Tuesday 21 June 2011

Be the We - on doing more for the team

A turn of phrase that I've heard many times working in software development teams goes like this:-
"We should really be doing ..."
followed by some practice or process that the speaker feels would improve either their job or the team's development activity as a whole. In this context the "We" enjoys a level of mysterious anonymity more commonly reserved for the "They" of "I'm surprised they allow that" and "I can't believe that they haven't done something about it" fame that are the cause of society's ills. The implication is that, by raising the issue as a "We" problem, the speaker has upheld their end of things and the failure to implement the behaviour in question is now a team responsibility.

Who is the We?

So who is the mysterious "We". I'll tell you, it's you, or it should be. It's me, or I hope it is. It is one of the people that I have worked with in the past that have stood out for over and over again taking action of their own back to improve the team environment in which they work. It is the person who watches my back and offers to help when I get too busy, as I do for them. It is the person I want in my team and look for whenever I read a CV.

I review hundreds of tester CVs as part of my job. All of them have testing experience. All of them. Most of them contain the following:
  • a list of the projects they've worked on with project descriptions
  • lists of the technologies making up the environment that the software was implemented in
  • a list of the testing activities performed on each project
If this is the extent of the content then the CV will usually not get considered for even a quick phone interview. Testing experience and tool knowledge alone are not enough. I am a strong believer in taking a team approach to process, however relying on the team's achievments to forward your career when you are not an active participant in those achievements will not get you very far. Put simply, if I can see no evidence that an individual has acted on their own initiative to improve the working lives of themselves and their colleagues then they won't fit into my organisation. We cannot afford to have people in the team who won't step up and be the "We" when we want to improve ourselves.

But what can I do?

Sometimes it is hard to know where to start, but if you regularly find yourself thinking "It would be so much better if we did this ..." , then you have a good starting point. Don't sit around and wait for someone else to do it, tackle it yourself.
  • It would be great if We had some test automation
  • Great - do some research, brush up your scripting and get started. If you don't know scripting or tools, there's nothing like having a target project to work on to develop some new skills.
  • We really should try some exploratory testing sessions
  • Again - fantastic idea, book yourself out some time, do some reading on the subject and get cracking. As I wrote about in my post on using groups to implement change, once you demonstrate the value you'll get some traction with other team members and bingo, you've introduced a great new practice to the team.

The opportunities will depend on your context, but even (and may especially?) in the largest and most rigid of processes there are opportunities to improve through removing inefficiencies or improving the quality of information coming out of your team. The costs are small, maybe some of your own time to read up and learn a new skill. The benefits are huge. You'll earn the respect of your colleagues, improve your chances of promotion and, more importantly, become really good at what you do. Next time you find yourself thinking "Wouldn't it be great if we did ...", try rephrasing to "Wouldn't it be great if I'd introduced ...". Think how much better that sounds, and start becoming the person that, when others say "We", they mean you.

Copyright (c) Adam Knight 2011 a-sisyphean-task.blogspot.com Twitter: adampknight
image: Dog-team-at-Seventh-All-Alaska-Sweepstakes

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