Stick with it….it’s a rambling long essay post.. and I may be way off the mark.
I’ve never been comfortable with the concept of a separate test team and associated “phases” of testing. I spent about 8 years working in these environments and kept struggling to answer questions like:
- “Why are we involved so late in the project?”
- “Why are there so many obvious bugs or flaws?”
- “Why does the product not meet the spec?”
- “Why do we always follow these scripts and assume the product is good?”
- “Why don’t we use the questioning skills of tester’s earlier in the process?”
- “Why are the tester’s skills in design, organisation and critical thinking not valued at the end of the cycle?”
- “Why do we have some specialist testers, like performance testers, but a load of other testers who just do ‘any old functional script’?”
- “Why does everyone keep complaining about this way of working, but do nothing about it?”
And a whole load more questions along the same lines.
These questions are common in the industry, check out any forum or conference and you will find many similar questions being asked, and a plethora of tools, services and consultants willing and able to solve these problems.
It’s taken me many years and much analysis to come to an idea about testing that I feel more comfortable with, and in truth, it wasn’t even my idea, but I’ll get to that bit.
The more people I speak to about this, the more I realise that others feel comfortable with it to. Comfortable because they are operating in these contexts, or, more crucially, would love to operate in a context like this. Of course, some don’t agree and many simply don’t care…but that’s another post.
I believe that finding bugs is just one aspect of a testers role.
I don’t think finding bugs is just the responsibility of the tester either.
I also believe that testers should use their skills in other parts of the project cycle, whether that cycle is two weeks or two months or two years.
The idea I am presenting here is the T-Shaped people idea. It’s not mine, I believe Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO) coined it in the 1990s to describe the new breed of worker.
If you imagine the letter T being a representation of a person’s skills (or as a role as I like to use it). The vertical part of the T represents the core skill or expertise. In testing I would naturally suggest this is the core skill of testing (of which there are many variations, and sub-skills). The horizontal part of the T represents the persons ability to work across multiple disciplines and bring in skills and expertise outside of the core skills.
The more I talk to people about T-shaped testers the more I hit a nerve with people. It really does seem to sum up the growing number of testers in the community. Those who are skilled testers, yet are skilled in a number of supporting domains.
Many of my peers in the community are T-shaped testers. They excel at their specific element of testing yet they bring in skills from other areas, or they use their skills to fulfill other roles within the business.
In start-ups or fast moving companies the ability to work across multiple disciplines has some obvious benefits.
One person capable of fulfilling a few roles reasonable well seems like good value and a good asset to delivering value. Even in traditional environments with more structured roles T-shaped people can be found serving multiple roles.
However, a lot of the time people don’t see themselves as contributing to something outside of testing (i.e. fulfilling other roles), or bringing other skills they have to the role. Some simply don’t have the opportunity.
Some great testers in the community fulfill other roles within their business. For example, without naming names:
- There is a great test manager I know who is also a support manager.
- There is a great tester I know who is also a product owner.
- There is a great tester I know who is also a scrum master.
- There is a great tester I know who is also responsible for market research for the company.
- There is a great tester I know who also does all of the hiring interviews for **every** role.
- There is a great tester I know who also runs conferences, sells advertising, builds his own product, markets his own product and consults to big clients. (how many different skills do you need to achieve that?)
These are just some examples. There are countless others.
Then there are those who are testers but have supreme skills out of work that aren’t utilised in their main role. We have musicians, artists, designers, writers, mechanics, engineers, carpenters, social media advocates, printers, net-workers and anything else you can think of that someone might do out of work. Could a company not utilise and encourage the use of these skills to help solve business problems? Of course they could.
Sadly, many people (not just testers) are pigeon holed in to their role, despite having a lot more to offer.
As a short side story I was ready to leave testing a few years back, mainly due to being unable to answer the questions I posed earlier. I was thinking “Is This It?”. What about the skills I had and the passions outside of work? Why can’t I use these? What job could I get that does use them? Would I have to re-train? Why are my other skills ignored in the work place? Then I found blogging, consulting, agile coaching, systems thinking and ultimately people management and it all fell in to place…..Anyway – I digress.
I believe that testers, actually – anyone, can contribute a lot more to the business than their standard role traditionally dictates. The tester’s critical and skeptical thinking can be used earlier in the process. Their other skills can be used to solve other problems within the business. Their role can stretch to include other aspects that intrigue them and keep them interested.
With Acceptance Test Driven Development, Test Driven Development and a whole host of other automation approaches comes the need for testers to be involved earlier but crucially, not so tied down later in the cycle running confirmation checks. Exploration, curiosity and intrigue are what drives testers in these environments. The checks are taken care of, what remains is to understand what the product actually does and provide insights in to risk, uncertainty, user experience and the markets (customer, end user, competition, industry) expectations of the product, plus the stuff we might not have thought about earlier.
They can help to discover what the product is meant to be, not just give judgment on whether it meets the requirements or not.
Finding bugs is what we do, but I don’t believe that this should be an end goal. Bugs are a side effect of discovering more about the product…maybe.
I believe everyone has the capacity to do a lot more towards the goal of shipping great products outside of their stereotype role. It’s something we’ve embraced here at NewVoiceMedia.
We have testers who write product documentation, are scrum masters, are building infrastructure to support rapid release, are taking ownership for security and compliance to standards, are presenting the development process to customers, are visiting customer sites to research how people are using the product, are writing social media content, are devising internal communication strategies, are doing agile coaching, are creating personas and are using their natural skills and abilities where they are best suited to help move the business forward.
We’re still working on the balance between roles and expectations, and the balance shifts, typically in response to the market.
Don’t get me wrong. Many people don’t have this opportunity but if you’re in a position to make changes then utilising your wider skills and the skills of those in your team could be a great approach to solving problems.
This is clearly not restricted to testers either. Programmers, product owners, support, sales, accounts etc etc – everyone is a T-Shaped person, or at least has the potential to be T-Shaped.
I think the future of testing is going to be a future of both specialists and generalists. There is always a need to have specialists in security, performance, accessibility etc, but there is also a need to have generalists; testers who can fulfil a number of different roles across the organisation whilst still maintaining a core skill of testing.
Being a T-Shaped person means having skills that can be useful across other domains. Having T-Shaped tester roles means encouraging testers to fulfil a number of roles. Learning the skills needed, or already having the skills in place (i.e. already being a T-Shaped person) means people can either slip straight in to the role, or they may have to seek out learnings, coaching and mentoring. And that’s where good management, teams and community engagement can come in.
I’m exploring around this idea right now, but I know already that T-Shaped people gives me a really good model to describe the testing and testers I feel comfortable with. The testing that I feel suits me, the companies I seek out and the markets I work in.
I believe testing is more than finding bugs; it’s about exploring the product, discovering what the product needs to be, discovering the market needs (i.e. A/B Testing), discovering what the product actually does, working out whether the product is suitable for the context of use, questioning the process, improving the process, helping to design the product, improving the product, helping to support it, helping to promote it and ultimately working with the team to deliver value.
And all of the above might explain why myself (and those peers who appreciate or demonstrate the T-Shaped model) find it so hard to recruit great testers (for our contexts), yet other managers I speak to can find “good” candidates at every street corner.
We demand more than just testing skills. We demand many other skills that complement a testing mindset. Skills that help us deliver value.
Of course, these are just my thoughts based on testing in my context. You’ll work in another context and appreciate other skills. At the moment this is just an idea, and like all ideas, it might be wrong. But I thought I would share it anyway.
Image courtesy of : http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisinplymouth