How do you do, Head of Testing? vol. 3

Quite OK, thanks for asking. I feel like this writing exercise helps me clear my head a bit.

Many have learned by now that “all models are wrong but some are useful” – a saying attributed to the statistician George Box. In my quest for trying to understand an organization and its dynamics, I’ve come across a few models that help me in various ways. At the end of my last blog post I said I will cover “change and a context model for affecting behavior” next. That was a bit premature as I developed another idea of what to show you before I talk about a specific model. Sorry about that but I’m sure you can wait for that one.

I have created an “inspiration board” that contains images, drawings, and schemas that relate to change one way or another. I am fascinated about the nature of change, how difficult it can be and yet how transformative, how mind boggling can be its effect yet how inspiring its results. I am fascinated by how some people seem to be good at nurturing change for others while some struggle with changing their lives for themselves. We cope and struggle with change in very different ways. I believe a great manager is sensitive to this and develops empathy towards a variety of reactions to change. Because after all, managing nurturing change is the managers’ business.

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The title of the board reads “Restart heals all wounds” – written by a colleague who handles our Atlassian stack. The drawings at the bottom and the PFUDOR are not related to the inspiration board.

Satir’s change model

satir change model

Satir’s change model is a classic, I think. I find the model helpful when discussing the perception of the same situation. Once during a team retrospective, I asked people to mark  on the model where they thought we were: in late status quo, in deep chaos or in our way up. It was a way to bring awareness of each others perspective: some felt we were in the middle of chaotic change and were not approaching the end of the tunnel while others felt like it was no big deal and things were stable. That will lead to discussing how your team members react to the same events differently.

When I look at Satir change model, it reminds me to ask myself where I think I am in the process and where others are. Maybe we should have a chat about this? Also, the model reminds me that it may be hard to know when the chaos will come to an end, and that may strain me and others if we pile more change on top of what we’re already going through.

However, I think there’s something that this specific representation of change biases us towards: when you look at it, it hints at the outcome of the change to be “higher” and “better” than what was there before. It may be so. It may not be so. Sometimes people can’t stand to go through the process and quit, there’s a lot of resistance, or the change really hurts the people and the system, so you may end up with lower productivity, satisfaction, what not.

Managing complex change

complex change

This table reminds me to think of components of change. Sure, there could be more added to the list. But conceptually, it helps me analyze what pieces I have already thought of, and which I’ve forgotten about. I can say that I have personally experienced many of the emotions or effects and can very much relate to this matrix. For instance, I remember in great detail how I felt when I was trying to “make testing happen” at my previous job. I had the vision, incentives for myself, and some kind of a plan but I felt anxious because I knew I didn’t have much skills or knowledge about testing. I also had very little resources, so I felt like David taking on Goliath. At the same time, there were many who were to be influenced by the change of bringing testing into the organization and they lacked the incentives to seriously give it a try. Hence the resistance and belief in the “good old ways”.

And of course, I’ve had my share of false starts when I haven’t considered putting together a useful plan.

When I look at this model, I also think of the extra stuff in each box that is not spelled out but is there. For example, a vision in my head or on a page is not enough. It needs to be communicated, stories need to be told, discussions need to take place. Skills are not simple matter either: awareness of skills is a big step, teaching and learning new skills is a whole big process on its own.

Interestingly, the matrix is from a book about climate change. Inspiration can be found anywhere!

Process improvement

processimprovementõ

It’s curious that the top right-hand picture looks similar to Satir change model. They both have the same bias in common, though: that once change is carried through, things will be better.

I realize that the pictures about process change are really simplified. However, I think they illustrate many people’s experience well, even if using anecdotal graphs. When I look at these graphs, they remind me to ask the question “why”. Why have the previous attempts failed? What did the people do and how they approached change? Why did they approach it this way?

I’ve observed that some unwanted effects of change are blamed on the “object of the change” (i.e. the new technology that was introduced “sucked” and wasn’t the right one) while nobody seems to ask if the people introducing the change were skilled at helping to make it happen, nurturing it, and supporting the process.

Through a few more or less painful lessons (and thanks to PSL), I’ve come to understand that just knowing how some new stuff is supposed to be like is not enough. You need to understand process, how to facilitate it, how to support the process to successfully change something. So these graphs also remind me to focus on the process and not “abandon” it.

Just to add another twist, it also reminds me to consider when it might be the time to let go and not be the victim of sunk cost bias.

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So there ya go. I will cover more pieces of this board in later posts.

What do you use to help you be aware of different aspects of change?

 

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Takeaways from a Pitching Masterclass

Pitching is 95% practice and 5% inspiration. -Annette Kramer

A couple of weeks ago I attended a pitching masterclass by Annette Kramer. It’s part of this strange habit I’ve developed that I watch masterclasses on Youtube to pick up ideas for my own coaching sessions. Now I decided to watch a live one. But more on that in some other blog post…

I learned things about conducting a live masterclass including interaction with the audience. In addition, I also picked up a few ideas that I believe would be useful for testers. Communication skills are among the core skills of testers and I’d say pitching is a subset that could be useful to have in your toolkit.

Format

This masterclass focused on the 3-5 minute pitch format which, according to Annette, is the hardest pitch to do. This is because talking for longer is easier – you have time to expand on your points (though you may water down the content this way…). The masterclass was mostly targeted at different business representatives who need to do pitching to investors or potential business partners. We had a good mix of people: from a startup pitch to looking for partners for school software to a showroom rep. Therefore, it was great to see exampels of pitches for different audiences.

Annette live-coached the pitch makers starting from how they walked to take their spot, to how they stood, how they expressed themselves, and she also re-engineered the flow of their pitch on the fly while also including the audience in giving feedback. It was inspiring to look at how she worked with people.

Selective Hearing: Lessons in Communication

Annette says that when an investor listens to a pitch, they hear “blah blah blah will I make any money on this blah blah blah when will I earn money back blah blah”. When a potential business partner listens to a pitch, they hear “blah blah blah will this make me look good blah blah will I make/lose money with this blah blah”.

How does your audience listen and what is important to them?

Do you focus more on what you want to say or what they want to hear?

During the past year I’ve dealt with C-level and other directors and managers more than I previously have, so this one hits home and is a good reminder. I know I frequently fall into the trap of thinking more about what I want to say and what I hope the effect to be, rather than doing more listening to be able to target the message better. And understand the people I work with better.

From observing a number of testers over the past year, I think there is an important takeaway/reminder here: when talking to your manager (or some other stakeholder/decision maker) about testing, don’t focus so much on your specific testing problem but on the impact of the problem. When focusing on the impact of the problem, you can think of what that manager/stakeholder sees and what they’d like to hear. I bet it won’t be some testing-specific talk about the issue you want to address or the idea you want to introduce. I bet it would help you if they heard “blah blah solving this will make us look good blah blah blah solving this will mitigate the risk of not fulfilling financial goals that  a director somewhere set me blah blah blah”.

That being said, I really liked and I agree with Annette’s proposition that you can’t sell or push ideas on people – it’s much more liberating to think of pitching as a way to offer people an opportunity. So this is why you need to know what your audience cares about and is interested in.

I don’t do pitching on the stage to my managers but I treat some hallway conversations or situations at meetings as micro-pitching opportunities. I have a lot of ideas and I keep looking for ways to get buy-in or traction to take the ideas further. I don’t always know which ones get better traction which means I need to pitch them several times to different people. Which takes me to the next takeaway…

Process. Process Everywhere.

Annette emphasized that it’s useful to think of pitching as a step in the process, and to keep the process in mind (not the result). The goal of the pitch isn’t to close the deal because hey, that hardly happens so easily (or right after a pitch).

The goal of the pitch is to get people asking questions, to keep the conversation going. When I later talked to Annette about it, she said that we do this outside work all the time. And I said, “Oh, this is why we have friends… because we keep the conversation going and this is a process”.

When trying to approach a decision maker with an idea (which probably will take up time (=money) and money, so there are considerations in their mind you may not know about), don’t think of it as a “make or break” situation at the first try. I find myself sometimes doing this exact thing and then getting frustrated. Well, that’s not helpful, is it? And it’s not helpful because if I focus too much on the result, I forget about the process of getting the result. Introducing new ideas in organizations can be difficult, so focusing on the process, focusing on starting and keeping the conversation going is helpful.

Mean It. Clearly.

It was fascinating to watch Annette pick up the difference between when the speaker really meant and believed in what they said and when they didn’t because they focused on what to say (or remembering what to say…). I observed a significant difference in this person’s body language and facial expressions in the pitch after Annette had made some adjustments and asked them some questions to help them discover what they actually meant.

And I mean if I could pick it up, so can you. And other people will pick it up about you. Here’s another takeaway: don’t be abstract, be specific. It will be hard for you to say it like you mean it if the concepts you use are too abstract (and it will be hard to grasp).

Annette did a great job helping people to be specific and get the real meaning out from behind the words. I think this is also a process: you start with an idea, and through practicing a pitch for it, you peel away layers and arrive at the core that will be specific and clear.

We also addressed the issue of using jargon and how this makes attempts at being specific revert to being abstract (“What do you mean by [this thing]?”). I’ve also observed in testers that they tend to use testing jargon when talking to stakeholders who don’t know anything about testing (or don’t care about it…). It’s a similar point to that above: think about the audience you have and what they can understand and want to hear (probably not jargon). Focus on the problem that they feel related to. Annette pointed out why TED talks are so great: among other things, the speakers avoid jargon (so that everyone can understand what they’re talking about).

And don’t talk on autopilot!

Autopilot leads to not really putting yourself in the words you’re saying and you end up “just talking” not delivering a message.

Annette had a great tip for this: remember why you care about what you do/say BEFORE you say it.

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I’ll blog a bit more on the pitch structure and other takeaways in another post.