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Preparing your Team for the Future

  • 20/07/2011
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(This article first appeared in the EuroSTAR Newletter in October, 2008)

Introduction

“Those young people that do not respect their parents and try to impose their new ideas” Anonymous XIII century.

Not everything happening in the future is new, but is life a cycle? It will depend on your beliefs; however, most of the things you experience have happened before. Then what will the future or the future tester be like? The era with the flying cars in the cities, robots doing all our work and other science fiction speculations has not yet arrived, although predicted 40 years ago. Therefore I would like to develop “Preparing your Team for the Future” from the human aspect and for an immediate future within the coming years and avoid the 50 years’ projection.
Continued…

Setting the scene

The project development haste is bound to continue in the future, performance needs to be better and faster: We need to become top performers as individuals and to contribute to make our team more effective and efficient.
To achieve these objectives the technical skills and a high IQ are not sufficient. The research carried out in the area showed that when top performance, flexibility and team creativity are required, then personal and social abilities have a main role. The conscious opening and understanding of our emotional competencies enhances personal performance and makes the teams more effective. In this article I will briefly develop three personal skill areas and one team competence:

• Abstraction as a means to improve communication
• Creativity stimulated by humour and the influence of jokes
• Stress mitigation
• Open mind to: work together with different cultures; accept “wild” solutions; exercise more empathy. Integration of teams with diverse goals and optimisation of the final product with the different teams

The objective is to promote emotional intelligence awareness in three areas on a personal level: the influence of abstraction to foster understanding; the humor as a means to creativity and stress mitigation instead of just confirming that stress exists at work. At the same time we deal with multicultural environments and team integration on a group level. If emotional competences are considered important today; in the future, test managers will have to master a great deal of them, and any competent test team would have to be aware and practice them on a daily basis.

Communication: Abstraction

For the past many years I have observed, studied and made some notes about abstraction as a means to improve communication and achieve a closer understanding among testers, business, developers and other parties in the project to accomplish better and faster results.
One of the first questions was: Why is it difficult for us to explain the “meaning” of things? Because this word “meaning” depends on the mental state of each individual. But if this is true then we may deduce that nothing is exactly the same to two different people. In order to have two minds aligned to perfection, in all levels of detail, they should be identical. However, one of the examples where we may get closer to this concept is in mathematics, when we talk about things like “one”, “three” or “five”.
We, test managers, often expose our users and clients to complicated abstraction tasks, which they are not used to and they do not practise at all in their daily work. Writing requirement specifications or test scripts, and describing defects are frequently beyond their daily duties, interest or abstraction need.

Creativity

The second skill we look at in this article is creativity when it is motivated by humor, jokes and optimism. How these elements contribute to finding new or imaginative ways to move ahead, solve problems, deal with difficult members of the team, reporting, etc.
Why jokes? Freud stated that we build sensors in our mind, like barriers to stop the forbidden or unwished thoughts, and those sensors and inhibitors are turned on constantly in our mind in such a way that some paths are never visited and therefore there are thoughts that never will come to our mind, because we stop these thoughts before they can ever become an idea. On the other hand the jokes specifically pay a visit to those “forbidden” paths. Actually the strength of a joke relies on the description that fits simultaneously in two different frames, where the first meaning has to be transparent and innocent, while the second one is disguised and censurable. In a way this is one of the main goals when we test a system, “visiting” the paths that are forbidden because they have not been in the mind of the developer or tester, but will be for sure in the mind of the user.
This uninhibited state of mind gives us a smooth link to creativity: the mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts*. Creativity is part of the tester’s challenges: An exploratory test approach, without releasing those inhibitors, might be quite foreseeable and little surprising or merely updating the test plan, where project conditions constraint our work on a daily basis, etc. Therefore practising these positive thinking activities accurately will contribute to developing our performance.

Self-efficacy

Are your testers stressed? Or do they feel they cannot cope with all the demands? Is there any difference in this?
People’s beliefs in their coping capabilities affect how much stress and depression they experience in threatening or difficult situations, as well as their level of motivation. Perceived self-efficacy to exercise control over stressors plays a central role in anxiety arousal. People who believe they can exercise control over threats do not conjure up disturbing thought patterns.

The belief that one is capable of performing in a certain manner to attain certain goals enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in many ways. Therefore understanding of some soft skills will contribute to reducing the stress level. Different research shows that the degree of self-efficacy has significance in our skill to handle stress.
Observe that self-efficacy does not refer to the actual control and influence we have in a specific circumstance in our lives, but the skill of believing that we exercise control over it in the way we think and handle the situation.

Low self-efficacy leads to distress and will impair the individual level of functioning, whilst on the other hand the need to have exaggerated control over everything will increase the risk of stress and burnout, and it is one of the characteristics of the “type A-behaviour” or “The hurry-up syndrome”.

Now that we have been through abstraction, creativity and stress mitigation we have warmed up to deal with a greener field in the science area: Will the sex of the person have any influence on solving a task in the future? Or in other words, are the male and the female brains equal? We will also look at this topic at the conference.

The Upcoming Working Environment

“How difficult or easy is it to work in an environment of diversity and many cultural influences? In the presence of ethnic diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined, and it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do not look like us.” – Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam.
I would like also to extend this statement to the different education levels, the worker may be in a defensive position when a manifested educational difference is noticed. Therefore it is clear that one of the challenges in the coming years is to change this attitude so that acceptance and diversity are part of our job. We need to learn, to understand and to control our emotions; we need to show trust in a sincere and open way, if our team wants to perform to a competitive standard.

Conclusion

The conclusion is then that the testers’ work will necessarily be composed of both technical and soft skills if the testers would like to succeed. We need to develop in the emotional area to foster understanding, motivation, collaboration, to feel part of a group, trust our colleagues and others. However, it is our choices that will define the future, and it is us who will breach the path for the years to come.

Biography

Fabián Scarano has been a consultant in software development since 1987. He holds a Bachelor degree in Computer Science Research. The focus for the last ten years has been on testing. He has been international speaker at EuroStar in Stockholm, Amsterdam (2003) and Düsseldorf and is part of the review committee.

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