May 10, 2013

STPCon Spring 2013 Wrap-Up

I just got back from STPCon Spring 2013 in sunny San Diego, and overall it was a great conference! The event brought together test professionals and experts of all skill levels seeking to learn from one another and apply that learning immediately in a practical context. An important part of that learning, at least from my perspective, was the softer skills of leadership and influence. The ability to lead and the ability to communicate with influence are two of the most valuable skills that test professionals at all levels need to perform their roles effectively.  Test skills are important, but softer skills such as negotiating and leadership are starting to take center stage at all levels.  Several of the presentations in the Leadership Perspectives for Testers Track at STPCon focused leadership and influence. I took part in one of the eight-minute “speed-geeking” sessions, where speakers communicate a topic to impromptu groups of attendees around a table. Matt Heusser and I addressed aspects of communication and influence.  Matt used the facts surrounding the Star Wars’ Deathstar destruction to reach a completely different conclusion than the Star Wars movies; he concluded that it was an inside job. Using this analogy, he challenged attendees to use the facts about test results to communicate the true picture, rather than the picture the organization wanted to see.  In Why Didn’t I Find that Bug?, I showed how testers miss bugs and misinterpret test results based on their biases and preconceived notions regarding the application under test, requirements, the developers and the goals of the project. In her presentation, Become an Influential Tester, Jean Fraser examined many aspects of influence including how it can be positive or negative, that it comes with responsibility and that leadership is influence. Pete Walen, in Stepping Up to Leadership: Test Leadership Lessons from Harry Potter, discussed the meaning of leadership and how we can all be leaders regardless of our position within our organization. He suggested that testers are leaders if they have not only information for which team members look to, but also, a vision and a roadmap to get to the next level.  He provided ways of becoming leaders including self-examination and evaluation, formal training, following your curiosity, writing and speaking about your experiences in testing, and networking and building professional relationships. Pete is an honest and forthright speaker who gets left a powerful impression on his audience in espousing testing leadership. Lynn McKee took leadership and influence a step further in her keynote by describing a process for leading and influencing change within organizations. While Lynn gave an inspiring talk, she didn’t draw upon any of her own personal experiences to add strength and validity to her words. In my joint presentation, Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places: Achieving Quality Without Organizational Commitment, testing manager Gerie Owen and I showed how to develop and advocate a vision of quality to obtain senior management commitment. We stressed that the proposal must be in synch with the organizational values, for example; implementing an automated regression test suite where speed to market is business critical. Then we provided ideas for creating quality with little time, money or resources. In the current business climate where testing is often automated or executed offshore, leadership and influence skills are becoming increasing critical for quality assurance professionals. QA managers and team leads must effectively interpret the test results and articulate risk to the project stakeholders. As information technology project management evolves and we move from waterfall to agile methodologies, testers need be vocal, influence and constantly demonstrate their value. And it will be our ability to lead and influence that will keep quality assurance professionals at the leading edge of change.