How do you add value for your company, your team, your customers, and product quality?
The exercises below will help you to focus on adding value through your work, and to confidently describe your contribution to stakeholders.
Analyse and Evaluate
For two weeks, track the tasks you’re working on each day. How is the bulk of your time being spent? The answers may surprise you and your team.
When performing this exercise for myself or with a team member, I keep track of tasks in a mind map as shown below (created using Mindmup). You could also use a spreadsheet.
It’s incredibly helpful to review this with your manager. Together you can develop a plan to complete high-value tasks more efficiently, and make low-value tasks obsolete.
To help evaluate the value of each task, consider the following:
- Why did you do it?
- How did it contribute to your goal of delivering high-quality software?
- Is this task genuinely necessary? What is the cost of doing this versus the cost of not doing it?
- Could the same outcome be achieved more efficiently?
- Could a better outcome be achieved in another way?
Be Efficient and Effective
Next, map each task that you’ve identified to the Cost-Benefit diagram below.
For example, if you’re producing lengthy documents and can confirm that nobody is reading them – stop creating them. Or, if stakeholders are reading only certain sections of your documentation, then those are the only sections you should be producing.
If another task is relatively high cost and high benefit, look for ways to improve efficiency. For example, script repetitive tasks such as configuring test environments, creating test data, or monitoring log files for errors.
To further improve my own effectiveness at work, I try to minimise distractions for a period of time each day. I close email and chat programmes for at least one-hour twice per day, and focus on my other work. Otherwise, I find it difficult to add value in the midst of constant distractions and context-switching. It’s good to experiment and find a time-management method which works for you.
Consider the opportunity cost of activities being performed – by doing any task, you are giving up the opportunity to perform other tasks during that time. Let’s use an example of a manual regression testing cycle which takes three hours to complete. This means having three hours less to spend on activities such as testing user stories, reviewing customer analytics data, or pairing with a developer.
As professionals, we have a duty to understand the value and opportunity cost of our activities. As an example, manual regression testing cycles are often a lot longer than necessary, and it pays to review them regularly. When I join an organisation and review existing manual regression testing processes, it’s clear that high-impact issues are found during the first 10% of the testing time.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten” – Jessie Potter¹
It’s important to be on the same page as stakeholders regarding the relative cost and benefit of regular tasks.
If you’re required to complete a low-benefit task, perhaps you’ve misunderstood why that particular test activity or document is needed. Ask more questions about the purpose, benefit, and value of the requested deliverables.
If a task seems very expensive, perhaps the cost of doing that task hasn’t been clearly communicated and understood by your stakeholders. Provide high-level information about the steps involved and the time required.
Do you provide metrics which require considerable manual effort to collate? Stakeholders may assume that these figures are readily available.
Do you copy and reuse test documentation and make only minimal changes to the new version? If so, there’s a good chance that nobody is reading these low-value test artifacts, and they’re probably not needed at all.
Work together with your stakeholders to achieve the best outcome. Try to reach a compromise so that you’re only producing deliverables which are valuable, while still providing all of the information required. Then produce those deliverables as efficiently as possible.
As a test professional, it’s part of your responsibility to speak up when asked to do something unproductive. However, pick your battles wisely and start with the highest cost and lowest benefit tasks first. Always offer potential solutions to stakeholders and team members where possible, not just complaints.
It’s important to have a clear understanding of what your manager and your team expects of you. Demonstrate how much of your time is being spent on those goals versus distractions or busy-work with little benefit. Stakeholders understand Return-on-investment (ROI) and cost-benefit analysis terminology. Outline the ROI of planned improvements to testing processes, to help gain support for innovation and change.
The majority of test professionals in Australia and New Zealand are fortunate to have some influence over their own test approach. However, testers working in a less-agile/ more-bureaucratic organisation may have less opportunity to improve their way of working.
Learning new skills is one way of adding value when you have limited influence. You can learn in-depth about the tools you’re using daily, and discover features which can save you time. Another suggestion is to read online about new test techniques. Remain focused on delivering value to your company and your customers.
Add Value – Always!
The relative cost and benefit of a particular task will change over time. It’s useful to revisit this exercise regularly, e.g. quarterly. The expected outcome is that you’ll be working on the right tasks at the right time, in an efficient and effective way. You’ll be confident in describing your role and the value you add to the team.
After all, if you can’t articulate the value you’re adding, then how will others know?