Monthly Archives: December, 2013

Make 2014 a year to dream big and make it happen!

Mt Willard cover picture

I want to wish all my readers of “Realistic Cooking Ideas” and “The Testers Edge” a wonderful New Years! Instead of making yearly resolutions, I have a vision for my life. Typically they end up being 3-year visions. For those who are familiar with agile approaches my vision is similar to story mapping. I have a vision that can have multiple goals and over time different activities and tasks develop those goals and vision. For 2014 I would like to encourage everyone to dream big and find activities to work towards that dream. Plus get out of your comfort zone – when we stay in our comfort zone we reduce our learning opportunities. When we are afraid to fail, we never take the calculated risks that are necessary to grow our careers, our blogs, and other areas of our life. I believe in “failing quickly”. Try something new at a manageable level so you can quickly learn from it. For example, if you are trying a new test approach, try it with a smaller project where you can quickly learn what works and does not work. For those of us who cook, lets try a new ingredient that we are not real sure about in a small dish before tackling a more complex dish.

2014 Calendar

For my professional career I want to get deeper into different testing techniques and approaches to increase and broaden my testing toolkit. This includes understanding agile approaches and techniques to learn how to use them in environments that do not have self-managed teams. Plus I want to learn more about different context-driven testing techniques. From a quality viewpoint, I believe everyone, regardless of job title, has an important role to ensure quality from a product and service perspective. I would like to better understand how we could improve quality from all aspects within an organization.

When I started “Realistic Cooking Ideas for Busy People” in February 2011 it was to share recipes and ideas on how to make a quick dinner after work. Typically there is not much time and often we are tired. Too many times we go to a restaurant and pay too much money for a sub-par dinner. I have shared a lot of quick to make recipes and casseroles that can last a few days. When I can, I share tips on how to make dinner a bit easier to make. In 2014 I would like to find more recipes that you can make quickly or make in steps to reduce the time once you come home from work. For Christmas I got a pressure cooker – I hope to share a few recipes – and my thoughts on using it after a busy day at work.

2014 image

I believe all aspects of our life are intertwined from our careers, home life, hobbies, etc. When you accomplish a challenge it makes you stronger in all areas of your life. Today I would like to share with you some beautiful pictures from Mt. Willard – a mountain in New Hampshire that Greg and I climbed this past September. Officially this is our first mountain that we climbed since hiking to New Hampshire waterfalls does not qualify. At one time hiking a mountain was way out of my comfort zone! It took three trips to New Hampshire and a lot of training to get to this point. The hiking in New Hampshire is much more rugged and difficult than in Western New York. They really do not have rocks – they have boulders and thick intertwining tree roots. Every step can twist an ankle! Hiking is more of a straight up climb where after a few minutes you wonder why in the world are you doing this? Imagine if after the first trip to New Hampshire we just gave up on climbing a mountain because it was too difficult. What a wonderful experience we would have missed with such fabulous views! I would encourage you to dream big and have patience to work towards achieving that goal. Go outside your comfort level but remember to always manage the risks. I would never recommend that you take dangerous risks to achieve a goal. There are many mountains in New Hampshire with a higher elevation than Mt. Willard. But for me climbing Mt. Willard is the maximum of my physical and mental capabilities after a three-year journey. Below are pictures from Mt. Willard and a video that I hope you will take a minute to watch, as it is a beautiful view as you arrive to the top!

Mt Willard 1
Mt Willard 2
Mt Willard 3
Mt Willard 4
Mt Willard 5
Mt Willard 6

Developing Your Leadership Skills through a Journal Club

journal club

2013 is almost gone and it is a great time to think about your accomplishments and how you have grown in your career plus to start thinking about 2014. I believe that every tester can develop his/her leadership skills regardless of job title. Refer to my earlier postings on developing your leadership skills, click here, here, here, and here. As part of your 2014 development plan, consider how you can further your leadership skills. If you are not sure how to begin, I would recommend starting a journal club.

In Tea Time With Testers, February 2012 issue, I wrote an article on facilitating a journal club. Click here to read that article with tips on starting and managing a journal club.

To get started you need a few people who have an interest to read and discuss an article. As you progress you might select a book where each meeting you cover a chapter. But sometimes starting small with an article or video is a good way to begin.

At the basic level, you need to identify a location, time, and dates. The journal club might be held during a lunch break or after work. It might be a monthly or bi-weekly meeting. If possible, have a regular schedule to avoid confusion on when the group is meeting. I like to make the meetings casual and not business-like. If possible meet in a coffee shop or if you must meet at work find a location that is comfortable.

As the leader you will tap into a lot of different skills – for some of them you may need to prepare before the meeting. For example, knowing how you are going to open the meeting and encourage people to participate if the conversation stalls. For other areas you may need to improve your skills through reading books and blogs. For example, handling conflict within the group might not be an area you are comfortable. In that situation you will need to find a way to develop that skill. A book that might help you is Crucial Conversations. Read my review on this book by clicking here.

Below are just a few leadership areas of facilitating a journal club:

  • Leading the meeting
    • Open the meeting in a manner that others will participate in the discussion.
    •  Encourage the discussion to progress down different avenues or viewpoints.
    • End the meeting by summarizing what was discussed and briefly discuss the next journal club.
  • Encouraging quite people to participate
    • Make sure everyone feels the journal club is a safe environment to express and discuss opinions.
    • If necessary, ask people specific questions that might help them express their opinion and experiences.
  • Manage those who tend to take over the meeting
    • Monitor the meeting to ensure everyone has an opportunity to express opinions without allowing one person to dominate the meeting.
    • Learn how to allow people with more dominant personalities to participate without it become his/her meeting.
  • Balance conflicting opinions to allow for a meaningful conversation
    • A difference of opinions is healthy and necessary – find a way to tap into the differences to further the discussion.
    • Do not allow anyone’s opinion to be marginalized – people may not want to return if it is not a positive experience.
  • Selecting articles that the group will find meaningful
    • Keep the journal club fresh and interesting to encourage people to return.
    • Encourage the journal club members to recommend articles and topics.

If you have any experiences with leading a journal club, please tell me you story. What worked? What did not work?

I will continue to share experiences and learning material to develop your leadership skills. Hopefully you will find a few of these articles helpful to your career. If there is any particular topic you would like covered, just let me know.

Books I Read: Gung Ho!

Gung Ho
Photo Credit

As part of my series on developing your leadership skills, I am sharing my thoughts on the book – Gung Ho!: Turn on the People in Any Organization by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It is a book I read earlier in my career and found it helpful then and still relevant after all these years.

Gung Ho! is a book that you can easily read in an evening or two. It is written as a parable intended to help you tap into what motivates employees or team members. This book is easy to read and filled with common sense appropriate for anyone leading a small team, department, division, or a company. The approaches in this book are good for leading a team that has low morale. You should be able to learn new ideas to tap into the strengths of your team. Or you might refresh your memory on these approaches providing inspiration to tap into them again.

We are introduced to a plant that is in major trouble. Productivity and morale is low and most likely will close in about a year’s time. A new General Manager is appointed and she teams up with an Operations Manager who turned his department around with an approach called “Gung Ho”. The goal was to spread this concept throughout the plant over the next year in order to save it from closing. Gung Ho is based upon three principles to boost enthusiasm and performance in a work group or organization. The three principles include: the Spirit of the Squirrel; the Way of the Beaver; and the Gift of the Goose.

The Spirit of the Squirrel represents teamwork. If you ever watched a group of squirrels before winter they work hard as a team. They have a goal to gather and store food; otherwise they will not survive the winter. Translate to: worthwhile work leading to shared goals.

The Way of the Beaver represents controlling your own destiny and deciding how work is to be completed. If you watch a group of beavers you will notice there is not a leader. They work hard to get the job done; however how are they accomplishing their goal without a leader? Translate to: in control of achieving the goals.

The Gift of the Goose represents encouragement. Geese travel in a V format with a goose leading them. Periodically a different goose will lead. While they are flying the geese will honk to encourage one another. Translate to: cheering others on.

Overall this translates to: power of meaningful work; empowering team members; and the exponential factor of motivation. Taking these three simple concepts can help you take a team to higher productivity while providing meaningful work and empowering them to make decisions. Even though these concepts are simple in nature, they can be difficult to implement. Start with providing meaningful work to your team and be sure they have a shared goal. Perhaps they do not understand the meaning or purpose behind their work. How can you bridge that gap? Once they have a shared goal, how can they take more control on deciding the best way to approach their assignments? They are closer to the work being performed and most likely have great ideas on how to complete the tasks. Do not confuse mentoring and coaching your team with dictating how to complete the job. Lastly, encourage your team. Provide positive feedback on their accomplishments. It can be easy to fall into the trap of only providing feedback when something goes wrong. Celebrate the team’s success when they meet milestones or major deliverables.

You can purchase this book on Amazon.

How can you take these three simple concepts to start changing your leadership style? For me, it is a good refresher to review these concepts. I will challenge myself to see where I can make changes in each of these areas.

Books I Read: The CEO and the Monk

The CEO and the Monk
Photo Credit

As part of my series on developing your leadership skills, I will be sharing a few books that I have read and found beneficial over the years. See Developing Your Leadership Potential and Leadership Books, Seminars, and Workshops for the first two parts of this series.

The CEO and the Monk is an enjoyable book that is written from three perspectives: the author, the CEO, and the Monk. This book is easy to read especially since the events are presented from three different viewpoints. It is about a corporation called KeySpan, a publicly traded $6 billion New York based energy company. For me this was an amazing story of ethics and faith in an industry that is known to be cut-throat and all about profits. Of course KeySpan has shareholders to satisfy and Wall Street is watching their every move – but it was refreshing to see the human element involved in the decisions made. I have worked for large corporations and have witness how decisions are made based upon profit and loss often without regard to the human cost.

The monk, Kenny Moore, left cloistered life in the monastery after 15-years and ends up being an influential confidant of Bob Catell, Chairman of KeySpan. Kenny does not have a MBA or a business education but he becomes the conscious of KeySpan, which is not an easy job! The company is going through a lot of changes and anyone who has been in a change agent role knows how difficult it can be to influence change. You need to balance the profitability of the company, gain buy-in from senior management, and understand what changes would be best for the employees. Then somehow you need to bring that all together. Of course you find your champions who will work with you to influence and implement change. I liked Kenny’s non-business tactic of using a “funeral” as a way to help the employees’ transition from the old way of working to a new future. Kenny is a different type of leader with his stoic, dry humor – but ultimately he was a confidant to the CEO while being a champion for the employees.

Robert Catell became the CEO of KeySpan in 1991. He oversaw the transformation of a small Brooklyn gas company into one of the nation’s largest and most successful energy company. A common problem for many CEOs is that senior management provides the information they think the CEO wants to hear instead of providing the message they need to hear. That often takes a lot of courage to provide that message. Kenny had that courage making his partnership with Robert very strong and perhaps a bit unusual. Robert understood to lead his 100-year old company through the next decade he needed to build it from more than a business perspective. He needed to tap into the company’s soul.

Glenn Rifkin is the author of this book and he has written for the New York Times and has coauthored other business books. I like how Glenn sets the stage for the chapter with the CEO and the Monk then providing their thoughts on the topic. I really love this style of presenting information because you gain a well-balanced picture from different perspectives.

As a side note, I attended a lecture where Kenny was the guest speaker. He is a great storyteller with a very dry sense of humor! On YouTube you can find a series of videos where he talks about his background, family, and his time at KeySpan. This is a good book if you are looking for a true story of leadership and ethics. You can purchase this book through Amazon.

Leadership Books, Seminars, and Workshops

leadership books

In my first posting I started a discussion on leadership and what it can mean to testers. I want to share Teri Charles article called “Be the Leader You Want in Your Life”. Teri shares some great insight that I completely agree with so I hope you will take some time to read her article. I am impressed how Teri is always learning to improve her testing skills and knowledge.

There is a whole industry of leadership books, videos, and seminars describing or led by inspirational leaders to help you develop your leadership abilities. It can be rather overwhelming to sift through all the potential opportunities. Over the next few postings, I will discuss a few books that influenced my career.

Personally, I enjoy reading about leaders from different disciplines to challenge my own leadership style and approaches. A couple of books I read earlier in my career includes: “The CEO and the Monk” and “Gung Ho! Turn on the People in Any Organization”. Plus when there is time I enjoy reading Harvard Business Review, which can provide guidance on handling conflict, problems, team building, and other valuable advice. I like how they present different sides of a problem that you can analyze and decide what would you do if you were in that situation. Then different business leaders provide their insight.

Currently I am reading John C. Maxwell’s 10th anniversary edition of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You”. Remember that leadership is not a static action – like testing you are always learning and developing your leadership skills. As such John published a 10th anniversary of his book to share with his readers what he has learned since its original publication.

From a broader development perspective, I am a fan of actionable models. There are several books that I have found beneficial. They include:

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  • Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
  • Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham

I usually take my time reading these books since I like to read a chapter, let it sink in a bit, and see how I can apply what I am learning to my leadership style. I tend to take notes or outline the concepts to help me work through the material. I might write a brief plan on how I will handle situations differently. My books tend to have sections highlighted and I use small sticky notes to tag important pages. I tend to purchase them in a physical book format instead of for my Kindle. I like that you can highlight text on the Kindle but a physical book allows me to quickly flip between pages.

Do you have any favorite leadership books? Do you prefer a physical book or reading on your Kindle?

‘State of Testing’ Survey

One of the things I love about the Testing Community is how we share information and learn together. Before I move on with more postings on leadership, I wanted to share with you information I learned from Lalit Bhamare, one of the editors of Tea-time with Testers about a project he and Joel Montvelisky are embarking upon. You may be familiar with Joel’s blog QA Intelligence – a QABlog and the e-magazine Tea-time with Testers.

Background on this project
Joel was looking for information to write a post about the advances in the testing world in the last 5-10 years and he realized that there is no centralized set of information that provides visibility into what is happening and what are the trends in the world of testing today. That is when he turned to Lalit and they decided to turn this into a project.

They are going to launch a survey towards the end of the week and it will run for about 10 days. For this project to be productive the survey needs to reach as many testers as possible worldwide.

How you can participate
This is where you and I can be part of this project. Please click here and you will be directed to Joel’s blog where he shares more information about this survey and you can subscribe to get notified when the survey goes live! All you need to do for now is enter your email address to receive the notification. This is an excellent opportunity to be involved at the beginning as this is a survey that will be conducted each year. What a fabulous idea to start gathering information on testing trends and how they change over time.

What else you can do
After you sign-up to participate in the survey, let your friends and co-workers know about the survey. You can share this information through Twitter, Facebook, G+ and other social media platforms. The more testers around the world that participate the better the results. I do hope you will consider participating!