assurance, aren’t you? It’s your responsibility to make sure that they deliver a quality product.”

The critical jumps right in: “Oh, really? You don’t think there will be any problems happening there? Despite the builds failing. This weekend will be a total waste of time. I think we should go with the husband’s suggestion and pass on this.”
The quality advocate appears on the stage: “But we really should help the team to see the quality they build.”
The husband jumps in: “I think this can wait until next week. We will be able to show the quality of the product by then still.”
The critical: “Well, and we really can’t test quality into a shitty product after the fact.”

The leader picks up again on this critical comment and responds to Magnus:

Tim: “Well, I can test the product, but I don’t know how to assure the quality of their code.”

Magnus: “Of course you do. You’re the expert on this stuff, aren’t you?”

The quality advocate shines on his mentioning: “Of course I know.”
The quality advocate pushes the husband slightly off-stage.
The critical is still screaming out loud: “Forget it, it’s too late. We should have started days ago on this.”

Tim: “Maybe we could arrange to have some of the testing group go upstairs to work more closely with the programmers. You know, set up test environments, generate data, set up some automated scripts—smoke tests to check that the installation…”

Magnus: “We can’t do that. You have high-level testing to do, and they have to get their fixes done. I don’t want you to bother them; it’s better to leave them alone. You can test the new build down here on Saturday.”

The husband fights his way back on center-stage: “Really, your wife and your kids miss you for all the weekends you have been absent from the family business.”
The remaining characters stay silent.

Tim: (pauses) “I’m not sure I’m available on Sa…”

Magnus: “Why not? Listen, with only two weeks to go, the entire project depends on you getting the testing finished. You know as well as I do that every code drop we’ve got from them so far has had lots of problems. I mean, you’re the one who found them, aren’t you? So we’re going to need a full regression suite done on every build from now until the 13th. That’s only two weeks. There’s no time to waste. And we don’t want a high defect escape ratio like we had on the last project, so I want you to make sure that you run all the test cases and make sure that each one is passing before we ship.”

The hero gets spot-lighted: “You see? We really can shine here.”
The quality advocate: “Really? The builds are failing. Shouldn’t that be enough quality information to deal with now before we put out the heavier quality tools?”
The critical turned red and explodes: “What kind of heavier do you mean? The test suite is total crap and not covering anything if at all.”

Tim: “Actually, that’s something I’ve been meaning to bring up. I’ve been a little concerned that the test cases aren’t covering some important things that might represent risk to the project.”

Magnus: “That might be true, but like I said, we don’t have time. We’re already way over the time we estimated for the test phase. If we stop now to write a bunch of new test scripts, we’ll be even more behind schedule. We’re just going to have to go with the ones we’ve got.”

A new figure appears on stage, looking professional with glasses and a binder of notes, the quality professional: “Well, test automation and scripted tests are one thing. If we think we’re overseeing something, maybe we should explore the product more.”

Tim: “I was thinking that maybe we should set aside a few sessions where we didn’t follow the scripts to the letter, so we can look for unexpected problems.”

Magnus: “Are you kidding? Without scripts, how are we going to maintain requirements traceability? Plus, we decided at the beginning of the project that the test cases we’ve got would be our acceptance test suite, and if we add new ones now, the programmers will just get upset. I’ve told them to do that Agile stuff, and that means they should be self-organizing. It would be unfair to them if we sprang new test cases on them, and if we find new problems, they won’t have time to fix them. (pause) You’re on about that exploratory stuff again, aren’t you? Well, that’s a luxury that we can’t afford right now.”

The quality professional throws his binder into a corner and leaves the stage fuming.
The husband can’t stay quiet: “Your family needs you more than this shipwreck.”

Tim: (pauses) “I’m not sure I’m available on Sa…”

Magnus: “You keep saying that. You’ve said that every week for the last eight weeks, and yet you’ve still managed to come in. It’s not like this should be a surprise. The CFO said we had to ship by the end of the quarter, Sales wanted all these features for the fall, Andy wanted that API put in for that thing he’s working on, and Support wanted everything fixed from the last version—now that one was a disaster; bad luck, mostly. Anyway. You’ve known right from the beginning that the schedule was really tight; that’s what we’ve been saying since day one. Everybody agreed that failure wasn’t an option, so we’d need maximum commitment from everyone all the way. Listen, Tim, you’re basically a good guy, but quite frankly, I’m a little dismayed by your negative attitude. That’s exactly the sort of stuff that brings everybody down. This is supposed to be a can-do organization.”

Tim’s leader has completely disappeared from the stage set. Magnus is coordinating Tim’s inner team at this point. His last comments bring up a spotlight on the hero and the quality advocate, eventually leading to him replying:

Tim: “Okay. I’ll come in.”

Some closing notes

Magnus basically is taking over the stage direction here from Magnus. n the dialogue you can see different players being the loudest in Tim’s inner team, eventually coming to the forefront and leading to his responses. Since Tim is letting Magnus take over the direction of his inner team, he eventually is convinced to agree to come in over the weekend.

Virginia Satir had a similar model of a stage set and different actors in our head in one of her books where you can see the scene play come to life. To get out of this dynamic, both Satir and Schulz von Thun start by handing back the role of the stage director to Tim. For that to be successful Tim’s stage director or leader needs to be confident about the direction he wants to go after listening to all the complaints and remarks from the different actors, and finally deciding firmly on how to proceed.

Since this blog entry is already pretty, I don’t dare to explore a more constructive conversation here. I will leave filling in the constructive blanks to my dear, hopefully now better-educated readers. I really look forward to reading about some of the stage plays of your inner teams in this situation.

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