Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to Be Happy, Though in a Non-supportive Environment

Jerry: Here's another email consulting dialogue that Larry found helpful.

Larry: My name is Larry. I am a software test manager at an insurance company east of Chicago.  I have faced challenges when trying to do what I consider good testing.  These challenges include standards that mandate scripted test cases, fellow managers who don't want to discuss work, and security policies that don't allow us to quickly get tools that will aid in our testing.

A while back I discovered Cem Kaner's web page and it opened me up to a whole new world of software testing.  I learned of people like you, James Bach, Michael Bolton, and several other great thinkers.  I wonder how many people spend a career in software development/testing/ management without ever learning of these great people.

Jerry: Quite a few. To have a great career in any profession, you have to reach out and find sources such as these. You need to participate in a conference once in a while (the AYE Conference in November would be my number one choice in your situation). After that, our Problem Solving Leadership workshop would be an ideal goal to aspire to. You should certainly join your local interest groups, and participate.

Larry: This has led me to a question that I hope you can help me with.  How smart does someone have to be, to be happier when they read your books?

Jerry: Sometimes, just reading is sufficient, but most of the time, the reader has to begin doing something they weren't doing before. Like the suggestions above. Or like tackling one of the problems you cited--the standards, your fellow managers, or security policies. Or some smaller problem that nags at you.

But only ONE at a time, to learn what works for you and your organization. And what doesn't work.

(If nothing works, you want to be looking for a better place to work.)

Larry: It's almost like you know me. I think I have an NT temperament (QSM Volume 3 helped here) and based on some of the other research I've done it is definitely true that when I have a lot of tasks and become stressed I almost lock up. I rationalize that it is because I can't devote enough time to do a good job on any one thing, but I know I need to just suck it up and handle on item really well. That may go a long way to improving my happiness.

Jerry: From the little I know, I think if it were me, I'd try to find (at least) one of my fellow managers who is willing to spend some time with me discussing things that we could accomplish to improve matters for our company.

But any little thing you could move forward would be educational--even if it "fails" you can extract some learning from the attempt.

Larry: I have read five of your books so far:

* Are Your Lights On?
* Quality Software Management: Volume 1
* Quality Software Management: Volume 3
* Exploring Requirements
* Weinberg on Writing

To be honest I probably can't say "read" in the same sense that you might. I read some areas in depth and browsed others. I'm making second passes through several.

Jerry: That's exactly the way I read.

Larry: My worry is that I feel less happy after having read your books.  They have shown me how much I have to learn, and I believe that I'm not in the right environment to continue this learning.

Jerry: At least you haven't run out of things to learn. Now THAT would be really depressing.

As for the environment for learning, no environment can stop you from learning, if you really care. But, yes, you may eventually decide to keep an eye out for an opportunity in a different environment.

Larry: Each step I take towards more critical thinking, a strong thirst for knowledge, a greater understanding of how much I really don't know is a step I'm taking away from my peers at work.

Jerry: As for your peers, by taking a step ahead of them, you may well be modeling a new way for them to be happier. It's called being a "leader."

Larry: This has led to a lot of work related stress and unhappiness, and I'm more unhappy than I have been in a long time.

Jerry: In volume 4 of Quality Software Management, you'll learn about the Satir Change Model, and why significant change is usually preceded by a period of chaos, which might feel unhappy until you realize that it's a natural step on the way to happy change.

Larry: That's interesting. My personal experience says that I do tend to have phases of unhappiness, but I come out of it much stronger. It is just hard to know where I am in my journey at a specific point in time. Am I climbing up or falling down?

Now, I'm not writing to blame your great books for my unhappiness. I just have a feeling that other people have had similar journeys, and I was wondering if you've encountered a similar phenomenon. Do you have any more insights for a young unhappy software tester?

Jerry: I suspect my newest book, Perfect Software might be a good read for your manager and your fellow managers

Larry: I actually forgot about that book on my list. It is sitting on my desk pointing anyone who walks in. I'm hoping someone will pick it up and be interested, but that hasn't happened yet.

Jerry: You need to be more patient, and more aggressive, at the same time. Not easy!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Peter Principle Simulated

Some Italian professors have tried to simulate the famous Peter Principle:

"All new members in a hierarchical organization climb the hierarchy until they reach their level of maximum incompetence."

The Peter effect arises from the practice of promoting the best performer at Level N to a position at level N+1.

The Italians also simulated two other promotion policies:

1. Alternately promote first the most competent and then the least competent individuals.

2. Promote individuals at random.

According to their simulations, each of these methods improves the efficiency of an organization over the Peter method.

My thought: They could try promoting on the basis of who is most suited for the next level job. Duh!

Or maybe they could try not mixing the concept of "promotion" with that of "reward."

Or maybe even getting rid of the hierarchical notion altogether.

The Paul Principle

As a relevant post-script for my audience, they might want to look into the "Paul Principle," proposed by Paul Armer, who, like me, started out in computing as a desk calculator operator (or "computer" as we were known back then).

"People become progressively less competent for jobs they once were well equipped to handle."

Paul proposed his law in 1970, the year after Peters proposed his. Paul claimed his principle was more relevant in high-tech fields, when the complexity of jobs grows faster than the people doing them. The Paul Principle has been virtually forgotten, but I think it is still worth some careful thinking by IT managers and consultants.

The Other Paul Principle

It seems there's another "Paul Principle," after St. Paul's treatise in Corinthians:

"Continue to provide people with what they need to succeed."

I suspect this management principle would also prove more effective at growing an organization than the Peter Principle.

Perhaps those old Pauls knew something that's still worth studying today.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Why Choose One Conference Over Another?

In these days when money is short, lots of people cannot afford to participate all the conferences they might have attended last year. Money may be the first criterion for choosing conferences, but it's not the only one. I'm going to three conferences this year, each chosen by different characteristics. For me, money doesn't enter into it, so my reasons might be helpful for those who can afford to be in at least one conference, but are trying to choose. my first step in choosing a conference is to eliminate the majority of conferences by applying the following guides.

What Makes Conferences Less Attractive

I generally eliminate conferences that

- overschedule event with no time or place for spontaneous meetings

- overcrowd, usually to maximize profits, with just too many people, which encourages people to hang out only with their old pals

- lack adaptability so opportunities pass by without notice or care

- offer too much lecturing, not enough interaction, and insufficient experiential work--or none at all

- invite presenters of widely varied and untested skill and preparation

- do not name their presenters in advance, or give biographical information

- provide insufficient time and space for socializing, meeting new people

- allow little or no interaction with the presenters (In some conferences, presenters eat in a special area, intentionally separated from the participants. In others, presenters speak and run.

- schedule sales pitches instead of teaching presentations

- schedule canned pitches instead of original material

- offer too many plenary sessions, when participants have no choice of what to attend

Few conferences meet all my criteria, but I look for those conferences that do, like the three (below) that I am attending this year. I have long-ago reached a stage in my life where I cannot tolerate several days sitting in an uncomfortable chair listening to someone read bullet points from PowerPoint slides.



I participated in the Conference of the Association for Software Testing (CAST) last year, and I'm returning this year because the subject of the conference is precisely focused on my current interest: promoting and improving the practice of software testing.

The sessions I attended were all of high quality and interest to me. Also, it's a reasonably small conference with numerous opportunities to participate in spontaneous hall sessions.



BizConf is a new conference this year, and I'm participating primarily because of the other participants, who, like me, are small entrepreneurs running technology businesses. It's a small conference, limited to 75 participants, and scheduled once again to encourage spontaneous hall and meal sessions. All of the presenters I know are of the highest quality.

AYE (Amplifying Your Effectiveness)


You might say I participate in AYE every year because I'm a host--one of the people who created the conference. But I wouldn't have been a host in the first place if I had been satisfied with most of the conferences available. When we designed the conference, we had several issues in mind in addition to the ones listed above. We wanted the conference to be reasonably priced, easy to reach, and easy to learn more about than could be found on a simple website. We created a wiki that registrants could write on and anybody could read. We retained a small staff of intelligent, personable people (Lois and Suzy) to give information and solve problems over the phone. I hope we've made it easy to get to AYE, and I hope to see you there or at one of the other two conferences I'll be attending.