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How do I know if my busy QA professionals are actually engaged?

A busy tester seems like a happy tester, but expert Amy Reichert warns that appearances can be deceiving. Here's why you need to be sure your testers are really paying attention.

QA is an active area regardless of the software methodology used or the size of its development team. There's typically...

plenty of work that goes into it and, often, more work than fits into a testing cycle. To see a team of QA professionals buzzing along with their busy work is a good sight.

However, being busy is not the same as being engaged. Many testers can be exceptionally productive and stay actively engaged, but many others respond to continuous heavy workloads by "checking out." Though they are supposed to perform tests and fulfill job requirements, they don't care. When you lose your sense of caring or passion, you're disengaged.

Disengagement can be temporary -- it can come and go -- and that can reflect the lifecycle of any software development person. When it stays longer, it's time to re-evaluate QA processes and workloads.

Nevertheless, it is a normal phenomenon. Most QA professionals go through phases where their workload gets too heavy, resulting in negativity and frustration. Most of them work their way through it, either on their own or with the help of mentoring or coaching. Sometimes a new challenge is required to stretch an individual's abilities.

Providing QA testers with new learning opportunities is essential to keeping quality QA team members engaged and productive. It may be comfortable for a company to expect people to perform similar tasks year after year, but it's not realistic. If you're not learning, you become stagnant, no matter how good your job is.

Engaged testers do better work and also contribute ideas for team improvement. Disengaged team members never say anything, except among their friends.

Instead of picking the same person to lead different testing projects, keep changing the assignment. First, ask for volunteers. If there are no new volunteers for the project, then assign a new person. Rotate around a team so everyone gets a chance to show their skills. It's hard to resist picking the same QA professionals as leaders for new projects because you know they'll get that job done. However, try not to fall into that trap because it will result in burned out leaders and resentful, less productive team members.

An effective QA team will always be busy, but it's also critical to keep QA test team members engaged so they do their best work and provide higher value. 

Next Steps

What more do you need in your QA role?

The evolving role of the software tester

Is automated testing the right strategy for your company?

This was last published in September 2016

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What do you do to try and re-engage when you find yourself "checking out"?
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Checking out can be a big problem to overcome if you don’t identify it early on. One thing I did to try to help my team was move from a more project-based organization. That helps team members from being tied to one project forever, allowing them to work on other projects, or for other team members to work on that project. They’re still the SME, but that doesn’t mean they are tied to that project.
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Sometimes "checking out" is a normal way to recharge and to regain the interest. Even the most interesting job is not everything in life.
I like advice in the article about new projects though small companies and siloed departments wouldn't be able to offer that.
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Software testing is a very boring brain-dead work when organized like mindless following of scripts and checking expected results. It also lacks relevance and accountability.
Organized properly, testing becomes very engaged job appealing to such natural human interests like learning and chasing.
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