Something About Leadership

17yo: Dad, do you not know how old I am - and what I can do myself? 
Me: Oh, I know buddy. As you are learning new stuff, I am unlearning to help you

While this quote from my kitchen about a week ago, as all to do with the young man learning the ropes of life and me unlearning to always to help them and their 15yo sibling out – there is an key parallel to leadership and building self reliance in teams. My role these days are less about direction and (micro)managing a team of testers on a project, more about enabling others to succeed with their testing both in the delivery teams and in the board room.

In the Matrix

Since starting in testing in late 2002 (!) I have always worked in two dimensional matrix organisations: Line management and skill management on one axis, project staffing and delivery focus on the other. This also explains why my current title is “test manager“, because that is my role in the delivery focus: managing testing – similar to a project manager managing the project delivery and a program manager conducting a program of projects. yeah it’s some big ships we steer.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a skilled program manager again – we last worked on a program together in 2016. Working with them reminded me about how things have changed the last five years. Back then the program was both a transition of applications from one data center to another and the migration of data from one platform to another. This time around the program was about transition of hosting and application delivery. Same same – just very different.

How it started, and how it’s going

In 2016, as the test manager, I lead the test part of the project including professional testers and subject matter experts. I was track lead on a similar level as other project managers in the program. This time around I’m more of a staff function to support the work done within the subprojects – the testing is done by the team members (there are no professional testers). So I need to learn new skills in making this happen, and unlearn some others.

The Undoing

For about 17 years it’s all been about following up on things: remember your homework, let me tie your shoes, this is what we are having for dinner, … and similarly have you done your test cases, have you thought about this and prepared that the last 10 years or so in managing testing.

Quite fittingly here at my 9 year anniversary for the first blog post (and post #250) – I can see the topics are more and more about leadership, strategies and the bigger picture, than the mechanics of test cases, tool tricks and various bodies of knowledge.

I know that my preferred style of working is probably the DiSC Dominant, I tend to focus on getting stuff done and will focus on the results. Sometimes I can also be more analytical and strive for objectivity (Conscientiousness). I can be patient and humble, and usually my super power is that things will sort themselves out.

It’s hard for an old dog to learn new tricks – if I can get to do some class room training this year it will be about personal leadership. This past week I have practiced not to be so outspoken in the conversations in the projects, as I would have previously done. It’s up to the project team now, I’m there to support, enable and build self reliance. I need to let go of claiming the accountability, but hand that over to the people going through the motions and emotions.

Naming matters – so currently I’m experimenting with a new title of Test Advisor – with these tasks:

And most importantly: enabling the self-reliance and life skills of the two young people mentioned above.

a snowy February 2021

6 thoughts on “Something About Leadership

  1. […] Communicating curiosity can be a little thing like “Remind me, how does XYZ work” or simply “sitting on your hands” during meetings that you would previously fill with questions and requests. The tables of the great program test lead are turning, it’s about being an enabling function for others to succeed. Similar to the freedom you should give your growing up kids – it’s about leadership. […]


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