[ Recognize and Acknowledge Your Skills | Ministry Of Testing – The Testing Planet | June 2013]
What you know and what you do is an important part of being you. Often it is required to rethink: What do I know? What are my skills? How strong are they? It can be about you personally, or it can be about your organisation or testing unit. I have used the below approach in the context of identifying “testing competencies” among 120 testing professionals and in relation to my own skills in times of refocusing.
Acknowledge the level of your skills
First let me tell you about the skill of tying a square lashing to connect two poles of wood. It is a fundamental building block of the scouting activity Scout Pioneering. Tying together poles let you build all kinds of scout camp equipment: tables, benches and other constructions.
To make a square lashing you tie a loop knob around the first pole. The rope is then taken around the two poles, crossing them first one way and then the other – thus making a cross diagonally across the poles. The end of the rope is tied to the other pole using a specific fastening knot.
I have specifically selected this to find something that you have probably never heard of – to illustrate how to approach skill levels. Prior to reading the description and seeing the illustrations you probably never heard of it, you were at level 0. But after reading about it, you have at least heard about the term – or perhaps searched the web for it. From here (Level 1) you need training and mentoring to tie any of the knots. When you can tie a square lashing without help – independently, you can up your rating one more level (2). Later on by writing books about lashings and knots, you can become a mentor, a trainer of others (Level 3). Ultimately you may master the skill at level 4 – you wrote the book, but also studied the craft to know where even the books are insufficient.
This 5 level rating of skills is nothing new, and perhaps you use a rating with more or less steps in your context. Perhaps it’s very detailed, with very discrete steps – or perhaps it’s just a guideline, a floating value between “a little” and “a lot”.
If it squeaks it will hold
Yet even master builders forget to keep the skill alive. For doing the square lashing and riding a bike, it’s usually up and back on track in a few rounds. Some of the tricks come back quickly, others require a hint or a “now – how did we do this” moment in order to recall the theories and practices. There are various means of doing this within the software testing field and elsewhere:
Heuristics: In the Rapid Software Testing course the term heuristic is introduced, as a fail-able method to aid in decision-making. Scout pioneering have a very used one: If it squeaks it will hold. That is applying pressure and weight to the lashing, if the lashing makes small noises it will usually hold.
Backtrack: Another way to get back on track in skills formerly used (at levels 1-4), is to step one level down. If you used to write the book on the topic – practice. If you knew how to do it confidently and individually – ask for help and training. Scout pioneering builds constructions in triangles; they focus on building a solid base first. Returning back to basics, and building a good base in software testing is equally important.
Just Do It: Jump onto the bike and learn. There is a learning curve building back skills again – it might as well be tested, tried and experienced. My experience is that recalling knowledge will come back instinctively and faster than expected. It doesn’t matter so much how long ago it was. As long as the brain is stimulated, it will come back instinctively. If the brain gears start squeaking – it’s usually a good sign.
Recognize and Organize Your Skills
In Scout Pioneering as well as software testing, there are many heuristics – and many areas of detailed knowledge that can be learned: Knots, techniques, theories and applications. These are the competencies and the skills – and we have to name them in order to manage and develop them. It is important to find out what we know – what we know as a company, group and personally. We live in an age of abundance of information – the key driver of introducing knowledge management systems is to find out “what we don’t know we know”.