The Software Testing Draft: Skipping Certain Players and Reforming Others


down, a data insert necessary for automation checks fails, or a product manager needed to flesh out a story is on vacation. Give team members high-level responsibilities with hard dates for completion rather than open-ended timelines, but coach them if needed in how to break tasks down into chunks of work rather than doing all the planning for them. Give team members who have difficulties activating their individual initiative long-term goals, such as the investigation of a new technology or tool, so that they always have some task in waiting.

On the opposite side, another behavior related to personality that can impede team success is the tendency to take on too many tasks. Often this is an honest mistake—things become slow, and capable people get asked to take on more work. Perhaps they have a hard time saying no, or they have an irrational confidence in their abilities to get everything done, or maybe they think, “I’ll work as much as I have to if it helps the team and myself succeed, no matter what.” Whatever the reason, being spread too thin means things slip, and it’s often the quality or completeness of the work. Managers can help these team members by getting them to focus on a manageable set of tasks to be completed in an organized, timeboxed manner. Start with a drastic reduction of tasks, and then give one or two at a time until the person begins showing evidence of better self-management.

Finally, what does a manager do to help a team member who’s obsessed with metrics at the expense of actually building and testing the product, or the person who always seems to talk a big game but produces very little? Inform both types that the core task of the test team is to provide value. Walk through the big talker’s arguments point by point, asking questions to extract details that demonstrate whether this person has anything of real value to provide. Ask for a prototype, a working program, or detailed documentation to separate poetic boasting from reality.

To team members who obsess over metrics , liken metrics reporting to preparing an abstract of a scientific study: Only the most important details that impact the status of the project need be included. Let the team members know that concise reports are sufficient unless there is some severe problem, at which point more details would be needed and on a more frequent basis.

Like any sports team, the software testing team is put in place to win—not to relax in a “you win some, you lose some” sort of mentality, rest on the laurels of a superstar, or merely look good in uniform. Teams who win employ a generous amount of discipline to reduce their weak points, and they judge the success of the team based on the record, not personal feelings. Test managers who work to prune and refine their teams will see the fruits of their labor in greater team self-management, fewer dropped passes and less show-boating—all of which translate into more wins for the test team and ultimately everyone who consumes the product.

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