Why process improvement is always personal

I coach rowing, so I’ll use this as an analogy. Consider the crew of rowers in a racing eight. The coach’s intention is to get all eight athletes rowing in harmony, with the same movement with balance, poise and control. In theory, if everyone does the same thing, the boat will move smoothly, and everyone can apply the power of their legs, trunk and arms to moving the boat as quickly as possible (and win races).

Of course, one could just show the crew a video of some Olympic champions and say, ‘do what they do’, ‘exactly’, ‘now’. But how dumb is that? Each person is an individual, having different physical shape and size, physiology, ambition, personality, attitudes and skill levels. Each athlete has to be coached individually to bring them up to the ‘gold standard’. But it’s harder than that, too. It’s not as if each athlete responds to the same coaching messages. The coach has to find the right message to get the right response from each individual. For example, to get rowers to protect their lower backs, they must ‘sit up’ in the boat. Some rowers respond to ‘sit up’ others to ‘keep your head high’, ‘be arrogant’ and so on. That’s just the way it is with people.

In the same way, when we want people to adopt a new way of working – a new ‘process’, we have to recognise that to get the required level of process adherence and consistency, (i.e. changed behaviours) every individual faces a different set of challenges. For each individual, it’s a personal challenge. To get each individual to overcome their innate resistance to change, improve their skill levels, adjust their attitudes, and overall, change their behaviour, we have to recognise that each individual needs individual coaching, encouragement and support.

Typical ‘process’ improvement attempts start with refined processes, some training, a bit of practice, a pilot, then a roll-out. But where is the personal support in all this? To ask a group of individuals to adopt a new process (any process) by showing them the process and saying ‘do it’, is like asking a village footbal team to ‘play like Brazil’.

Developing Testers – What Can We Learn from Athletes?

I’ve been asked to present the closing keynote at this year’s Eurostar Conference in Manchester on December 7th. Here’s the abstract: When it comes to improving the capabilities of our testers, if you believe the training providers brochures, you might think that a few days training in a classroom is enough to give a tester all the skills required to succeed. But it is obvious that to achieve mastery, it can take months or years to acquire the full range of technical and inter-personal skills required. Based on my experience as a rowing coach, this keynote describes how an athletic training programme is run and compares that with the way most testers are developed. An athlete will have a different training regime for the different periods of the year and coaching, mentoring, inspiring and testing are all key activities of the coach. Training consists of technical drills, strength, speed, endurance and team work. Of course a tester must spend most of their time actually doing their job, but there are many opportunities for evaluation and training to occur even in a busy schedule. Developing tester capability requires a methodical, humane approach with realistic goals, focused training, regular evaluation, feedback and coaching as well as on-the-job experience. You can see the presentation here: multi-page HTML file | Powerpoint Slide Show


I originally created this presentation for the BCS SIGIST meeting on the Ides of March.