In today’s world of testing there are big changes in the way we work. New tools and new kind of strategies are arising and there is a higher demand for technical testers. But have we considered what effect this rapid change has on the people who have been in our industry for a long time?
A couple of years ago I was hired by a customer to help them to write a new test policy, a test strategy and to implement a new testing tool. I was excited that a customer had come to us with such an open mind for change in order to lift their organization to a new level of quality assurance.
But just because the change managers were open to change, it didn’t mean that the employees were.
Quotes from the users, “why do we need requirements”? Acceptance criteria, “they sound weird”. “There are too many fields in the testing tool when writing a test case, I want to go back to excel”.
To make the transition from non-structured requirements and excel to implementing a test policy, a test strategy and a testing tool was harder then I had anticipated.
It seemed that the challenge couldn’t have come to me at a better time. I had just started studying management part time alongside work, so I raised my problem to my professor. I did have hopes that she would just give me the solution but that would have been too easy. Instead, she gave me a long list of books to read, and they were not about change management, they were about psychology, and how psychology effects the change process.
If I knew all the things I know now, I would have approached the change process in a different way and I hope you as a reader will learn from my mistakes.
How does psychology effect change?
We as humans have what psychology refers to as an inner map, the inner map is subjective and is our understanding of the world around us, or the outer world that is objective.
The outer world is made available to us through the five senses, and by validating what we sense we make a mental map, an inner world that analyses the outer world. I’ll give you an example. A child that was bit by a dog will react in fear to other dogs, because the child’s inner map has registered that dogs are a source of pain. A child that has played with a dog and not been hurt by it will categorize a dog as fun and not dangerous. If we go back to the willingness of change this can work to our advantage or the other way around. People who have experienced changing processes that were successful will be more positive to the change than people that have been through a change process that was not successful. And then we have the third group, the people that have never been through a change process at work.
The people in the third group will get a slight panic, but that is completely logical. Their inner map has no experience with changes at the workplace and therefor does not know how to react. Their safety and stability at work is threatened and they are unsure and a bit scared of an unknown future.
Most of us will recognize this pyramid as the Maslow Pyramid that symbolizes the hierarchy of needs we need to fulfill to be at the top of our game. As you can see, safety and security needs are on level two of the pyramid.
To help people past the second level the two best things you can give them is time, and information. They need a heads up that a change is coming for them to be able to process it and change their mindset. If change is implemented to quickly the inner map will set off all kind of alarms and make it harder for
the person to go through the process. They also need information from you to take in what the change means, to keep them guessing will not help your process and will make them more unsure.
Back to my case, and my mistakes
As mentioned I was hired to do three things, write a test policy, a test strategy and implement a testing tool. My first mistake was to think that all the employee’s knew about the change, turned out they didn’t, and they were hurt that they were not included in the decision that affected their everyday work. They were not prepared when I came to implement the change. Their reluctance to change their ways, and my goal to implement the change became a power struggle and neither one of us were going to budge, that was my second mistake. I mistook their fear and little knowledge of the change as a mistrust in me and how I chose to steer the process.
What would I have done differently?
Had I known the things I know now there are several things I would have changed:
- I would have included the employees in the preparations of the change process, that way they would have felt included in decisions, and not forced through a change where their opinions were not heard. If they feel that they can affect the process and have their opinions heard they are more willing to implement the change.
- I would have implemented one thing at a time. A test policy, a test strategy and a new test tool was too much for them to take in, in one round. The inner map needs time to adapt to new things and form a meaning about it. To handle one thing at a time will be easier and the probability for success higher.
- I would have tried to see their point of view better, and not automatically assume they are against me. They just need time and information, and someone they could turn to with questions through the process to handle it better. Empathy would be a key word here.
- Give them time to process the information and adapt to the thought that the future will be different before you start the process.
A last tip to you as readers and future change managers within test would be to read up on Kurt Lewin’s “Unfreeze/Freeze method” and force field analysis that will be of great help in the process.