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On Managing Testers, or Being a Coach (Rhythm of Testing)

On May 1, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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I had a revelation recently that I wish I could have had some time ago, like years.  It may have made me a better employee, and in my forays at lead and manager roles would have made me better at both..

While my thoughts here probably don’t rise to the level of great writing that can be found for the betterment of leaders everywhere, it represents the sum of experience and belief demonstrated by many managers and leads I have worked for and with.  I trust that some may find it useful and help them manage testers perhaps better than they might without such thoughts.

1.  Encourage Learning.  This is important.  There is a significant difference between “training” and “learning.”  Encourage your staff to look for ideas new to them and try things they have read about.  Don’t bog them down with mandated, “This is the only way things are done” type of rote memorization.  Allow them to explore areas of interest to them, then gently guide them with how these can be applied to their current and future work.

2.  Discourage Self-limiting Behavior.  Kind of a contradiction, eh?  But really – anyone who has been around the block more than once has seen more than one person set themselves up for failure.  Maybe they like it.  Maybe they don’t know any other way of doing things.  Help them discover what they are good at, what they enjoy doing and what they want to do and maybe other ways of doing things. 

3.  Encourage Participation.  I have found that one great way for people to learn and appreciate things, is to have a hand in the doing of it.  I know everyone is busy and is scheduled at 110%.  Well manager, MANAGE – encourage your staff to get involved – then make sure they have the time to do it without missing their kids school programs and family vacations and trips away and holidays and… right.  You get the idea.  The hard part about being a boss is telling other people “No.”  And yet, we need to do that all the time, right?  This is just one more reason why you must tell someone “No,” or if that makes you uncomfortable, try my favorite alternative “We can not work on that right now.  We should be able to start on it by …”

4.  Discourage Lockstep Conformity. 
I know we must all follow the process or whatever is in place at the company.  Sometimes it takes people with a lot more pull than we have to change the rules.  Well, sometimes bending the rules to let your people flourish is important too.  Allow them the space to be creative in approaching problems.  Allow them time to THINK.  Remember when you’d think about something deep and technical?  I still find a proper cup of tea, with a bit of sugar and a little milk, just sitting and sipping it, can help my brain unravel a problem that is in my way.  Allow your people the same room for creativity and innovation – particularly if there is no Time Reporting Code for that on their time sheets. 

5.  Encourage Innovation.  I find this tends to flow from what happens in number 4.  Sometimes thinking leads to a new approach.  This approach can take a little tinkering to get sorted just to see if it will work.  Give your people, that’s what they are after all, people, the flexibility they need.  Don’t force it on them, but if they want to try – let them.  Then help them learn and clear the path of roadblocks in ways only a Manager can.

6.  Discourage Disparaging Comments.  Negativity can be a serious drain on energy and morale and productivity.  If one of your people is down, a lot – see if you can help.  It might be nothing you can fix, but maybe just letting them know you are concerned is a help.  Then lighten their load, if possible, so they have the energy to deal with whatever is weighing them down.  If they are just being, well, negative for the sake of being negative, talk with them about that too.  Everyone gets down.  Everyone has a bad day (sometimes a week!)  Everyone has times when they’d rather be at the beach or the woods or… whatever.  We just need to get the job done.  Then let them go to the woods or beach or wherever.  Just keep an eye on folks – If they know you have their well-being in mind, more than just what they do at work, they may turn around and surprise you.

7.  Encourage Growth.  This one is a mix of “mentor” and “coach.”  I know some people look to mentors for some level of guidance and teaching.  If you can do that for your people – fantastic!  Otherwise, keep an eye out for people who CAN do that – then get the mentors and students connected and allow things to happen – don’t force them.  One thing I have learned is this.  Most technical professional types have a failing, somewhere.  One common one I have found is how they relate to other people – technical peers and non-technical as well.  It is amusing that so many people consider testers “non-technical” still, compared to some, most of us are.  Compared to others, we’re technical rock stars.  Help them to navigate these waters.  Help them to learn to do them better.  Help them to learn to be a better team, and give them transferable skills they can use anywhere.

8.  Don’t be the Control freak.  Like this guy. If you’re my boss and you do those things, I’ll quit.  Promise. 

Lessons Learned – I’ve seen these ideas applied often at various shops.  Where two or three are used effectively, the result has been stupendous.  The staff revel from one positive experience to another, the software gets better from one project to another, practices improve and, surprisingly at some shops, customer satisfaction went up – way up. 

Remember: Managers are the oracles of the Truth, but the people working for them are the spirit that make that truth relevant.  My wife used to say (when the kids were younger, at least, not in their 30’s) “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”  You can set the tone – will you be happy and uplifting or a burden to be endured?  By setting an example in attitude, work, learning and life balance, a good manager can do more than simply qualify for stock options and large bonus checks. 

 

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