Liveblogging TB Brighton #3: Changing Testing Culture in a Ginormous Company by Jim Holmes

Changing Testing Culture in a Ginormous Company

By Jim Holmes @ajimholmes

Jim starts off his talk by thanking MoT and all the speakers on the Mental Health track yesterday. You are not alone and it can help to speak out.

His slides can be found at:

Jim wrote a book: The Leadership Journey.
Go to LeanPub to buy it! (For TB Brighton attendees, he gave us a coupon code to get it for free! Ask him for the coupon if you didn’t capture it at the time!)

Jim starts us off with a number of questions:

What does your day look like? Are you stuck in annoying meetings? Are you on a death march?

What would a good culture look like? Particularly with regards to testing? Sometimes, when you are in a ginormous company, testing is not shiny and fancy.

Testers, in Jim’s focus, should be champions of the business (not just the users).

Testers need to become far more technical (even learn to code). Communication matters: spreading testing competency across the entire team (and work ourselves out of this specific job!)

As testers, Jim states, we are in a unique spot: live and breath lean thinking and the theory of constraints. What are the bottlenecks, what does it mean? Solving it and moving on to the next bottlenecks to solve.

Too often, testers feel powerless. Too often, testers do not have good enough influence across the organization. Nor do we have allies or advocates. So, where do we start?

Jim tells a story about an organization he consulted for a few years ago. It’s a 110 year old auto manufacturer company. 200,000 employees on every continent (except Antarctica).

It was a huge organization and his impact was minuscule on an individual level.

“Just help us write WebDriver”. Well, Jim states: when is it truly only ever ‘just’ that? He faced bureaucracy problems: getting his laptop in 5 days was considered fast! There were people problems: people who were unwilling to change or dogmatic in their approaches. Focus on improvements was often in the completely wrong areas.

The project he worked on was version 2. Version 1 had been worked on for 2 years; they had released once; and the testers did not know a single user. Jim felt pained about this. He identifies some of the problems: testing team was isolated and their skills were not up to scratch. Jim indicates that we need to communicate early as testers and develop our testing skills.

How do we get to a point where we can really focus on continuous improvement?

We can not change everything. Focus on the most valuable thing you can do!

So, for this case, Jim and his team focused on making the testers a part of the delivery team.

Another thing to focus on is to get time (on the schedule!) for skills improvement. This is important, because it shows to the teams and the people the commitment the company is making to this. Maybe, we need to focus on getting DevOps capabilities into the team.

It is hardly ever simple. You need to figure out what the roadblocks are and tackle them.

Jim talks about Systemic Inertia: how can you find those inflection points to get some change? Maybe we can start building relationships? Often, there are organizational policies that are blocking – sometimes tied to regulation or compliance.

For people: there is often a Fear of Change. Starting to identify the fears that may be the basis for the restrictions is a powerful thing. It is not that people are bad; people might not know any better. Make people feel safe!

To overcoming all of these roadblocks, one of the best things you can do according to Jim is find advocates. You don’t need to do this all yourself and in many cases, you cannot make it all yourself. Jim encourages us to learn the business so that we can advocate for ourselves more effectively. They help you understand why the business rules are what they are and find ways to work with them in a more effective fashion.

High-level support is critical – especially in larger organization. As a consultant, Jim has zero direct influence – so he has to find the right advocates at the right level. It is about finding the right language to speak in as well: talk about waste and value.

Look for existing initiatives. If you are trying to start something new in an organization of thousands – it is hard. Finding existing initiatives to hang on to: so, for instance, a new innovation focus: they will likely have existing budget and expectations that you can tie in with.

Jim states: “I’d rather get something done than spent time getting approval to get things done”

Regardless of size of the company: Change Agents are vital.

When you are trying to work change in an organization and especially in a large organization, it is important to set your expectations at a reasonable level. The pace of change is likely slower than you’d like it to be. That can be very frustrating, so it is important, Jim stresses, to be reasonable about your expectations. Similarly on the scope of your change.

Jim reminds us: “you will fail!”. Culture change is hard: you are fighting the process, the people and the organization. Learn from your losses. One example Jim uses is his realization that he needed to change his language from ‘probe or spike’ to ‘experiment’ to get a proposal through.

In addition to learning from your losses, Jim encourages us to ‘Celebrate Your Wins!’. Change is hard and change is frustrating… so focus on celebrating the wins. Big ones and small ones: feel proud and celebrate together.

The story Jim shared in the beginning: they were able to release more often than before and had immensely fewer bugs in production. The team was pairing up cross-discipline. They used 3 Amigos. Testers were becoming more technical. They got to the point where they stopped filing bug reports: bugs were fixed immediately most of the time (and still registered when there was a reason they couldn’t be fixed straight off). Testers were happier.

Jim shares some of his lessons to get to affect change:

  • Learn the business (how do you impact the business, speak their language
  • Learn more about people
  • Read more books! (Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is one of the more useful books Jim found)

Jim reminds us: “Don’t ask… you don’t need permission to be awesome” (Sometimes, it is alright to not wait for permission and forge ahead!)