For the past 3 years, I’ve been trying to build the best possible Software Testing organization For Experian Decision Analytics. During my vacation, I had a bit of time to reflect back on these 3 years and identify what building blocks were critical toward my initial goal. Trust me, it’s been a roller coaster ride but I’m feeling very proud of the team today and confident about the future. In this series of article, I’ll try to describe what I’ve done to build what I would consider a pretty damn good team !
The first foundation of any high performing organization is its organizational climate. You can have the best brain in the world, the best technical people, if you don’t provide them with the right climate to operate, you’re doomed. This is true for any organization, not only software testing. It takes on-going effort to setup and maintain the appropriate climate and should be, in my mind, your priority #1. Research has demonstrated that a significant percentage of the variance in measured business results can be accounted for by an organizational climate. Let’s trust the experts
An organization’s climate is a complex mix of norms, values, expectations, policies and procedures. The climate represents employees’ perception of “the way things are done here” — The way it feels to work here Studies have identified the following 6 dimensions that most impact business results, performance, job satisfaction and propensity to leave:
This is the most important dimension in my mind and within a software testing organization there are two important sub-dimension:
Mission and direction
The degree to which people know that there is an overall organizational vision and clear plans to reach it. Whatever your vision is for your software testing organization (and there are not a silver bullet vision. I’ll share mine on another part of this series), it needs to be communicated to your people and to other organizations. You need to provide your team with a vision they can relate to on their daily activities. You also need to provide your plan and initiatives you’ll drive with them to implement this vision. They need to understand that this is not a bubble of air and that you have a plan with clear milestone. They need to be regularly updated on progress. They need to feel their organization is moving in the right direction.
Organization and expectation
The extent to which the organization has an understood structure and job expectations and clear roles. When you’ve setup your vision and plan, people needs to understand how they fit within this vision, what is expected from them at the current level they’re in, what would be their responsibilities to implement the plan. They need to understand that these expectations relate to the larger goal and vision of the organization.
Your team needs to understand what you expect from them as far as performance. You should be setting challenging but obtainable goals one and measure them regularly. The right level should bring excellence within your organization. Within a software testing team organization, standards should be set not only on what people do ie. Influence quality across the whole development cycle, provide the right level of feedback to other organization, improve turn around of this feedback (hint, hint .. automation ! to be developed on a later part), stay one step ahead of development but also from a behaviorial stand-point ie. Team work, communication, initiative, reaching that extra mile etc.
Your goal as a leader is not only to make sure you set the right level of standards but also encourages and help performance improvement from people.
A climate which is strong on responsibility should empowers people to take initiative, make decisions and get things done without a lot of management scrutiny. Autonomy is key. Additionally, people should be accountable for their decisions, own these decisions and understand the risk. Ownership and risk taking are key.
You should encourage a climate which minimize unnecessary procedures, policies and formalities. These should not interfere with your team work but on the contrary help them with their work. As part of a software testing team, you’re usually part of a larger development organization and there are some rules you don’t have control over. Your goal as a leader is to work with other organization, give them visibility on your own requirement and find an acceptable balance so that policies don’t interfere with your team innovation. Studies shows that unnecessary bureaucracy is responsible for lack of inovation in a lot of large software company. This is tough one to crack.
You need to encourage a clear link between performance and reward. It can be financial remuneration, recognition and praise, additional responsibilities. Everyone has different preferences for how we like to be rewarded. These preference needs to be understood so that reward can be given appropriately. Recognition and praise should definitely outweigh threats and criticism.
If you take care about all the previous dimension, you shouldn’t have a problem with that one. Managers might want to build team commitment through team building activities (and they have their place) but the key lies with the previous five factors. Give your organization a clear vision, setup clear standards of excellence, encourage responsibility and ownership, reward and recognize people achievement and you should get 150% of your people.
When the organization’s climate is not what you desire, it it best to work on improving one or two climate dimension at a time. Other things being equal, working on climate dimensions in the the following order may prove most effective: Clarity->Standards->Responsibility->Flexibility->Rewards->Team commitment.
As I said in the introduction, this part on organization climate can be applied to any given organization and is not specific to software testing team. This is really management/leadership 101 but it’s always good to be reminded once in a while about these basic principles. In subsequent part, I will refer back to these dimension and give specific example on what I did to manage these important factors.