Quality Testing

Quality is delighting customers

Keith Klain, Director - Head of Global Test Center at Barclays


His key-note at STAR East 2012 had become talk of testing-community.

With "Bridging the Gap - Leading Change in a Community of Testers", he showed us how we can adapt some principles to lead ourselves and our team to a new and better place.

Meet Keith Klain, the Head of Barclays Capital Global Test Center (GTC).

When Keith took over GTC, he implemented some changes to put a system in place to foster testing talent and drive out fear by abandoning worthless metrics and maturity programs, overhauling the training regime, and investing in a culture that rewards teamwork and innovation.

The challenges of these monumental changes required a new kind of leadership—something quite different from traditional management.

Tea-time with Testers talked with Keith to find out how he is leading this change. Know it directly from him in this exclusive interview.

Before we start, we would like to know about your 'testing journey'.

I got my first real introduction to software testing as discipline working as a test analyst for a company based in Chicago called Spherion Technology. They were one of the few companies to have a Software Quality Management practice with a specific methodology and training centred on testing. Although I disagree with most of the methodology now, what it instilled in me was that you could have a career in software testing, and I basically worked my way up from test analyst, to automation engineer, to test manager to eventually running testing practices as a director for them in London and the US.

I’ve pretty much worked in financial services my entire career focused on software testing, so I don’t know a lot about other industries. I do believe that my focus on the people side of technology has allowed me to have success in management and change programmes where other people have failed. And as well, I am a veracious self educator, which I think is essential to continual learning and adapting to change. I’m less interested in accomplishments or the next milestone, and have never really focused on those aspects of my job, but I will say running the Global Test Centre (GTC) has been the greatest and most rewarding role of my career.

If we ask you to answer "Software Testing for you is?”  in one line, what would your answer be?

Software testing is the essence of risk management

You are proven leader with both strategic and tactical abilities in Test Process Improvement, Quality Assurance and managing remote test teams. Please tell us more about your leadership stories, your success mantra.

My personal belief is that leadership has to be grounded by principals that people can identify with and then mirror in their own behavior. To me, honesty, integrity and accountability are essential to building a team and as well, they are what I look for in people in leadership positions. You can manage people regardless of your principals, but if they don’t believe what you are saying  – that you have honesty and integrity in how you deal with them, you won’t get the kind of performance and willingness to change that we are seeing in the GTC. Also, it’s not very inspiring to work for leaders who don’t mimic the attitudes they want out of their teams!

What made you to bring a new model in GTC? It’s quite uncommon, we would rather say, first initiative of its own kind.  Could you throw light on key changes that you brought in and how did those changes help?

When I joined Barclays in 2010, the GTC was part of a very structured “factory model” development centre based in Singapore. There were spreadsheets filled with metrics and KPI’s, and the organisation was striving for a manufacturing approach to software development. That model was pursued to such an extent that the business functions were just called “units” with no association to the business they supported!

Clearly we needed to fundamentally change the approach from not only an organisational perspective but operational as well, so the first thing we did was throw out all those useless and distracting metrics scorecards. The immediate effect that had was changing the focus of the test teams away from trying to measure every aspect of their jobs and improve numbers.

The second big change was to fully adopt and start implementing the Context Driven Testing (CDT) approach to testing through training and working with James Bach and his Rapid Software Testing methodology. This change is a bit longer in its implementation as it’s not just about training and implementation , but equally about a paradigm shift for the project teams (as well as the testers) as to the purpose and value of software testing.

Well, when one tries to bring change, a lot of things are required to be changed starting from the processes to be followed till career building roadmap. What is the mantra to do this from a mid-management and lower level?

I would sum up our change mantra as: “Manage Your Own Expectations”. I’m a big believer in personal empowerment for the “Mid-Management and lower level”, and don’t really feel there should be separation of responsibilities for change in any part of an organisation.

My view is that it is your own personal responsibility to realise the changes you want to see happen. Understand the value of the change and take ownership of getting things done and you’ll start to see positive improvements.

How should one manage the changes during transition periods to make  sure that he/she doesn't change or remove something which is essential?

What I’ve found effective is to catalogue everything that a project or programme does, then identify what the project or programme “needs”, compare the two and then start asking why. The majority of times, people will have not put much thought into why they do things and as well, “group think” is a very powerful force in projects. From my perspective, if it’s not regulatory required or moving us towards achieving value for our clients, it can probably be chucked out and no one would miss it!

Coming back to software testing, we see that many testers are still confused about their role in software development. How can we make testers understand that, 'Responsibility lies with us'?

That’s partially because the software development industry can’t make up its mind about testing’s role! It seems like every 5 years, the development or project management community comes up with some buzz wordladen variation of an iterative approach to delivery that diminishes, changes, or supposedly makes obsolete the role of software testing. Whether it be a more technically demanding testing role or a functional subject matter expert in a business process, having a holistic, value based approach to software testing that relies heavily on system thinking will always have a role in a project – and I think be essential to its success.

Most of the times testers are underrated by organisations and  thus  they lose confidence. How to increase their visibility and make them confident? What steps should leadership take to motivate testers?

There was a recent article in Forbes magazine about why top talent leave organisations, and they boiled it down to one  reason: “Top talent leave an organization when they’re badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.” In addition to dealing with those generic problems, software testers typically have double the impact here, because as a community, we are particularly bad at articulating our value. As well, in my view the software testing industry (vendors, tools, associations, etc.) has had a large part in undermining our own credibility with our “clients.

To overcome these obstacles, I would offer the following advice:
1) Know who your clients are and what they value
2) Align yourself and your test approach to protecting that value
3) Know your organisation and their strategic objectives
4) Align yourself and your test approach to helping your organisation achieve its objectives.

And lastly, be able to clearly articulate each of those and how to identify them in your work.

It sounds simple, but I am consistently amazed at how few testers can do those basic things and don’t let them permeate
their approach to their job.

How do you compare maturity of Software testing compared to the quality processes in other industries in view of exponential growth of software industry?

I’m not a big fan of maturity measurement, and I definitely think you should try as best to compare apples to apples when drawing correlations between things.

What I would note, is that different industries have different risk profiles and therefore require different test approaches and techniques. Even within the financial services industry, we alter our approach by asset class or system as risk profiles are different from risk engines, to order management systems, to high frequency trading applications.

That’s what I like about Context Driven Testing as it allows our testers to use their brains when choosing the test approach instead of mindless going about their jobs.

You have seen software testing since long, its situation in past and its state at present.  Do you think that the exponential growth of software industry has lead to compromising on the quality processes?

Good grief, the last thing the software industry is lacking is processes!

I think we’ve seen an explosion in technology application and rates of adoption in the last 10 years and it’s only going to get larger in scale and pace. What I think we’ll see is a more practical application of some of the existing processes and a realisation that software development is NOT analogous to manufacturing.

A recalibration of client expectations and how we as a community relate to and articulate the risks and difficulties of delivering is probably what’s needed more than new or better processes. Jerry Weinberg has written loads of great stuff about this and I would recommend either  “Quality Software Management  – Volume 2 First Order Measurement” or  “The Psychology of Computer Programming”. Jerry will forget more than I’ll ever know about the subject!

AST (Association for Software Testing) is known for its efforts towards improving state of software testing. Being at the Board of Directors of such esteemed association, how do you see the state of software testing in next 5 years?

Well, I am not even seated onto the AST board yet, but was very flattered to  be nominated and extremely honored to have been elected. I am looking forward to getting to know the other members of the board, and have already had some great  exchanges with them on the working groups and objectives for the AST. I am a big advocate of software testers, and believe a vibrant community like our industry should be supported by networks for collaboration and idea exchanges. I believe the AST is the  best positioned in the world to deliver just that, and I am excited to start working with them.

As for the future of testing over the next five years, I believe we’ll continue to see a drive towards more agile process and team structures. The rate and magnitude of technology change will force organisations to adapt quickly whether it is to new regulations, market fluctuations or the ease at which customers can swap providers and services. I also believe there will be a big shake up in the test tool market as the older entrenched tools get replaced by lighter, more adaptable tools sets.

What is your opinion  about ‘Rapid Software Testing’?  What made you to go for implementing RST across the GTC? Would you recommend it to leaders in other organisations?

I think my continual support and programme of work adopting the core principals are as good an endorsement as I can give of RST.

James Bach and the RST courses are analogous to what I call “an adenine shot to a tester’s heart.” Whether you are an experienced tester or someone new to the field, RST has something in there for you, and I have seen more “aha” moments within the GTC since we started doing the training.

I would, and often do recommend RST to leaders in other organisations and have had many discussions with them about how to manage the implementation.

As well,  “Lessons Learned in Software Testing” is on our mandatory reading list for everyone in the GTC, and in fact we had 200+ copies sent to our team in India so everyone could have a copy on their desk! Ultimately, I believe RST and the CDT school of testing most accurately model how the testing process actually works and embodies the approach and mindset of someone pursuing software testing as a profession.

Treating our industry as a craft is something we take very seriously in the GTC and RST fits into that approach nicely.

What message would you like to give our readers?

Don’t be afraid to try new things as you will learn more from your failures than your successes.

One of my favourite quotes from Herman Melville sums it up pretty good: “Failure is the true test of greatness. And if it be said, that continual success is a proof that a man wisely knows his powers, — it is only to be added, that, in that case, he knows them to be small.”

Do you read ‘Tea-time with Testers’? What is your opinion about us? Would you like to recommend it to your colleagues?

I do read ‘Tea-time with Testers’, albeit I am a recent arrival on the site. I am an avid Jerry Weinberg devotee, so it was fantastic to see him so involved in the content there. I have already recommended it to my friends and contacts. Keep up the great work!

Note: This interview has been published in October 2012 issue of Tea-time with Testers magazine. Quality Testing is strategic partner of ‘Tea-time with Testers’ and we are re-publishing this interview for the benefit of our audience.


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