Leadership in a large test organization

The main keynote in Stareast 2012 was by Keith Klain of Barclays Capital Global Test  Center.  Zeger Van Hese has written a nice account of Keith’s talk.

Keith’s talk was an inspring story of personal leadership and leadership shown by an organization, Barclays Capital.  There were important lessons for test managers and leaders:

  1. Attract and retain the best talent. In testing it is often a challenge to attract and retain the best.  In Barclays, Keith made sure that testing was considered the ‘place to be’.  This probably worked better in the case of Barclays since it is a large organization and people can move between departments.  It might have also helped that IT overall (test and dev) is probably a strong function in Barclays.  If you have a large test organization (or a small one) this is a key *value* and challenge – making sure that you can attract and retain the best.
  2. Keith mentioned that he has a very flat organization.  Test managers spend 80% of their time testing.
  3. The flat organization ensures that testers don’t obsess over the next better title or grade.
  4. The organization has a big focus on training.  This isn’t just a “HR initiative”.  It was clear that Keith is deeply involved with this personally and not something he “manages”.  Barclays provides various training including in tools such as QTP.  Keith has arranged for extensive training by James Bach (Satisfice).  Given the tight budgets in the last few years, managers always start groaning when anyone mentions training.  In Barclays team members took the initiative to provide training to others.

In addition to the management lessons, there were many personal lessons:

  • One of the key lessons was that testers should be responsible for how they are perceived by the organization.  Too often, testers don’t spend time reading or learning about testing.  Given that there are very few formal degrees in testing, this seems like a sure way to ignominy.
  • In the last few decades one of the phrases which has become common place is ‘direct but sensitive’.  In Keith’s talk it seemed much more  genuine when he said that sometimes you have to ‘speak your mind, that’s OK, as long as you do it respectfully.’
  • Another core value which appealed to me was that of ‘questioning everything’.  Don’t just do your job.  Make sure you question everything.’  The lesson in leadership and management is that it helps when this message comes from the head of an organization.

This talk was not about idealogy or management jargon.  It was about values and setting the tone for an organization.  It was about hard work, responsibility and accountability.  It was about taking pride in your work and excellence.