Wednesday 25 September 2013

Process vs Purpose

I have just returned from a two day training experience that focused on the people management skills I will require in my new role. One of the interesting exercises within this was completing a Lominger sort; taking a set of 67 leadership competencies and sorting them in to categories based on what skills the attendees felt were required to succeed in our positions.

The process

We completed the activity in groups of three. Each group was asked to sort the Lominger card deck in to three categories; essential, very important, nice to have. Our 67 cards had to be split as 22 cards in the first category, 23 cards in the second category and 22 cards in the third category.

Upon completing the sort, each group was given 22 red and 22 blue dots. These were used for dot voting on a wall chart against the full list of key competencies. Blue marked what was essential and red what was nice to have (the top and bottom categories). When all six groups had completed this task, we gathered around this chart to talk through what was discovered.

The results

When looking at what people considered as essential, there were a number of competencies that everyone agreed upon; listening, understanding others, approachability, motivating others, managing diversity, integrity and trust. Our facilitator picked these from the chart and it was clear that with six votes against each there would be no argument.

The next item that the facilitator selected only had three votes. This caused a fair bit of confusion, as there were a number of other things that had five or four votes, yet we appeared to have jumped to discussing a much lower ranked competency. Why?

The purpose

Prior to this activity, the group had identified a set of key challenges in the role. A strong theme that emerged was the lack of time available to deliver on both our management responsibilities and our delivery responsibilities to clients. The competency with three votes was time management. Our facilitator argued that although the skill appeared to have been rated lower, the absence of any red dots meant that everybody considered the skill to be either essential or very important, plus it had been identified as a key challenge and was worthy of consideration.

It was interesting to me to observe how thrown everybody was by this shift. Our focus as a group was on identifying the competencies that had the most votes, but the purpose of the exercise was to identify the skills we felt were required to succeed in our positions. In executing the process we had lost our purpose.

In testing

When I test, I can find myself getting caught up in reporting things that I perceive as a problem, but the client sees as an enhancement. I do this because one outcome of my test process is logging defects and I want to record that these things were discussed. When I think about the wider purpose of my testing, I'm not sure whether this activity adds value. If the client accepts the behaviour, is this just noise?

When examining the outcomes of our test process, it's important that we remember to take a step back from what we have produced, or are expected to produce, and think about the purpose of what we're doing. What was the process put in place to achieve? Does the outcome meet the goal?

Saturday 21 September 2013

A Simple Service

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Betty Zakheim for the first time, my mentor from Line at the Ladies Room. As we are both very busy women, working in entirely different time zones, today was the first opportunity we found to chat.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a mentor. I had a some things in mind that Betty might be able to help me with, but I didn't know how she wanted to approach our session. We started the call with introductions and Betty's friendly American accent calmed my nerves, then Betty asked what I'd like to talk about.

Service Offering

As I knew that Betty had a background in both Computer Science and Marketing, the first thing I wanted to ask her about was writing a service offering. I have recently been asked to lead an initiative in my organisation that means I have to define a new service and then write presentation material to share my vision with others. I've never had to do that before, so I asked Betty for some advice on how I could approach this. She gave me the following tips.

Elevator Pitch

Start by creating a crisp definition for the new service. What is it? How is it different to other testing? Why does it give a better outcome? Keep this definition short, quick and simple, so that a salesperson could hear it, remember it and repeat it without fault. This definition gets your foot in the door.

Speak Plainly

Write your pitch the same way you'd speak to somebody. Keep the language clear and avoid too much technical jargon. As you write, in cases where you can't think of an appropriate word, mark the point with ??? and move on. You can return to these points when the passage is complete, often the right word will appear given time.

Senior Management

When presenting to senior management, it's important to frame your argument in terms of cost and risk. This audience wants to know whether what you're offering is valuable to them. Often salespeople argue cost alone, but a proposition that reduces risk too is even more powerful.


A good pitch caters to oral, visual and written learners, using PowerPoint slides and a strong script. As a rule of thumb, for a 1 hour meeting bring 30 minutes of prepared material that explain your services then be ready to answer questions for the remainder of the appointment. When you are selling professional services the product is you; be ready to prove your expertise.

Betty also gave me some great feedback on the content of my material, which was a real eye-opener for me. It made me realise that I need to differentiate between what I create to sell this service to testers and what I create to sell this service to managers. Betty really got my brain buzzing on how I can speak to the latter category successfully.

It was an incredibly helpful 45 minutes and I'm tremendously grateful to Betty for giving up her time on a Friday evening. I'm looking forward to our next session in a few weeks.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Community Question

Last night I slammed my finger in a door. It really hurt and it made me pretty grumpy. This happened as I was setting up a room for a WeTest Workshop that I was supposed to be facilitating. I decided to delegate facilitation to my friend Damian, who I was confident could do an excellent job of it. He did. 

A year ago, Damian had never participated in a LAWST style conference. Last night was the second time he facilitated one of our workshop events in Wellington. I believe this happened because he was asked; to attend, to present, to facilitate.

I am of the opinion that there are a number of people in software testing who are waiting for an opportunity. I hear people lamenting how difficult it is to create a community and this always makes me wonder, who have you asked?

When Aaron and I kicked off WeTest, we felt that there wasn't a strong community in Wellington. The opportunities available for testers didn't allow for passionate discussion on our industry; they were occasions that allowed presenters to escape unchallenged. We knew very few people to approach to change this situation. We started with the Wellington based folk who attended KWST2.

It took weeks for our first event to fill. We asked everyone we knew. Then we asked them to ask people. Then we asked on mailing lists and twitter. I remember how excited we were to finally find 20 people who wanted to talk about testing. 

After our first workshop the group started to grow. Those who attended recommended the event to others. A recommendation is not dissimilar to an invitation. In saying "you should come along to one of these" you're letting someone know that you believe they have the skills and potential to participate in, and enjoy, a challenging workshop environment. 

We now have over 100 members and our workshop events can fill within hours.

We're still asking, but now the questions have changed. Do you want to start a WeTest in Auckland? Do you want to lead a community of new testers? Do you want to console a community of battered warriors? Would you be willing to sponsor a new testing conference?

You can create a community. Ask someone to help you. Ask people to join you. Ask people to share their ideas.