Coaching Culture 2022 – A Day of Inspiration

It’s been a while since my last post, and since today has been such an inspiring day, I thought it was a good opportunity to get back to writing.

I was given an opportunity through an internal Leadership Programme, to attend a conference of choice. I decided to go for something outside of the usual Software/Testing conferences and to go for something I’m keen to learn more about and that is Coaching. I’ve enjoyed having a coach this year (thank you Galia!) and am keen to do more to continue coaching my teams and build a coaching culture. I came across this conference by chance when looking for Coaching resources, Coaching Culture are an organisation which provides a Coaching Solution to help organisations transform their mindsets and their annual conference has been running for a few years. I’d listened to some of their podcast episodes and was excited to hear more during the day.

It was located at the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham, so I made the straight forward drive up the M1 to be there in time for the start. I made it with about 5 minutes to spare before the first talk, and while the host for the day (the legendary Tim Roberts!) was warming the audience up. I learned about Tim through my initial discovering of Coaching Culture earlier this year and have been bowled over by Tims enthusiasm, passion and really candid style. His book (Break the Mould) came out this year and it’s the first book I have started reading again a second time literally as soon as finishing it the first time.

The conference was layed out in tables rather than the traditional conference setup, which was great because especially travelling alone, it meant I was instantly thrust into conversation with some really inspiring people from lots of different backgrounds and roles, including an actual Cardiologist who is trying to bring a Coaching Culture into NHS hospitals (Dr Toomas Sarev) along with Dawn, Natalie, Stephen, Joanne and a few others who’s names I can’t remember (sorry 😦 )

Session 1 – What Great Looks Like at Etihad Airways Group with Andrew Stotter-Brooks

The first session was a fireside chat/interview between the Coaching Culture CEO Jo Wright and the VP of Learning & Development for Etihad Airways, Andrew Stotter-Brooks. Before the day, this was the session I was most intrigued about due to the fact it was another airline and hopefully I could bring some learnings back to my workplace.

Andrew had a really relaxed and enthusiastic style in telling his journey and stories. It was also great to hear the history of Etihad Airways. It didn’t surprise me to hear that for a long time, Andrew said the culture at Etihad was very hierarchical and all about rules and processes, but what did surprise me was to hear that the airline didn’t make a profit for the first 17 years and as Andrew helped to change the culture, this changed and helped towards transforming them into one of the most profitable airlines in the world.

Andrew shared how the culture changes all started with asking questions in all directions, not just with his immediate teams, but also upwards, including a challenging conversation with the chairman of the airways group who insisted they were the expert even though they hadn’t worked on the ground with the airline alongside crew/ground ops etc for the duration of the companies existence. Andrew pushing that they were infact the experts. It was great to hear stories of these types of challenging conversations.

Andrew talked through some key actions that helped transform the culture:

  1. Align the org through coaching
  2. Ensure everyone feels they are part of something
  3. Give feedback and ask questions
  4. Be part of the growing and learning alongside the teams
  5. Genuinely care and be kind

“People never forget how you make them feel”

Andrew Stotter-Brooks, Coaching Culture Conference 2022

A really interesting session that I feel I took some genuine actions from and was now really hyped for the rest of the day.

Session 2 – Hiring and Leading for the Future of Work with Indy Lachhar

The next session was a talk from Global HR Leader Indy Lachhar. Indy had a real positive presence on stage and kept everyone engaged with her energy and passion throughout her talk.

“We want people to rock up to work as Humans”

Indy Lachhar, Coaching Culture Conference 2022

She covered some really poignant stats based on surveys of employees from various organisations which showed that large proportions of them felt leaders needed to be more empathetic to work-life balance and also that their orgs needed a better understanding of Mental Health. This also lead to sharing reasons why employees feel disconnected and challenges face by employers:

Indy discussed the concept of Quiet Quitting and also a term I hadn’t heard before which was “Act Your Wage”, meaning you do what you’re paid for and nothing more. This list was quite eye opening as it shows it’s common across the majority of employers. This doesn’t make it any easier for our own hiring/retention challenges, but it does somewhat help to know we aren’t alone.

This lead to Indy discussing around how we can build a culture which employees want to align with and that they also feel connected to. This includes ensuring the employees know their value and they are empowered to deliver that value. This lead to two questions we can help employees ask themselves:

  1. “Do I feel genuinely aligned to the company Culture?”
  2. “Do I feel like I belong?”

Indy then talked through some key areas of focus when hiring for the future, including areas such as “The Power of Network”, ensuring a “Human Hiring Process” and “engaging managers” to help ensure everyone is involved and pulling in the same direction. I really agreed with these as so often the recruitment process can be disconnected on both sides, from the candidate not being kept up to date and equally from the hiring manager unaware of the progress the recruitment team may be making.

Indy then covered key skills leaders need to demonstrate in order to help hire the teams of tomorrow. Including Swift/Effective Decisions, Engaging and Building Trust, Balancing Well-being and activity and embracing change and innovation. For me these are key and I have actively been trying to follow these things subconsciously for a while, especially as my team has grown and the hiring process has become more constant as far as always having new people coming in. Indy then briefly talked about how orgs need to work on developing their own leaders through internal development programmes, engagement surveys and talent development, thankfully these are things my company seem to be doing quite well with at this point. 🙂

This was a really great talk, and was interesting for me to hear from a recruitment company on their perception of the market and how companies can help resolve some of the challenges.

Session 3 – Why Every Organisation Should Have a Culture Deck with Jo Wright

The third session was the Coaching Culture CEO Jo Wright, presenting about the concept of moving from Company values to more of a Culture Deck format. This was really insightful (with lots of humour added in) which really got me thinking about how we look at company values.

Jo defined Culture as “A Set of values, beliefs and behaviours that guide how a company’s employees interact”. This got me thinking about how it often seems to be an activity that can be shared publicly to define company values and be seen as more of a marketing exercise, than actually used internally with the employees living the values. I have certainly seen this in some of my previous roles…

The above stats Jo shared didn’t surprise me, infact for the first one, I would probably expect that to be higher than 49% for most companies, so often it feels like values are created then shoved in a draw and forgotten about. With the second one (70% of employee values weren’t the same as company values). This should be a given, surely? There are always going to be differences, it’s more about being able to align to the company goals without conflict. I’ve certainly had to leave previous roles because I felt conflicted with the company goals, especially when they changed over time.

Jo then talks about what a culture deck is and some of the examples of the Coaching Culture, Culture codes are:

“A Culture Deck is Company Shorthand full of idioms and memorable quirky phrases”

Jo Wright, Coaching Culture Conference, 2022

I like the idea of the culture deck and I know companies like Netflix have gone with this approach. It was also to hear some of the culture codes that Coaching Culture have in theirs:

  1. We eat our own dogfood
  2. Don’t Microwave fish (not literally, but more about not doing inconsiderate things to upset others – there is a youtube video about this…)
  3. We’re all on the same team

Jo challenges us to come up with our own. Some great responses from the audience including my personal favourite:

“Rather have a Hole than an A***hole!”

Which clearly lends to getting rid of bad people and coping without, being better than struggling on with the wrong person. Something I can relate to across my career.

Jo then made some really good points about how to frame them when building them out as an organisation:

  • What makes your organisation special?
  • What are your principles you would want everyone to follow?
  • Clarify the culture codes
  • Make them Meaningful, Memorable and Measurable
  • Champion them
  • Recruit against them
  • Keep them alive
  • Evolve them

I really enjoyed Jo’s talk and am keen to understand both with my team and the org as a whole, what we can do better in this area. Having these kinds of conversations could be fun!

Session 4 – The Importance of Belonging with Nichole McGill-Higgins

The next session was my favourite talk of the day. Nichole is a Belonging Leadership Coach and presented some really eye-opening content as well as backing up content I have presented in the last year around Neurodiversity/D&I. She started with this great slide:

I took so many notes from this talk, that I won’t be able to give it all justice here. Nichole started by giving a description of the differences between Identity, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging

This is always a really good refresher and frames the differences between the 5 in an understandable way. Nichole then gave the following description for Belonging:

“Goal is to create environment where everyone feels that they are accepted, understood, welcomed and involved”

Nichole McGill-Higgins, Coaching Culture Conference, 2022

The next topic covered was biases, Nichole gave a really good exercise which really opened my eyes to the concept of default biases. She asked us to all close our eyes and then talked through the following scenario:

You are flying to a destination to attend a conference…

  • You walk onto the plane and are greeted by the pilot.
  • You get to your destination, check in to your hotel, decide to grab some lunch and there are a couple on their honeymoon on the table next to you
  • You get to the conference and the CEO is on stage presenting

Nichole then asked us to think about what the pilot, the couple and the CEO looked like in our head. For me the pilot was a white male, the couple were a young white heterosexual couple and the CEO was an older white male. This is my default bias and as Nichole said, this is OK aslong as we are aware of our default bias.

She then stated the following points for biases in the workplace:

  • Think about the potential biases you could have when hiring or promoting
  • What can you do to mitigate biases in your day to day?
  • How can you share the knowledge with your team?

These are really crucial points which got me thinking about how I can react and deal with biases in the workplace.

Some key points were also made about building a better employee experience:

  1. Train Leaders to be compassionate people managers
  2. Walk the talk: small efforts matter to feeling included
  3. Priorise Inclusivity
  4. Create “doors” not “walls”
  5. Foster a high-trust caring environment

Looking at the above list, it feels obvious now I’ve written it down, but I hadn’t conciously looked at it in this way. There is so much more we can do around ensuring the team feel included.

I could continue writing loads more on this talk, I learned so much to take back and will be reaching out to Nichole to discuss some of it more. But some key phrases that I couldn’t not include:

  • Remove the HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) from the room
  • Behind every privilege is an imbalance of power and it’s invisible to those who have it
  • Get Curious, Not Furious
  • Psychological safety should be understood and owned by leadership

Then to finish this talk off, i need to leave the reflections slide here which was key to bring it all together:

It was then time for lunch, and it was another chance to network. I ended up sitting with Caspar Craven and sharing a lot of thoughts around a range of topics. It was great to spend time with Caspar before his session in the afternoon. It was after this lunchtime chat that I purchased his book “Be More Human”.

Session 5 – Rethinking the rules of High-Performing Teams with Caspar Craven

This session was another interview session with Jo Wright, and the dynamic between Jo and Caspar worked really well. Caspar started by stating that it is humans at the heart of teams. This is a very poignant statement, especially being in the Tech world, it is easy to be lead by the systems and technology and leave the people behind. Caspar also mentioned that putting numbers first over people, just doesn’t work and this is another point that resonates and is part of the reason one of my mantras is “People over Projects”, as it is crucial that if the people are supported enough to achieve their potential, then everything else will fall into place.

It was interesting to hear the discussion around the fact that Caspar feels he can use the same set of skills at home as he does at work and infact talked about how he’s worked with his family on setting a vision, values and working on their strengths in discussions. I would love to find a way to improve this as I personally sometimes feel like my best self is seen at work and my family get a lesser/disorganised version of me who has channeled energy into my work. Maybe something to pick up with Caspar 🙂

I liked the concept of the values being a big part of the discussion, rather than just being on the wall and that goes hand in hand with the things we want to celebrate more and discussion the things we are doing well.

When talking more about his book “Be More Human”, Caspar paraphased a quote around the type of creatures humans are: “We’re not thinking creatures who feel, we are feeling creatures who think”. Which really helps to articulate that the way someone feels needs to be considered and this goes back to quotes from earlier talks around people always remembering how they were made to feel by someone.

Jo asked Caspar about growing a culture in the workplace, and Caspar’s response is definitely quote-worthy:

“Think like a farmer, apply seeds, sunshine and water”

Caspar Craven, Coaching Culture Conference, 2022

This links well to my “Growing A Culture of Quality – A Model” blog post as Caspar talked about finding the evangelists who can help the seeds grow. This then lead onto talking about opening the passion of every person by finding their zone of brilliance/engagement and encouraging more of it.

Jo then asked Caspar what leaders could do more and he suggested encouraging leaders to share their mistakes/flaws/struggles as this creates space for others to follow and open up too. This is something I have been doing for a while now, and I feel like it means my team and peers get a more authentic version of me!

This was a really insightful session and I haven’t even mentioned the stories of Caspar and family’s adventures at sea, but I believe there may be a book out there about that too 🙂

Session 6 – How Silva Homes built a Coaching Culture with Rob Smyth

The next session was another interview session with Jo Wright. Rob Smyth is the Executive Director (People, Digital and Change) at Silva Homes and talked about leading the organisation through transformational change to create a coaching culture.

To start with, Rob talked through the reasons for starting the transformation. Silva Homes are a Housing Association based in the Bracknell area:

  • The company has a new executive team
  • They changed name
  • Wanted to transform everything
  • Re-designed all organisation structures
  • Had a 50% turnover of staff for various reasons

Rob said the company had realised the way it was lead and the support for staff was not where it should be.

Jo then asked Rob to talk through some of the actions Silva took to try and move the needle in the right direction. These included:

  • Describing the Culture – sent a series of surveys to teams, performed video interviews to try and gauge the behaviours they wanted to see. Also try to increase levels of accountability, creativity and engagement
  • Engaged Coaching Culture to support – worked out what coaching was needed for managers and colleagues. Built out a plan of workshops and also performed some sessions with Senior Leadership
  • Redesigned Performance Programme
  • Changed 1-1 Format
  • Changed the recruitment process – 50% interview questions to be focused on Coaching/Behaviour/Culture
  • Introduced Cross Team Activities
  • Built into rewards/recognition process

Rob said it was clear that some teams picked up the culture quicker than others and also that sometimes there was a desire for coaching but time restrictions meant a more directive approach was needed.

One of the final things Rob mentioned was his pride and excitement in overhearing Coaching conversations between the team themselves in the kitchen/canteen area, and for him this was a sign of things working well.

Another really interesting session and for me, another non-tech company showing the value of the coaching culture moving things forward.

Session 7 – How Thinking Like A Marketer Will Get People Queuing Up for You Coaching Programme with Adam Kara

Adam is one of the co-founders of Coaching Culture and he came and presented his ideas on bringing Marketing into the mindset when building the coaching culture.

He started by presenting the concept of the 3 M’s of Marketing. For me not being aware of much around Marketing, I hadn’t come across the 3 M’s so this was new and useful to learn:

  • Market – Who is your audience? Get a clear profile.
  • Message – What’s in it for them? Solve a problem and stay relevant
  • Media – What is their attention? Fish where the fish live

These make sense and got me thinking about how I work on selling my department internally using these 3 M’s to get the message right and socialise it in the right places.

Adam briefly talked about lifecycle marketing including Employee lifecycle and Campaign/project lifecycle and how being aware of these can help us pitch and market programmes in the right way and at the right times.

Adam then talked about some of the different influences that can aid with selling the next step. These were:

  • Social Proof
  • Commitment
  • Reciprocation
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

This was again useful to get an understanding of some of the different factors which can impact peoples decision to buy something or agree to take part. We should take advantage of these to help get our message and skills out wider across our organisations.

Adam also gave a plug to the Coaching Culture’s new “Coach Approach Pilot Programme” which we all got a printout of as part of our goody bags

Session 8 – How the Institute of Occupational Medicine built a Coaching Culture with Michelle Reid

Now for the final session of the day, and even by 3.30, the energy was still high. Partly down to Tim’s great MC’ing and also for the table discussions which I honestly felt helped frame the talks well and would encourage other conferences to look at this in the future.

Michelle is the HR Director at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Scotland and was also one of the first customers of Coaching Culture. Clearly there was already a great rapport between Jo and Michelle when they sat down for this interview on stage.

Michelle started by discussing the state of the organisation, stating that when she joined it was disjointed, but there was next to no turnover in staff and no issues with sickness. So the workforce was strong, but it was felt they were missing a connection to a purpose. So Michelle decided that the way to get into the detail of how the team were feeling was to walk around and speak to everyone in all areas of the company, asking the following 3 questions:

  • What do you like about working here?
  • What do you not like?
  • What would you change?

Michelle also mentioned that the Senior Management team were disconnected, so she worked to bring the people on the ground closer and use them to influence the C-Suite.

She noticed there seemed to be a need for the teams to ask permission, so tried to reframe the questions to “What’s stopping you doing X?”, to understand the blockers and help empower the teams more. By giving the teams more purpose and autonomy, Michelle noticed a 5x upturn in the amount of work being completed.

One inspirational story that Michelle covered was about how the company pulled together during the pandemic. They were able to mobilise remotely within 24hrs and the team were willing to help keep the company running by taking paycuts. This showed the team had become self-sufficient and were coaching themselves.

Great quote from Michelle towards the end of her session:

Think about your Org as a house of people. People within the house create the culture”

Michelle Reid, Coaching Culture Conference 2022

From this, Michelle mentioned that the people will want to know how valued they are, what value they bring and what value they get back. She also mentioned that the C-Suite are human too and sometimes, this reminder is needed.

Overall, a really great and inspirational session, I have connected with Michelle since the event and plan to learn more from her.

Final Thoughts

I absolutely loved the conference, every session was packed full of useful information. Lots of inspiring people met and will be keeping in touch with going forward. I was gutted I couldn’t stay for the awards ceremony afterwards, but I now have a goal to find a way to speak about our coaching journey in my org at work and maybe even get us nominated for some of the awards next year.

I’ll leave you with this quote:

Something, I am certainly aspiring towards.

Building a World Class Test Team

I’m starting 2022 in a more senior role, and it has been an aspiration for the last few years to build myself up to this point. I’ve learned so much since I left my first role in management in 2018 and moved towards more senior leadership roles. One of the big things I believe I have learned along the way, through both positive and negative experiences, is the value in building the best team possible and understanding both “what” that means and “how” you get there.

What does a World Class Test Team Look Like?

Obviously, context applies here, but in my experience there are some ways which have helped identify at a high level where we are on our journey as a team to become “World Class”.

A Good Test team could be classed as a cohesive unit which ensures products are released to a high level of quality. They may or may not be embedded within their delivery team, but they are trusted that the testing they do will discover the majority of issues before release. Automation may be in it’s infancy, but what they do have in place provides value.

A Great Test team would be the above and also may help prevent defects being added into the code as well as finding them during any test execution activities. They may also be striving to improve the quality practices within the teams they work closely with. They will have good amounts of automation to compliment their manual testing and are working towards the right balance

A World Class Test team would be all the above. They would also have a positive reputation across the entire organisation for being advocates for quality, thinking about the users and driving the business towards their aim of the best products possible. They would be a diverse and inclusive team who are embedded across the business and not siloed in one area. A constant and trusted part of all product discussions at all levels but not seen as a single sign-off for releases. They have worked with teams to ensure quality is part of everyone’s thinking, but work to continue coaching best practices to improve the confidence and view of quality. Automation is a big part of their testing, but they have a balance to ensure they are automating the right types of tests and compliment this with other forms of investigative testing. Most importantly, the team have a culture of wanting to continuously improve both themselves and the products

It’s obviously not that black and white, but knowing that you can improve the work you do should be seen as a positive to help move the team forward. Of course, the journey never ends, there are always ways to improve.

How Do You Build A World Class Test Team?

As a leader of a team (whether formally or as someone who is pro-active in wanting to drive the team forward), there are some steps you can take to help assess where on the journey you may be.

  1. How outward looking are the team? – I’ve worked in teams in the past who have been very strong “9-5 Testers”, which there is nothing wrong with, but they tend to think the way they test currently is the only way to do it. By understanding where your team are, you know what you are preparing yourself for.
  2. Assess the teams capabilities – knowing whether they are involved in looking at what is going on in the wider test community can help you start to understand their capabilities. Look into the types of testing and activities needed to test to the level needed to provide high quality products and find ways to assess where individuals are in their abilities with these activities. If there are gaps, look at ways to upskill the team members either through external courses, or online material and giving them time to learn.
  3. Break the mould with new hires – You may have a good team of testers already, but are there gaps in their knowledge, are there areas of testing which they lack the skills to perform? These would be good places to start. But for me, the bigger area to focus is on bringing in resources who may evolve the way the team works, ones who may be active in the wider external testing community and hence are able to bring new trends and technologies to the table and encourage learning and sharing within the team. This happened for my team in 2021 and the way we work as a result of these hire has transformed in an incredibly positive way.
  4. Engage them and show them that Testing can be fun – Try and move away from the “9-5 testing” view where you can, of course testing is an activity which needs doing, but it can be more interesting than just ticking a box to say a test has passed. Encourage the team to think outside the box. One way to do this would be to start doing some internal community events, whether it be an external speaker or even a group testing activity like mob testing or splitting into pairs and exploratory testing your product, working with someone you may or may not have worked with before. Doing these kind of activities will ignite an interest that some of the team haven’t had for a while.
  5. Empower them to share outside the team – After getting the team engaged more, the next step is to create platforms for them to share the successes they have with the org outside of the test team. This could be via all hands, team meetings or even just sharing brief accounts of successes over email or slack. Raising awareness of the good work being done by the team will give confidence to the team and empower them to do more. This will help to show the value of good testing to teams across the business.

This is not supposed to be seen as a definitive list of actions to make your team world class, but this helped me get to a place where I had full confidence in what my teams could deliver, how they delivered it and what feedback we got as a team from the wider business. Building a positive reputation for testing/Quality has and always will be one of my goals for my teams.

Do I speak sense, or do you completely disagree? I’d love to hear from you!

Introducing The Communications ReadMe

For so long, it’s been assumed that we all have to follow the same communication processes that the company requires us to use to do our jobs. This may be true, but within that, there are intricacies which can help ensure the best communications possible in a given scenario, equally there are some things which cause frustration and unless otherwise shared, noone would know they caused a problem to you.

I’ve been trying to work on understanding how I could make my team dynamics more accessible for all and allow everyone to have their own specific needs met. In a world where we are becoming more accepting of all kinds of diverse individuals, surely it’s ok for someone to express their frustration at people asking questions without any context over IM and expecting an answer?

So I’ve pulled together some key sections below and created my own which I will also attach below:

Why Do I have a Readme?

Everyone is different, everyone has different things which make them tick, different things that annoy them and different preferences for communication. I’d like to give anyone who needs to know, an insight into how I work best and how to get the best out of me when you need me to do something.

How Best to Communicate With Me
  • <what are some of your preferred comms methods>
  • If it’s urgent, <insert best way>
How Do You Book A Meeting with Me?
  • <insert ways you prefer meetings to be booked>
Icebreaker Topics
  • <topics people could ask you about>
What Makes Me Tick
  • <things that put you in a good mood and help with communication>
What Quirks do I have which you should be aware of?
  • <some things you may do which may seem unusual, but it is important for you to be yourself>
Things that frustrate me
  • <things people should avoid when communicating with you>

Hopefully these will help you find a way to communicate your preferences with other and improve communications across teams in your setup.

See below for my personal readme on this.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Defining your Story – Owning Your Quality Narrative

Following up from my previous post, I thought it would be a good idea to dive deeper into the idea of the Quality Narrative. As mentioned in that blog, I first came across the term from the ‘Leading Quality’ book by Ronald Cummings-John (@ronaldcj) and Owais Peer (@owaispeer). The book is a great reference for helping to drive quality in an organisation and it has truly become my go-to reference book to understand how to move forward when you hit those roadblocks to improving processes around testing and quality. Here is Ron and Owais’ definition of a Quality Narrative:

A quality narrative is the way people think and talk about quality in a company.

Sounds simple enough, but when you think about it, there are so many parts to decompose. Let me try and do that now and show you how I use this…

Quality

What does quality mean for you and the immediate test/delivery teams? Is this the same view of quality that the wider business has. Quality is very context specific, in some, it could be measured by the number of defects outstanding against a release, each one having an impact on overall Quality, others it could be more about the user’s satisfaction of the system. Here is the definition I drive to and share with my teams:

The measure of whether the software meets the explicit and implicit needs of the customer and their ability to use it successfully

Simon Prior 2020

Having a definition for quality which everyone can agree on and work with, can really help trigger the understanding of where and how Quality fits within an organisation.

People

People would effectively be anyone who you may be trying to pursuade on the importance of quality.

This might seem obvious, but you can split people into different areas of influence and each will have a slightly more removed view of what quality is and how important it is.

  1. You and the test team – You are trying to help drive the culture towards a better focus on quality. To you, it is your main focus.
  2. Your Delivery Team/Department – Quality will be one of the main focus points, not the only one.
  3. Your Organisation – The further removed from quality being the main focus, the less attention given to issues. This is when it starts to become important to be able to map quality to what is important for the company. How does bad quality relate to revenue?

Company

Relating back to the people, the company could mean any level, but ultimately, it should relate to the overall view of quality across the whole organisation.

To the outside world, your company may not talk about quality, until something goes wrong. When it does, quality quickly comes to the forefront because it is then something tangible, whereas good quality doesn’t always have something so visible.

So How Do I Define our Narrative?

So you have an idea of what you are trying to define, the next step would be to start with understanding what the current Quality Narrative is. Start by asking questions to key personnel within every level mentioned above. Ask them about their understanding of Quality, the importance of it, where they believe it fits and how we can improve the quality of our products. You will likely get very different answers for each person you talk to, unless Quality is embedded within the culture already.

This may take time to build up, so don’t expect to be able to get this defined instantly. Once you have pulled this information together, think about the format of defining it. This could be a single slide in a deck or even better, a mindmap. Don’t make it too complicated, keep it succinct and straight to the point on. I would suggest breaking it down to the main 3 areas:

Perceived Quality OwnershipQA Department
Quality FocusAny discussions around quality start at end of development phase
Value of QualityRegulatory Requirement and purely confirmation testing (Checking requirements fulfilled)
A very brief example of an “As-Is” Quality Narrative

This should give you an understanding of where you are now, the next step would be to look at where you might want to get to. Understand there will be a journey to get there, but it’s a good time to collaborate with key people again to understand where they would like to focus on quality to be. Quality ultimately doesn’t just mean executing tests, there is far more to ensure the quality is good, everything from ensuring requirements meet what the customer is asking for, all the way through to the right monitoring/observability tools used in production to give feedback effectively and enable the product to be improved based on real usage. Tools such as MetroRetro or Miro can be a great tool (especially during these remote working times) to get people collaborating on this from wherever they are. Bring the key people together, brainstorm the ideas and collaboratively build out a future vision of where you may want to get to. This is then the first step on that journey. Then the hard work starts in moving the culture forward.

Growing A Culture of Quality – A Model

Following on from my earlier blog post (Changing the Perception – Working towards a Culture of Quality), I have been lucky enough to have a submission selected for the Test Leadership Congress 2020 which is a virtual conference happening over July-October this year. This got me thinking more about this topic, and it really has become my thing to talk about. At every possible opportunity, I am trying to find ways to change the work culture to have more focus on Quality in any way I can. Whether this be trying to insert myself into Change Review meetings so that someone is representing testing to ask the difficult questions, or even whether it’s starting to define new processes which will help the teams move forward with providing more information about the quality of the system earlier.

With that, I started planning my talk and came up with a model which helps me frame my thoughts and works (for me atleast) when trying to make it a process which teams could follow to improve their working culture.

I’ll add a huge caveat here, that the teams and organisations which this has worked for me with, have not been agile in any particular way, maybe lipservice was paid to ceremonies, but there wasn’t a collaborative culture to any great extent. Testing was generally seen as an expense only considered towards the end of a project and getting involved any earlier was seen as a cost not worth considering.

So let me give you the model, I will then talk through the component parts and how it all plugs together:

So what is this Quality Narrative thing?

I first came across the term “Quality Narrative” , when reading the awesome Leading Quality book. Effectively, the Quality Narrative is how quality is perceived within your organisation. Some of the following questions may help you understand

  • How important is quality seen when releasing a product? Is it given the right focus? Or Is it an after-thought?
  • Who ‘own’ quality? Is it a collaborative accountability or do the wider business deem it the responsibility of the test team?
  • What is the perceived role of the test team? Do you even have a separate test team or do you work more collaboratively?
  • Are the test team engaged early in the process ?
  • How is testing done?
  • What Value does the testing provide?
  • What is the business’ view of risk?
  • Does Quality mean more than just testing?

Understanding the answers to these questions for the current state, will give you a fair assessment of the importance of Quality and testing within the organisation. The next step would be to then define what you would like the Quality Narrative to be going forward. Once you have the As-Is and To-be states, it will give you a vision to share and build out the journey to get closer to the ultimate state of Quality being an important consideration in every release.

So you have the vision… what next?

As a leader, you may have driven the definition of this vision, but it should have been a collaborative exercise (with others within the test team and wider delivery teams atleast) in defining the direction and getting buy in at a high level that it is acceptable. Once it’s defined, the next phase is to start engaging the immediate test team, so they can all be advocates for it. Use every opportunity to get them on board with it, give them time to digest it, ask questions and build enthusiasm for working towards the end goal.

One way to do this will be to get the fire lit on their passion for quality. Get an internal community of practice going if there isn’t already one, get passionate speakers to come in and share their ideas and give the team the chance to innovate and change the way they are doing testing too. If they see that their voice is important and you as a leader will listen to them, it will encourage them to stand up when needed, to voice their thoughts.

As small improvements are made to the way testing is done/measured/perceived, celebrate these successes, no matter the size. Seeing that any improvement makes a difference, will help the team feel like what they are doing is worthwhile.

So you have the team on board, now to share wider…

Now you have a passionate, engaged team who are all willing to make a difference and move the business forward, the next stage is to find the opportunities to raise the awareness of Quality around the business. Use different forums internally to share new processes such as metrics which are now being used or a new test strategy which focuses on the vision. Maybe there is an internal blog platform? Are there internal all-hands or departmental meetings which would be good opportunities to discuss such topics and how it could impact those teams? Discussing the test strategy with the customer support teams by framing it around reduced call volumes, would help them buy into the vision in a way that it can help them. By finding ways to discuss quality, it will help get you and your team involved in earlier discussions when projects are initiated. Therefore meaning that what “Good Quality” looks like for a particular project can be defined.

It may also be the opportunity to coach the business to test better themselves too, whether it be asking questions from a quality perspective or for teams which may be working on hot-fixing production or developing internal tools, but don’t have their own test resources, providing support and helping them learn to test effectively, will improve those relationships too.

Sharing is one thing, but can you find Advocates?

When sharing with the business, you may find there are a small group of people who really get it and want to find out more or find out how they can help. This happened to me and this was the time I started getting the TestSphere cards out and invited them to discussions with the test team on all things testing. I’d start getting comments like “I didn’t realise you Testers knew so much!”

Having these voices in wider teams, adds clout to the message. Especially when they are the ones to discuss it with their teams. I had advocates who would be discussing the updated test strategy, or the risk based testing metrics which we had devised and shared with the wider teams to show what we would be reporting on going forward. I actually walked in on a debate in the canteen, with no-one from the QA team involved, but they were discussing how much more confident they felt about the actual quality of the release with the metric I had devised and rolled out. It certainly gave the “warm fuzzys” that we were making a difference.

Improve the Quality Processes and Shout About it!

While also building the relationships with the business, it’s important that they are seeing the value and improvements that you are doing. Of course, alongside the daily expectation of proving the quality of the software through testing, there will be improvements and discussions going on to try and raise the bar and give better indicators of the quality of the software.

As mentioned earlier, this may be working closer with the Customer Support teams to assess call volumes and working on correlating specific customer issues with some additional testing which could be done to find these issues earlier. It may be looking at an approach to Testability which means the system is assessed as testable based on requirements/architecture before any code is develeoped which should mean the systems are of a better quality and less defects found later on. There could be a new approach to automation, maybe it’s been seen as a cost before that wasn’t worthwhile, but by showing the ROI and the feedback cycle reduction, it could be something which can enable earlier releases.

Whatever the initiatives end up being, it’s important to be transparent now that you have built the relationships with the wider business. They should be able to see what you’re doing and collectively reap the rewards of better quality systems.

Reflect, Rinse and Repeat…

This will be a constantly evolving process, a culture is never complete. Enabling it to grow will be important but it will require regular reflection on what could be done to improve and also assess where it isn’t working as well. Maybe there are pockets of the business which don’t see the value, so how could we speak their language and help them buy into it.

Reflecting and re-aligning the vision if necessary will be imperative to ensure it continues to be embedded as a culture. If you stick to your original focus and don’t flex when you need to, you won’t end up with a collaborative culture.

In bigger organisations where there are engineering groups everywhere, it will be important to use shared communities of practice to build the knowledge and share good practices. It will be important to set achievable goals like improving the view of Quality across your engineering group first including all stakeholders outside of engineering. But don’t try to boil the ocean, use regular reflection and feedback to know when to push yourself further or when to focus on honing what you have already achieved.

Let me know your thoughts on this, am I talking rubbish or does it relate? Come and join me at the Test Leadership Congress 2020 to hear me talk more about this. Register here