This post resulted from typing up the notes taken on flip-charts that I promised to type and send to the participants in the workshop I did at TesTrek in Toronto.  My thanks go to all the people who were there and participated in the discussion, particularly Lynn McKee, Paul Carvalho, Michael Bolton, Michael… the other Michael who did not have business cards and whose last name I don’t recall.  That this session took the path it did, and that the quality of the discussion it had was due very largely, if not entirely, to you.  I know I learned a great deal and I was the one with the microphone. 

My notes:

Test Process Improvement:
Lessons Learned from the Trenches
Flip-chart notes from TesTrek Conference, October 2010

Points made in discussion during presentation portion:

  • (In looking at testing…) How do I add value? (Lynn McKee)
  • Something’s wrong, Customers report “issues”
    • What’s an issue?
    • Issues may not be problems to everyone (Michael Bolton)
    • Expectations don’t match somehow
      • Problem in Requirements or Scope creep?

Points made in discussion of SWOT:

  • Allow your team to make mistakes (Paul Carvalho) 
    • Nothing teaches more than failure… 
  • Understand why you are doing something…

Introduction to SWOT Analysis:

SWOT is a tool to look at your team’s Strengths and Weaknesses while being aware of external Opportunities and Threats – Things that you may be able to take advantage of and those things that may block your progress.

These items are from the ideas that were volunteered by participants.


Technically Competent
Finds “Good Bugs” fast
Detail Oriented
Shows Craftsmanship / Professional Pride in work
Team Gels
Good Communication (and skills)
Understands Roles
Big Test Case Toolbox
Has the trust of peers and colleagues


Hard to say “No”
Resistant to change
Low technical knowledge
Poor estimation skills
Staff not as good as they think they are
Lack of creativity


The conversation around these points was important and I allowed it to flow freely, believing that they bore greater value than walking through a planned exercise. It was interesting to note that the strengths were drawn out very quickly, while the weaknesses took nearly twice as long and ended with far fewer items.

This is almost exactly in line with my experiences with using this technique.

It is easy to state what a person or team is good at – what their strengths are. Getting this down to specifics from the more general terms can be a bit more challenging, but usually bears fruit. Saying out loud (admitting to yourself and your team) what the weaknesses and short comings are is far harder. We all have frames around ourselves that limit our vision. We all want to be heroes in our own minds – no one wants to be the villain. Most people want to believe they are good if not very good at what they do.

Getting your team together and discussing what the weaknesses the team has means at some point people must trust each other to help improve individual shortcomings. If your list of strengths includes something about “teamwork” and people are not able or are unwilling to be honest with each other (yes, you can be polite and honest at the same time) then the “teamwork” strength needs to be removed from the list.

The greatest single challenge is to face yourself as you are. This is compounded when attempting to do this with, and in front of, co-workers and team members. The leader/manager may need to get help in doing this very hard task, and to break down the barriers that exist to allow frank discussion to occur. Tempers may flare and nerves will certainly be on edge. The “trick” is to allow cooling-off periods. Perhaps meeting for a couple hours each day for a couple of weeks instead of reserving three or four days in a row to do nothing but this would make it easier. This will allow people to talk privately and do their own reality-checks on what happens, or should happen.

Sometimes, the most potent force in this process is to have people thinking about these topics in the back of their minds while working on their “real” work. While focusing on a challenge, don’t be surprised if something pops into your mind related to the SWOT discussions and how that revelation can bear on the next discussion session.

AND SO, in simple language:

• To improve your Test Process, you must improve your team’s testing.
• To improve your testing, you must have a solid understanding of what your team is capable of RIGHT NOW.
• To understand your team’s capability, you must understand your team’s Strengths and Weaknesses.
• If you understand the Strengths and Weaknesses, you can consider what it is that Management or Customers are expecting.
• Recognizing what Management and Customers are expecting becomes your first Opportunity.
• Recognizing Opportunity may reveal things that will block those opportunities: Threats.
• Engaging in this process with your entire team will demonstrate to your team how serious you are to improving the team and making the individuals better at what they do.
• When you make the testing itself better, the Testing Process will be improved.