When staffing project management teams, common sense says that you should always select the most qualified people for the job.
This basic logic holds true across all industries. So when building a software QA team, this means finding the most experienced and educated testers you can get your hands on. Doing so ensures that you’re always working with the “best of the best.”
In essence, you want the “A-Team” of software testers.
And yet, this approach isn’t always the optimal strategy. In fact, filling your roster with A-Team players can often yield inferior results. And if you want to produce the best possible products that you can, you may find greater success going with the B-Team.
Why the A-Team Isn’t Always the Best Team
As a project manager, you need to view your team as a discrete whole, comprised of individual players. And although it may be tempting to choose experts for every available slot (like they do in bank heist movies), there are compelling reasons why diversifying your roster may be the better option.
Below, we review 2 of the primary arguments for diversity.
1. The Personality Argument
Teams only work if they “work” together. This is why you must carefully examine the dynamics that each contributor brings. Remember that you’re in for:
- many long hours
- challenging problems
- tight deadlines
- short tempers
So when designing your “ideal” team, you want a cohesive unit that plays nicely. A mix of personalities and backgrounds – rather than an impressive stable of like-minded experts.
This isn’t to say that top performers are necessarily divas. But the more varied each individual’s personality becomes, the less likely you are to have a group of “know-it-all’s” jockeying for supremacy.
More important, this diversity means that team members must rely on one another at different stages throughout the development cycle. This interplay is especially valuable when adopting the 6 Thinking Hats philosophy explored in earlier articles.
By mixing up personalities, you’re more likely to have creative dreamers thrown in with discerning thinkers and organizational logisticians. There will, of course, be ideological clashes every now and then. But the final product will benefit from a composite of different viewpoints and solutions. And that is the ultimate goal of successful teamwork.
2. The Skills Argument
Not only do you want wide-ranging personality types (i.e. cognitive thinking styles), but you also want different skillsets. Equally important, you want to actively seek out dissimilar experience levels and demographic backgrounds.
Varied skillsets is easy enough to understand. After all, you want someone proficient in debugging to complement your automation expert and UI guru.
However, seeking out varied experience levels may seem a little more counterintuitive. Why would you ever deliberately stack your deck with non-experts? And why would you ever factor in seemingly irrelevant demographic variables like age, gender, or culture?
Consciously or not, many managers end up recruiting those who think and act like themselves. We naturally tend to attract (and are attracted to) those who are most similar.
When building teams, it’s important that you avoid this tendency.
Again, the benefits you gain are very similar to what you find when you diversify personality types.
If you’re an American male with more than 30 years of QA experience, there are still certain things you can learn from a Chinese female tester straight out of university.
This is because you end up asking entirely different types of questions. And you’ll tackle new challenges using totally unusual approaches.
Although it’s only natural to lean on the more experienced tester with greater frequency, having a fresh pair of eyes helps to uncover things that often go unnoticed.
This isn’t just us speaking.
Academic literature is rife with documented cases in which diverse teams consistently outperform their homogenous counterparts. And these results remain true whether that diversity is built around:
Again, it’s not difficult to understand why these advantages emerge. By casting a wide net, your team benefits from the broadest possible range of questions and insights:
- Novices spot things that experts completely overlook – and vice versa.
- Outsiders are free of groupthink mentality.
- Pessimists plug holes.
- Optimists spot opportunities.
It’s dangerous to rely on any single one of the above attributes. But collectively (and when properly managed), these traits are able to produce better overall outcomes.
The situation is analogous to designing a retirement portfolio with a mix of assets, rather than relying exclusively on “historic” stock winners.
As an added benefit, diversifying is also cheaper for 2 reasons:
- Experts cost more money. So by recruiting those with less experience, you’ll be able to save on staffing costs.
- Mixed teams produce better results. Consequently, the final product will likely enjoy greater success in the marketplace (i.e. more customers and higher sales).
Putting B-Team Recruitment into Practice
Your next project is coming up, and you now know that diversity trumps homogeneous expertise. But that doesn’t mean you should recruit just any candidate. When assembling your team, each individual still needs to meet certain criteria – a minimum set of skills and knowledge.
Determining that threshold is best done on a project-by-project basis. And you should never hire someone you deem unqualified for the job.
But don’t remain too focused on finding the best. And by all means, avoid the temptation of finding ideological doppelgangers who think and act like you.
Instead, concentrate on building a group whose skills, personalities, and backgrounds complement one another – even if this means making room for those who are less experienced. By intentionally choosing B-Teamers, your product stands a much better chance of yielding A-Team results.