A Starving Man Cannot Learn to Fish…

There’s a common saying “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime.” This week my Product Owner told me “But a starving person isn’t in the position to learn how to fish. You have to feed them before he can be taught.”

It’s been 5 months since joining my new Agile team, during which we’ve been in a period of storming1 as we worked to deliver a large and complicated slice of value to the business. As one of the team’s embedded testers I’d been keen to hit the ground running and follow up on my initial plans to integrate Exploratory Testing into the team’s standard ways of working and make the quality of what we’re developing more visible. However, during this project it seemed like the team’s focus didn’t allow much time for Exploratory Testing and that there was a dedicated push to be “Development complete” rather than to explore the unknowns of what we’d been building.

At a retrospective for this work I mentioned that I’d felt like I wasn’t having an impact and was frustrated that I wasn’t able to fully realise my initial plans. This was when the Product Owner told me that “a starving person isn’t in the position to learn how to fish.” A team in a state of storming is the starving person; their primary focus is to stop the initial issue of starving, they don’t have the mindset or the energy to learn anything.

Sometimes as testers in an agile environment we want to jump in and get straight to teaching people when instead we should sit back and feed the team. Instead of trying to get the team to engage with testing models, templates and practices straight off the bat through coaching and pairing, perhaps instead we should focus on running the testing ourselves until the team is fed, happy and ready to learn.

1 – From the Stages of Team Formation (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm)