January 5, 2009

I'm helping you. I'm helping you.

Posted by Ben Simo

A few months ago, I enlisted my 11 year old son to help me with some work around the house. After a short while, he was doing something other than what I had asked him to do.

I told him, "You're not helping me."

"But I am helping you.", he replied.

"No you're not."

"I'm helping you. I'm helping you.", he shot back. He was frustrated. He really thought he was helping me; and I was putting down his work. I was frustrated too. From my view, his helping was creating more work for me. I did not feel helped.

Then it hit me. I've heard this argument before -- from software testers.

I've seen testers, and test managers, attempt to justify their work by telling team members and stakeholders "I'm helping you. I'm helping you." We QA and tester people develop metrics and reports to help us demonstrate how helpful we are. We talk about our quality assurance and testing processes. We talk about all the test cases we develop and execute. We like to show off our test automation that spits out impressive color-coded results.

However, we still encounter unhappy team members and stakeholders. We develop adversarial relationships with developers. We have to explain ourselves to project leads that question the value of our testing. We hear people tell us we're not helping and we keep saying "I'm helping you. I'm helping you."

Maybe, just like my son, we're not giving our stakeholders what they need. Maybe we aren't really helping. So instead of shooting back the "I'm helping you." line, we can stop and listen. Find out what our stakeholders want from us. Listen and ask clarifying questions to better understand how we can help.

I'm not advocating that we just give in and do whatever we're asked without defending our positions. However, we can be willing to adjust our positions to better serve our stakeholders. (Joining an overly optimistic rush to release poor quality software usually doesn't serve them.) If there is disagreement, work to resolve it. Sometimes we may need to educate others on our areas of expertise. Yet we testers also need to respect others' roles and expertise. Listen and learn.

So, the next time you feel like screaming "I'm helping you. I'm helping you.", try to better understand how you can help before turning up your defenses.

Serve your stakeholders.