Monday, 20 August 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part II)

You may want to read Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part I) if you haven't done so already.

The Shield, the Sword and the Horn of Met

In my experience one of the most important functions of any Team Leader is that they can shield their team and make sure all the rubbish and rotten tomatoes coming flying don’t hit them. The importance of that can’t be overemphasized from my point of view. If the Team Leader is seen to put his money where his mouth is in protecting the team from external distractions they will rally when called upon.

As an ex-Manager of mine once said “Get them to work for you, not for the company. Sooner or later the business will do something that will disappoint them. But if they work for you they will do their best because they don’t want to let you down, even if they’re unhappy with the company.”

I’ve been in both camps in my working live and can say it’s a lot easier to work at a place where this Shield is in place. It breeds mutual respect and is in very many ways the return to the tribal society.

If any threats to the team are swiftly intercepted and struck down it also sends a message to people outside the team– don’t mess with these guys. They’re a professional bunch and we don’t tolerate substandard behavior. Saying “no” for matters concerning the team sets boundaries for the behavior that the manager sees as acceptable. Precedence is created.

Something else I learned from an ex-Manager is that the team manager is not there to do the hands on work although it doesn’t hurt if they can jump in when necessary. The main goal for the team manager is to remove the rocks on the way and make sure that there is nothing impeding or slowing them down. Only if everyone in the team can work unobstructed should the team manager look at their own work tasks.

I can’t count how many times I got absolutely invaluable information about problems in the team or company in the pub. A week or two after joining I went out with the team for a drink and learned more there in two hours than in the weeks before. Things that people genuinely cared about or that upset them for one reason or other came to light in a more relaxed atmosphere than the workplace. Having some distance between the manager and the team is fine. When it comes to the crunch the manager sticks their head out and take a decision. But being seen as part of the team is a must in my book. If people can’t see the real me behind the manager facade, how are they going to trust that I stand up for their interests?

Leading by example is not only old news it was ancient when dinosaurs roamed the earth. What it does for the team is manifold. It sets the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t. If the Test Manager comes late and leaves early that will soon be copied. Is a two line bug report acceptable? Depends on the company, maybe a bit more information would be helpful. So logging bug reports as you’d like to see them done is a good way to lead by example. These reports can become the standard that everyone should be working towards. Same with many other small things, emails, written and verbal reporting, etc. Setting precedencies and explaining what the reasoning behind it is and why it’s important will help form a professional team that works as the Test Manager expects.

I’m not promoting the lone hero approach, far from it. In order to get a team into shape you need people to help you. Someone who has seen the light and believes your approach is the right thing to do. The video Leadership Lessons from the dancing guy makes it clearer than I could do. It's been around for quite a while and is worth a look.

If you can get some momentum going with the help of a believer from within the group it will go a long way to building a successful team.

Read on in Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part III).

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