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StarWest - Testing & Quality Leadership Summit

Of all the sessions at the StarWest 2012 conference, the Testing & Quality Leadership Summit is my favorite.  It is an all-day bonus session with scheduled talks, networking exercises, and lunch intertwined.  The theme for this leadership summit was, As a Leader, What is Keeping You Up at Night?  For the purpose of this blog, I separated the summit activities into four groups.

 #1 - Reengineering Your Test Process: Business Drivers and Politics

Ronda McCarthy, a Test Strategist from Wells Fargo Internet Services, presented a straightforward approach to improving your organization’s test process. Her presentation was excellent.

To implement change, Ronda stressed the importance of doing your homework and demonstrating that tangible benefits can be gained.  Five key elements were highlighted using a proposal example for a new test automation tool.  These five elements are:

  1. Do your homework.
  2. Count something.
  3. Take baby steps.
  4. Make your boss look good.
  5. Check and correct.

 #2 - The New Economics of Quality Assurance Testing

Shoeb Javad, Chief Technology Officer at Worksoft, Inc., used an interactive discussion to address the issue, “How does quality assurance stay relevant and even flourish in a fast-paced, high-risk environment?”

As a group, we explored the new economics of QA and testing, confronting traditional QA models and old conventions about how to measure success.  We examined questions about how to discover new avenues to incorporate the need for speed and operational efficiency.

The discussion focused around how to create an organization vital to your business thereby ensuring future funding. Shoeb’s slide handouts provided some answers, but most was left to the reader’s imagination or from other’s input.  Example questions included:

  1. Is being agile overrated?
  2. Does speed always have to come at the expense of quality?
  3. Is ROI a four letter word?
  4. Does automation take more time than it saves?
  5. Is prior QA experience an asset or liability going forward?

 #3 - Champion Your Test Organization

Lucy Liang, an Information Technology Manager from the Clorox Company, reflected on past successes in her test organization regarding budgets, resources, and recognition.  She presented ideas for marketing the value of QA to upper management.

The discussion centered around seven practical steps to help get initiatives passed, increase the likelihood of raises and promotions for direct reports, and obtain visibility for future initiatives.  Her seven step process comprised of:

  1. Be clear on what you want; have a step by step plan to get there.
  2. Work on your immediate staff and leadership.
  3. Create a buzz.
  4. Have the data to support your request.
  5. Come right out and ask for it.
  6. Don’t give up!
  7. Do it! Keep your word.

 #4 - Think Tank Discussion: Leadership Solution Brainstorm

During an informal reception held the night before, Summit participants wrote their responses on index cards to the question, "As a leader, what is keeping you up at night?"  These cards were tacked onto the wall for everyone to see and discuss, and then used the following day for the think tank discussion. 

From left to right: Roberts Luksa, Miguel Melendez, Barbara Hildebrand, Cheryl McQueen, Dimple Patel and Edward Leno. Not pictured : Nachiket Pandya.

The next day at the leadership solution brainstorm session, the program chair Linda Hayes—who collected and organized the cards into categories--divided tables into various discussion groups.  Each was assigned a testing topic and a number of related questions.  Attendees could pick the topic they were interested in.  I joined the Resources/Training table.

Nachiket volunteered to write the questions and answers. A lively discussion ensued; everyone had a unique perspective.  At the end of the think tank session, a representative from each table conveyed their findings to the group. I was unanimously selected as the spokesperson. The following summarizes our questions and answers:

  1. Employee termination
    • Process/procedures in place with effective options (including 2nd chances).
    • Understand the risk of legal action before you terminate.
    • Non-emotional.
    • Get a 3rd party, unbiased entity to review and handle the termination.
    • Prepare for the termination meeting with the employee. Know what you are going to say and don’t delay; come right out and say it. You might also want to give them the option of resigning.
    • Terminate by committee, don’t make it personal.
    • Clearly state why and what policies were broken.
    • Provide the terminated employee information about severance packages, health benefits, and other relevant information.
  2. Is my staff trained enough?
    • Ask them.
    • Cross training to allow growth.
    • Offer incentives for continuing education.
    • Some fear that if they train their employees they will leave. What if you don’t train them and they stay?
    • Use metrics. Measure things to make an informed decision about training in your organization.
    • If you can’t afford to send people to training, allow them a few hours a week to learn on their own on whatever they want. They can’t be interrupted. Similar to Google's 20% Innovation Time Off.
  3. Finding the right people for the job
    • Check their online presence. If a technical job, see if they are active on any forums or volunteer with open source projects.
    • Review your interview questions.
    • Review you interview process.
    • Create a very specific job description. If too general, you will have to sort through a lot of applicants that are not qualified.
    • Have multiple people in the interview process. This could include a manager, HR person, and a technical person. Each can ask different types of questions and gauge the responses.
    • If the applicant gets past the phone interview, do your homework on the resume. You don’t want to waste your time bringing someone in for an in-person interview if they are not qualified.
    • Encourage them to ask questions. To have a successful relationship, not only do you want to find the right person, they have to find the right employer!


The Star conferences are always well worth my time and effort.  The Testing and Quality Leadership Summit, in particular, provided great, useful information.  The networking sessions, both at break time and during the think tank discussion, allowed me to meet likeminded people and build lifelong relationships.  Don’t miss your next chance to attend!

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