I was asked this question in an interview recently- “What would you do when work gets monotonous and boring?”
Here is what I said, “Fortunately that has never happened to me and I love being a QA. When things get repetitive, I like to ‘mix things up’. I would document if execution bored me, I would execute if documentation got tedious, I would explore when everything else seemed bleak.
Also, targets and deadlines keep me motivated and a simple ‘do what needs to be done’ attitude is what keeps me going.”
I don’t know if this explanation satisfied my interviewers or if this was what they looking for. But, I was not satisfied with it. (And, No, I still don’t know if I got that job or not :))
I love QA and Testing- no doubt about that. Things need doing- nobody like brushing their teeth, but we all do it, twice (at least, we aim). I do like shuffling activities so things stay fresh- So, no lies there. But there is definitely more to this. Because let’s face it – no matter how much we want to innovate, how much we love what we do and no matter the seriousness of the issue at hand – Things sometimes get repetitive.
So, how can we combat this?
As always, my first step to research is STH. So here is what I found when I looked around:
I found these articles to be great reads, but we are talking motivation here. We are talking about collective teams and traditional office setups where you have a team and some down time to try something different.
But the situation that I was looking into was different. Different, how?
- What if you are the only QA person- lead and team member all in one?
- What if the people to discuss with have other tasks to do?
- What if the work has to be done and whether you are bored or not, does not matter?
- What if reading, trying a tool, learning a language, etc. are not tasks you can fit into your schedule?
- Finally, what if the boredom and monotony are causing a set back to the test effort and its quality?
Not until I got to the final point, did I realize the real intent of this question in the interview.
Companies are not concerned if you are entertained or bored in their organization and team. They simply want to know if these emotions cause a negative impact on your work and in turn their project or progress.
Once I got to this point, I knew the answer.
Let me break it down for you:
How Should Testers Handle Boredom?
#1) Work after a certain point is all about keeping things afloat.
For example: Let’s say you are a passionate teacher who teaches to see the spark of enlightenment in your student’s eyes. It is a great motive. However, if you taught the same subject to the same class for a few years, can you vouch for the same level of interest, excitement and emotional investment? After a while, it becomes an orchestration of the exact same steps over and over again.
#2) Repeatability is the key to achieving consistent results
To ensure that you get consistent results every year, you develop a method to your teaching. It is important to note here that, the intent has not changed. You still love being a teacher. You still want to do what is best for your students.
But the extent of repetitiveness has given you a very clear idea about what lessons you want to teach, what homework you will give, what frequency you conduct tests, etc.
You know for a fact that, every year you teach the same subject, to the same grade. You can guarantee that the quality of your teaching does not diminish because you are no longer depending on your emotions, motivation levels, incentives, etc.
You are relying on repeatable and reliable steps that help you reach your goals- The combination of these steps is a process. Once your process develops your become independent from your emotions as to how you feel about your work
#4) How can process help?
Let’s say, the teacher in our example has a bad day or is going through a crisis. Would that impact her class? Probably not, because he/she knows exactly what to do, when and how.
#5) Can process alone guarantee success?
In our example, the class would benefit hugely if the teacher is in a high spirit. But that is beyond the control of the system/school in which he/she works. Therefore, placing our bets on the process and not on the person ensures a minimum guarantee and a safer option towards reaching the goals.
Bottom line: When things get monotonous and repetitive, you need a process to get them done. This will help with consistency and productivity. A well-developed and well-documented process can make us more efficient while granting independent from our individual personal feelings towards the work we do.
So, “How would you handle monotonous and boring work?” I would come up with a process that will get the work done consistently. That is THE answer.
Where can testers apply this?
First of all, you need not be a tester to create and use a process. I think our teacher example makes it apparent.
But, we are testers and here are three areas where we could use this approach:
- Build verification test/Smoke test/Sanity test: If you work on an application that has frequent releases and you have to do the basic tests every time- create a checklist or mini-test suite to make sure you run all the tests each time. You will not overlook or forget or take a test for granted when you try this.
- Team leads who are not seeing a value add from peer reviews of test documentation, try this method. Create a process where your teams have to look for specific types of documentation errors every time they review a test case document. For example, the following are the things I instruct my teams to look for when peer reviewing:
- Check for unique Test case IDs and Test objective/condition
- Check for completeness, correctness, and coverage of each step/case
- Check for format, spelling and grammar errors
- Make sure the test objective and expected result are in sync(you will be surprised at how many times this is out of sync because of copy and paste errors)
- While sending the daily status report, keep a checklist of all things to do before you hit send.
- Check the recipient’s list
- Spell check the status report
- Check for attachment
- Check the subject line and see if it has the correct date and a consistent title, etc.4
The process is our immunity from boredom, over-the-top enthusiasm, distraction, fatigue and anything else you can think of. I wish I thought this through in time for the interview to make an impression. Well, better late than never!
About the author: This great advice is given by STH team member Swati.
Please comment and let me know if you agree with my reasoning or not. What methods have helped you stay focused at work?