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Business and IT Working Together – Why An Executive’s Knowledge on Software Testing Matters: An Interview With Michael Hamilton and Ray Grieselhuber Pt. 2

Welcome back to part two of our interview with software testing consultant, entrepreneur and author Michael Hamilton and Ray Grieselhuber of Functionize.

In part one, Michael and Ray shared with us their knowledge on why collaboration between business and IT is critical to an organization’s success in regards to customer loyalty, growth and profit. In part two, we’ll descend further into the topic and focus on what C-level executives can do to help them better understand the importance of testing, how IT can do a better job of keeping testing non-technical and relatable, and how to best approach this organizational change for optimal performance.

What is the first step a C-level executive should take to help them better understand the importance of software testing?

Michael:

A lot of executives I talk to I always ask them, “What role does the function or role of software testing do for your organization?” That is the first thing I ask them, at a simplistic level. Some people perceive that they should know, but sometimes that’s a good question and they frown a bit.

I’ve had some executives actually say they use it as a risk reduction function. Now, when I say risk reduction, some software companies send test consultants/capability into their client’s software projects and they use them as an insurance policy, as a sounding board to ensure that they give information on software back to the project manager, to make sure they are not releasing faulty or failure through the software into the market. They use it as an insurance policy.

Also, if you have the capability, make sure you empower them to make decisions and also call out things. If you’re a timid person and you won’t speak up, you probably shouldn’t be in software test management do the inner testing management area. My advice is always to have metrics and recommendations or reporting that isn’t ignored by key decision makers. If you have it, use it and put it to work so it gives you the qualitative results that you need.

Ray:

I would further add that they need to understand that there’s a direct relationship between the perceived quality of whatever online service they’re offering and future growth, revenue and retention prospects for their business going forward. Oftentimes, they view a lot of this stuff as afterthoughts and things that they’ll let the developers or IT people deal with. They really need to understand that, again, it goes back directly to both their top and their bottom lines.

We have seen this and I think people are starting to get this. More recently, we have heard it a lot on the front end where people talk about the design culture and how design is critical to the way products differentiate themselves. Apple is a canonical example of this. We see this with companies like Slack. Their technology is essentially what other companies have offered, but they’re getting legitimate results with a better user experience.

The next wave or the next iteration of this design culture idea will have even more depth around this quality and user experience culture, and how that can be a strategic differentiating factor for companies that are trying to compete in a crowded space.

Michael:

That is a very good point there. To add to that point, some people see software testing as a commodity, something that can be replicated and as easy as buying ham down the street. Some executives need to understand that there is a time where there is a commoditized type of software testing practice, but there is also a qualitative kind of test specialization required and not anyone can do it.

How can we do a better job of keeping software testing non-technical and relatable so that it is more understood by business personnel?

Michael:

That is a challenging question. I think when I started out in IT that was the challenge. It continually is a challenge for me. Having moved around to different types of businesses, it’s a different audience with a different skill level and difference in knowledge level. You have got to customize your terminologies and your content on how you sell the services, especially in IT to the business. For example, lately, I’ve been discussing performance testing from an IT perspective. A lot of people don’t understand it. They don’t know what it means. If you do try and explain it to them, they still don’t get it.

What I’ve started using is the terminology of user simulation or customer simulation as a word. That gets good feedback. I think we just need to customize ourselves to our audience as much as possible, be aware who we’re talking to. You need to know your audience and not be ignorant with who you’re talking to, maybe do some research up front. I think that’s very important.

Ray:

It partly goes into the tools and how you position it with people. On the positioning side of things, this is something that’s actually true at every level of business and club-type applications where there is usually a very technical side to it and then there’s the business reason that people are getting involved in it in the first place. Everyone coming from the tech side of it is very comfortable speaking their language. However, they have to realize that their own success depends on finding a way to communicate with the non-technical people. In many cases, the burden is on the people on the technology side for building really strong ways to communicate.

That being said, the flip side is definitely there. It’s very easy for non-technical people, or simply just people, to just let themselves get intimidated and create buffers around what they will pay attention to and what they will not pay attention to. The psychology of this, basically, is that it’s something that’s too technical to understand, so I’m just not going to worry about it. We see this all the time. People need to challenge themselves. There are definitely some psychological aspects there, communication aspects.

The tools and the way the tools are presented and sold need to be continued to improve on, as well as executives educating themselves on the business needs. If you can tie every single thing that you’re doing back to a business objective and how you will measure it and how you will see what the impact of that measurement is going to have on the organization, then it’s the context is there and it starts to make sense for a lot of people very quickly.

Michael:

I definitely agree with that and that’s similar to some of the things I’ve written about in my book, which is focused on the outcome with business. What we are doing is going to impact the outcome as well as profitability, brand reputation and innovative opportunities that come with that.

Ray:

Totally. At the end of the day, smart businesses are measuring themselves on results and not anything else. If you can get everyone focused on what that outcome looks like, then you’re going to have a much better success.

What do you see with regard to how software testing is marketed within organizations? Are there any changes that need to happen for achieving a better outlook on how software testing is perceived within an organization?

Ray:

What we’re seeing and what’s been interesting about marketing technology over the last five or ten years is how much it’s evolved. What is interesting about the word testing is it means something very different than what we’re talking about in the marketing context today. When you start talking to a marketer about testing, they’re immediately going to assume you’re referring to A/B or multivariate testing platforms like Optimizely and the practice surrounding those things.

Usually you need to spend some time talking about what it is you’re describing when you’re talking about testing automations. Then usually their eyes will glaze over for some of the things that we just addressed a few minutes ago – where it seems technical or like a commodity, or it seems like an IT or a developer thing. They don’t really want to get their hands dirty.

Again, in order to make it relevant to them, I think that you’ve got to find some vocabulary that’s not going to be confused directly with multivariate testing. Maybe again, I think user experience is probably a good area to focus in on this. For pretty much every online business, there’s usually something that refers to building a healthy lifetime value-based system for growing your customer base. For SaaS businesses, it would be about retention, making sure that your customers are renewing every month. For e-commerce companies, it’s going to be about those repeat customers and dealing with cart abandonment and so forth.

If you can even tie the testing issues relating to quality back to the user experience, and show how it can deal with those new growth opportunities and those retention metrics internally, I think the marketer will be sufficiently a more product-oriented marketer.

Michael:

Now, for what I’ve been talking about the last couple years with many people, especially business people, is to look at the symptom of the problems that you’ve got. A good example of this is perhaps a sales team sending a campaign out to buy a product off their website. People end up coming to the website, but they can’t use it. It is slow and it might fail for certain people and devices. As a result, sales teams don’t meet their KPIs (key performance indicators).

Sometimes the sales team doesn’t realize this is happening because they don’t run performance tests on their website. It is not tested properly.

One thing that I’ve found is always find a business champion to help you roadshow your capability. Also, use that person from the business to also help you maybe customize the terminology differently when you’re taking that roadshow out to show your capability to an organization. Whether you’re an enterprise, large business or small business, you need to talk about the right symptoms and discuss the outcomes that can best fix that.

Organizational change – cultural change – is generally challenging. Any concluding suggestions for how to best approach this?

Michael:

That is a huge one. The problem is with the organizational culture some people are stuck in their ways if they have worked there for a long time. Some people are susceptible to change. I think it’s about selling to the individuals and bring them along for the journey. What do they get out of it also? That is a big part of it. We need to mix our business and IT culture.

Moving forward, universities and educators need to make sure that they’re not just segmenting the business and IT courses. There needs to be a bit of a crossover. It is happening, but some of it I see is bolt-on. For instance, a business course might have a bolt-on IT module in it. It doesn’t really do much. It doesn’t help the person educate themselves.

We need to get a bit more involved in the university education side for the younger people. That way, when they hit the workforce, which many have, they can actually understand the difference between IT and business. Additionally, they can also collaborate as a bridging resource in between those two disciplines. That is just some of my experience that I’ve dealt with and conversations I’ve had with educators here in Sydney.

Ray:

I think that one way of doing it is analyzing the type of company you’re in and looking at what stage you’re at. Not every company is the same. Actually, every company is very different and has its own culture. You have got to spend some time understanding the culture. I think you’ve got to look at some organizational psychology. You have to look at how long you’ve been with the company.

Studies have shown that newcomers frequently feel this motivation to come in and start making a bunch of suggestions to improve things. The problem is the existing group is going to respond very poorly to that because they view the newcomer as having zero context to actually make those suggestions. That is one example.

Understanding the psychology behind how people view you, how you see the organization, what the culture is of the company, is probably the first step. Additionally, figure out who you need to target. Do you need to go with more of a grassroots support for making changes in the organization, or do you need to do something that’s more top down? Is it more of a hierarchical type company? What is their financial situation? What is their budget like? There are lots of different questions that you need to address and I think you’ve got to be really intelligent and organized about how you’re going to do it. You have got to build a team of allies with you to help you do it regardless of which approach you take and be really disciplined about it.