Keith Klain – Bridging the Gap: Leading change in a community of testers

19 04 2012

I am at StarEast this week, and originally intended to give live-blogging a go, an art perfected by the ubiquitous Markus Gaertner. Alas, the wireless connection decided otherwise, so I am a bit on the late side with this. Here is a summary of the opening keynote of the StarEast conference, by Keith Klane: Bridging the Gap: Leading change in a community of testers.

In this presentation, Keith Klain described how Barclay’s Capital Global Test Center (GTC) managed to totally change the way they worked. The GTC is an independent testing service providing full lifecycle software testing support and specialist testing services across multiple businesses from 6 global locations.

Keith got triggered by something his boss had told him: to go reflect on a a couple of things, stating “In this business you’re either a bug or a windshield”. This made Keith wonder: what is motivating people? You cannot make people do anything unless they want to do it because it is in their best interest. That is real leadership.

On a leadership summit in Europe last year, Keith heard all sorts of depressing things: that testers don’t understand the business, that they are too slow and too expensive, that all testing should be automated. So clearly all these years of maturity models, metrics programmes, certifications, process improvements are not getting through, they’re not working.

Values

It is important to outline what your values are:

- Honesty, with ourselves and others. Be transparent about strengths and weaknesses.

- Integrity: earn the right to have an opinion. Provide clear and constant feedback.

- Accountability: Own it. Understand what “value” means in your business. Manage your own expectations.

The situation

When Keith arrived at the GTC, an improvement programme was already in place and ongoing, called “change programme phase 1”.

  • There were test maturity models and maturity improvement plans, based on industry standards. He decided to kill that.
  • There was a metrics programme, a test case efficiency model centered on test execution. It consisted of automation metrics based on test case coverage and program tracking sheets. They noticed that as soon as you want to put a number on something people are doing, people start focusing on the number, and not on the thing they’re supposed to do. He decided to kill the programme.
  • There was a career framework. The focus of test managempent was on operational control and team size. He killed that too.

Talent management

From that momentb on, the GTC started focusing on Talent Management. The keywords here: attract/develop/retain.

Attract

They raised the hiring (and existing employee) bar and transferred quality ownership to the team. They made sure that GTC was viewed as a “Top Project”, very hard to get in (in analogy with Google).

Develop

Keith invited James Bach to come and teach his Rapid Software Testing course and regularly provide consulting as well. On top of that, they improved business and testing skills. After a while, people started developing their own training courses, around ten in total. These were staff-led without any steering from management. They also started a new test management mentoring programme.

Retain

They flattened out the career framework, until it contained only four levels. They developed Induction Programmes, in which they told people what was expected from them. In addition, Keith told them what was to be expected from him.

Management principles

  • People start ignoring testing when it’s no longer relevant. It’s your own fault if people start ignoring you. Speak the language of your programs, learn what the values are and people will listen to you.
  • Being responsible sometimes means rocking the boat. Sometimes people will have to tell someone that something is not done well. That is no problem, as long as it’s done respectfully. “If you want a friend, buy a dog”.
  • No one has the market cornered on good ideas. Bill Gates once said that even the smartest people in the world only had one good idea in their whole life. New ideas are all around you, look around. Solve problems collectively.
  • Never stop asking why. It is a powerful and clarifying question that will get you where you want to. Question everything. Don’t mindlessly go about your job.
  • Invest 80% of your energy in your top 20%.
  • Leadership = simplification. The problem is that people cannot communicate simply about their solution. Tell something in a way that people do something about it. That is something that goes beyond an elevator pitch.
  • Don’t take it personally. You are not your ideas. These depend on a whole series of factors. If you take things too personally, you won’t be able to change your behavior
  • Think first, then do.

The Results

  • General investments in the GTC have gone up. This shows the importance that management started giving to the GTC.
  • Nonsense management overhead was removed, and all of a sudden loads of new talent started bubbling up. People got rewarded for their efforts on their test strategies, their approaches, their ideas. (“Runner up” CIO award).
  • The biggest improvement or cultural change was the GTC university. It was all there: class room training, brown bag sessions, mentoring, competitions, all done off the back, not steered by management.
  • Leading cultural change = a paradigm shift

Stop

Pretending that the value of your testing org is anyone other’s responsibility, and pretending that you’re going to” mature out” of that position

Start

Telling people what you expect from them. Support them by a training regime that helps them do that. Create an environment where people are not afraid to fail. Create a learning organization.

Continue

Driving out fear of failure by creating an environment that enables innovation and rewards collaboration through strategic objectives and constant feedback.

I really liked this keynote. It was an inspiring story that showed how you *can* make a difference when you start focusing on skill and building a learning organization.

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5 responses

19 04 2012
Jeroen Mengerink

Thanks for sharing this on your blog Zeger. It’s very inspiring indeed!

19 04 2012
Ilari Henrik Aegerter

Hi Zeger
Thanks for your excellent summary about the presentation by Keith Klain. Just read the many tweets yesterday and had the impression of him being a really capable leader. I full agree with his attitude of getting rid of useless metrics, concentrating on the people and give honest feedback about their performance. Good stuff!

4 05 2012
Leadership in a large test organization | Software Test Manager

[...] was by Keith Klain of Barclays Capital Global Test  Center.  Zeger Van Hese has written a nice account of Keith’s [...]

17 05 2012
My first [Let's Test] conference « What are you going to test today?

[...] Post that was published almost immediately after the keynote. How? Well, Zeger Van Hese uses term ‘live-blogging’, “an art perfected by the ubiquitous Markus Gärtner.” Anyone blogged about Rob [...]

9 02 2014
Kim Engel

I wonder if I’m missing the benefits of live-blogging by reading this post 2 years later :)
An excellent summary Zeger, thank you.

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