August 16, 2011

People Are Not Fungible


adjective Law.(especially of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

1755–65; Medieval Latin fungibilis,  equivalent to Latin fung ī )to perform the office of + -ibilis 

Money is fungible. One bill can be freely exchanged for another. Gasoline is basically fungible. You can fill your car up at one station or another without worrying that you are putting something different in your gas tank.

But people are not fungible. Bob is not the same as Bill. Patty is not the same as Paula. Keith is not the same as Carla.

And, while I like for everyone on my small QA Team to be well-rounded, knowledgeable, and flexible, they aren't all the same. Some of them have more experience than others. Some of them are better at testing back-end systems than others, some of them are better at front-end systems. Some are terrific at deeply analyzing systems having no written Requirements, while others need more guidance. Some are particularly good at test automation, while others tend to focus on manual testing. They are people, and people are not fungible. copyrightjoestrazzere

So, I get particularly annoyed when I am asked to "throw some QA" at a project and the implication is that I can just pick whoever happens to have 2 weeks available at that particular time and assign him or her for some testing. And if nobody happens to be available in that slot, I'm annoyed at the suggestion that I can just bring in someone new and have them be productive on day one, hour one.

We don't roll people from one random project to another without any thought and without any preparation. We can do better! We put more thought into it - thought about what is the best for the project, best for the company, best for the individual tester. We match up the skill set and the availability with the project needs, in order to achieve the best work we can do. We owe that to the business.

If all testing were the same, and my test team consisted of a hoard of mindless, faceless robots - then it wouldn't matter. Two weeks of testing needed? No problem, clone number 336 is scheduled to be available then. We don't have any clones available for that project in December? No problem, we'll rent two from uClone.

But all testing is not the same. And in particular all people are not the same. Testers (and people in general) are not fungible!

This article originally appeared in my blog: All Things Quality
My name is Joe Strazzere and I'm currently a Director of Quality Assurance.
I like to lead, to test, and occasionally to write about leading and testing.
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  1. Joe, I really wish I could carry you and Catherine Powell around in my pocket. Communication isn't my strong point, but both of you seem to take the words right out of my mouth (and replace them with more eloquent words).

    I'm lucky to now work with a firm who embraces individuality and promote it. I spent 11.5 years with a company who created a culture where we believed we were expendable.

    Companies spend tons of money on learning technologies and tools and why? Because this understanding enables them to use the right tool for the right job. Why do we not give the same consideration to knowing and understanding our people who happen to be our most valuable assets???

    Your team is lucky to have you leading them and I wish more managers adopted this attitude.

    But seriously, 'fungible'? Was the Oxford dictionary one of your 250 books you carried on your Kindle to Maine?

    --Chad P.

  2. Wow. Thanks for your kind comments, Chad!

    It's rather difficult in the software business to remember that people are the most important asset we have. After all, the whole point of much software is to reduce labor costs. Still, if software people ever do become truly fungible, that's when I get out.

    As far as the word "fungible", I think I learned that back in the 70's during the "oil crisis". Waiting in gas lines for over an hour, odd-even rationing days, 50 percent price increases... ah, the good times!

    And yes, the Kindle comes with a built-in version of The New Oxford American Dictionary.

    I like to think I have a pretty good vocabulary. But I love the ability to very quickly look up new words while reading in my Kindle. I find that I can do it without losing the flow of the book I'm reading. For me, that's something that clearly distinguishes Kindles from dead-tree books.

  3. Hi Joe! This is Prem from India. I have started my career with testing some time back , and your articles are really good and i am sure it will help me to move into the next level. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  4. Thank you, Prem. Good luck in your testing career!