Okay folks, it's 2010. For those of you millennial's who entered the work force after 2001, you've spent your entire career living in something like a recession.
Oh, I know, the definition of a recession is two quarters of negative change in Gross Domestic Product, or GDP
. So it hasn't literally been one long recession -- but it's felt like one. For those of us in the United States, we've seen slowly rising unemployment, a tech bubble burst, a housing bubble burst, a decline in manufacturing jobs combined with a decline in call center and related "business process" jobs as they are moved to lower cost countries.
Those transfers mean that in the case when GDP has actually increased or flatlined, the profits have not gone to Joe worker, or to hiring more of them. Instead companies are sitting on cash, passing dividends to shareholders, or partners. The Wall Street Journal recently published a story about the jobless "productivity boom
", mostly based on hustle and brains, asking it if is sustainable.
At the same time, we've had a merge and acquisition boom. One of the benefits of these mergers is the company has the same sales, but now redundant HR, IT, and Accounting departments, and can save money by consolidating those departments. When the consolidation happens, they don't need twice the staff, so some staff members are redundant. Hence the phrase "made redundant", which in business is sort of a code word for "layoffs."
So my guess is that most North American, and likely some European, readers have recently heard some lines about "tightening our belts" and "doing more with less."
The first line can be done; you can cut the training budget, not buy new computers and not upgrade to the latest-and-greatest version of your test tool or compiler. Once you've done that, however, you've got a bit of a problem. Sure, you can cut out the daily bagels and snacks and save the company hundreds a week, but cutting out the monthly anniversary cake is going to save you more like a hundred a year. And beyond that? The next few levels of cuts doesn't save much money and directly hurts productivity.
Note this first strategy does not actually mean doing more with less. Instead it means doing less with less - but trying to do the less to other people, not to the company itself. Another term for this approach is "salami slicing
." Salami Slicing is named after the anonymous salami sandwich dealer, likely in New York city, that had a profitability problem. Instead of looking into a better location, better advertisements, or taste-testing different recipes and attempting to raise prices, he chose the easy way out -- slice the salami thinner, and you can get more slices per stick.
For our sake I'll call it salami slicing anytime the business strategy is to squeeze everybody else.
The typical ways to do this are to pay the employees less, cut the health-care benefits, increase the co-pays, increase costs to customers while aggressively negotiating with suppliers. Montgomery Wards and Circuit City both pursued this strategy immediately before going out of business.
While watching your costs is important, if that's all your doing, it's almost certain your customers and the most talented employees - the ones who can find other jobs - are going to walk as well. Actually, you might say that aggressive Salami Slicing is an indicator that your companies management has run out of ideas.
Which brings me to that second phrase "Doing More with Less."
I am even more skeptical of that phrase, because when I've heard it, it is usually empty. It is a label used in place of an actual plan to do more with less. Oh sure, we can talk about productivity tips and all-pairs and getting testers involved up front, and try to make something valuable out of it, but when I hear that phrase, I tred very carefully.
Which tends to inevitably lead us to the Cost Of Testing - how to decrease it - and the value of testing - how to increase it. Long-time readers know that I've been working on a collection of interviews with testers, possibly to become a book, but it hasn't gotten much progress.
At the same time, several of my colleagues, led by Govind Kulkarni, have started to collaborate on a possible contributed book, themed around decreasing the cost of testing -- with real, concrete ideas and solutions. I've been working with them as a contributor and editor, and it's just getting to the point that we are beginning to talk about the book project in public.
Me, I'm cautious about saying "I'm working on a book", especially when the contract isn't signed. At this point, I think it's fair to say that I am working on a book proposal, and am asking the community for feedback.
Would you be interested in a book on changing the cost/value proposition of software testing? If yes, what would you like to see in such a book -- and what things would you be disappointed if they did not appear?
I'd really like to hear from you on this. Thanks!