Trust Your Testing Team and Stop Leading from the Front: An Interview with Bob Galen


In this interview, Bob Galen, an agile methodologist, practitioner, and coach, explains why you shouldn't lead your testing team from the front. He details how agile has changed the dynamics of a testing team and how you can lead both developers and testers by example.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I’m joined by Bob Galen, an agile methodologist, practitioner, and coach, as well as a speaker at this year’s STAREAST conference.

Bob, thank you so much for joining us. First, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Bob Galen: Well, something I’m quite proud of is my affiliation with TechWell. I’ve been speaking at your events since 2000. I started talking about software management and development, then sharing on testing topics at the STAR series. I consider myself a “partner” with TechWell and really have enjoyed the ride.

My experience is relatively broad across testing, development, project management, and leadership. I’ve served in senior leadership positions for over twenty-five years in development and testing roles. You could say that I’m seasoned and some say that I’m fairly salty.

I think the breadth of my experience, both in the trenches and in leadership, distinguishes me from many consultants. There literally are very few situations and challenges that I haven’t seen and overcome over the years.

As agile unfolded, I’ve was an early adopter and champion of those approaches. Both as an inside leader and an outside consultant. The people-matter focus of the agile approaches is what resonates with me most, as it aligns with my own leadership style.

Josiah Renaudin: Your keynote is about leading in a way that promotes the growth of your team and not just yourself. Do you find software testing has been a pretty singular, almost selfish career up to this point? Have testers been taught to be more focused on the tester, rather than the test team?

Bob Galen: I think all roles in software teams have been focusing on the role (organization structure, silo) rather than the team, the business, and the results. It’s a side effect of our waterfall approaches, which placed an emphasis on role-by-role or activity-by-activity work planning with handoffs as the model for delivery.

While you can approach things this way, it didn’t foster teamwork across the silos. Instead, it reinforced "us versus them" behavior all along the delivery pipeline. From that perspective, thank goodness that agile emerged as a different approach.

Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than the divide between “developers—them” versus “testers—us.” And this divide is still alive and well today, even after twenty years of experience with the agile methods. It’s certainly a testament to the resilience of waterfall structure and thinking in our organizations.

So yes, testers have been focused on the tester, then the test team, before thinking of a broader notion of team. Sure, we’re slowly evolving away from that, but far too slowly for my taste. And this keynote is intended to try and nudge us all along this evolutionary path.

Josiah Renaudin: Can it be difficult for testers to strengthen both themselves and their teams, since you often can’t take that team with you if you get a better offer at another company or want to create a startup? By focusing on yourself, you’re investing in your own future. By focusing on your team, aren’t you just investing in your current job?

Bob Galen: I don’t think so. There’s an old adage or quote that says, “To be a good leader, you have to be a good follower first.” And I believe it’s true.

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