Wednesday 2 November 2016

Stay Interviews for Testers

Recently one of my colleagues sent out an article about stay interviews. Basically, a stay interview is the opposite to an exit interview. Instead of waiting for people to resign then asking them why they are leaving the organisation, you try to determine what is making them stay.

Stay interviews are primarily a retention tool. They're a means of staying connected with the people who work with you, and maintaining an environment that they're happy to be contributing in.

I was interested in this idea, so I decided to try it out. I met one-on-one with every permanent tester in my department to ask a set of questions that touched on motivation, happiness, unused talents and learning opportunities. The answers that I collected provided me with a pulse of the team as a whole, and valuable insights into the individuals who I coach too.

The Questions

I pulled all of my stay interview questions from across the internet. There are a lot of articles around that will give you examples. Some that I read as I researched the concept of stay interviews were:

The ten questions that I chose as being most relevant to my organisation and the purpose of my discussions were:
  1. The last time you went home and said, "I had a great day, I love my job," what had happened?
  2. The last time you went home and said, "That's it, I can't take it anymore," what had happened?
  3. How happy are you working here on a scale of 1-10 with 10 representing the most happy?
  4. What would have to happen for that number to become a 10?
  5. What might tempt you to leave?
  6. What existing talents are not being used in your current role?
  7. What would you like to learn here?
  8. What can I do to best support you?
  9. What do you think is the biggest problem in [our testing team] at the moment?
  10. What else should I be asking you?

The Answers

All of these individual conversations were in confidence. However I did create a high-level document to share with other leaders in my department, which summarised key themes through illustrations, graphs, and anonymised comments. What follows is a subset of that, suitable for sharing.

I took the answers to the first two questions, categorised the responses, then created word clouds that demonstrated the common topics. An awesome day for a tester was one in which they are discovering new things to learn, have released software to production, or are simply enjoying the momentum of completing their work at a steady pace:

"I had a great day, I love my job"

An awful day for a tester is one in which their delivery team is in conflict or has a misunderstanding, where they’re in the midst of our release process, or when they’ve encountered issues with our test environments.

"That's it, I can't take it anymore"

What I found particularly interesting about these responses was how general they were. There were not many comments that were specific to test alone. Rather, I believe that these themes would be consistent for any of our delivery team members: business analysts, developers, or testers.

The question around happiness prompted for a numeric response, so I was able to graph the results:

How happy are you working here on a scale of 1-10 with 10 representing the most happy?

This data was interesting in that the unhappiest testers were mostly from the same area. This was a clear visual to share with the leadership in that particular part of the department, to help drive discussion around specific changes that I hope will improve the testing habitat.

When asked what would improve happiness, salary was an unsurprising response. But other themes emerged of almost equal weighting. Time to deliver more automation, a consistent workflow for testers, and the ability to pick up and learn new tools.

In response to existing talents that are not being used, the most prevalent skills were those that sit within the Testing Coach role: automation frameworks, leadership and training. This was a strong indicator to me that I need to delegate even more frequently to provide these opportunities.

Frustratingly, but not unusually, the requests for learning were fragmented. The lack of a consistent response makes it difficult to arrange knowledge sharing sessions that will appeal to a wide audience. But it does allow people to specialise in areas that are of interest to them rather than pursuing shallow general learning.

Overall I found the activity of stay interviews very useful. The structured set of questions helped me to have a purposeful and productive conversation with each of the permanent testers that I work with. I learned a lot from the information that was gathered, each set of responses were interesting for different reasons. The results have helped me to shape my actions over the coming months. I'm hoping to create outcomes from these conversations that will continue to keep our testing team happy.


  1. Great article Katrina! And highly relevant, hopefully something we can implement too :)

  2. Love this idea! I plan to do this with my testers.

  3. We should be doing this more widely across the organisation! What a great initiative!