The conundrum of being an organisation tester

Conundrum Peak

How this post came to be?
Inspired by a tweet from @maaike and her mentioned blog post and @testpappys tweet.
For some time I had similar feelings and thoughts around that topic.
This is a first draft to put it out of my head and into a (digital) paper.
Its not complete and raw and I will most likely extend on it.
But I feared, if I don|t publish it now, it will get lost again in the daily rut.

What is an organisation tester?

Categories can be useful to convey a certain message or understanding.
In the testing profession we speak for example about a “security tester” or “performance tester” or “exploratory tester”.

This is often shorthand for “a person, who works in testing and has a speciality in security/performance/exploratory”.
This includes an understanding (at least to me), that that person also has other skills (communication, planning, automation, risk assessment, etc.pp.)

Today I want to highlight a special type of tester. The “organisation tester“.

An organisation tester is exploring (testing) an organisation (company).

How do you recognise them?

If you are a tester yourself, you would recognise that person by the topics, they talk about or bring forward (e.g. team topologies, theory of contraints, NASAs manual process of identifying craters on Mars)

If you are not a tester yourself, you will find them involved in company events, where you won’t expect them to appear (e.g. work council meetings, designing job descriptions, diversity work groups, designing full project setups)

I don’t know, if it is a natural progression of a tester or if certain circumstances need to happen, to becoming one.

My journey

Personally I started as a stereo-typical tester… executing applications, finding out literature about testing, working in different industries, projects and companies, reading a lot about a lot.
That started over 20 years ago.

The last 5 odd years I started to notice, that often the same key factors seemed to play a role, when something was not right in terms of quality.
Most often these were not purely caused within a certain team, but from outside.


The impact

The more I looked into influencing key factors, the more upstream I had to look (following the 5xWhy chain), aka I saw more organisational bugs/issues/change requests, etc.

E.g. simplifying a company wide default JIRA template with 17 (seventeen!) stati changes down to 5 stati would multiply into all the development teams, current and future.
That is a quality finding and correction on an organisational level.

What are the challenges?

  • Areas of quality impediments are vast (hr, sales, marketing, diversity, community, internal testing quality, …)
    Each area is a system by itself or consists of sub-systems and is connected with other systems (recruiting relies u.a. on job descriptions, which reflects, which people are looked for from the market; job description needs e.g. an alignment of the testing departments leading team, which might have different cultural and professional testing backgrounds and differ, which needs an aligned testing strategy.
    And the testing strategy needs to reflect the company strategy to a certain degree (think: growth targets.)
  • Identifying (root causes?) feedback loops and influencing factors and like-minded people takes time.
  • Building up trust and doing osmotic quality understanding takes time.
  • Going from a Normal distribution (Gaussian), there are few testers, who have the skill set required (e.g. patience, frustration tolerance, big view, passion, communication, t-shaped knowledge, practical multi-project/company experience)


What is the conundrum?

  • It is not enough, to only try to change on one aspect or area.
  • How long do you have the energy to keep pushing and improving? What is your internal break-even period, till you want to see improvements? It is a long game…
  • Can you overcome the Cassandra effect?
  • What are results, that let you know, that your quality influence takes root?
  • How can you be aware about the sunken cost fallacy?


What are possible solutions?

  • Find allies and like-minded people
  • Try out different angles and areas. Some might be easier to move stuff
  • Consider areas out of your comfort zone, is it worth it?
  • Make success stories and utilize them (spread them internally, use them to showcase, ..)
  • Use and create multipliers; improve the “holistic” view onto quality
  • Get a support network outside your company to mitigate phases of feeling low and dispirited.

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