Reaction to 9 leadership mistakes

I came across a post in Medium entitled New managers: 9 leadership mistakes you don’t know you’re making. I’m not a manager—and not even considering a managerial career path—but that really hasn’t stopped me from reading about leadership and organization. And after having read it, I don’t think the content is just for new managers anyways. Regardless of being old or new or even just about to be in a leadership role, it’s good to be reminded (or warned) of the possible mistakes you might be making so that you can do something about it.

I was initially going to react on a couple or so points, but ended up writing what Medium estimated as a 5-minute read. So below are the mistakes shared in the post. For each, I supplemented with my own points and, for some, reiterated points I wanted to highlight.


Mistake #1: You think building trust is about team-building.

While it is an opportunity to make a connection (but it’s still up to you to make the most out of it), it’s not enough. The post author shares this link giving the three most effective ways to build trust as a leader: (1) Show vulnerability as a leader, (2) Communicate the intent behind your actions, (3) Follow through on commitments.

Try to think about how your own leaders built trust with you (or maybe how they didn’t), and use that to amplify your own trust-building experience with your own teams.

Mistake #2: You think your team members generally know what’s going on.

We’ve heard of over-communication, or even “hyper-communication.” But this quote says it best:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

So how would you know if your message gets through? One is that you’re getting the right actions out of it, but that might take time. One other way is to maybe talk to some members of your team—include the ones who people usually talk to—and ask for feedback.

Communication is such an exercise of empathy. Try to put yourselves in your audience’s shoes, and then ask yourself what would you (as them) get from hearing what you (as them) just heard.

Mistake #3: You believe being busy as a leader is good.

Don’t wear busyness as a badge of importance or of being effective. If you’re too busy, you’re time-poor. When you continuously work like you are so pressed for time, that has high chances of taking its toll on quality. It could be on the quality of the actual outputs since you might miss some details. Or it could be on the quality of your interactions—you might leave people feel like they’re not heard or seen even if you have squeezed a whole one hour for them.

I guess there might be some who feel exhilarated with busyness. And it’s OK. Just don’t let that diminish the quality of your interactions with the people you work with.

Mistake #4: You sort-of prepare for your one-on-one meetings (when you have the time).

Nothing says you have their best interest at heart better than putting in the work to actually show it. And that includes setting aside some time to look into what you’ve previously discussed, what news can you share that’s relevant to them, what concerns have reached you that relates to them, given whatever’s happening recently what would be the right questions to ask them. Check out the link that was shared how to prepare for your one-on-one meetings.

And as you go into that one-on-one, remind yourself that the meeting is not about you or your causes or your agenda. It’s about them.

Mistake #5: You try to solve the problem yourself, because you’re the domain expert.

Sometimes people will approach you asking how would you attack a certain problem they’re experiencing. I think I’ve been lucky because folks who ask me usually have already given the problem a lot of thought and would just like to have an nth opinion. So just be there to hear them out, and give your two cents if asked. But ultimately, solving the problem will be up to them.

Being in your position though, there’d be things you know—that they might not—that could help them like certain contacts, or references, or other available options outside of what they may be privy to. So be a means to connect them. You don’t necessarily have to go out of your way setting up all the needed meetings or doing POCs yourself. Again, solving the problem will be up to them.

Check out the link that was shared on the most counterintuitive leadership tip for more insights.

Mistake #6: You think transparency all the time is good.

When things aren’t clear or when intentions aren’t communicated well, there’s clamor for transparency. But as she mentioned, “transparency can backfire if you don’t hold two concepts in view: Transparency requires context, and transparency is on a spectrum.” The link she shared on how transparent should you be as a leader is an elaboration of this. Check it out, and here’s a quote from it that I wanted to highlight:

As a leader it’s important to ask yourself: In what cases is transparency appropriate and helpful, and in what other cases is it distracting or a burden? Are you being transparent, just for the sake of being transparent, or are you truly trying to help people make better decisions, and feel a greater sense of trust?

Mistake #7: You think you communicate the vision in your team well.

Again, I’m reminded of the single biggest problem in communication quote. Although not quite about management or leadership, a webinar I took mentioned how high level decisions influence low level ones. And it’s pretty similar. The vision or intent that you share to the team would create the actions that would push for that vision to be realized. Say the wrong thing, or don’t say it clearly enough, you get misalignment and what you get may be results that do not support the vision at all or as effectively as you wanted.

In terms of something actionable, I guess verbalize the vision in the context of your team. It’s possible that there’s some grand vision handed down to you, and if you can, distill it so that it’s more relatable and understandable for your team. And see Mistake #2 regarding communication.

Mistake #8: You think you’re giving enough feedback.

You recognize when recognition is due with “Thanks!”, “Good job!”, “Well done!”, and so on. But I think feedback that’s more helpful are the ones that will help people improve. But it’s hard when you’re not working on the same project together. You get some high level input that the project is doing fine, but you have no idea how well your team mate is actually faring.

Maybe that’s it—maybe you should work on something together.

Maybe you can look into the available structures at work that will allow for feedback to be openly and safely shared.

Mistake #9: You’re nice.

No, this is not a mistake. But I guess “nice” means different things to people, easy to talk to at the very least. But more than that, nice to me means being kind, being considerate, having empathy, playing fair, not being an asshole, and upholding respect for others and myself.

If you want only the easy, positive, fluffy conversations, that’s NOT nice. That could do a disservice to your team. To have honest, fair and helpful conversations, that’s nice.

If you’re always people-pleasing at the cost of putting your team members on a difficult spot, then that’s NOT so nice. Throwing people under a bus is not cool. Coming up with something workable IF you can and being able to decline IF you can’t — that would be nice.

You’re buddy-buddy with your team, that’s nice. But as their leader, are you helping them find opportunities where they can flourish? If not, that’s not nice. That you do your job as a leader effectively—and that includes upholding respect for the people you lead and letting them flourish—that’s nice.


That was long. If you’re here, thanks for reading this far!

What I’ve been reading, and what to read next

Yesterday, I was shopping in Amazon for the next book to read. I was having a bit of a hard time since I couldn’t really pinpoint what I was looking for. Maybe it’s a mix of quarantine blues, and this feeling that the books I’ve been reading have quite recurrent themes just differently stated.

This 2020, so far, I’ve gone through a few titles. There were topics I read in line with product management:

There were books about leadership, evolutionary organizations, and maybe somewhat about driving change:

  • Brave New Work (2019) by Aaron Dignan – At USD5.99, this feels quite sulit!
  • Reinventing Organizations (Illustrated, 2016) by Frederic Laloux, illustrated by Etienne Appert – This one is available in an option the author calls “pay-what-feels-right.”
  • Going Horizontal (2018) by Samantha Slade – Among the three, I think this is the only one aimed with individuals more than the leaders in mind.

Still on leadership:

  • Essentialism (2014) by Greg McKeown
  • The Culture Code (2018) by Daniel Coyle
  • Fast Times (2020), a perspective from leaders at McKinsey & Company – This one was available at Kindle Unlimited which I had a discounted subscription of $0.99/month but only for a limited period back then.
  • Art of Action (2011) by Stephen Bungay – Not available in Kindle

Then on leadership with focus on communication:

Then there’s this one that’s a bit out of place, but quite relevant in these quarantine times:

  • Remote (2013) by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson – (but I like their newer book more)

The leadership books and organizational change books especially are really more intended towards leaders (as it should be, I suppose) than individual contributors like me. But that’s not to say I don’t get anything out of them. The insights are very interesting, the anecdotes mostly enjoyable, and the examples give you an idea on how to possibly be better. It just takes a little extra layer of processing of how can this apply to me, or how can I apply this in my own capacity, or how do I get THEM to apply this. So back to my shopping… I guess one other reason why I was stuck was because I felt like reading similar books will only be like the author preaching to the choir, and I’m not really the one who needs convincing.

So I’ve decided on a much lighter reading on a topic that I also enjoy (because of course). Next read is: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.

Read: Leadership is Language

I stumbled upon this book, Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say–and What You Don’t in Amazon while I was looking for a book by the same author, L. David Marquet. I was initially curious about Turn the Ship Around!, but then I saw this more recently published title (just this Feb 2020) and it had a 5.0 out of a 5.0 star rating out of only 26 reviews (but still!). The title also got to me because I like language. When I read and the author chips in some tidbit on certain word usage or history, I’m more than likely to be appreciative of that info.

After having read it, what I like the most is how it brings to light some of my usual tendencies and offers better alternatives. Say, for instance, I like showing appreciation towards my colleagues, and I might say something like “Cool! Good job!” A better approach would have been to say something more specific and descriptive, Another example is how we’re inclined to give instructions over providing info e.g., “Be back by 10AM” vs “We’ll start at 10AM.” The difference feels so subtle but it’s there.

Now, I doubt my language patterns would change overnight. But awareness is a start.

Sharing here the rest of my notes…

We’re continuously OSCILLATING between thinking and doing

  • Like in PDCA (plan-do-check-act), we shift between action and reflection, doing and deciding.
  • Before action – what are we going to do? what are we going to learn?
  • After action – what have we learned?

DIFFERENTIATING between embracing variability and reducing variability

  • Thinking benefits from embracing variability
  • Doing benefits from reducing variability
  • Big mistake example: “Often, leaders driving toward consensus are reducing variability when they should be embracing variability and driving away from consensus. Then they wonder why they’re not hearing new ideas from their team. The problem is they’re calling the wrong play. They’ve brought a reduce-variability playbook to an embrace-variability game.”

6 NEW PLAYS

  • Starting in redwork… Transition from redwork to bluework with:
    • CONTROL THE CLOCK, not obey the clock
    • COMPLETE, not continue
  • While in bluework
    • COLLABORATE, not coerce, with the goal to:
    • IMPROVE, not prove
  • Transition from bluework back to redwork with:
    • COMMIT, not comply
  • And use the enabling play:
    • CONNECT, not conform

CONTROL THE CLOCK, not obey the clock. This highlights importance of introducing and allowing for PAUSES to address something wrong or to get into some collaborative work; and that this is responsibility of leadership (to create space for it, or to initiate this himself as folks might not feel empowered to do so).

COLLABORATE, not coerce. This highlights a funny point: ‘Often “collaborating” is really coercion in disguise.’ So we need to be mindful that we really are collaborating, rather than just subtly getting people to agree or validate our own ideas.

  • Vote first, then discuss – If the boss goes first, others might not be inclined to share own ideas.
  • Interesting language shift: Avoid binary yes/no question. Shift towards asking how, tell me more.
  • 7 sins of questioning and their corresponding alternative
    • instead of question stacking, try one and done.
    • instead of an attempt at a teaching moment with a leading question, try a learning moment (asking how would that work, tell me about that)
    • instead of a “why” question, try “tell me more.”
    • instead of dirty question (subtly holds biases and anticipates a particular answer), try a clean question (asking what do you mean by… or what do you want to have happen?)
    • instead of a binary question, start the question with “what” or “how”
    • instead of self-affirming questions, try self-educating questions (like what am I missing, what could we do better?)
    • instead of aggressive questioning jumping to the future, reset, start from a place where they feel secure (known, present, past), and move gradually toward areas of uncertainty and vulnerability (unknown, future)
  • Interesting language shift: Give information, not instructions. Instead of saying “Be back at 10AM,” say “We’ll start at 10AM.”

COMMIT, not comply. This highlights that commitment is more than a decision, it entails action that is attached to the decision.

  • Interesting language shift: From using “don’t” rather than “can’t” to express commitments e.g., “I don’t miss deadlines,” rather than “I can’t miss deadlines.”
  • Apart from committing to ACT on a decision, also commit to LEARN.
  • Escalation of commitment “means that once we select a course of action, we stubbornly stick to it, even in the face of evidence that the course of action is failing.” It’s like sunk cost fallacy, and is something to watch out for.

COMPLETE, not continue. This highlights the need to make completion a part of the process of doing work. Upon completion, apart from the mental reset (and possible celebration), you put in some reflection to see what you’ve learned and to see whether it makes sense to still follow through the actions for a decision, or if the decision itself still makes sense.

  • Provides the critical pause for self-reflection and improvement, and celebration
  • “To celebrate with, not for: appreciate, don’t evaluate; observe, don’t judge; and prize, don’t praise.”
  • Interesting language shift: From something that gives judgment (e.g., Good job!) to something specific and descriptive (e.g., Thanks! I noticed that you structured the document really well, making the points really come through.”)
  • Interesting language shift: From recognizing characteristics to the specific behavior. Instead of saying “You guys are a great team,” say “It looks like it took difficult cross-department coordination to deliver this product.”

IMPROVE, not prove. This highlights the need to drop the ego and be open to think about what or how we could be better, or how we can make the work go better.

  • Resist the temptation to be good idea fairies. Use the team backlog and process the ideas in the next scheduled bluework pause. But this requires the right support framework to be in place. No backlog, no process, no scheduled time to process mean the good idea fairies will continue to be at it.
  • People’s own egos are the blockers of the improve play. Solution is not to blame; but to acknowledge that people can get defensive, and so the right mindset and language needs to be used when initiating this play.
  • Focus forward – don’t dwell on the mistakes, emphasize the potential
  • Focus on others or on the process – don’t play the blame game. Shift focus on how to help the team, how to help customers, how to improve workflow.
  • Focus on achieving excellence, not avoiding errors.

CONNECT, not conform. This part is about caring and trust — that you can’t connect without these two.

  • A flatter power gradient allows for more open communication that feels safe to say truth, tell it like it is, admit mistakes, and deliver bad news. But to achieve this rests on the hands of those who are in power.
  • Interesting language shift: From judging to observing e.g., instead of saying “You wrote that ugly report poorly,” say “I noticed a couple of typos, and paragraph 3 missed a few points that we covered in the review.”
  • Be open, trust first, assume positive intent
  • Don’t shut people down from participation or voicing out ideas by thinking you are/know better.

One link leads to another

Sometimes I come across posts or material in the internet on topics that piques my interest. It could be something I want to know more or understand more about. Or it could be related to a conversation or two I’ve had within the day that makes me question certain things. So sometimes I google, and sometimes I just stumble upon them through various feeds — could be Twitter, email, Medium, IG, and Facebook even. And then one link leads to another and before I know it, it’s 2AM and I should be getting some sleep. So anyways, here’s a dump of some recent links, in no particular order. I hope someone finds them helpful or interesting as I have.

Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell (15 minute video) – I like how the content was easy to follow. There were a lot of points worth highlighting, but I guess what hits home the most is the mention of three things that need to be balanced:

  • Build the right thing (PO tends to focus here)
  • Build the thing right (dev team)
  • Build it fast (SM or Agile coach)

So you want to be a Scrum Master (book) – This is a Leanpub book which you can get for free, or not if you can afford to make a payment / contribution. It’s written by an Agile community of interest with the intent of sharing what they’ve learned and what they’ve seen to have worked.

The 3 most effective ways to build trust as a leader (post/article) – Got this from Rob Lambert but I can’t remember where exactly — “Three typical management activities that get poor results and three that get good results”. I’m not really a leader by title but the three ways of building trust that the post enumerates are still relevant to me and they emphasize points that I value: Empathy, clarity of intent, and follow through.

DISC Profile Types (personality test) – This is something I picked up from Rob Lambert’s webinar. For each profile type, there are recommended ways on how to better communicate with them, and inversely there are recommended ways on how to encourage others to better communicate with you. Took the test myself and got 48% Compliance, then Dominance, Steadiness, and lastly Influence.

12 common mistakes made when using Story Points (post/article) – This reminded me of something a colleague had shared wherein their Scrum Master wants them to estimate in hours rather than in story points, and also her thinking that story points can be easily translated to hours.

Agile Makes No Sense (post/article) – Let me just quote some lines (actually last 2 paragraphs) that I liked…

What is the smallest thing that could add value (and make sense)? A better standup? A better retrospective? Inviting a customer to a demo? Pairing for a day? Agreeing to get something into product in a couple days? Try that. Make one thing make sense as in “wow, I can see how that created value”.

When you take this humble approach — instead of “installing” a bunch of artifacts, tools, roles, and rituals AKA doing Agile — I think you’re embracing the true spirit of Agile.

Credibility, and being leaders people would want to follow

A Facebook friend shared a video of a TEDx talk on leadership. And it starts off by posing the question why would anybody follow you. And I think this is something leaders should ask themselves. And if the reason is just because  “I’m the boss. (mic drop, gangsta pose)” then that’s not leadership to begin with.

Leaders should ask themselves this question — why would anybody follow you. It’s not about being insecure. It’s about empathy and understanding that most people are driven by purpose. It’s about finding out how you can be someone people would willingly follow.

Below’s a link to the video and some excerpts:

“…If you want to lead others, they’ve got to believe that you’re credible. They’ve got to believe that you’re honest, competent, forward-looking and inspiring. You can ask yourself how would people describe me. And you can ask yourself, in my behaviour and in my actions: Do I demonstrate to people my honesty? Do I demonstrate to them my competency? Do I demonstrate to them my enthusiasm, my passion? Do I demonstrate for them what it is that I care about?

We need to be able to tell the truth. We need to be clear on what’s important and why it’s important. And we need to be able to make sure that we act in ways that we say: we say this is important, we follow through with that. We need to continue to develop ourselves, our competency.  Our competency is an asset that appreciates over time. You’ve got to keep filling it up. And leaders are great learners. They’re always open to wonderment and always open to trying to learn more things that they can get better. Good enough never is. You’ve got to be willing to show your enthusiasm, to show your passion. … Show your enthusiasm. Be willing to say: I’m excited about this, this is important, this is significant. And you’ve got to be willing to take a stand. You need to be able to express an opinion. …You need to believe in such a way that other people will believe that you believe and will in fact be infected by your enthusiasm. … The simple truth is this: People will not believe the message if they don’t believe in the messenger.”

Looking for that singular statement

There’s been some recent talk about vision and goals where I work, and that has somehow led me into thinking about what I personally stand for (at least professionally). Or maybe it could also be because I watched Batman v Superman last weekend and there was this scene wherein the lady senator wants to know what Superman stands for. Anyways, I tried to give it some thought. The truisms and platitudes that I often say crossed my mind. I thought of my default thoughts and my fave quotes. But it’s hard to capture what I stand for or what I’d like to stand for in a singular statement.

Be kind. Play fair.

Let your work speak for itself. Keep on learning. Keep the saw sharp.

No, not quite. Each statement doesn’t quite cut it.

Then something hit me. 16 years out of college, and it hit me! I don’t think I’ve ever been the type who’s so overly gung-ho about graduating from our state university. But I realized that the singular statement I was looking for was in our school motto all along:

Honor and Excellence.

Honor. This captures how it’s not about winning all the time, but more importantly it’s how you played the game. It covers honesty, integrity and respect. It covers selflessness, doing what is right, and giving credit where it’s due.

Excellence. This highlights competence. It covers knowing your craft and continuing to learn to be better than you were previously. It covers setting the bar high. It covers uncompromising standards. This also extends to paving the way for others to excel and being a spotlight to others when it’s their time to shine.

Honor and Excellence. You need both. It’s not one or the other. This means being good at what you do without the needless assholiness. This means rising above others while still remaining grounded. This means expanding your mind, capabilities, scope, or whatever; without getting so full of yourself.

This is a good reminder of what I’d like to see more of in myself, and what I should reward or encourage more in others.

Finished reading: Managing the Test People

It’s a quick and easy read as it promised to be. I’m not a manager and it’s not something I’m planning to be. But I am somewhat in a position of leadership so the book is still quite relevant to me. Judging by how much I’ve highlighted in the book, it’s undeniably quite relevant.

I’m also working with younger folks who I believe have great potential to be leaders. They can be even better leaders than who we have at the moment, but only if they’re positively influenced by the right mindset on both leadership and technical aspects.

I’d go recommend this book to them since the author really paints a great picture of a leader (or manager) to aspire to be. And with its focus on testing teams — or technical teams in general — it’s a perfect fit for us. Reading the book raises the bar for our expectations on managers but only as it should be because we can’t expect nothing less than for our managers to lead and empower their people. You also get insights on how managers should (better) deal with things. But more than that, and I guess what’s most important, you also get to pick up and be reminded on how you should be as a leader (even if not by title).

In closing, the author shares:

Stay on the right path by frequently asking yourself, “Am I being honest? Am I being consistent? Would I want to work with* me?”

*Originally “for”. But since we’re not bosses or managers, “with” seems more relatable.

Maybe that simple level of introspection — especially on that last question — is what we all need to remind us to be first and foremost good colleagues or team mates before even rising to becoming good leaders.

What makes them leaders I want to work with

So leadership happens to be one of the things I think about, you know, just for fun. I’ve been working for quite some time now and I’ve had my fair share of leaders — some by title and some for real. Now, I don’t want to dive deep into my memory banks so I just thought of two leaders I’ve had the good fortune of working with recently. One is my former manager, Eric, and the other is my current project’s product owner, Maneesh. I posed the question: What about them makes it feel like it’s worth it to follow them?

Vision

They aspire for great things. They have an idea of what they want (or at least they seem to). You know they already have a picture of what they want to achieve or some sort of a plan in their heads (or at least it feels like it) so it doesn’t feel like they’re waiting on you to hand them the answer on a silver platter. More importantly, they are able to communicate their views clearly enough to get the team’s buy-in.

What you say matters

When they ask for your inputs, it doesn’t feel like they’re just asking out of courtesy (well, they could’ve been but you couldn’t tell). When you raise a concern, it doesn’t feel like it went in one ear and out the other. You go out of the discussion feeling like you’ve been heard.

Ego is thrown out of the door

They don’t insist on being right all the time. So if you happen to have conflicting ideas, they’re willing to hear you out and they’re also willing to explain where they’re coming from. The focus is on the problem that needs to be solved. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve disagreed on some points midway — what matters is you agree on a solution in the end.

Follow through

When something needs to get done and they’re the one who needs to do it, they act on it right away. Of course, you understand that they’re busy with a lot of other stuff but you can still count on them to follow through — without the need for multiple follow-ups from you.

Clarity, transparency and integrity

It’s hard to pinpoint if one is just the effect of the other. Or if they should be separate points instead of bundled as one. Either way, these three make it easier for us to understand the reason behind certain decisions or actions. Things don’t come in as a surprise (or a shock) because they’re communicated clearly, discussed openly or aligned with some bigger plan or purpose. What’s been done is congruent to what’s been said. There’s little to no room for second guessing or thinking “Oh, he probably means well…”

Your success in mind

Maybe it’s just me, but I think to have your success in mind is a basic expectation from your managers. Of course, I also expect that people help themselves but managers have the role of removing impediments on your way and setting you up for success. I don’t want to work for someone who just passes the buck (delegation doesn’t always equate to “empowerment”) or throws you out to the wolves.

As for our product owner, I expected that his focus would only be on the product that we’re working on. But for him to express interest in our career progression or on us maturing in our practice, that was something. I do understand that if we do improve ourselves, in turn we’ll provide better service to him. But what I like is that he considers wins for both sides — ours and not only his.

Coincidentally, there’s a buzz in the team on the “growth mindset” — the thinking that you just have to work at something hard enough in order to succeed. But while I understand that it is hugely up to the individual to drive his own success, you can’t discount how it’s also a matter of a bunch of other things including leaders who truly empower and enable you. I guess the paragraph below from this post states it much better:

“Ultimately, I’m convinced that there’s great power in starting from a place of believing that all people can improve themselves if the conditions are right, and I think that’s what Kohn is getting at when he worries about the growth mindset ideology being co-opted by personal responsibility advocates. Human beings are not vacuums. We rely on family, teachers, economics, societal expectations, and a range of other factors beyond ourselves to contribute to our success. The notion that personal responsibility is the only condition that matters for success, or the most important one, is just plain false.”

That’s about it

So those are just the stuff that’s on the top of my head. Ultimately (I just had to use “ultimately” myself), I think the best relationships are the ones that don’t feel forced, and that also goes for you and your leader. I guess one last thing I can add to the list is how they didn’t just ask for my respect — they earned it.

Brain dump: Being a test lead

I’m grooming a team mate to become a test lead. What makes this role different from being a tester?

As a tester, your focus is on your test assignments. But as you become more senior (and not just when you become a test lead), you need to start looking at the bigger picture. Not just in terms of functions being tested e.g., you become more concerned as the system as a whole. But you also start seeing your purpose in the software engineering process i.e., you’re an integral part of it and what you want to deliver aren’t test cases or bugs but rather an application that has been fortified by your testing, an application that the target end-user will actually want to use. Software isn’t made to just make jobs for us who are in the business of delivering software. Software is for helping people do the stuff they need.

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself with that explanation and that might be too much to take in.

So a simpler answer…

  • As a test lead, you need to be able to coordinate test tasks among the test team.
  • There’s also a lot of admin work like you need to be able to note attendance or how to contact folks just in case they don’t show up.
  • You also need to watch out for risks, dependencies, assumptions, constraints (or basically anything that could go wrong), and for issues (when things went wrong), and capture lessons learned. As a tester, you already do this but it scales up when you’re the test lead.
  • You also act as a representative of the test team — if there are concerns that they hesitate to raise, you have to either encourage them to raise it or raise it yourself.
  • You need to be able to initiate creation of templates, standards, guidelines, workflows that will help the test team do their work.
  • You need to be able to review other testers’ work — be it test case drafting, test execution, bug reporting, status reporting.
  • You need to be on your toes in case something tricky or complex comes along so that you can suggest options or strategies on how to go about with it.
  • You also need to be able to take the blunt hits for your team when something doesn’t work out, because in a way you are more accountable if you’re the “lead” in general. You might think leads or project managers have it easy because most of the time it looks like they’re just doing reports or asking others to do the work. But when shit hits the fan and the team doesn’t deliver, someone’s going to look for a neck to choke and often it’s theirs.

Ok. That’s about all I can write this morning. Till my next brain dump.

Testing Mindset

At work, I’m helping a colleague in developing a material on ‘testing mindset’ which is to be shared to our fellow testers. Initially, we have this list of one-liners — catchphrases that we hope would stick like: Always ask the question why, Assume the product is broken, Trust but verify, etc.

I tried going over them one evening. And while they do emphasize some qualities that are important for testers — like being persistent, curious, attentive to detail, critical-minded — I felt that it was still lacking. Some qualities that I deem important were missing — like having good communication skills, being a team player, being technically skilled, striving for self-improvement, having pride and ownership of your work/craft. I came up with an 8-point bullet list describing qualities that I would like in my test team, until I cut myself short since I was working time-bound. And as I’ve taken a step back from the one-liners to come up with this incomplete list of desired qualities, I took another step back from these qualities and thought of what is the driving force behind the need for these qualities.

Why must testers have those qualities I’ve been enumerating?  Why must they keep those catchphrases in mind?

In pausing and taking a step back, I realize it’s all for making things better. I guess that’s my personal testing mindset: I try to make things better.

When I started testing, I thought it was my nitpicking skills and slight OC-ness that made me such a good fit for the job. I just loved finding bugs (and still do)! Over time and over many projects, I found that my purpose in the team isn’t just to find bugs. Essentially, it’s to try to make things better. By “things”, I don’t only mean the products under test. But also my working relationship with my team mates, work loads, schedules, processes, the team itself, and even myself.

  • Say, I try to expose the bugs and report them, so that they’d get fix. Product gets better.
  • I try to provide suggestions for improvement like a comment on usability. Product gets better. If fixed, that suggestion could cut short the work that the end-user has to do.
  • I try to report bugs clearly and concisely. Dev’s life and mine are better than it would have been if i had given a vague report. Dev will hopefully be able to replicate the bug so he won’t have to nag me for details.
  • I try to find shortcuts and tools, and share them with the team. Tester’s lives are better. Even just the little things that could help minimize the tedium of some of the tasks we do is something I appreciate.
  • I try to read up, and try to continue learning and improving myself. I (hopefully) get better. (Well, i try.)
  • I try to encourage knowledge sharing among team members. The team (hopefully) gets better.
  • Etc.

Yoda might disapprove, because after all he said “there is no try.” But still, we must persist. The things we do, the qualities we instill in ourselves, our values — these must all drive towards the betterment of our team, our product, and ourselves.