My name is Randy Wetmore and I have been with PQA for almost 5 years. In my role, I do a lot of writing but, oddly enough, this is the first time I have written for our blog.
I’d like to express some thoughts on a subject that I touch on often in conversation: PQA brings more to the table than just the individuals that show up to do the testing.
Before joining PQA, I was a recruiter. A client would say they want X, Y & Z and I would find them X, Y & Z. I had a database of hundreds of candidates and I talked to dozens of people each week, searching for those “perfect fits”.
When I was joining PQA, I was “sold” on the idea that PQA provides testing services, not just bodies. I was also sold on the idea that PQA didn’t aim to win large “outsourced” testing projects or entire departments by simply slashing rates.
Founder and Co-CEO, Keith McIntosh, sold me on the idea of full time people pushing each other to learn, to solve clients’ project challenges and to always be ready to join client projects without getting bogged down with reference checks, time consuming interviews and, ultimately, evaluating each individual rather than the solution itself.
It sounded good. It sounded different. I was intrigued. I signed up.
It Didn’t Work – The Failed Sale
In my first weeks at PQA, I spent my time speaking with prospective clients. Client after client stated the same position – “I just want a tester.” They were just looking for a warm body or two to sit in a chair for a few weeks of testing. I gave them the spiel, but I was getting nowhere fast. Looking back, I can’t say for sure if it was the clients or me who was not fully understanding what I was selling.
I remember one such event clearly. A high-profile company, a huge Vancouver success story within the retail space, was undertaking a full implementation of their Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system. We discussed at length how PQA could help, the creative solutions we could provide and how we were different from traditional options. I thought I was connecting. I thought we were getting close to an agreement.
I was wrong.
The decision-maker advised me that he was just going to bring in a contractor, like they had always done – someone who fit his list of keywords. And after all, he said, contractor or services firm, they were just different ways to get bodies, right?
I begrudgingly acknowledged his parting comment and agreed that down the road maybe we could find an opportunity to work together in his preferred fashion. What else could I say? Like the others, he wasn’t biting at the value proposition I was presenting. These prospective clients weren’t seeing the difference. They didn’t want to change how they solved their testing “problem”, certainly not with a solution they were just being TOLD was a better way.
Following this, I was forced to confront my growing feeling that my company, in the end, might not be any different from a staffing firm. I was struggling with the idea that: IF our main asset is our people and we SIMPLY provide these people to our clients to do a job, THEN there was really no difference between staffing, offshore and solution services – and we should be honest with ourselves (and our clients) about it.
Realization – My TSN Turning Point
In those early days, I was doing a lot of telling – Telling the client about PQA, our services, how we are different from and better than other options, how we engage with clients, etc.
I knew that we, PQA, could offer testing services in ways that recruiters could not, and offshore firms would be hard-pressed to do. I expected that prospective clients would see the value of all my points and say YES!
But think about it: How often would you buy something from a door-to-door salesman, selling something that you weren’t already familiar with and needed right then at that moment? It is much easier to stick with what you are familiar with, and MAYBE think about changing later. I was that door-to-door salesman.
So, I changed instead.
I started listening. I started having conversations about solving bigger challenges than the two empty seats on that one project. I started getting deals that allowed us to demonstrate our expertise in testing, and simultaneously all the other things that make us the best option for testing services. I was talking to companies that were discovering, through our conversations, that they wanted to have a testing partner after all.
I started gathering stories, not blanket sales pitches. but real stories where I got to see first hand the value of a services firm. Personal stories that help people put what you are saying in context, let them visualize how what you are “pitching” could help them. It’s like putting the pitch that seems obvious to you, in a context someone else will understand.
One example I use is the time that a last minute build went sideways late on a Friday afternoon for one the largest video game producers in world. I remember being on a call after 5:00pm, some of the team had just headed out and the others were wrapping up. The client’s development manager was frantic – the site needed to be live. In a few minutes, our, then, VP of Delivery based in New Brunswick (9:00pm) was on a call. It quickly became clear it wasn’t going to be a matter of just an extra hour or two. We arranged for additional folks from outside our assigned team to join the “testing party”, along with our local director and co-located VP, and they all worked on the site until it released.
After we had made the plan and we were hanging up, it was clear in my mind: No staffing company could do this, and the offshore world isn’t even on-line yet.
It wasn’t the skills that mattered in this scenario (though they were all experienced testers) – it was the people and the company they belonged to, working together with the client for the success of the project. We made it happen. PQA and the client were ONE TEAM. And the client was very happy. This is now sounding like a blatant sales pitch – but it’s true and I use it often.
Yes. We are the testing experts. That is why companies talk to us in the first place. They know we know testing. But the real difference we bring to the table come from behind the testing – our “soft skills” if you will.
Service Delivery – More Than Testers
While services are delivered by people, people do not always deliver service. Some of this may be semantics but follow me.
Individuals have skillsets. When you hire an individual you get their skillset and an opportunity to develop their skills. When you contract that individual you are generally not interested in, nor have the time or resources, to develop that individual’s skills. You contract to get the set of skills you need for the duration of that one project. There is no expectation for enduring impact on your company’s capabilities.
But why can’t there be? Why couldn’t you get the solution you need right now AND improve your situation for next time with better planning, testing techniques, tools, pre-trained resources, etc?
Projects are not static; when planning, when executing, when rolling the project out. So why stick with the fixed skillset that is in that one individual’s head for the duration of the entire project?
The best person for test execution is not likely the best for performance testing or planning the testing effort. The degree of emphasis on the varied testing activities change throughout the project, so why not have the skills adjust as needed to keep the tightest fit?
Testing work is also often not linear. We are often constrained with one individual’s 8 hours (or whatever) per day. When there is a peak demand in effort, don’t you want to be able to scale up to meet it over and over again – whether it is 16, 24, or 128 hours per day? Likewise, when scaling back the test effort while you prepare for the next big release, you don’t want to lose project and domain knowledge, just because of a lull for a few weeks, or a few months, do you? But you don’t want to pay for idle hands either, do you? No problem – we’ll take care of it.
“Hero-culture” is a phrase I have heard a number of times in Calgary, AB. Extremely talented contractors step in to projects and work incredible hours to help clients over the hump. There’s a big cost to this, and for the contractors the rates make it worth the temporary peak in work intensity. I’ve often wondered about this practice, it seems like the business is taking on a large amount of risk and a lot of faith in a few exceptional “heroes”.
A specific few of the benefits, or “soft skills”, you should expect when hiring a company of testers vs. an individual are:
- Scalable Dynamic Teams: Delivering the right skills at the right time throughout the project and in the right amount, on-demand.
- Retained Project & Domain Knowledge: Preserving the knowledge transferred by the client’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and, if additions or changes to the team are required, it’s possible to get new team members up to speed with minimal impact to the client’s resources.
- Continual Skills Development: On a project or not, team members are always improving and adding to their capabilities. They are learning and growing, looking for new ideas around approaches, techniques and tools so our teams can leverage them for our clients.
- Leadership: Having new ideas and the right people are great, but many companies are looking for a partner to help them make informed decisions, to help them implement ideas, and be accountable when things don’t work out. PQA is that partner.
PQA is a company of testers, a team of teams engaged 100% in software testing.
In the Company of Testers
Now the real sales pitch.
Think about how lucky you feel to get that one contractor back who had worked out so well on that last challenging project. Think about how rare it is to get someone that makes a lasting difference in your company when there is no expectation for them to do so. Think about how that one contractor put in 96 hours in 2 days when you really needed it that one time… Oh wait…
This is the reason I’m here with PQA, and not recruiting anymore.
When I was a recruiter, every problem was solved with a body. Sometimes the client liked the body I presented; sometimes they liked someone else’s. We would cover requirements for years of experience, technical skillsets and personality traits. But, rarely did the conversation touch on what business challenge this person was going to solve.
Now things are different. I have a team around me that are amazing at creating collaborative solutions; helping clients shift their testing left and achieving specific business outcomes.
Change can be good.