Across the software testing market, tester’s skill levels differ tremendously. Some testers have experience with regulated environments, while others have worked exclusively on startup projects. Requirements and project management maturity levels vary across projects and industries. People join and leave companies at speeds far exceeding that of the past. These factors leave managers with the challenge of teams of varying and misaligned testing skill sets. The interview process may weed out some of the misalignment, but when faced with demand for the testing service, and few applicants, managers are forced to hire minimally qualified candidates. They are then forced to work with their candidates to gain the skill set necessary to produce high quality testing initiatives. Busy managers do not have the capacity to sit down and train each of their individual testers to ensure that their skills are up to par. Instead, I am proposing a technique for getting the most out of your training efforts across your team.
Much like project baselining, it is important for managers to baseline their test teams at a certain skill level to ensure that each tester delivers a level of consistency across the testing organization.
For example, lets compare tester A and tester B. Tester A writes defect tickets that include screenshots, steps to reproduce, pertinent build and module information, and the ticket is accurately classified in terms of severity. If tester B writes defect tickets on post-it notes, and is in the practice of merely stating that module X is throwing an error, that is very different from tester A. In this situation, testing ‘customers’ do not know what to expect when incorporating a tester into their project. Will they receive very detailed reports like Tester A? Or will they have to dig to find the information necessary to diagnose a solution with Tester B? The variability in testing deliverables between the two individuals exposes inefficiencies in the manager’s testing organization.
The challenge now is for managers to be able to shape their team with a basic set of skills from which to grow their experiences. This will allow for a more consistent delivery across the team, and a heightened sense of confidence organizationally that each analyst will produce adequate deliverables.
Different skills are needed across differing industries. This list is in no way comprehensive, or absolute, but a list of ideas to get the thought process going.
A basic set testing skills include:
- How to log a defect
- Modeling a problem
- Test Design
- Common Limitations to Testing (and how to avoid them)
- Types of Testing, and how and why they are utilized
- Constructing basic SQL commands
This list is not exhaustive, and allows managers to incorporate items that are important to their own testing efforts. Every tester (at a minimum) needs these skills to test a product. Without these basic skills, testers exhibit poor test design, incomplete or lacking defect reports, and underdeveloped testing ideals. This reflects poorly on management, and exposes the department to becoming the weakest link in the software creation process.
The next challenge in the baselining process is for a manager to determine where each tester’s skills lie. One way to establish where your testers fit into the scale, is to sample your team member’s work. First try reviewing a bug reports the tester writes. Next, review or execute a script written by the tester. Review test review comments or code review discussions, or try sitting in on a meeting in which your team members provide feedback. Busy managers may find this method difficult to perform. Another method is to survey project team members such as the development team, business analysts, and project managers to gain an understanding of where the tester’s skill set is projected by the project team they interact with regularly.
Identify where each member’s strengths and weaknesses exist, and cater the baselining effort toward it.
The next question a manager may consider is where do I set the bar? This is a tough question to frame. One effective way to establish where to baseline a team for the first time is identify your strongest tester and your weakest tester. Both will have areas that can be improved upon, but make it the goal to increase the weakest tester’s knowledge of the basics to equal that of the strongest tester’s knowledge of the basics.
This practice provides less experienced individuals with the information about how to succeed in these areas, which they can then put into practice on their respective projects.
Managers may take this opportunity to engage their more senior team members to help construct or select the training courses offered. Explain the baseline initiative and get suggestions, or hands on experiences that have helped them gain the skills they use every day.
Involving the entire testing organization is key to the baseline success. Even the most advanced tester stands to gain something when going through an initial baseline activity with the testing group. Whether it is an additional perspective about modeling an issue, or even just a heightened sense of camaraderie with the less experienced team members – Everyone can benefit.
Don’t let this positive activity result in negative feelings amongst the group by pinpointing individuals that need improvement, and suggesting that only those individuals attend training. Teamwork and mutual respect is as much a part of the testing process as the skills outlined above. Senior tester support is important to growing junior testers skills. Explaining the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ to the team helps to gain buy in across the organization.
Raise the Bar
Managers will want to reassess the baseline periodically to determine the success of the training effort. More importantly, it will allow them to define a new baseline, and create new initiatives to raise the bar for further improvement. Raising the foundational skill set in your testing organization. Challenge your team to expand their thinking, introduce new forms of testing, and add to the skills of your team.
About the Author
Daven Kruse My background consists of 8 years of IT experience in varying roles. Most recently, my time spent as a software testing consultant has lent itself to experience with various industry verticals. Whether it is the pharma industry, the energy industry, the insurance industry, or anything in between, the value of software testing throughout organizations continues to grow. I have a passion for test management, and feel great accomplishment when a team I am part of delivers a completed project.
I strive to help customers realize their needs, and communicate that into a buildable solution. I enjoy developing test strategies, and incorporating continuous improvement techniques to improve test team efficiencies.
I am a lifelong learner, and continue to educate myself through conferences, workshops, online courses, discussion forums, and formal classes. I am a high energy individual whose flexibility and drive help me succeed.