Recognise and Acknowledge Your Skills

square lashing

Lashing a Square

What you know and what you do is an important part of being you. Often it is required to rethink: What do I know? What are my skills? How strong are they? It can be about you personally, or it can be about your organisation or testing unit. I have used the below approach in the context of identifying “testing competencies” among 120 testing professionals and in relation to my own skills in times of refocusing.

Acknowledge the level of your skills

First let me tell you about the skill of tying a square lashing to connect two poles of wood. It is a fundamental building block of the scouting activity Scout Pioneering. Tying together poles let you build all kinds of scout camp equipment: tables, benches and other constructions.

To make a square lashing you tie a loop knob around the first pole. The rope is then taken around the two poles, crossing them first one way and then the other – thus making a cross diagonally across the poles. The end of the rope is tied to the other pole using a specific fastening knot.

I have specifically selected this to find something that you have probably never heard of – to illustrate how to approach skill levels. Prior to reading the description and seeing the illustrations you probably never heard of it, you were at level 0. But after reading about it, you have at least heard about the term – or perhaps searched the web for it. From here (Level 1) you need training and mentoring to tie any of the knots. When you can tie a square lashing without help – independently, you can up your rating one more level (2). Later on by writing books about lashings and knots, you can become a mentor, a trainer of others (Level 3). Ultimately you may master the skill at level 4 – you wrote the book, but also studied the craft to know where even the books are insufficient.

This 5 level rating of skills is nothing new, and perhaps you use a rating with more or less steps in your context. Perhaps it’s very detailed, with very discrete steps – or perhaps it’s just a guideline, a floating value between “a little” and “a lot”.

Google level Square lashing
Level 0 – No knowledge I’ll haven’t searched it Never heard of it
Level 1 – Mentee I searched – and read the results page Heard of it, can do with help
Level 2 – Independent I read the linked material Can do without help
Level 3 – Mentor I wrote material, that is searched Can teach others
Level 4 – Mastery I search for practices Focus on contexts

If it squeaks it will hold

Yet even master builders forget to keep the skill alive. For doing the square lashing and riding a bike, it’s usually up and back on track in a few rounds. Some of the tricks come back quickly, others require a hint or a “now – how did we do this” moment in order to recall the theories and practices. There are various means of doing this within the software testing field and elsewhere:

Heuristics: In the Rapid Software Testing course the term heuristic is introduced, as a fail-able method to aid in decision-making. Scout pioneering have a very used one: If it squeaks it will hold. That is applying pressure and weight to the lashing, if the lashing makes small noises it will usually hold.

Backtrack: Another way to get back on track in skills formerly used (at levels 1-4), is to step one level down. If you used to write the book on the topic – practice. If you knew how to do it confidently and individually – ask for help and training. Scout pioneering builds constructions in triangles; they focus on building a solid base first. Returning back to basics, and building a good base in software testing is equally important.

Just Do It: Jump onto the bike and learn. There is a learning curve building back skills again – it might as well be tested, tried and experienced. My experience is that recalling knowledge will come back instinctively and faster than expected. It doesn’t matter so much how long ago it was. As long as the brain is stimulated, it will come back instinctively. If the brain gears start squeaking – it’s usually a good sign.

Recognize and Organize Your Skills

In Scout Pioneering as well as software testing, there are many heuristics – and many areas of detailed knowledge that can be learned: Knots, techniques, theories and applications. These are the competencies and the skills – and we have to name them in order to manage and develop them. It is important to find out what we know – what we know as a company, group and personally. We live in an age of abundance of information – the key driver of introducing knowledge management systems is to find out “what we don’t know we know”.

The below model is directly inspired by the Vancouver Agile Quadrant introduced in “Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams” by Crispin and Gregory 2009 based on the original matrix from Brian Marick in 2003. It consists of four primary branches – as seen on the illustration. It is not a matrix or a table, but four directions with each their cloud of buzz words. For specific contexts a mind-map will be a better choice of illustration – try drawing your own competencies.

tester skills matrix

Tester Skills Matrix


Business Facing skills – WHO is it important to, and WHY? Who are the business areas do your skills apply in. Is it only one or two companies you know? Is it perhaps a business sector, like banking? Are your testers more like business analysts or subject matter experts? If they are then the business facing skills are likely the most predominant. Some example business facing competencies might be:

  • Banking
  • Telecommunications
  • HealthCare
  • Public Sector

Technology Facing skills are a common discussion point in setting up testing skills. In some contexts technology is a must; in others – not so much. To me it is the WHAT of the model: What tools, what languages, and what environments – be it websites, SOA, apps, mainframes and even game consoles. Example technology facing skills:

  • Mobile Devices
  • Mainframes
  • Websites
  • Specifically SAP

Critiquing the product are the skills that many testers excel in: Competencies and skills we use to test, check, automate and sense the product with. Test techniques, heuristics and all other competencies in HOW to critique the product, to learn about it. Skills that categorize as critiquing the product:

  • Exploratory testing
  • Predefined test cases
  • Testing in the Wild
  • Automated testing

A tester is someone who…


Supporting the team is about the WHEN and WHERE, the logistics – and the people skills. Competencies and skills in test management belong here in various forms including leading testers, developers, business people and so on into the testing efforts. Test processes and software development models and other ways to manage and lead the test efforts. Example skills you may have that support the way the team works:

  • Session-based Test Management
  • Tracking and Reporting on test progress
  • Developing test procedures and practices
  • Test leadership

Tying it all together…

Is a matter of applying a square lashing… that squeaks under pressure? It is a model combining the skills recognised and organised with a skill acknowledgement for each. As with all testing work, the results are mostly for taking decisions – while the key learning’s are in finding the results.

Your name here:











Public Sector
In the Wild
Support the team

About the Author

Jesper Lindholt Ottosen is promoting Rapid Software Testing and Context-Driven Testing in Denmark. Previously he has been Nordic Test Services Architect in CSC and senior test manager in other companies. You can follow him on twitter at @jlottosen and on his blog: Complexity is a Matter of Perspective

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