Monday, 19 October 2015

Testing Skills #6 - Speaking the language of business

The following short article is based on a talk given by Keith Klain at both CAST and Testbash

As testers we find it difficult to explain our value when we get given opportunities to talk to senior executives in companies.  We normally end up talking about the technicalities of testing or even worse talking down to them as if they do not understand how really important testing is.  The most important rule when talking to business people about testing is…

“Do not talk to them about testing”

You should instead try to make them feel comfortable in the knowledge that you as the person assigned the role of ensuring testing is done, have it covered.

Instead focus on how the testing approach you use is aligned to the business strategy of the company and how your role help the business be successful.  Talk to them in terms of business and how you align testing to the business.  What value does what you do add or prevent the business from losing money or customers.

Business people are focused on risk and trying to avoid risk that impacts the bottom line. When talking to executives instead of saying we should not be automating everything; talk instead about the risks associated with attempting to automate everything.  The business costs to maintain or the risk of not uncovering information that could cause loss in value to the business.  Talking about checking and testing can be useful to help people understand the value of what we do.  It is important to present a balanced view and explain the benefit of both and how using both can mitigate risk.

Look at providing examples to the executives of the bad things that we are going to do to the customer if we do not test properly.   Ask them how you can help with their decisions to help your clients and protect business value. 

If your company is listed on the stock market, do you read or watch your company financial statements?  This gives useful insights to their important values.  Learning the financial language of your company can be useful when talking.  With this information you can now tailor your discussion around the value your testing provides to the whole organization. Many tester focus on the value that they provide or that the testing provides, instead focus on defining the value of the whole team delivering the product. Explain how the testing is aligned to delivering as a team rather than focusing on testing. Look at the company annual report; it highlights their risks and issues.  Understand what that is and align your testing to this.  

Most importantly, be prepared.  If you know you are going to talk to these people understanding what is important to them, what motivates and drives them. Having this information can help build a relationship around their aspirations and make them feel you understand them and what their needs are.

As Keith states “Focus on the big stuff and work back from there.” that is what the executives are really interested in.

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