Saturday, April 23, 2011

Team productivity - How not to bring it down?

If you are fortunate enough to lead or manage a team of software test engineers, consider it a valuable responsibility. Check yourself if you find yourself adopting any of the following tactics. If you do, you can be assured that your team would be working far below their potential. And that would not the only problem you face. I am going to refer to the hypothetical Lead or Manager as LM for my examples below.

1. Poor communication
The LM knows about the incoming project or test run. She has been involved in planning, meetings with other stakeholders and knows a lot about it. But, the quantity of the information passed to the team members is so low or the quality so poor, that they get stuck at every step. They make assumptions and their work de-rails. Unless, of course, they check with her at each step. Takes up their time away from project work.
A variant of poor communication is an overdose of information. The LM floods the team members with documents not long before the start of the project. Worse, the info flood takes place just as the project starts. Now, a team member has to make one of two poor choices - stick to the schedule unprepared OR prepare and lag behind schedule.

2. Stalling
The LM is too process-oriented. She just loves checklists. A team member can consider himself successful only if she completes each of the 1,000 tasks in the checklist successfully. Did I mention that this is in addition to his testing task?

3. Unnatural competition
The LM promotes competition among the team members. Who writes test cases fastest? Who creates bug reports that developers always agree too? Who provides the LM the test results in the exact format that she likes? All this means that not only each team member has to do his work; he also needs to watch what others are doing. Nobody wants to be the last one, so the team members take short-cuts. Project work suffers.

4. Back-stabbing
The LM talks sweetly. After receiving so much appreciation (verbal and written - but always one-to-one) from her, a team member can never suspect the true feelings the LM has bottled up inside. These feelings are released in the reports the LM gives to her manager, other managers, customers and HR. The team member does come to know about the real feedback provided by the LM, but only when the damage is already done.

5. Feedback given unequally
Her praise is concise and in private. Reprimands are public affairs listing the mistakes committed in the past, the current lapse and hopelessness for the future. Needless to say, such reprimands make the team member quite uncomfortable and unsure of how to see his co-workers in the eye again.
A variant is when the LM provides no feedback. The team member has no idea whether he is performing well or poorly. The team member does not know what is round the corner. He does not know what he would be doing tomorrow.

6. False promises
The LM says anything to get the work done. It works, but only the first few times. In time, the team member is disillusioned.

7. Taking undue credit
The team members take the difficult project as a challenge. They work professionally and very hard. They surmount the obstacles. Even though tired, they don't cut corners. The LM takes all the credit for her "leadership" in time of need.

8. Scape-goating
The LM schemes. She already knows the personalities of her team members. She creates a Plan B (and Plan C) if things go south. When they do, she lets any one problem develop, gathers substantial "data" incriminating a chosen team member and dumps the entire situation on his head.

9. Unwillingness to change
The LM is aware of the negative effects some of her actions have on the team. But, it has worked for her in the past and she sees no incentive to change. So, if he is able to work with her, the team member makes the necessary mental adjustments or start looking elsewhere, in time.

Final words - As human beings, we tend to make the best possible choice. As I mentioned above, if you lead or manage a team, you have a big responsibility. Keep in mind that your actions affect not only yourself but also your team members. Take the correct action, even if causes pain in the short-term and is difficult. It will benefit both you and your team.