Tag Archives: Leadership

Developing Trust

Developing Trust

“What did they say?” “That it’s supposed to work that way.” “And?” “I wasn’t sure what else to say. What do you think?” “I think that you need to develop some trust. First, develop some trust in yourself. Then develop some trust from the dev to you.” It’s a common conversation I have with junior testers. As testers, our goal should be to build trust. Trust enables us to our jobs.

Trustphoto credit: mikebaird via photopin cc

What is trust?

The asset most required in our jobs as software testers is trust. That is because trust is knowledge of a person or group. The currency of that knowledge is the combination of competence, character, and commitment.

The first, competence, is how well we can do our jobs. People may think we have character, but we I say a feature has a problem, do people believe that I know what I am talking about. Competence varies for all of us depending on the domain. I can know much about restful web services (Rest) and not know much about User Experiences (UX). Or somebody may trust my knowledge in Rest but not UX. I could understand the technologies used but lack understanding of the business use.

The second measure of trust is character. I consider character to cross domains. I guess that somebody could have a character weakness, for instance if they are a covered alcoholic, but not relevant for this kind of trust. Do people know you give an honest answer? That would be integrity. Do they know you see things through to the end, or do you drop things when you get resistance? That would be courage. Other character traits of a tester include ability to communicate, and dealing with ambiguity.

And the third measure of trust is commitment to causes. A person could be honest and earnest, but wouldn’t lift a finger to save a spider if they don’t like spiders. Others will trust me or not if I am dedicated to those values that the team shares. This can vary from place to place. I have worked where the tester was ‘supposed to be the police’, as well as places where the tester was supposed to describe the quality level to management so they could make a proper decision. Popular commitments in agile include delivering value to the customer, continuous improvement, engineering for current (not potential needs), and always-working software.

Why do We Need Trust?

We do not hear many arguments against trust. But we do not always hear for a call to gain trust. Without trust, everything is more expensive in both money and time. For example, terrorist attacks in Mumbai and New York in the past decade created new, more expensive agencies to combat the potential for attacks. I have personally witnessed the cost in time every time I travel from an American airport. The example is extreme, but it scales down to our work. For instance, if I am not trusted to create tests then I will have additional review processes, sign-offs, etc.

Without building that trust, even when the competence, character, and commitment are present, you will pay the no-trust taxes. In a new relationship, the trust must be built. An assumed trust, one that is assumed upon meeting, can be duplicitous – other assumptions come with it.

How do We Build Trust?

How to build trust isn’t a simple question. That comes having competence, character, and commitment. When the currency is low then we will find building trust difficult. Those things can grow in time. If we study our craft, if we study our domain, we will gain the competence that convince our stakeholders that we ‘know what we are doing.’ As we mature, we build character from making the right decisions. As we question our beliefs and motives, we develop the commitment that other respect.

On the other hand, we build trust from others as we improve ourselves. We work in various domains – we have different levels of knowledge in those areas. We start at different trust levels in our relationships. We work with people who have different general tendencies for trust based on their experiences. Domain risk also plays into trust. I will be careful no matter who I am working with to build a pacemaker.

Lowest Trust – When we work with somebody that does not trust us, deserved or not, we can build a foundation of that trust by being polite, and simply helping them. Do not ask questions except for those that will help you do the task correctly.

Low Trust – Learn about them. Questions should be inquiring but not challenging. Your interest in them, and sharing some common experiences. Though you should focus more on them. What are their motives for what they are working on? What are their commitments?

Medium Trust – When you are at good level of trust, you can make suggestions to help them. THEN BACK OFF. Expect them to ignore your suggestion. In the occasion that they take your suggestion, be available to answer questions about details. Success isn’t necessary, but a big investment into a failure can lower the trust level.

High Trust – Once you have a high level of trust, you can act on their behalf if you tell them appropriately about what is done. Give them a report on what you will do, what you have done. For those working on Agile teams, this can sound like a ‘standup meeting’.

Highest Trust – When you are at the highest level of trust, you can just act on behalf of somebody. You know their interests and how they would decide themselves.

You can be at different levels of trust at different times of a relationship. It can go up or down for various reasons. If you haven’t interacted with somebody for a while, you might treat the trust level as if it atrophied. If you are a hired expert, you can probably skip the lowest trust level and start somewhere else.

Planning to Be Trusted

By evaluating the trust levels that your stakeholders have in you, you can begin planning on how to build a higher level of trust. The work you do when implementing a trust-building plan will actually make you better and more trustworthy. That trust is a cornerstone to becoming more effective as a software tester.

Trust me.


Leading in the Midst of Change

I got this verbatim from my pastor last night in a church meeting.

Four Different Levels of Change

  1. Mind: Information is the key to change a mind. Make sure they have the data. Facts are more persuasive than opinions, but do not necessarily generate consensus.
  2. Heart: Relationships are the key to spur a change of heart. The focus is on empathetic understanding instead of compelling arguments. An especially difficult hurdle is that emotional reactions are directed at the leader.
  3. Lifestyle: Experiences are the keys to changing lifestyle. Leaders need to give others the opportunity to have the same kind of experiences that they had, which helped bring about their own change.
  4. Culture: Commitment is the key to change in culture. A common mistake is to believe that one has won a commitment when one as one a vote. Cultures change slowly.

The Secret of Jeremy Lin’s Fame

You have to avoid all news outlets to miss the story about Jeremy Lin. I doubt that because a) you are reading the internet right now, and b) you opened this article. The interesting thing about this story is why he is a phenomena. I have heard many reasons for it.

He’s the first American born NBA player of asian descent. Aside from ESPN’s headline and SNL’s parody, does that matter? We’ve had (and have) NBA players from China. I didn’t see that level of excitement for the first Israeli player, the first Iranian player, or the first French point guard for that matter. That’s a small factor.

He’s a Harvard graduate and the NBA typically chooses talent over smart. There have been players from the Ivy League before, in the NFL, NHL, MLB, and even the NBA. Stanford, known for it’s excellent academics, has several graduates in the NBA. That’s not significant.

He’s lifted the NBA Knicks, a storied franchise, from a downward spiral. Anytime the Knicks improve, it’s a story. That’s mostly because the Knicks have been such as bad team over the past 10 or 12 years. However, Carmelo being traded to the Knicks was not that big of a story.

The truth is that he is such an interesting story to most of the people in my world because he is just like you. Here are the ways that he is the same as you.

1. You are Exceptional

Jeremy Lin has shown the world he is exceptional by setting new records points and assists in his first few games in the NBA – more than Magic Johnson. He has helped (at least up until now) turned around the Knicks season. Who knew – apparently not the 30 general managers that didn’t draft him.

You have things that you are better at than most people around you. What are you good at? You know those things you do that make you proud of yourself. There are probably things that you haven’t given yourself credit for being good at doing.

2. Nobody Believed (or Believes) in You

Lin’s high school coach was quoted as saying he thought Jeremy would be a good NCAA Division 3 player. Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks coach, didn’t even know his player’s name for a couple of weeks. He played because D’Antoni did not have a choice. His aging start point guard, Chauncey Billups, was traded to clear cap space. His newly signed point guard, Baron Davis, has been injured the entire season. And the first backup point guard was doing a poor job at running the starting team. Lin getting to start was a desperation move.

You have heard those things too. Maybe your parents said “We just don’t want you to get your hopes up too high.” Maybe a guidance counselor said “I think you should be realistic.” Maybe your co-worker said “but you are just a _[fill in the blank here]_.” Maybe you had times when you didn’t even believe in yourself.

3. You are not Perfect

Jeremy Lin isn’t either. And you don’t mind that he turns the ball over a lot. He can’t rebound like Carmelo Anthony, his Knicks teammate. He is part of a team. He fulfills roles of that team, some better than others. He facilitates the offense of the team. He initiates things. He doesn’t have to be good at all things.

 You are not perfect either. I may not know you specifically – I can guarantee that you aren’t perfect. You do, however, have skills. Practice those skills. Shore up your weaknesses. Develop yourself.

4. You Need an Opportunity

Jeremy Lin wasn’t drafted into the NBA. He looked for opportunities. He went to the eventual NBA Champs Dallas Maverick’s mini-camp. He was cut. He played a 10 day contract for the Golden State Warriors as a backup. He played overseas. He played in the NBA’s Developmental League. He did not step back and accept defeat.

You were not hired into the executive fast track of a Fortune 500 company when you graduated college (or maybe you didn’t graduate college). You started at a company that paid you poorly. Maybe that was the only offer you received. You have had to ask for more responsibilities. You have asked for promotions. You have been disappointed too.

My Story

I figured out that Jeremy Lin is like you when I discovered that he is like me. I learned to believe in myself.

I am exceptional. I have a critical mind – that’s part of how I ended up in software testing. I like teaching other people. I like to move to the next level. For most of my career, I have read the latest strategies and techniques in the software testing & quality magazines to see they are recommending what I am already doing.

I had to suffer through doubters to the point that my boss told me that my confidence should by much higher than I projected. I was promoted to be the QA manager for Service Manager (hundreds of millions of US dollars in sales and maintenance per year) because the project manager had a QA manager quit when hiring requisitions were frozen. They believed in me enough to call me “interim manager” until I proved myself in the position.

I am not perfect. I am more excited about what’s next than finishing what is now. I was a lousy public speaker – think Albert Brooks’ character in Broadcast news (sweating and falling apart). I learned to carry myself through Toastmasters. I learned my craft through courses, books, magazines, and reading articles on the internet (like you are doing now).

I found opportunities. I started at HP as a contract hardware tester making $9/hour – pushing paper through the fax machine’s sheet feeder. Years later when I was promoted to be the QA manager,  because I asked for that job – and requested a lot of responsibilities in between.

Your Story

The corollary to Jeremy Lin to being like you is that you are like him. His story will be your story if you want it to be. You like Jeremy Lin because you want his story. So make it happen. Start by telling me your story here in the comments below.

Leadership (part 4) – How do I become a leader?

In my last post, I said that I would talk about how to become a leader. I conjoin that subject with my experiences here.

Most of my experience in leadership was in leading the peanut gallery. People actually recognized me as the leader of the cut-ups in high school, enough that a guy in my calculus class told me the substitute teacher wouldn’t let go to the bathroom because he knew that I’d make a scene about it. That’s a horrible way to develop leadership skills because it develops the wrong kinds.

Eventually I stopped that kind of leadership (or reduced it enough that it stopped holding me back in my career). I tried to excel in my “individual contributor” position and was eventually rewarded with being in charge of others. I felt inadequate about “leading” so I read books like the ones from Hyrum Smith (Franklin Quest) and Steven Covey (7 Habits) – they eventually merged their companies.

The problem with reading books is that you don’t get any intentional practice in many of the aspects. They will focus on an area or two. I can remember creating a mission statement, listing my roles in life, and objectives to fulfill those roles. I cannot remember reaching any of those goals, but I definitely had a better attitude. Unfortunately, attitude is only a part of being a leader. I needed more skills (the culmination of education and experience).

I learned a lot  from unintentional experience. Given responsibility, you will eventually be put into situations. The problem with unintentional experience is that it rarely tells you if you made good choices or the best choices – that is something even intentional experience falls short in many situations.  In many cases, nobody was mentoring me to suggest key options from which to choose. There was no plan for what to do next.

I also signed up for any day-long courses offered at my company (big companies have lots of courses on-site to choose from). The problem with short courses is the practice is very limited. After it’s over, I could review the booklet but that eventually was packed in a box or drawer.

I had seen people take longer courses and participate in programs, like University of California at San Diego’s Passport to Leadership program.  That seemed to have a big affect on them with self-assessment, practice, and goals. I never joined it because of the financial commitments that it required. But it looked like something I believed would help me.

Then in 2006, in a reason having nothing to do with leadership (except for the self-improvement part), I joined Toastmasters International to help my speaking skills. There was a club starting at my work place. They were willing to pay the small bill. I didn’t have to go anywhere to do it because the meetings were at my office. All I had to do was show up and try to get better at speaking.

Then I got roped into the leadership track. Somebody asked me to be Sergeant at Arms for the coming period. “No big deal,” he said, “just bring stuff to the meeting and set it up.” He was right, it wasn’t hard. Then I was President, started giving some trainings to the club, and found myself on the Leadership Track.  Why was that significant? Because it is the substance behind the style that I was learning from the Communication Track. The significance is that it is one of the best-value educations for becoming a leader that we could ever get. I put that in bold because it is a significant statement that they back up.

How does Toastmasters prepare us to be leaders? The Leadership Track teaches us the skills through training, projects, and plenty of practice situations.

“The Competent Leadership manual features 10 projects, which you complete while serving in various meeting roles and participating in other club activities such as helping with a newsletter or getting involved with a membership building campaign. An evaluator will give you feedback on each project, helping you to improve.”

Toastmasters gives us an opportunity to practice the skills we learn for leadership. When I go to a job interview, I can talk about leading a team of executives. I can discuss the problems we faced and how it helped us. Without that experience, who is going to trust me to lead? What came first, the chicken or the egg? In this case, it’s both.

Toastmasters gives us guidelines on how to be successful. They know what it takes, which is why they have guidelines and predetermined goals (such as how to become a distinguished club). Their system works if you work the system. Is there room for variation? Yes, of course. Clubs are all different and have variations of needs. However, as long as problems are being addressed, you will achieve success.

Everybody in Toastmasters is a volunteer and has to be treated that way. How is that different from real-life leadership? It is not different at all. As a Software QA Manager, I had as many as 24 people reporting to me. All of them volunteered their best effort. As their manager, I couldn’t make them do anything. In addition, most of the people who I needed things from to be successful did not report to me. I needed support from my boss. I needed cooperation from managers of other departments. I needed cooperation from individuals in other departments. Toastmasters prepares people to ask for things, ask again, and communicate what needs to be done very well.

Toastmasters provides lots of help. They have a formal system for training officers, as well as training the district supporting officers. They have a book to explain every necessary job in Toastmasters from the club on up to the highest position, International President. They have a website that can tell what you do not know or forgot. They have a system of sponsors, mentors, and coaches available for whoever wants one. And they have, at least in District 5 that I am in, over 1000 people to talk to about a problem for free advice. Anybody who fails inside Toastmasters probably refused that help. I do not believe that should ever happen.

“Dave, what is the catch?” you ask. The catch is 2 things. First, it is not instantaneous. It takes time to build up the experience and the trust to get the higher levels of experience. I would say that the fastest that anybody could reasonable get through the entire leadership track is 2 years, maybe 3. The second is that it requires you to do it for no cash pay. Toastmasters can afford to let you be in charge because they need you to do it for free. But where else can you get those four key ingredients to become a leader.

I want to hear about your experiences with becoming a leader too. There are a million ways to do it. Please comment with your story and feedback.

In my next post, I will discuss how you can convince others to join you and participate. Leadership is not an individual sport – others have to play or it won’t happen.