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How easing traffic congestion in Stockholm can solve (some) issues in test management

By Aldo Rall, principal consultant, IndigoCube

Johannesburg, 25 Nov 2013
Read time 4min 30sec
Aldo Rall, principal consultant, IndigoCube.
Aldo Rall, principal consultant, IndigoCube.

A recent article by Jim Clifton made it clear that true workplace engagement worldwide is at an all-time low. This reminded me about various discussions with fellow testers, and understanding how motivated they are about testing. In many cases, testers are simply not motivated or engaged with their work. For many, it is just a job that pays the bills until something better comes along. For someone with that attitude, testing is a demoralising and dead-end job at best. Have you ever found that your testers behave like this? Have you ever wondered how different your world would be if your testers were motivated to do what they do best?

I recently found a TEDx video on how Stockholm solved its traffic congestion problem (see the video here). Research scientist Jonas Eliasson's comments got me thinking about how test management and test process improvement are approached, and how these findings could bring a fresh perspective to test management and test maturity, says Aldo Rall, principal consultant at IndigoCube.

Eliasson found that once you get to a certain point over peak capacity, congestion increases rapidly and exponentially, and vice versa - so if you can reduce traffic volume even a little, it has a compound impact. Introducing a congestion charge reduced traffic volume by 20%, which in turn reduced congestion by a significant amount.

The second thing the research showed was that nudging people (through incentives) to do the desired thing (by introducing a congestion charge to keep them off the road during peak hours) was more beneficial than dictating to them when and where they could travel. Six years into the project, which had initially met high resistance, 70% of people in Stockholm were in favour of the congestion charge.

These two simple findings have some interesting applications in the world of test management, test process improvement and test maturity.

Firstly, consider the improvement in the flow of traffic. What can you as a test or project team do to improve the quality of your deliverables into production? Will a 20% drop in production defects have a greater effect on how your clients perceive the product? Or even a 20% drop in defects in Unit Testing bugs? Consider the well-documented 1:10:100 rule. What compounded or exponential effect will a 20% drop in defects in each stage of testing have on your project cost?

The second point goes deeper than mere statistics. It speaks to the heart of how people behave in the real world: treat them like children, then they will act like children; treat them like adults, then they will act like adults (well, mostly). A book I read by Daniel Pink, called "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us", shows that truly engaged, satisfied and motivated people do not require continued large sums of money to be motivated but require only three things in their daily work: Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery. These are their intrinsic incentives.

In line with the findings from Jonas Eliasson and Dan Pink, consider that test managers (the same goes for any IT managerial role) do not need to be prescriptive (or directive) about how testing should happen, but should provide these three incentives for testers for any task at hand.

In applying these concepts, provide your testers with the big picture of where things are going on their project (showing them WHY their tests are important), challenge them (realistically) with the right measureable achievements (for instance, a 20% drop in defects in production) and get out of the way and allow them to figure out how to achieve these themselves - through trial and error if needed. Create the space for them to "discard dogma, think big, act small, fail fast and learn rapidly" (from Ian Davis' 2011 blog).

This also applies to test managers. Consider that the term 'test manager' can mean different things to different people. For instance, in my previous project, the test manager hat I wore was that of a coach to the testers and advisor to management. Or, in other cases, test managers will represent the interests of the testing team higher up in the organisation, shielding testers from the politics, giving them the space to deliver. There may be many scenarios where the role of a test manager will provide value; just find the right incentives inside the organisation, and figure out how to perform test management as your circumstances may dictate, keeping the principles of this article in mind.

Test management, test process improvement and test strategies should not be about micro-managing everything in elaborate test strategy documents (how, what, where, when, who), but rather about creating the right incentives (purpose, autonomy and mastery) for testers and testing to mature.


IndigoCube enables and improves the productivity of the application life cycle. It specialises in the areas of software development, software deployment and software monitoring. The application of best practices and the development of requisite skills is core to all its solutions and it partners with some of the world's leading vendors. IndigoCube is ideally positioned to boost productivity and long-term return on investment in its focus areas.

Editorial contacts
Communikay Karen Heydenrych (083) 302 9494
IndigoCube Aldo Rall (011) 759 5950
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