Saturday, March 21, 2009

When "Process" stops working for you ....

Other day I overheard a Test manager speaking to his team “As a CMMi Level 5 company, I don’t think we are following processes. We often talk English rather than showing supporting metrics that are back bones of any CMMi Level 5 organization. If you don’t measure then how can you improve? Considering the economic slowdown, it is high time that we should start showcasing our continuous productivity improvements or else we will lose the client"

What is happening here?

Most managers somehow (more so in current economic situations) confuse skill, human ingenuity and expertise to metrics/measurement. When customer cribs about “value” and quality of work delivered – she really is cribbing about people and their skill (not about metrics and measurements). When people hear about customer cribs … managers suddenly jump and say “let us collate some metrics and show client that we have delivered the value (which they will dump eventually)” and push the core issues about skill below carpet. This “hide and seek” game goes on until we lose the client. This pattern has to break and unfortunately I have no simple solution for that (probably no one has). Few of us appear to know the root of the problem now.

If following processes would ensure quality and being very serious about metrics is HOLY – then our problems would have been solved long ago …. Why people do not follow process? Is it because they are so tough and stress full to follow? Is it because they are difficult to understand? Probably people follow process and we have stopped being critical of whether process is doing any useful thing are not …. That is the start of the problem. Glorifying process beyond its own utility (ask process – it would probably say … beyond this, I cannot add any value). I understand process (whatever is the definition) provides some common framework within which people with diverse educational/technical/social background work to produce consistent output so that whole thing can be managed easily. Beyond certain point (this limit might vary from context), process cannot help any further. It calls for people's skill to deliver - process then becomes an enabler or mere Hygiene factor. Just walking or eating alone can not keep you healthy all the time. Do you know where is the limit beyond which "following process" can no longer help?

There is a big fuss about “using English than numbers” … Why there is so much faith on numbers? Why qualitative subjective wordings are such a waste? Why not we express everything in numbers all the time – our hunger, happiness, intelligence (yes there is IQ test), pain, sorrow, emotion (yes there is emotional quotient), commitment, enthusiasm, creativity and what not all human attributes are so rich and multi dimensional that poor numbers can express a minute part of them. And we refuse to use qualitative measures saying that “objective is better than subjective”. Many would like humans to behave as if they are machines so that they can be objectively measured. A sad reality…. Perils of advanced economic world. Hunger for objective interpretation of human attributes is probably has reached its crescendo. I am waiting for the downfall of that raise. Will it come?

There is a big deal about “improving productivity in testing .. We must meet SLA’s and show continuous improvement in productivity”. I am STRONG opponent of usage of the word “Productivity” in testing in general terms. When people say productivity, they typically refer to speed – number of units produced per unit of time. Much like in a shop floor assembly line. There might some portions of testing that one does that are “speed sensitive” but by and large skilled testing is not about “speed” more than it is about “coverage”, “identifying tough to find problems”, “asking right questions”, “seeking information”, “building on available information”, “investigation” and many more. Probably not more than 5% of good testing is speed sensitive… most of it is not … then what is the meaning of “productivity” when it is applied as “serious generalization” to all testing. I PROTEST ….

Finally, come’ on, let us accept there many ways we can improve (many) things without measuring them (at all) at least in poor numbers. We all do it in our day today interactions with our near and dear ones in family and those out side in society. So there are clear exceptions to the statement “you can not improve if you can not measure”. I strongly oppose the statement. Too poor generalization that suites machines and mechanical constructs well, than human beings in a social structure.

1 comment:

VIJAY said...

Hello Shrini,

Very Good Post ...
I liked the way you explain about the paradigm shift of explaining various attributes (say in testing or in any other real world scenario)in numbers rather than in vocabulary.
In testing,
I too hate the word productivity when the number of units (or number of bugs) is taken in to consideration to determine the performance of a tester. Where is the Quality of the bug gone ??? The complexity of the Issue ???
The way the tester has found the bug, meaning he has framed his own rules of testing(adhoc ---> Full points should be given) or just found while executing the Test Case Steps ???
Guess these points must also be taken to consideration while voting for the performance of a candidate.

But one big advantage the numbers have. The dimension is rigid meaning a '1' is a '1' and say '100%' is always better than '99%' though they are adjacent numbers sharing boundaries of decimal values in between them(.00 t .99).

Hence for better comparison it is always good to use numbers.

But for expressing emotions, numbers doesn't even fit to be a contender :)