More on When in Rome

One of the things I often say is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I have some team mates who admittedly know me better than most that jokingly say what I really mean is “When in Rome, invade the Romans.” While I have no plans for domination (that’s just too much trouble), a lot of jokes are half-meant.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is not a call for conformity, submissiveness, or withdrawing your own beliefs to follow someone else’s. To me, it’s about flexibility and just being plainly realistic that when you’re thrust into a new environment (be it a new company, a team, or a project) you can’t expect things to go your way or the old way that you know. You need to “do as the Romans do” to survey the environment, find out how things are being done, and more importantly to find out why things are being done a certain way.

There’s a saying that goes first learn the rules then break them. “Doing as the Romans do” allows you to learn the rules. This gives you the context and is essential for finding out which rules you can break or to how much extent can you push the limits of the rules. I don’t generally condone rule-breaking (I hate jaywalkers), but sometimes there are just BS rules (Google: sacred cows) which were set in place ages ago that are no longer relevant to the current situation. To me, rules (just like tools and processes) should be there to help make things easier or move things along more easily. If it’s more of a pain in the ass, then something’s wrong.

And I guess this is where “invading Rome” comes in. Armed with what you’ve learned from “doing as the Romans”, you are in a better position to trigger change. You also pick up on how to go about it, say who you need to talk to effect change more easily. But before we all go on a changing spree, one other important thing for me is to choose your battles. Not everything is worth rallying change for. I am not religious but the serenity prayer* says it best: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

[* N/A when I’m driving.]

Back to an old new team

Last October, I rejoined a former team but this time as a test lead. Previously, I was a tester in this team but I got pulled out in Nov 2010 to lead another test team. That other project had come to an end, and the options that my manager had for me was to either go back or join QS (another division). I ended up going back. It was like joining a new team altogether though. Only 1 of the original set of testers I knew remained.

One of the first things I did was try to collect my bearings. I wanted to know where is what, how do I find this, and so on. It was a bit all over the place. My OC-ness kicked in and I ended up centralizing the available testing-related materials and tools, and deploying the structure to the team. I didn’t want any new guys feeling lost as I was, and I don’t think you should need to ask more than 1 person for stuff that should be readily accessible to you.

Next up, I worked on the training materials. Again, I remember having received a lot of references (some obsolete) and not knowing where to start. So I made a visual outline. In the course of doing so, I also identified needed training topics with no available references. I prepped a couple or so slides for some of the topics, and also revisited the older ones. Still a long way to go, but at least the ball is rolling. My teammate, Tin, has taken over the training area so that’s one thing off my back.

In one of our earlier test team meetings, Tin facilitated a rant session to identify potential areas for improvement. The thing with rant sessions though is they’ll only work if someone drives the initiatives for improvements, otherwise you’ll end up with just a list of rants. There were nice ideas, but there weren’t any plans on working on them. Those things won’t just happen. I asked for a copy and posted them in a tab in my excel task list. That was another thing the test team didn’t have prior, btw, a task list or a less forgettable way of tracking the stuff they were doing for the test team. So far, I’ve picked off some of the low-hanging fruits marking them off to indicate whether something was or is being done for them.

(I’m nearing the edge of the page, need to wrap up.) Feeling lost or frustrated has been the starting point for all these. There are some things that shouldn’t have to be as difficult as they are. There’ll always be something to complain about. But you either let it defeat you (in which case you’ll just keep complaining about it) or you actually do something about it. It doesn’t have to be so radical so as to change things overnight– baby steps are fine — as long as you’re heading towards something.

Be not afraid of going slowly; be only afraid of standing still.

[Notes, Feb 2012]

Wanting change is not enough

Occasionally, we come across folks who say they want change or who are ranting about how things are currently done. (Chances are, at one point or another, we’re one of those folks.) But then after some time, we get in touch with them and find out that nothing had changed even though it’s perfectly within their power (or their limits) to trigger the change. In asking why, we sometimes get to the sad conclusion that nothing changed because nothing was changed. They just shrugged things off, maybe, or hoped that things would somehow just get better. At best, if they had even bothered to note down, what they end up with is a growing list of problems where nothing gets crossed off.

That list of wants or rants won’t magically get resolved. Stating the problem is not enough to get it solved just as stating the goal is not enough to get it done. It’s a start. But there’s got to be a change in mindset from simply just saying “I want X!” to coming up with something like “I want X so here’s what we can do…” I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best: A goal without a plan is just a wish. Of course, planning won’t suffice — there are still the harder parts of following through with the plan (personally, I go by plan-do-check-act). But unless someone drives the change, you’re pretty much stuck to just waiting for nothing to happen.