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Inspire & Motivate Your Teams Through Learning

  • 21/07/2011
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR
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As this was one of the more popular articles of 2010 we decided to republish it here in case any of you missed it…enjoy!

My passion is in building high performing software quality and testing teams. Successful and highly regarded teams are comprised of individuals passionate and knowledgeable about their professional craft. Establishing a continuous learning environment is key to inspiring and motivating your teams. The following are some of the focuses I incorporate in the learning and development of my teams.

Advocate for Testing Within Your Organization

Advocating for software testing within your organization is fundamental as a test lead or manager. In fact, it is important for all testers to champion their profession. As it relates to training, it is important for management to understand the value of your team in order for you to secure appropriate budget and support for team development.

Establish a Continuous Learning Mindset

Our industry is constantly changing and it is imperative to maintain a commitment to the training and development of our teams. Continuous learning encourages an awareness of industry trends, provides a focus on continuous improvement, inspires personal growth, and through creative thinking it advances the craft of software testing. Ideally you will be able to establish the continuous learning mindset for your team, and more importantly instil a lifelong commitment to learning for each individual. Although it is ultimately up to each individual to take ownership for their professional development, it is important to offer diverse learning opportunities to address unique learning styles and interests.

Incorporate Diverse Learning Opportunities

There are a tremendous number of learning opportunities for software testers. It is important to incorporate diverse opportunities in alignment with the organizational needs and the skill sets of your team. Consider including a variety of the following options:

• Courses & Certifications
• Conferences & Workshops
• Organizations & Associations *
• Webinars & Interviews *
• Books, Magazines, Newsletters *
• Discussion Forums & Blogs *
• Internal Cross Training & Lunch and Learn Sessions *
• Networking, Networking, Networking *

Provide Frequent Learning Opportunities

Frequent training and development opportunities are important to remain current with the industry and to sustain learning momentum. Being mindful of potential budget constraints, there are numerous low cost options to consider incorporating.

$$-$$ Learning Opportunities

Courses, conferences and certification programs offer diverse learning opportunities although many teams find themselves infrequently attending these opportunities due to cost. Registration fees combined with travel costs that may need to be incurred can add up very quickly and completely consume your yearly training allowance. It is important to be selective when choosing courses, conferences or certification programs as learning opportunities.

Courses are excellent learning opportunities. Look for courses with learning outcomes that align with your team’s goals and are geared towards the skill set needs of your team members. Focus on courses with a format that emphasizes hands on, experiential learning as the retention rate will be much higher. Another consideration may be to bring a course in-house. Depending on the trainer and the course, this may allow for customizing the course to address specific needs of your team.

Conferences are also excellent learning opportunities offering diversity in a single setting. Many provide a range of full day or half day workshops, tutorials, presentations and keynote speakers. Depending on the conference, topics often span test management, testing skills and techniques, automation, tools, soft skills and agile practices.

Certification programs may be another valuable learning opportunity depending on your organization or individual interests. There are numerous certification programs offered internationally to choose from. The value of certification programs has been a highly debated topic in our industry. As with all learning opportunities, when considering a certification, you need to understand your learning goals and assess how effectively the program will assist in you meeting those goals before enrolling.

$ – $$ Learning Opportunities

In defining your team’s training and development plan, be sure to emphasize the options highlighted with an ‘*’ from the list above. These options are typically low cost or free and often provide greater learning potential. Actively engaging in a few insightful organizations, magazines, books, discussion forums and blogs in combination with networking, can be very powerful.

Networking is an important tool for learning. Extend your network of software testers and interesting minds to discuss and constructively debate ideas. Challenge your team members to seek out perspectives that differ from their own. If there is the opportunity for team members to attend courses and conferences, ensure your attendees place networking at the top of their “to do” list. Lessons learned from networking are just as valuable as the material covered during the sessions. Additionally, the industry relationships that can be developed at these kinds of events can be invaluable for future discussions or support.

There is a wealth of reading sources that can provide insight and knowledge. Books, magazines, newsletters and even are great resources. With the overwhelming number of reading opportunities it can be helpful to get recommendations based on your interests. You will also find that over time certain authors really appeal to you. I would encourage anyone interested in software testing to seek books, articles or blogs from Gerald M. Weinberg, Cem Kaner, James Bach, Michael Bolton and many other highly regarded authors. You can find recommendations to other fantastic authors by checking out the blogroll on these folks blogs.

Leveraging the strengths of your current team for internal training may be another option. Consider hosting lunch and learn sessions or establishing cross training between team members that possess advanced or specialized skills. Encourage the sharing of new ideas by team members who attend courses and conferences through white papers or informal presentations. Consider establishing team brainstorming and debate sessions on industry trends, tools, articles, etc on a recurring basis. For example, using the book “Lessons Learned in Software Testing”, by Cem Kaner, James Bach, and Brett Pettichord, I created a bi-weekly opportunity for my team to share perspectives on a selected lesson from the book.

Do not discount the online social networking options such as Twitter. If you are selective in the individuals, lists or tags you follow, there is a wealth of valuable information. In fact, if you follow many of the industry leaders you will quickly find that the volume of insightful information can be overwhelming. These folks are constantly tweeting about new articles, blogs, interviews, courses, conferences and challenges related to the craft of software testing.

Also consider sources not directly related to software testing and find synergy in the concepts. Michael Bolton is excellent at this. He finds synergy in everything from books such as Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, to theatre and music.
Place an Emphasis on Integrating the Learning
Knowledge and skills are truly gained when new concepts are applied and integrated into our existing frameworks. The statistics on learning retention rates are staggering. The following statistics are from http://www.tenouk.com/learningretentionrate.html:

Teaching Method                   Knowledge Retention
See/Hear – Lecture                              5%
Reading                                             10%
Audio Visual / Video                            20%
Demonstration                                   30%
Discussion Group                               50%
Practice by Doing                               75%
Teaching Others                                 90%
Immediate application in Real Situation 90%

Be mindful of your organization’s context and quality needs. Practices that work well in one organization are not guaranteed to fit in another. Consider identifying appropriate pilot projects to incorporate new concepts, techniques, tools, etc. on your teams. Continually assess the integration of a new concept and adapt or drop it as appropriate.
Provide Coaching and Mentoring Opportunities

Many times as leads and managers we adopt roles as teachers, coaches or mentors to share our knowledge, perspectives and passion for software testing. Ensure coaching and mentoring opportunities are provided for your team members. Often times the coaching may need to be from an external source such as a consultant to assist with implementing new concepts.

Set a Positive Example
My final thoughts are to be active in your own continuous learning and share your excitement. Enthusiasm is energy that easily spreads from one person to the next.

Biography

Lynn McKee is an independent consultant with 15 years experience in the IT industry and a passion for helping organizations, teams and individuals deliver valuable software. Lynn provides consulting on software quality, testing and building high performing teams. An advocate of the context-driven perspective, her focus is on ensuring testing teams are enabled with effective, adaptive and scalable approaches aligned with the organization’s quality needs. Lynn is an active member of numerous software testing associations, speaks at conferences, writes articles and contributes to blogs and forums. Lynn is the co-founder and host for the Calgary Perspectives on Software Testing Workshop. You can reach Lynn online at www.qualityperspectives.ca.

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