A Blog from QualiTest

Think like a Leader, Become a Leader

Software Testing Thought Leadership

Jack from QualiTest UK discusses the amazing time and the thought-provoking lessons he learned at EuroStar in this week's blog.

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So it has officially been a couple of weeks since EuroSTAR 2014 in Dublin began.  For those who have never been before, EuroSTAR stands for ‘European Software Testing Analysis & Review’. EuroSTAR takes place in a different European city each year, and is comprised of keynotes, tutorials, collaborative thinking sessions, a strategic thinking Test Lab, workshops, track sessions and an exposition.  Attending EuroSTAR also provides a great opportunity to mingle with like-minded testers that are looking for new and interesting ways to test, whilst keeping up to date with the newest developments in the testing industry.

What an amazing experience EuroSTAR was this year! The first day really set the pace of the week for me.  I was incredibly lucky to be one of the 60+ attendees for Fiona Charles workshop: “Inspiring Testers – Leadership Workshop”.  I wanted the whole experience to be a surprise, and similarly to exploratory testing, I wanted to go in without prejudice or expectations.

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The day was to be broken into two parts, with an introduction to get the ball rolling, and then a team project.

For the first task we were broken into small teams of 4 or 5, where we discussed examples in our roles where we have seen leadership either work or fail spectacularly. We were then to choose one of these stories and describe the leadership qualities that we believe made that leader successful (or, in the case of failure, the missing quality).

My group had a varied level of experience in testing, but each had a really interesting tale to tell. When we reported back to the rest of the room on our findings, one thing became very clear: every company has their problems! More importantly though, at one stage or another, every company faces the challenge of incorporating automation into their business. About 80% of the room chose a story where leadership worked to resolve this conundrum. In fact, three out of the four stories from my group alone spoke about their difficulties with automation. Does this mean automation is an area that could be made easier for companies to tackle? QualiTest offers a wide range of assistance in automation, but as that isn’t my speciality, I don’t normally see the difficulties associated with implementation or maintenance of automation.

So, every group brought forth their example. Although there were a plethora of industries, cultures and team makeup in the workshop, everyone knew of someone they would classify as a leader. Based on these examples I started to make more connections of not only those I thought are great leaders, but those who might have the potential to become a great leader. With more thought I remembered how I felt as a child, looking up to my peers around me, with admiration. They were classified as heroes in my eyes and I wanted to be just like them. That view has matured over the years and I have realised they weren’t heroes, they were leaders that encourage, inspire and help those around them.

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By choosing just one quality from each group, we came up with the following list of Leadership Attributes:

  • Decisiveness
  • Enthusiastic
  • Courage
  • Initiative
  • Selflessness
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Empathy
  • Proactive
  • High Emotion Intelligence
  • Humility
  • Inclusiveness
  • Empowering
  • Energetic
  • Communicative
  • Approachable

Obviously, you aren’t going to start updating each job posting to include all of these attributes. If you think of any leaders you may know, they probably don’t have all of these qualities, but they should have at least a few of them.

My mind started racing. You don’t necessarily need all of these attributes! In that case, how many do you need!? Which ones are more important than others!? Should all of your employees be leaders?!

Fiona commented that sometimes the right leader may not even be the one you would traditionally think of. In one of the stories that another group chose, they talked of an employee that passed between teams seamlessly and rather than leading a singular team to success, they instead connected teams together. Each team that this employee had spoken to had different strengths and weaknesses, but limited communication to the rest of the business. This leader connected the right people together. They were so successful that they were then promoted to management of these teams.

This is the first time we touched upon the main differences between management and leadership. To be a great manager you need this “unknown” attribute that allows you to lead those around you. To be a great leader, you don’t even need to be in a position of management.

The second half of workshop we were broken into 3 very large groups (approx. 20 per group) and then each group was split evenly again.

The requirements for second task were very sparse. We had to devise a puzzle in each group for the other team to solve. You couldn’t create a task that was impossible, or request they do anything you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.  Each team required one observer.

The observers were given a list of rules they had to adhere to that no one else from the group could see. This added a whole new level to the task, as it made the observer become an external piece to the puzzle, looking for certain trends or attributes.

I decided to take the role of observer; as I often find myself taking lead on projects, I thought it would be interesting to step out of my comfort zone and take a different perspective.

I immediately felt as though I was an outsider. Looking around the room, I noticed I wasn’t the only one. Being the observer and having my own set of rules, the rest of the team seemed to feel threatened that I was reporting back on them. A circle formed with me on the outside! I made a running commentary of how my group performed whereas some of the other observers just made factual statements without feeling personally connected.

Our team struggled to form a hierarchy, as it appeared as though no one wanted to take control. Normally, I would step up to the plate and start offering guidance at this point, and I think this was as much of a challenge for me as it appeared to be for the rest of the group.

In the end one member of the team took charge, and once they did, they refused to let it go. We were on to a winner!

Being an observer was an amazing experience for me, I don’t tend to get caught up in the details, but tend to focus on the bigger picture. Being mute I hung onto the words of everyone in the group, I got to look at how they reacted to another and most importantly, how they think.

Have you ever put yourself in a position where you can’t react at all, but only observe? I have tried it a lot since this workshop and have found it to be an incredibly powerful technique that allows you to gain a more enlightened perspective of those around you.

In the end my team created the following scenario:

Agile Testing Across Cultures:

  • Time Zone Differences
  • Lack of Honesty
  • Micro Management is expected
  • High Turnover of Staff
  • Lack of Confidence
  • Resistant to Change
  • Lack of Context / Overall Picture
  • Too much Focus on Numbers, not enough on people
  • How to deal with offshore and onshore remote teams where any of the following could occur?

 Demonstrate the possible solutions for the above scenarios using role playing.

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Our team were culturally varied: Netherlands, United Kingdom, Hungary, Sweden, China, Norway, Ireland and India. Therefore, we were able to suggest difficult problems we faced within our own cultures.

We informed our opposition that they should think about both local and remote teams and that at present a budget had not been set (which they instantly took to mean they could and should spend as much as they wanted…).  

They jumped straight off the deep end paying for entire teams to fly to their remote locations to learn how each other team works. They also suggested we bring in an agile coach for each of the groups. Even though they successfully answered the query, they didn’t give a realistic answer. As they heard “unlimited budget” rather than “no budget has been set”, they opted for highly unpractical solutions. On the other hand one of the benefits of this is they opted into the following mentality: “There are no silly ideas”. Therefore they could brainstorm much more effectively than our team. Could you imagine being given a project with an unlimited budget and where there were no silly ideas!

Our opposition came up with a very challenging task for us. It seemed like it was nearly impossible to answer at first.

You are the testing team of a financial business (Bank). You have been requested to test and release an update product to your customers. The business analyst that has confirmed these requirements has only spoken with the development team. There are no sign off documents, but the marketing department have leaflets of how the changes are going to look. The business analyst in question is on holiday for an unknown period of time and the update is to be released in two months. The deadline to the customers has been pushed back and you have been told that you cannot be the cause of any further delays.’

How would you go about creating a test strategy?

The observer changed hands for the second half. I was raring to go and unfortunately, I see this exact scenario occur all the time: Testers are asked to come up with requirements, no business sign off, limited access to business analysts, development team working from unknown requirements and the list goes on. This can be catastrophic to all aspects of the business.

For most, it is incredibly difficult to say no!  We hate upsetting others and rocking the boat. Even though alarm bells are ringing, the general consensus of the team was to plan for what we could do. I took a very strong stance that we should push back and say no.

I am more than happy to say no, as anyone should be if you have seen something fail that could have been avoided. You should never put all of the control in the testers’ hands, one of the most important things I have learnt over the years is before you test, you have to know what to test. We could make assumptions (which most of the team were inclined to do), however the financial loss could be astronomical.

We identified some of the issues and risks that could have occurred if we went ahead with testing:

  • Costs: We were a team of 10, if each of us were on £500.00 a week, we would have totalled £40,000 in testing effort by the time we were ready to release
  • Trust: Everyone in the business’ value would automatically be in question; the business analyst for passing the information on, the developer for taking control of the requirements, and the testers for testing the wrong areas
  • Failure: Not only could it have meant that this time was lost, but getting back to where you were before would be required
  • Trust: Also by putting this into context, some of the most structured companies for development, testing and projects in general is financial
  • Experience: Some in the group argued that deciding to go ahead with the changes was context dependant, for example: There is a difference between maybe changing the logo of the bank or changing the interest calculation of their customers’ accounts.

These are only some of the risks. Could the teams’ time have been better spent elsewhere? Is anyone else able to take charge of the requirements? How can there only be one decision maker in a financial institution?

This was exactly the answer they were looking for. In fact they mentioned that it is incredibly difficult to say no in a real life example, because you want to go with the crowd and the rest of the team.

I really enjoyed the debate that we had and given more time, it would have been good to explore everyone’s ideas, but I do feel as though maybe I took too much control of the situation. I am still unsure if I took on this role as a leader, or as management because of previous experience. Never the less it was an extremely challenging scenario and as a team we made the right choice.

Thinking retrospectively, I don’t think the task itself really mattered, but our team got bogged down a lot more by ‘the task itself’ rather than the goal of the task. I don’t think it mattered if we were tasked with designing and building the best paper aeroplane ever, building a human tower, or figuring out how many times you can fold a piece of paper (I believe the answer is 12!).

There is a lot you can take away from a workshop like this. I felt motivated and invigorated for the rest of the week.

Some things to think about if you are planning on trying something similar in your business:

  • How does the observer feel when put into this situation?
  • Does the team differ if there were previous management roles and / or structures in the groups?
  • How has your team collaboratively thought about this?
  • Did you take a new stance on how you might tackle a problem?
  • Are there any new ways you could develop your team to improve communication?
  • Were any new ideas brought up that you wouldn’t have thought of?
  • Are your opinions of anyone else in the group changed (either as the observer or within the team)?
  • If you are normally a leader, try and step out of your comfort zone and be the observer.

Although this workshop targeted testers, this workshop could have been aimed at any industry.

So if anyone can be a leader, what’s stopping you?