What is necessary to know and track?
When dealing with projects, one has to think people. In the end, we are the weakest link. In the field of high technology, fast-changing environments, and increasing demand for quality at low prices (in short: testers‘ daily routine), we face a major challenge.
Questions such as “What should we expect from the future test engineer?”, ―In which issues should we train our teams?, and “How will this support future business and projects?” should be discussed now. Because test managers should be looking at ways to prepare us for these challenges – they are waiting for us just around the corner.
We have all heard about the PTMM, the motivational issues, so we know what WE like to do. What we haven‘t heard is how industry wants us to be. When we investigate the needs of the industry (based on a survey of the test engineers market in Israel, which was carried out by SELA Group in the last 2 years), we see a change. From less demanding roles and responsibilities, the tester sought by industry today is required to fulfill a more responsible and technical, yet highly communicative job.
In the past, typical requirements were: UNIX, network, test tools, long hours, independent. Today additional topics have become increasingly significant in the hiring process: team work, cooperative, communicative, independent learning personality, can cope with pressure, knows to identify high risk and low risk, problem-solving skills. These are required in addition to the technical qualifications already in demand.
This creates a dilemma for us testers. For years, the personal issues and personal development have been neglected. We have team leaders that might be the best testers, but maybe they are not so good in their personal skills. We have tight budgets that can hardly fund the technical training, but we would like to use it for the personal issues as well.
Six points relating to ‘What should we do’?
1) We should start tracking our employee’s knowledge – for a start.
This can be done by simple means, and it only requires an Excel spreadsheet. The data can be used by us for personal development as well as for the technical development of our team.
I‘m using the example below for exactly this purpose:
This matrix helps me to identify the people that learn faster, the people that have little knowledge about something, and the exposure I have in dealing with complex test design and execution. It brings out the best of those people that can learn individually, and allows them to have further topics of knowledge to study. They occasionally have to present what they do, and this brings more responsibility into their work, as well as more satisfaction.
I can also identify problems using the matrix: personal knowledge gaps (i.e. Ruth is no expert in any topic), and project gaps of abilities (i.e. noone has done test design more than once on Appl#2).
2. We should ourselves go to a management course, and start using most of our time for managing people.
If we make a survey to establish how many team leaders and test managers have actually attended a management course (even a general management course), we‘ll find that only a few have. Large companies have different views on this subject. As I remember from my IBM days, you first have to go to the management course, get the certificate, and only then can you start your role (as test project manager). Other large companies are the same.
The perfect manager uses most if not all of his time for managing others, getting the most out of their abilities and needs. So, if we cannot allocate most of our time to this, we must strive to get things done differently. Maybe we should ask the team what activities they like to do, and try to direct them into doing that? In any case, a simple count of the hours we spend on pure management will tell us right away whether we are on the right track.
3. Attend a skills-oriented course – presentation skills, communication skills, negotiation skills, etc’.
There are many courses on offer that we can pick from. Let‘s do that. As testers and test leaders we cooperate with many peer groups from day to day, and this can be very beneficial for the day to day communication. I found out great results when my team in one of the projects participated in such a workshop.
4. Link course topics to results and to performance.
Brainstorm this aspect together with your team. How can we link better communication and other skills to performance of our team members and to better results in testing? There can be a lot of parameters to evaluate this, among them: satisfaction of management with the overall performance, satisfaction and relationships with peer groups, better defect ratios (this can be the case!), better fix time from development, better resources utilization (not just people, but the infrastructure people operate).
5. Stay on top of the technical training – do not loose the momentum.
We should try to use the 4th bullet and get the budget for that as well. One option might be that this is accounted to a different budget within the division/department (project budget = technical, division = soft skills).
6. Get interdisciplinary knowledge from other areas of engineering and train your team on it – system engineering, infra, product view, project management, etc’
Having as little as possible on those will boost the project sky-high. Interdisciplinary people are able to analyze things more quickly with a better view on the overall picture. Who else if not we ourselves is in the position to do this? We are system level testers, we have to think systems on a day-to-day basis, and we strive for interaction to get the bugs out.
On a final note, multidisciplinary people are needed as future testers. People with a lot more emphasis on personal skills than is the case today (not neglecting the technical aspects but enhancing them), and people with interdisciplinary knowledge perspectives on the project in hand.
Mr. Alon Linetzki, MBA (with excellence), Bs.c., LQA, CSA, ISTQB CTFL, has been a test engineer and a test manager since 1993, and in IT development since 1983. His main specialized areas of consulting and training are: * test strategy & risk based testing * test management * test process improvement * defect management & analysis * building & maintaining effective and efficient testing teams. He is a popular speaker in international testing conferences (STAR, EuroSTAR, Conquest, SQCICSTEST, ASTA, Testing & Finance, and more), co-founder of the Israeli Testing Certification Board (2004), and the founder and chair of SIGiST – the Israeli testing forum (2000).
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