So today was the "bonus" day at StarEast, not a free bonus, mind you, but a bonus if you were looking to really learn some more about how to be a good manager, which I am. We had four scheduled talks and one "problem solving" session, and, overall, I'd say it was a good day but not as brilliant as I had hoped. I guess that's one of the disadvantages of being in this industry: your idea of perfection is always really high. Normally, my attitude is to dream low and avoid disappointment, but I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to feel after this section of the conference, and we didn't quite hit it. Ah well.
First we had "Navigating Rough Waters," by Jane Fraser. We started with a slide saying "You have to reduce your team of 40 by 60% because your management has ordered these jobs be sent to some place cheaper. How do you manage it?" At 8:30 in the morning I have to say that question about made me cry. It's really not the first thing I would ever want to deal with in the morning, even just as an academic exercise. Gah! If this was what the day was going to be like, how to offshore jobs, how to identify weak performers and fire them without getting sued, how to do all of the worst parts of the job, I didn't want to deal with it.
This, in fact, is not how it turned out; it became quite the question and answer session asking Jane how she had dealt with this problem (for, indeed, she was in the middle of dealing with it) and rather a remarkable story of how she helped transition the team without having everyone abandon ship. Now, as a slideshow, this wasn't much of a presentation, but it turned into, in my mind, an incredible vision of how to build a team that stays by you in the very worst of times. She talked about how she went for transparency, how she worked to ensure those that stayed to help transition were taken care of (job opportunities that helped build up their resumes, frequent contact with recruiters for jobs elsewhere, interview practice), how she actually divided the work between the five different sites (including Vietnam and Argentina), how she continued to haggle to keep just one more person - wow. She was really the picture of a leader and I wound up asking her how she had built this incredible loyalty. ("Transparency and always looking out for people's careers," she said, making me think I'm on the right track.)
Next up was "Systemic Innovation" by Miles Lewitt. This presentation didn't seem to relate to my situation once because I have never found myself in a position to push major innovation in how we develop products or do works. I've never been concerned with reducing people's work time to give them ore time to innovate; I've been more concerned with reducing the amount of time people have to spend fixing bugs so they can spend more time actually building code.
Next up was a problem solving session, in which the room was divided into about 20 groups, demarcated by tables that each had a banner on them saying what the topic of that table was going to be (i.e. "automation, "Agile," "environments," things testers get fussed about). We had to define the problem as an elevator speech, describe some barriers, then describe our "action plan" for dealing with the barriers. I sat at the "metrics" table, where we decided our action plan was going to be "interview people about what questions they need to have answered, research industry standard ways of generating that data, continuously review our questions and methods to keep improving the data we're presenting."
We never got to present, though, as we just ran right up into lunch. I used the opportunity to ask someone who I thought knew the answers (Rob Sabourin of Ameribug) how he would try to measure the effectiveness of the requirements quality assurance program I'm trying to get into place, and he suggested either we measure the total number of hours the developers spent fixing defects, or we do a defect origin analysis to see if we've reduced the total percentage of defects caused by requirements. Either will keep me busy, to be sure. Even better, he gave me a contract he'd written for another company detailing specifically how he was going to measure the quality of the code they delivered to him for acceptance testing. This is awesome as it's something I've been working on at work, fixing the contracts so we've got something solid to say people agreed to do.
Lunch was, as ever, with the guy from Virginia I ate with every day, and it was good, only the line took 20 minutes to get through.
Afterwards we had a real honest to goodness motivational type speaker come on, Andy Kaufman of the "Institute for Leadership Excellence and Development, Inc" (which I suspect is his company), who with big smiles and more enthusiasm than any of us knew how to deal with spoke on how to increase your influence at work by working to ... increase your relationships with people. This was creepy at times as it seemed to look at building relationships with people and even talking to them as a way to tick boxes of accomplishments, something I am very much against, but he did mention a bunch of useful stuff. I was particularly entranced by the idea of finding someone that will give you honest feedback about how you're doing - including telling you when you've screwed up. I could really use this at work as half the time no one says anything at all, but I fear I occasionally say stuff in meetings that is going over the line, but no one ever says a word to me about it. He also said it's a good idea to like everyone, because if you think you can hide that you don't like someone, you're just plain wrong. However, I'm not going to get in the habit of sending everyone I know birthday cards - that's just smarmy - and while meeting a new person every day might be a great way to practice small talk, as a person who has a hard time remembering names it sounded like a nightmare.
Finally it was Goranka Bjedov talking about testing quality vs testing productivity. Her belief was that people love to do easy automated unit tests, but though they generate lots of numbers, they don't really prove quality because they frequently fail to test negatively. Furthermore, her belief was that we are heading to an age when people are just willing to settle for low quality, and it was our job to try to push back and say, "It's just not right when people die" (for example).
Oops, Mary is here! Anyway, afterwards I went on a nature walk behind the conference center (located on the banks of Shingle Creek - we saw no alligators but did see an ahinga) with a woman whom I met - through Twitter - during the conference. Yay!