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Monday, 20 March 2017

Giving Testers time to Grow

One of the saddest exchanges I've ever had with a fellow tester went something like this:

Me: Hey! We missed you at the C# fundamentals meeting yesterday, I know you really wanted to go, everything alright?

Them: Ugh, I'm so sad I missed it, but it was impossible to get there, I have so much pod work to do!

Of all the reasons to miss a training session you really want to do to, this is the one that I dislike the most. The feeling that spending time not doing pod work is a guilty one, and the idea that somehow it's less valuable.

It turns out that a lot of testers felt like this.

I think it's inherent in organisations where delivery is considered king. And delivery is important, it's what makes money that pays people to keep working. But I would put forth the idea that delivery should never be everything. Equally important is to feel like you are learning, moving forward, making yourself better. This is what drives you to engage in work.

This by no means applies just to testing either, anyone in a team should be given time to spend on self-learning and group learning. This time should be set aside and considered sacro-sanct. Only a genuine emergency should be able to pull you away from this time.
This last bit was an important rule my own team learned. We spend a morning every week mob-programming together. It's a great learning tool for all of us. But it was easy to start letting other things get in the way, after all, how often do you really have an entire team available for a discussion without booking weeks in advance? We noticed that we were letting ourselves, and others, co-opt that time for other (still valuable) discussions and we were missing out on an important team learning time. We actually felt it. So we resolved to leave mob programming time for just that.

But when it comes to testing, I think we can feel a bit more of a niggle of guilt than most developers would. Especially in Agile teams, our ratio is usually one of us to several developers and a few other team members. We often feel directly responsible for things being delivered on time, just because from the outside we look like a natural bottle-neck.

This is why it's even more important to ensure that testers have dedicated time away from pod work to do their own learning. Some ideas are:

  • Give learning a story in a backlog, story point the time and account for it in your sprint work. 
  • Or give your teams jog days in between sprints where they can do the things they think are important. 
  • Set aside afternoons in your team calendar each week for learning time.
  • Give your entire teach teams a few hours on a friday afternoon where training and interesting talks can be organised.
  • Do all of the above if you can!
The point is that this can only improve not just the morale of testers and their teams but the gains you make in the quality of the work will directly show in the all important push to delivery. Give a little and gain a lot.

Learning and challenged testers are happy testers.
Make your testers happy.

Have a lovely day nerds!

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