Monday, 24 August 2015

Position retrospective

In each of our seven seven business units, we have a 'Test Chapter Lead'. This was a new position created just on a year ago as part of a wider restructure, where business units took 'ownership' of their technology teams.
They are the lead representative of testing activities in their business area, often representing the test strategy and practises I outline as test manager. They also manage the HR needs of two to seven testers, which includes training and recruitment.

They share a common job description, and while they don't directly report to me, they have a 'dotted reporting line' to me representing the test strategy and practise relationship.

The Test Chapter Leads and I have a fortnightly catch up, the aim is for us to be aware of what's going on in each others world. Each person takes turns to tell the group what's happened, happening, or about to happen in their area.
As well as info sharing, these catch ups have helped to form some social bonds between us as a group.

Over time, I noticed that the reports at the catch up were starting to vary more and more from person to person.
Here's an example of updates from people we would get in a meeting:
  • there are two upcoming releases people should be aware of, they'll have flow on effects to the core business rules.
  • still working on that long haul project. Nothing to update.
  • we've got a new system that we are trialling for automated testing
  • were looking at working in BDD for the next two sprints, and will be releasing more often
  • we had a great training session last week on heuristics, and we are already seeing it being used by testers
  • a deploy went out last week, and there was a lot of defects the flow on affects are still being felt but I'm running comms and will update you at the next meeting
  • we are still interviewing, and have offers out to three candidates.
It started to become pretty clear that although the Test Chapter Leads shared a job title/description and common 'purpose' - the tasks they were doing on a daily basis were not the same, and were varied from week to week.
I wanted to see if they were ok with the disparity and variance. Was it what they had expected in their role? were they happy? and were they aware of the differences across their group?
Also, I wanted to see if the group still had enough commonality to be supporting each, and if they were still fulfilling the purpose that the role was created for.

So I thought we should try a 'position retrospective'.

What we did:
All the Test Chapter Leads convened at one location for the afternoon
On a white board, I drew a line. At one end I put "I hardly do this", at the other I put "I do this lots"
I asked each of the Test Chapter Leads to
  • take a pile of post it notes
  • think about all the things you do.
  • write each thing down
  • put it on the line

The goal of this was to get them thinking of all the tasks and responsibilities they are taking on as part of their role in their business unit.
It worked really well and there was some solid thinking happening, and I was pleasantly surprised how easy people 'vomited' tasks on to the board.
I let this take as much time as they needed, and once the flurry of activity naturally stopped - we moved on. Not putting a time box on it was important. I wanted people to take time and think and reflect, rather than rush and brain dump which happens when someone says "you've got 5 mins".

I had originally thought about getting each person to do their own line, and then merge them all together. I'm glad I didn't. As they were reading each other's notes and were spurred on to put more and more cards up.
I don't think that this would have happened if I'd asked each person to do their own line.

Some put up lots of HR meta tasks : recruitment, training, and sorting HR issues. Some put things like testing, releasing, and agile ceremonies.
Each person had at least one thing on the line which no one else had. Some had four or more.
Unsurprisingly, the position on the line varied from person to person.
Hardly any tasks with the same description ended up in the same place on the line. Yes, it was a qualitative line - but there was a non insignificant variance between two people who put up the same task.

The next step was to think about value these tasks were adding.
But, I didn't want to use the word 'value'. Surely any task that they were doing was adding value... or at least should be.
What I asked instead was:

  • Looking at the tasks you have put up, do you want to do that task more, or less?
    • Show this by adding a
      '^' to show you want to do it more
      'v' to show you want to do it less
      '-' to show you are are ok doing it as much as you are.
    • Each card has to have an assessment.

The final step was to (as a group) discuss what we saw, looking at patterns, contradictions, or outliers.
For example
  • if someone was doing a task no one else did - were they happy doing it? did they think there was a place for the others to do it as well, or was it specific to their business? in other business units, was a different person picking up this task?
  • if someone was wanting to increase/decrease the time spent on a task, was there any tools, training, or resourcing we could think of as a group to facilitate that change?
  • if there was a task that was being done a lot by many people, was it part of the position? was it transient? And if not, did it need to be communicated as a new responsibility for the position?
  • if two people contradicted each other, one wanting to do something more, and the other wanting to do the same task less, did anyone think that was a bad thing?
We ended up running out of time while doing this, and took the discussion off line.
We transferred the board into a paper form, and each person has had the chance to digest and muse on some differences I highlighted.

What would I change or do differently?
We needed more time. Taking the final step away from the group didn't have the networking & discussions I was hoping for. While doing the activity, the conversations we managed to have face to face and off the cuff were much more constructive. You got immediate clarification, ideas and insight - which meant you had a much quicker feedback loop on suggesting ideas and support to each other.

How did it go?
On the whole I think it worked really well and the feedback afterwards was good.
It was a good chance for everyone to analyse what they were doing, and also see into the shoes of their peers.
People were able to share what the role of Test Chapter Lead was in their world, and see clearly what the role was for their peers.
When you share a job title with other people, you naturally compare yourself to those people. "Why hasn't Ms X picked up that task yet?" or "do I need to be doing that task that Mr Y is doing as well?"
This exercise set up a good discussion on this exact aspect, and cleared up any differences I (and the group) were seeing.
On the surface, you could have assumed that people weren't doing "the job" of a Test Chapter Lead. But, "the job" was actually a moving target based on the context that the person was operating in. The tasks are not static, and the fact that people were dynamic and adaptable is helping their team as a whole succeed.

What's left to do?
I want to bring the group back together for a discussion on the data, and see if we can help each other achieve the "do more" or "do less". Being a distributed group, it's hard to rapidly identify these things - but hopefully it will set up a network where people share the tasks and desired change outside of these sessions.

The visualisation and sharing became the best takeaway from the exercise.
I plan to redo the exercise next time we get together so that we have two data points to reflect on.
Why? I'm hoping that if any tasks haven't changed, and there is still a desired change - we'll be able to think of ways to get that change happening as a group.

Stay tuned...

No comments:

Post a Comment