Monday, July 10, 2006

What kind of fish is a tester?

Imagine if everybody were like you…

Would life be the better or the worse for that?

Would testing be better or worse?

This is an article from the July edition of the EuroSTAR Newsletter - STARTester, from Anne Mette Jonassen Hass. You can view the complete newsletter by clicking here and dont forget to subscribe to receive future issues.

I must admit that I think if everybody were like me, (testing) life would perhaps be easier, but also dull, predictable and lacking important aspects. Finally after more than 50 years of life, i have realized that other people – and hence testers – are different from me! Other testers see the world differently and have different values. What a relief!

I’m not fast. The fact that all testers are not alike has been known since the ancient Greek philosopher Galenus defined 4 temperaments (some people like systems and order)

• Phlegmatic
• Sanguine
• Choleric
• Melancholic

Galenus also said: “We all have our share of each – in different mixtures.” Since then others have studied personalities including Freud, Jung, and Myers-Briggs. Based on Jung’s work Myers-Briggs defines sixteen personality types composed from four dimensions. The dimensions are:

• How do you get energy:
Extraversion (E) / Introversion (I)

• How do you get information and knowledge:
Sensing (S) / Intuition (N)

• How do you decide:
Thinking (T) / Feeling (F)

• How do you act:
Judging (J) / Perceptive (P)

The Greek view is quite simple, the Myers-Briggs view rather complex, and they are both concerned with the individual person as just that: an individual. In addition to this, Dr. M. Belbin has defined nine team roles. A team role as defined by Dr. M. Belbin is “A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way."

If you go around thinking that all people basically are like you, you are terribly mistaken. And that mistake can lead to misunderstandings and tensions in test teams, and may even cause test teams to break down. When working in test teams, awareness and understanding of peoples’ differences are essential.

I once worked on a team with many frictions and a fair amount of mistrust. One of the team members had heard of the Belbin roles and we all had a test. This was a true revelation to us all. The two team members with the most friction between them were very different types. They had both been completely at a loss as to why the other acted as he did. Having understood that neither had meant any harm, but that it was simply a question of being very different personalities, they worked much better together in the team.

The nine Belbin roles are:

Action-oriented roles

• Shaper
• Implementer
• Completer/Finisher

People-oriented roles

• Co-ordinator
• Team-worker
• Resource Investigator

Cerebral roles

• Plant
• Monitor/Evaluator
• Specialist

Each of the roles has some valuable contributions to the progress of the team in which it acts. They also have some weaknesses that may have an adverse effect on the team.

Two examples:

A Shaper is challenging, dynamic, and thrives on pressure.
He or she has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.
The weaknesses are that a Shaper is prone to provocation, and may offend people's feelings.

A Team-worker is co-operative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic.
He or she listens, builds, and averts friction.
The weakness is that a Teamworker can be indecisive in crunch situations.
Everybody is a mixture of more team roles, usually with one or two being dominant. An analysis of one’s Belbin team role will give a team role profile showing the weight of each role in one’s personality.

Every person on a team should know his or hers own type and those of the others. It is done by filling in fairly simple questionnaires – not going into deep psychological searches in peoples’ minds. The aim is to provide a basic understanding of ones own and the other team members’ ways of interacting and primary values. It is not about finding out why people are like they are and not to try and change anything either.

It is the test manager’s responsibility to get the test team to work for a specific testing task. And it is the higher management’s responsibility
to choose a test manager with the right traits, skills, and capabilities to be a test manager.

There are two aspects to a team: the people and the roles assigned to the people.
Each individual person in a team has his or her personal team role profile and a
number of skills and capabilities. Each role has certain requirements toward the
person or the people who are going to fill it.

On top of that the people in the team need to be able to work together and not have too many personality conflicts. It can be quite a puzzle to form a synthesis of all this. But the idea is to choose people to match the requirements of the roles, and for them to fit together as a team.

The ideal situation is of course when the test manager or test leader can analyze the roles he or she has to find people for at the beginning of a test project, and then hire exactly the right people. Advertisements can then be tailored to the needs.
The applicants can be tested, both for their skills and capabilities and for personal traits.
The team can then be formed by the most suitable people – and ahead we go.

Unfortunately life is rarely that easy. In most cases the test manager either has an already defined group of people of which to form a team. Or he or she has a limited and specific group of people to choose from. It could also be that the manager has to find one or more new people to fill vacancies on an existing team. In all cases the knowledge of people’s team role profiles is a great advantage.

Forming teams and getting them to work is not an easy task. There is no absolute solution. But a well-formed team is a strong team, and a team tailored for the task is the strongest team you can get.

There will be more examples of types of fish – sorry testers, at EuroSTAR and examples of which Belbin roles fit the best to different test roles in test teams with different targets such as component testing and acceptance testing.
While waiting for this you can try to find out how many fish are hidden in this picture:

Mrs. Anne Mette Jonassen Hass, M.Sc.C.E. has worked in IT since 1980; since 1995 for DELTA, IT-Processes mainly in software test and software process improvement. Mrs. Hass holds ISEB Foundation and Practitioner Certificate in Software Testing and is an accredited and experienced teacher for both. Mrs. Hass is a frequent speaker and has a solid experience in teaching at many levels. Mrs. Hass has written two books, developed the team-game ”Process Contest”, and created the poster “Software Testing at a Glance – or two”.

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