Telling Testing Stories and Navigating an Agile Testing Transition: An Interview with Bob Galen


Bob Galen is an agile methodologist, practitioner, and coach. Bob Galen helps guide companies in their adoption of Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. He is a certified Scrum coach, certified Scrum product owner, and an active member of the Agile and Scrum Alliances.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds:
Today, we have Bob Galen. He is an agile methodologist, practitioner, and coach based in Cary, North Carolina. Bob helps guide companies in their adoption of Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. He is a frequent speaker on software development, project management, software testing and team leadership at conferences and professional groups, including our very own STARCANADA, which will be April 5 through April 9 of this year. Now Bob, you are speaking several times at STARCANADA this year, including “Team Leadership: Telling Your Testing Stories.” That harps on the ability of being an effective communicator. My first question is: storytelling is a key component covered in this tutorial, why is that?

Bob Galen: First, thanks for having me Cameron. I really appreciate you doing the interview.

Storytelling. I think as leaders we’ve gone from … I started leading teams in the mid-80s and we didn’t tell any stinking stories all we did was tell people what to do and we expected them to do what we said without any context. I want you to do an interview with Bob Galen and do it now. I think, that context, over time, maybe, it motivated people back then and it was good enough. I think today it’s not good enough to drive people to understand what we want. It’s not a very good vision setting and a mission setting.

I think leaders today—test leaders—we need to not only tell people what to do, but we need to provide the why behind it. Why are we doing it? What’s the goal? What are we trying to achieve? What does success look like? What does done look like and what does success look like?

A really good vehicle for doing that I think is stories. You can tell, for example, stories of what does success looks like? From your point of view—what does a successful interview look like? It looks like this, Bob Galen didn’t stutter. He didn’t fall—he wasn’t surprised. He had a compelling set of descriptions to tell, et cetera. You can have a story of failure. You can also look at the anti-pattern side and say this is not what we want to do.

We don’t want to produce a magazine like Better Software—we don’t want to produce a version of Better Software that doesn’t sell any or it only has one reader. That would be the anti-pattern. I think storytelling is a really good practice nowadays for leaders to really drive their teams. Drive is wrong. To compel their teams, to lead their teams, and to inspire their teams is probably a better term—in the right way, towards where we want to go as an organization.

CP: No, that makes perfect sense. Are there any famous people in the industry that do a great job exhibiting those qualities?

BG: I don’t know about industry… Jobs… I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any keynotes. Everyone jumps on the Steve Jobs bandwagon, but I do think if you ever watch his product—his announcements from an Apple point of view. He was a great public speaker, he was a great storyteller, he was a great presentation artist of being. Simple presentations that were compelling. I think he is a great example out there, that you can actually go on YouTube and look at some of the ways he handled himself.

Not trying to be too political or a partisan but President Obama strikes me as great. If you remember when he was running—whether you are a republican or a democrat—I don’t care. He could weave a tale. He had passion, he had examples, and at State of the Unions, very often, he would do that. He does a nice job of painting a picture, or painting a landscape of where we are now and where do we want to be? I think those are two examples that we can learn from.

CP: Those people are very charismatic. Is it possible for someone who is more introverted to be a good storyteller and be able to have a position of power and influence without being a good storyteller?

BG: I don’t know if it’s a requirement to be charismatic or to be an extravert or an introvert, I think you just want to try.

CP: The other tutorial, “Seven Keys to Navigating Your Agile Testing Transition” is about adopting and staying with the decision to go agile.

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