25 May, 2010

Inferno around Designations

Appraisals are underway in most organizations. Some of us are hopeful of a raise. Some of us are hopeful of a promotion. After all, we stuck to our guns (the organization to be precise) during the deadly recession. We have executed the responsibilities of an engineer one level up, but our designation rots at one level down. Or so we think. Our friends/batch mates in other organizations are already leads/managers and making lots of money while we still struggle to make ends meet in terms of money as well as the roles we play hiding behind designations.

As a college-goer, I kept staring at Infosys/Wipro/TCS buses and the employees’ access cards on many days as I waited for my bus. I dreamt of finding a job (just any job) for gaining good experience as a fresher. I also dreamt about how I would be promoted to the next level as Senior Test Engineer after two years. I also imagined that by the time, I have like 6 years experience in testing; I would be a Team Lead. And then, obviously I would become a manager in a couple of years. I relived this dream each day until I became the CEO of some company with the fattest paycheck in the family. I was mostly amused with the idea of being a role model to all the younger kids in my family. Till date, it has been just that – a dream.

To the best of my knowledge, higher designations are awarded as promotions to encourage outstanding employees to take on newer responsibilities and help the organization achieve higher objectives. Typically, they are given for people who are already acting in that role for a few years. Promotions also happen to uplift employees salaries if the money they make is too less for the quality and quantity of work they do. Promotions also happen when some key employees threaten to quit if they are not promoted with jazzy designations on time. Promotions happen also because some managers might think that it is one of the easiest ways to project that their team is an outstanding team. You never know. He may be expecting a promotion himself. 

What’s in a name? How does it matter if you are an Associate Software Tester or a Senior Software Tester? You might say “Money” and “Type of Work”. May be, you are right. If these are what matter to you, then why do you quit organizations because you did not get a fancy designation? Why argue over it? Why compare against others? Why fool yourself? As long as you are happy with the work, and get paid well enough, it should not matter what designation you hold.

I have seen designations create a divide rather than unify the teams. The entire concept of bell curve, normalization and foul play wrecks havoc to team spirit. Outcome – demotivated employees.  Some designations appear to give great power over others which are precisely the reasons why many want these high power positions. In this fight for designations, team members end up fighting, involve in useless gossip and encourage unethical ways to promote wrong people who rule from the throne as if they are the chosen warriors for fighting people’s war. As humans, we love money, power, status, position amongst others. In that journey, we sometimes fail to be human.

Are we a designation hungry generation? Why are we making a fuss out of it? Why are some people giving up great jobs just for designations sake? I know of a friend who quit his job just because he did not get designated his way. What I also know is that he was so much in love with the work there that he almost misses it at his new job. Letting go of great work for a fancy designation sounds very weird to me. Weigh down right.

Wake up guys!

Parimala Shankaraiah

12 May, 2010

Ready to Rebel?

Matthew Heusser formed a group called the “Rebel Alliance” at the recently concluded STAREast conference. The Rebel Alliance attended the conference in a group, met up in Eric Jacobson’s Conciege Suite at night after the conference and presented or listened to great lightning talks. It takes passion to do such things.


Shmuel Gershon’s lightning talk on An exploratory test tool experiment where he demoed an in-house tool they built for assisting testing.

Matt Heusser’s The Software Practitioner Maturity Model where he talks about the testing education system (I would say!)

Justin Hunter’s talk on Combinatorial Testing and the Quadrant of Doom

Jon Bach’s talk on How Do you Think?

Adam Goucher’s lessons from the Pirates Everything I learned about Agile I learned from Pirates

Lanette Creamer’s talk on Herding Cats and how it can be linked to Team Collaboration

Exhilarating talks! There are so many passionate people out there who’ll bring out something useful and credible no matter what the situation is! And passion is contagious. It spreads and it spreads faster. It would be so cool to have similar alliances at our local conferences, get together and learn and share from each other. What does it cost? Passion is all that you need!

I am not familiar with STAREast conference though I have heard about it many times and read some articles here and there. But then, twitter made sure I was present at the conference. Well, at least virtually! It was fun to get all the updates live from the conference [I now understand why my husband is so fond of live cricket matches!]. Keynote after keynote, quote after quote, tweet after tweet, it felt nice to catch up with the conference this way. Twitter is magical. At times. Get on there!

Be Passionate,
Happy Testing,
Parimala Shankaraiah

04 May, 2010

Eight Manager Hats: Which one are you wearing today?

Sometime ago, My 3 yo asked me “What color is your manager?” I was surprised. I didn't know what to answer. For several days, this question kept lurking in my mind.

A few days later, I thought managers may not have colors, but could wear different hats (managerial styles). The hats they wear could make or break the teams they manage and even have positive/negative impact on entire organization.

The Destructive Manager hats
The Micromanager hat
The Micromanager is always in control of every project executed by his team. It could be as simple as an email sent to a programmer who sits a cubicle away. He would in fact want to review every email before you send it. He loves to micromanage, at least that is what he thinks he is hired for. He keeps a log of non-company websites visited by his team, so he could get them blocked by the Admin team. He often reminds the team how the organization has given lots of freedom (read as free internet access including job websites, ability to chat on Yahoo or Gmail, play games etc). Yet, he says that you are abusing (yeah, abuse not misuse) the facilities given. He will say that his team is the richest team in the entire organization based on the number of machines given per person! He himself does nothing than pushing emails from one person to another. He won’t read his emails 99% of the time. He expects people who sent emails to remind him to read the emails they sent. A typical email from a technical support guy (via his manager) takes about 2.7 days to travel to his team member. The team member is supposed to give an update in 2 hrs time (total execution time was 3 days!). He MICRO MANAGES until the team member finds a better option or moves to a different team.

The Torturer hat
The Torturer tortures the team because he thinks there is no better way to get things done effectively. He tortures not just his team members, but also other teams and its managers. He has a loud rude voice good enough to be heard clearly from a large football stadium. If you don’t wish him Good Morning, he will come to your cubicle and stare at you until you stand up and wish Good Morning. Followed by this, you will be invited to his cabin (the Gas Chamber) to teach you about “How to respect your manager”. He is proactive in taking decisions related to projects scheduled in the next one year – all this without thinking about the new customer escalation that just came in. He says ‘I know what is best for the team’. On some days, he leaves office very early only to come back 20 minutes later to check who else in the team has left. Next day, Gas Chamber awaits the person who left after he left, but did not come back after 20 minutes. And the TORTURE continues……

The Divide and Conquer Manager hat
The Divide and Conquer Manager confuses simplification for divide and conquer rule. He’ll call each team member individually and tell them that they are one of the top performers in the team. Post hike cycle, he’ll even tell each one that they have got maximum hike in the entire team and hence should not reveal it to anyone! And the bakras (as we call it in India meaning fools) give in to it. Divide and Conquer managers will not like it if the team is united. He won’t like it if two people from his team are good friends. He won’t like it if two people are working closely to get a common problem resolved. All he wants is people work in silos as this will give him a chance to prick on their weaknesses and overlook their strengths. If you have improved in the last one year based on the feedback you received the previous year, he will not even acknowledge it. ‘Big Deal! You did what you were told to. Maybe, if you did it right the first time, I would appreciate that.’ And by the way, Divide and Conquer manager will CRUCIFY you if you fail!

The Selfish Manager hats
The I, Me, Myself manager hat
The I, Me, Myself (IMM) belongs to an irritating breed of managers. An IMM manager always puts himself ahead of the team. Instead of leading from the front, he keeps running ahead while the team struggles to come out of the trench. He appears to be supportive of his team’s actions in weekly team meetings, but in front of other teams, he speaks as though he disowns the team. He makes the team feel orphaned whenever he really had to stand up, fight for and support the team. After goofing up, he will schedule urgent meetings during lunch breaks to apologize to the team that he behaved that way to please some people in the senior management. He lets people fail even if he knows that they are failing simply because he can put a red mark in their performance evaluation forms. He forces the team members to wear a yellow shirt with red trousers and a black tie to showcase team unity to other teams during Christmas/New Year party. In the background, team members would know that if they didn’t showcase unity, they would be accused of being loners and poor team players (-1 point on their performance evaluations). By doing all this crap, IMM manager would still have managed to give good impression about himself and how passionately he has been struggling to bring up such a DISINTEGRATED team to speed for the benefit of the organization.

The Passive Manager hat
The Passive manager a.k.a Yes Boss works from the safest place possible. Given any challenge, he figures out a safe way to hang in there without inviting anyone’s wrath. He is an excellent listener, yet hardly empathizes with anyone. He does nothing after listening to team’s problems, in turn starts whining about what problems he is facing from the senior management and how he is tackling them. He indirectly hints “Can’t you see how helpless I am. Why don’t you do something about it yourself? Hopeless fellows!” He is passive to an extent that he does not know how to communicate his own problems to management, forget about the challenges that his team is facing. He continues to be passive until all hell breaks loose by one incident which senior management caught attention of. This is when he puts his scary avatar of a responsible manager to use and starts yelling at his team on how it happened. After a day, he goes back to his passive state, calls his team and apologizes in public. After all, being EGO-FREE is good. At least, it does not give birth to new enemies.

The Helpful and Productive Manager Hats
The Provider hat
The Provider provides for what the team members need. He often provides only what he thinks the team members need, not what the team members actually need. It’s obvious that he thinks he is one of those good Samaritans who takes care of his team so well. He gets provoked when his 360 degree feedback says he has to improve in some areas. He takes examples of other managers who are supposedly bad according to him and hints at how good he is when compared to them. He stands up for the team and sympathizes with them, but does not emphasize. Many team members think about him like this: ‘He did not do X, Y, or Z appropriately. But, he is a very good human being’. He gets things done, but may not be able to RETAIN employees in the long run.

The Motivator hat
The Motivator motivates the team. “Work hard, Party harder” is his motto. Motivator gives you all that you need to be your best self to get things done better. He removes all the obstacles that block you. He might even pitch in to help you. He’ll not just sympathize, but also empathize with you. He will understand if a project gets delayed as long as there is a valid reason - more often, he respects reasons as valid. He will be involved in your project at every stage. If you don’t follow-up, he won’t mind. He will follow up with you thinking that it will save some time of yours that you can use to accomplish your task. He will buy you lunch and deliver them to your desk while you are busy working on weekends. He will not mind if you play Ping Pong to de-stress yourself during high priority releases. He leads from the front, yet keeps looking back to check if the team is catching up. He says ‘It’s OK to fail. But, learn the lesson’. He practices what he preaches. He MOTIVATES!

The Nurturer hat
The Nurturer nurtures his team. He truly believes in Team Work. He helps each and every team member grow based on their key strengths. He also works closely with the team by providing timely feedback about what is lacking within the team, what is the action plan and how to go about executing the plan. Nurturer brainstorms solutions to problems along with the team instead of pushing his decision. He puts the team ahed of everything and everyone including himself. He assigns tasks to the team based on their interests, skills and expertise. Nurturer does what is best in the interest of the team keeping his own ego aside. Nurturer is one of the best breed of managers who NURTURES not just teams, but organizations as a whole.

Wanna throw your bad hat?
With the advent of 360 degree feedback for managers and the annual performance evaluation cycles, it is highly unlikely that the senior management is unaware of the different hats (managerial styles) of managers within the company. It is up to the senior management starting from the CEO to take a call on how employees are being managed in the organization and check if its appropriate. The first few steps could start with as simple as assigning a mentor to each manager just like each employee would have a mentor (in most organizations). This way, it would be good to inspire and motivate managers to lead teams. Managers could be sent to leadership workshops (e.g. Problem Solving Leadership workshop) where they interact with other managers and discuss day to day challenges. Introducing incentives like gifting company shares, books, family trips, gift vouchers etc whenever a manager excels in the team will further encourage people to manage well.

If you are a manager who is wearing one of these bad hats, don't feel like a version 1.0 in a 6.0 world. Fight all the shy bones in your body bravely. Treat your team members as humans rather than resources. Consult your manager. Consult your team members in a group or individually. It could be in the farthest meeting room in your workplace. Ask for feedback frequently - once in a quarter has worked for my managers :). Weigh down pluses versus minuses. Work on the areas of improvement suggested. A few years later, you will become dust or shine elsewhere.

Manage yourself as a Manager. Manage your Manager. Today!

Parimala Shankaraiah