Note: The original version of this article was posted here on July 7, 2015 – http://www.associationforsoftwaretesting.org/2015/07/07/leading-context-driven-testers/
Jeff and I received some well thought out edits/suggestion from Timothy Western and have applied them here. We think they better capture the intent and meaning of the ideas we were trying to convey.
by Alex Bantz and Jeffrey Woodard
Having experienced context driven testers as part of your team can be a lot like having a highly intelligent child. We expect that both you and your testers are adults, but the relationship dynamics are similar. Even though you are their leader/manager, you must be willing to accept that they will constantly be searching for ways to be engaged and challenged.
You must also be willing to give them some amount of freedom to reach their potential within your team. If you let your experienced context driven testers stay unengaged or unchallenged, you should expect them to get bored, distracted, or disengaged.
It is an interesting dichotomy where they can be most challenging to lead while also being the easiest people to manage. Here are some of the ways in which the dichotomy plays out.
If your coaching is a one-size-fits-all approach, you can expect that to fail miserably with an experienced context driven tester. They aren’t looking for you to you coach them on how to test. They are looking to understand how the team/project/organization got to be where it is now and how they can best contribute to moving it forward.
Your initial coaching conversations are more likely to focus on navigating the organization’s structure/hierarchy, along with the history of how it came to be. While you have your own ideas on how the tester will work within your team, you should expect that they will propose their own ideas. You are also likely to find yourself challenged on how the organization can be changed for the better.
Since you aren’t the experienced tester’s first manager, don’t be surprised if you receive some coaching yourself. Especially if the tester has previously held a leadership role. If you propose something, you can expect to be told it’s a bad idea if the tester truly thinks it is. Value their honesty and understand why they consider it a bad idea. Take the opportunity to get their help and build your idea into something better. Don’t consider it to be a challenge to your leadership. Be grateful for their feedback and use it to improve yourself and your team. In doing so, these challenges will help strengthen the bond/relationship as you come to a better understanding together.
One of the first things you will probably notice is they will question everything. They aren’t doing it to be difficult or challenge you. They question so they can understand the actual problem trying to be solved. Their questions are clarifying and often times provide you with another perspective to make a more conscientious decision.
You can’t just say “Go do this….” and be on your way. You should expect to be questioned and they lead by example in doing so. It shows a level of ownership, buy-in, and responsibility. You cannot be a passive leader/manager.
The answers they provide may also not be to the question you asked or the answer you were expecting. This can help you begin to think about how you are framing your questions and the information you really want/need which in turn leads to asking better questions.
Especially on established teams, they can highlight some inconsistencies and/or areas of improvement that you may be blind to as “we have always done it this way”. Once the questions start to come, it really highlights the holes in our processes and demonstrates that the direction is not as cut and dry as you once thought it was.
Adaptability & Flexibility:
Context Driven Testers are often times more adaptable and flexible than others. They can jump into almost any situation and get to work quickly. They have a large toolbox of testing techniques and the awareness of what to use and/or not use in different situations.
It provides you flexibility as a leader where they can jump across different projects and/or technology stacks that aren’t easily siloed into one area. As needs and timelines change, it will make your life easier having these well rounded, professional testers on your team.
They tend to be very driven and motivated to give back by helping others stretch themselves through experimenting with new ideas and techniques and mature into better testers. They are generally willing to assist and share their experiences and techniques with their teammates when asked.
Setting Them Up For Success:
Leading also involves educating others in the organization as to what context driven testing is and how it is different from the traditional testing practices most are still accustomed. Highlighting and demonstrating the value the context driven tester brings to the team and organization shows that they are more than just test case creators and executors. Educating the rest of the organization to not only differentiate between the two styles, but also appreciate the tremendous benefit they provide is critical to success.
Finally, provide an environment where they are free to experiment and try techniques they feel best fits the situation. You can expect that they will not take a cookie cutter approach to testing and their methods may differ greatly from project to project. It is important to also set expectations amongst your development counterparts that this is occurring and why it is so advantageous.
About the Authors
Alex Bantz is a Director of Quality Engineering at Salesforce in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a proud father of 3 wonderful boys. Alex has been involved in the field of software testing 15 years as both an individual contributor and in managerial/leadership roles. He enjoys not only learning new techniques but also assisting others in their growth and development and is a vocal supporter of the importance of software testing.
Jeffrey Woodard is a Senior Manager in Quality Engineering at Salesforce in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has held test leadership/management roles at multiple times in his career. Jeffrey believes leading context driven testers is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is never boring and at times very challenging. Leading context driven testers has proven to be incredibly rewarding in his own growth as a manager. Also, it has provided personal satisfaction that comes from working with talented, motivated testers that are always trying to improve themselves and those around them. He is presenting at CAST 2015