What can testers learn from geese?

Have you ever looked into the spring or autumn sky and seen geese or other birds flying together in a V-formation? Have you ever wondered why every flock of birds seem to instinctively use this shape? Me neither.

Before venturing into the testing world, I studied Computer Systems and Software Engineering at the University of York. If you don’t know the city of York, it is a beautiful city with very rich history. The university, however, surrounds the largest plastic-bottomed lake in Europe and is home to some of the most viscous geese known to mankind.

Even though some geese clearly have some serious social issues with humans, their instincts are top-notch. For example, they manage to migrate north in spring and south in autumn without watching the weather forecast or having Google Maps.

Let’s start thinking what testers (and indeed other teams) can learn from these wonderful creatures.

Lesson 1: Share a common goal, purpose and sense of community

Geese and other birds fly together in a V-formation. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift to reduce air resistance for the birds behind it. This makes it between 70% and 80% easier for each bird than trying to fly solo.

By sharing a common goal, purpose and sense of community, testing teams can reach our targets faster thanks to the momentum of others around us. Meetups and the testing community help to keep this momentum going.

Lesson 2: Share visibility and knowledge

The V-formation also helps geese at the back to see what’s happening ahead of them. They can be more reactive if they need to change course at the last minute.

Testing teams can stay more relevant and reactive by sharing visibility of what’s ahead and sharing knowledge with each other. The project you’re working on might affect another tester’s work, or other testers might find the new testing technique you’ve learnt useful. Twitter is the easiest way I have found to stay knowledgeable on all things testing related.

Lesson 3: Empower others to lead

When the front goose gets tired, the other geese rotate in the formation and another goose takes the lead position for a while.

Everyone in the testing team, no matter how new or old, will have unique skills to offer. These might be ideas about process improvements or new testing tools. If you empower others in the team to lead once in a while, you’ll see fresh ideas come through naturally.

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to seek help

If a goose falls out of the V-formation, they’ll quickly feel the air-resistance of flying solo. It’ll naturally correct its course to stay behind the goose in front and benefit from the uplift.

Similarly, if you need help with testing, don’t be afraid to leverage the power of your testing team. Also, if somebody in your testing team looks like they’re struggling, offer them a hand to get them started again.

Lesson 5: Stand by each other

If one of the geese gets ill or wounded, two other geese leave the formation and follow the goose back to the ground. They will protect the goose until it is (hopefully) well enough to join another passing formation or catch up with the flock.

When testing, things don’t always go to plan. We have all missed bugs or not met important deadlines. When going through a difficult patch, it is when teammates need each other the most.

Lesson 6: Give recognition and praise

Geese literally “honk” at each other to encourage others in the formation to keep up the momentum.

Testing teams do great work in finding complex bugs and meeting challenging deadlines, but this excellent work often goes unmentioned. By giving recognition and praise where appropriate, people in the team are more motivated to achieve their goals.

This is why, at our standup every Friday, we run “What have you done this week to make you feel proud?” where we celebrate each other’s achievements from the past week.

Lesson 7: Stay true to our individual, team and company values

Even though the flock members may change, geese never change their route when migrating. In spring, they always go back to the place they were born.

Day-to-day work varies a lot for the team, especially when working in an agile methodology. However, testing teams are best when we have a vision and stay true to our individual, team and company values. Anything is possible if we believe in it!

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