Michelle Smith: True Test Leadership

I’m delighted to read Michelle Smith’s play-by-play description of how she is coaching new testers. Take a look.

Let me catalog the coolnesses:

1. “The team I work with was previously exposed to Rapid Software Testing. This exposure caused me to wonder what would happen if these new folks were exposed to some of these ideas early on?”

Notice that she uses the word “wonder”? That’s the attitude I hope to foster in people who take my class. It’s an attitude of curiosity and personal responsibility. She doesn’t speak of applying practices as if the people on the team were milling machines waiting to be programmed. She implies that her testers are learners under their own control. Her attitude is one of establishing a productive but not coercive  relationship.

I don’t know if she got this from my class– probably she had it beforehand– but it’s an attitude I share with her.

2. “I went in their shared office and opened up a five minute conversation with them by asking “What is a bug?” and following that with “who are the people that matter?”.”

Michelle mentions “five minute conversations” a few times. And notice how most of her interactions were in the form of puzzles and questions. It speaks of a light touch with coaching. Light touch is good. Especially with novice testers, experience speaks louder than lecture. Introduce an idea then try it, or try something first, then talk about the idea. Either way, I like how she was getting them working.

3. She had them practice explaining themselves, both in writing and by voice.

4. She was concerned more with the cognitive parts of testing than with the artifacts. That’s good because excellent testing artifacts, such as bug reports and test cases, come from the thinking of the testers. Think well and the rest will follow.

5. She has them work on several aspects of testing. Notice how she deals with oracles, tools, mission, the social process and gaining product knowledge.

I bet what Michelle is doing will lead to better, more passionate testers, and more dynamic, flexible testing. Compare this to what we see so often in our industry: testers simply told to sit down and create test cases. Look, even if you think pre-defined test cases make for great testing, I think to be successful with that you have to base it on skilled and knowledgeable testers. Michelle is creating that foundation with her team.

Overall, what I’m most happy with is that Michelle has made Rapid Testing her own thing. This is vital. This is fundamental to the spirit of my teaching. I want to grow colleagues who confidently think for themselves. Hats off to you, Michelle, for doing that and blogging about it.

Finally, Michelle writes, “I have no idea if what I am doing is going to produce any benefits to them, to the team, or to the stakeholders. Time will tell.”

No best practices nonsense, here. No certification mentality. Just healthy skepticism. Thank you, Michelle!

4 thoughts on “Michelle Smith: True Test Leadership

  1. I consider this one of the highest compliments of my testing career. Getting feedback on what I am trying to do with the temps hired to test on our team is one thing…. I really do believe that the ideas/philosophies/lessons that I learned in that course have helped me considerably in testing and outside of it.

    Thank you for the kind words and mostly for the RST course. As you said in your blog, I have made it my own thing, though I do share it often when the opportunity arises. Tools, processes, oracles, heuristics, missions, etc., can change project to project, but thinking can cross the boundaries of all of these. This is the main “lesson” that I hope to show them in the “experiment”.

    Side Note: Not too many of the people that I work with knew that I had a testing blog until someone on one of the teams read yours yesterday and shared out an email. That was an interesting experience 🙂

  2. Excellent ideas, great reading.
    I am worried, though, for those “passionate testers”: they indeed might develop taste for clever testing. Not all testers are that lucky working for people like James Bach and Michelle Smith (no flattery, just sad reality). Rest of us better should remember George Bernard Shaw’s words: “Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. Believing what he read made him mad.” In my experience, “so often in our industry” is an understatement.
    Forgive my sarcasm – it is aimed against reality, not you. I do admire your blogs.

    [James’ Reply: Thanks for the comment. Part of how we change things is by developing the ability to demonstrate a different way of being and performing.]

  3. I do like Michelle’s technique, simple question, think, and answer approach to discovery learning. I point that out because while I understand the cynicism that Vitaly communicates, I have yet to find a place where I could not communicate any new ideas or thoughts. It is difficult to implement sweeping changes, such as some of the ideas we propose, but in reality everyone can start small in their own place in the world. It may be a hallway conversation between colleagues to formal presentations on new ideas. Everyone can have an impact, even if it is not immediately evident. So, Vitaly, I would say keep talking and discussing. You never know when your ideas might take hold.

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