Last year I attended an excellent agile testing conference but came away frustrated at one of the keynote presentations.
One segment of the talk mentioned the often painful transition to agile. The presenter made reference to a British TV show character who is quite nice, but quite dim. In other words, an amiable kind of person but incompetent. Commonly known as an idiot.
The presenter then suggested that in an agile environment there is no room for an incompetent tester. Agreed, but surely the same is true for any environment? IS there a room for an incompetent tester in waterfall?
But what really got my goat was when the presenter suggested that we simply hide this person away from management.
The first reaction by most people seemed to be that this was a complete farce. This person is a part of the team and hence contributing to the bottom line. Paying a salary for someone who remains hidden? Really? Why would you hide someone away from management? The reasons given were that it was humane when transitioning to agile; to hide them away rather than expose them, then get rid of them. For real?
This spurned some furious discussions afterwards where I was intrigued to hear that many of the attendees thought the incompetent tester should be sacked. After all they are contributing to the bottom line. Get rid of them. And that’s often a sentiment held with many in the agile community. Incompetent testers (any team members too!) can ruin an entire agile project. No room for the weak. Get rid of them. Maybe this is why many testers are worried and negative about moving to agile?
But even this missed the point entirely for me. I found myself asking the question “Is this tester really incompetent or are we just not trying hard enough to integrate them?”
Are we asking the wrong questions, taking the wrong actions, avoiding the hard work, wanting instant results like we are often led to believe is the norm? Sure, on the surface you may think this tester IS incompetent but is this a result of their skills or their environment and lack of motivation?
Maybe this incompetent tester isn’t being given the tasks and challenges that make them enthused. Have we spent time finding out what makes them tick? Have we sat down and tried to get to know them? To understand them? To challenge them? To motivate them? Have we asked them what they think? Have we even trained them or coached them in what agile is?
Have we invested in them with time and energy? Encouraged them to attend inspiring testing conferences? Training Sessions? Local user groups? Pointed them at online communities like The Software Testing Club?
Have we done enough to really come to the conclusion that they are an idiot? Have we explored all the avenues?
If we have, then maybe that’s fair enough. Let them go, but don’t hide them away. However, I would bet a whole £1 that we haven’t invested in this person as much as we could have. And if we don’t do that, then we may never know that this person is a whizz at building automation frameworks, is an absolute star in front of the customer, can articulate complex ideas to non-tech audience or comes alive when performing exploratory testing.
You’ve only got to take a glance around the testing communities to see that some testers are real customer advocates, some love automation, some thrive on efficiency improvements, others love lean and agile, others teach, some berate, some challenge, some build social networks and communities, some are socialisers, some live and breathe quality. Some are funny, others are sad, some are arrogant, some are happy. Some write about testing, some present at conferences and some are super thorough and live for nothing but quality, quality, quality.
It’s this mixed bag of skills, talents and attitudes that make the testing community so interesting. Surely there’s an element of this in your test teams too? Isn’t it just a case of finding out who’s interested in what and giving them work to inspire, challenge and enthuse?
So instead of saying “That tester’s incompetent. Hide them” we should instead be saying “That tester’s got hidden skills, experience and ability. Let’s find out what it is…..and if they are still incompetent at the end of that process then….well, we’ll sort something out” or something like that.
But this is a difficult concept to grasp for many people who see testers as a quantifiable, measurable, certifiable and replaceable person. Hiding them away ignores the fact that testers are complex and diverse. It’s a simple way of ignoring the truth. It’s an easy way of avoiding hard work. It’s an easy way of applying testers to a project as a resource rather than a person. Resources take little maintenance; people have ups and downs, goals and ambitions. Resources act the same each and every week. Testers fluctuate. They need motivation and inspiration.
Leaving the incompetent tester to fall even further behind, hiding them from management and giving them ridiculous job after ridiculous job is not humane. So to suggest that doing so is a humane action by middle management is misguided and painfully difficult for many to comprehend. The humane thing to do would be to invest some time in them, step up and inspire them, get them all fired up and find out what makes them tick. Take responsibility for motivating and inspiring them and their work. Or could it be that I live in a dream world where we all share some responsibility for making our working environments great places to be?
So if someone said to you: “Bob over there is incompetent. Hide him away” …………………………..What would you do?