Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Do I have worth?

When pondering the training plan for my team I remembered this question from Terry Pratchett’s book Unseen Academicals as the underlying driver for one of the main characters. In the book the character is constantly concerned that he doesn’t have “worth” and tries his best to prove, according to the guidelines he was brought up with, that the world is a better place with him in it.

In context with training a team of software tester I thought, who’s asking? Who does a software tester provide with something that is useful? And who decides what’s defined as useful? Depending on who’s doing the answering I’d get different responses. So I had a look at what job sites are looking for and compared that to what I’d be looking for in a tester in our company. Most job sites put an emphasis on the Skill and Domain section but leave out the business side. I had a picture in my mind how these three areas should overlap and it helps me to ponder the problem further, see below.

For clarification what I mean with Domain is knowledge as a subject matter expert (SME) – knowing about financial systems and accounting in banks, phone networks in telecommunication, etc.
Skill for me would be everything on the more technical side, ie writing test plans, scripts, test techniques, writing SQL statements, knowledge of particular tools, etc.
That leaves the Business side in this triangle with which I mean anything to do with working as part of a project team in a company. For example, knowing what to report to a Project Manager, when to report, knowing when to escalate matters , where to archive your test data, how to contact your system administrator, etc.

As a test manager, a lot of issues that I’m dealing with are NOT in the domain or skills section but the business area, still, no jobsite thinks it’s even worth mentioning. People not raising project risks at the time, telling PM’s about holidays they booked, etc is a common complaint I get, am I alone in that?

This diagram is a gross simplification and ignores things like experience and ability to communicate effectively. The latter I think is specific for each area as someone might be able to communicate rather well on a technical level but would be lost to explain the same thing to a senior manager. I rather see these unwritten parts like experience or communication as flowing around all three areas. In my opinion, if someone is very good in one area it makes up for weaknesses in others – to an extent.

I could extend it and use colour gradients or additional parts to signify experience, communication skill in that area but to me it’s not about making sure that I don’t miss anything or that I measure exactly the proficiency level. I don’t believe that this can be done reliably but it can be of help to remind me of the different areas that a tester should be competent in.

This diagram isn’t really restricted to testers, it’s more generic and could apply to any profession, really. I just started from the tester’s perspective as that is my background.

Now with the yearly appraisals around the corner (yes, I do work in a reasonably sized company), I will use this diagram and discuss how my team would like to expand their knowledge in each area.

I’ve got this nagging feeling that I’m overlooking something big as this diagram seems to be quite generic and wiser people than me must have done written something about it. If there are any links that you know of that go a bit deeper, please do let me know.


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