Stakeholder Engagement for Testers – The talk I never did (Part 4)

Another day….another part to my Stakeholder engagement series. So far in this series I have discussed what a stakeholder in part 1, and in part 2 and part 3 I discussed who your stakeholders are and how you can find out.

Now that you’ve identified who your stakeholders are, i’d now like to go over what they want, why they want it and how we can deliver it.

What do they want?

By asking the questions mentioned at the end of part 3 and others, we can start to understand in more detail for each of our key stakeholders, what they want, why they want it and how they want it.

Lets start with understanding what they want.

Almost certainly the most prevalent mistake that I see from test managers and testers, is assuming they know what their stakeholders what.

Don’t make the same mistake. The key to understanding what they want is asking, and in some cases educating them also. I’m not saying that there is not going to be some common things that they are all going to want, but don’t assume it.

There are two elements of a stakeholders wants. The first is the physical wants. Reports and other artefacts such a testing documentation would fall into the category. Also what functionality within the product is most important to them is also going to be useful to know at this point.

The second is going to be their desires. This should have become known, at least to some degree, during your analysis of your stakeholders we talked about a in the previous parts of this series.

Understanding what they desire from the project, product, your team and you is the most important thing to do in order to make your life easier. It will allow you to get on with what you need to do without interruptions and changes in direction because a stakeholder is not happy with something that you’ve only found out about half way through your work.

Another benefit of doing this with your stakeholders is starting to identify where there are conflicts or misalignment of expectations or wants between different stakeholders. The earlier this can be identified the better. It will allow you to bring your stakeholders together and address the situation so that you are not being pulled in different directions later down the line.

Don’t expect others to do this; I have lost count of the number of times I have been the one to identify misalignment that the project managers were not aware of. Once you have your stakeholders aligned it will be much more straightforward in managing the expectations of them all.

Why do they want it?

It is not uncommon that a stakeholder will say they want something that does not make sense; a non standard metric is quite common to be asked for. I see a lot of testers saying that if its not part of their “standard” metrics pack they wont supply it.

This is not something I would ever do. I would never personally out of hand refuse to give a stakeholder something they have asked for because it’s not, in my view, something that we should deliver. What I recommend if a stakeholder is asking for something that you don’t normally produce is ask “Why?” Why do they feel that this extra information, or extra document or whatever it might be help them?

There are a number of reasons why someone will want something and you will want to spend some time understanding it.

It maybe that their boss is going to ask them something that this will answer, or something they feel they should know.

Biases and inbuilt belief systems will also play a heavy part on what they want. These can range from managers who still expected 100% defect free software, or negative views on testing due to past experiences, and therefore what to micro manager through overly details metric reporting.

By asking why, you should be able to get to the underlying driver for their request. Only then can you choose whether to help them to answer their question in a better way, educate them as to why what they are asking for might not actually give them what they believe it will, or accept that their request is valid. It might even be a wise in some situations to give them what they want even if you can’t see the real reason for it, to smooth a path for example, but this will need your judgement.


continues in part 5.

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