Staying Competitive in Software Testing | TechWell

Staying Competitive in Software Testing

Working in your own little bubble isn’t really an option if you hope to succeed in today's world. In order to stay competitive, you need to create a solid game plan.

Michael Porter is the Harvard Business School professor behind the Five Forces Analysis for assessing competition. In his book Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors, he identifies three tactics to gain a competitive business advantage: price, niche (addressing a particular group’s needs), and differentiation (doing things better in some way).

I would suggest against trying to be competitive based on price. The world system pushes us to compete on cost. That is good for the customer, and sometimes you can come up with an innovation that leads to less overhead. Most of the time, though, competing by cost means you eat the difference—and there is always someone willing to work for less.

The second approach, serving a niche audience, sort of happens automatically if you work with the same customers for a while. You get to know their needs, business processes, and internal code words, and you can predict consequences others do not even understand. Your customers say things like “I don’t know what we would do without you.”

That’s great, until a layoff comes or you want to make a change. If you work in the financial sector in New York or the automotive industry in Detroit, that might not be a problem. But if you don’t want to move and your niche industry is not centrally located, it can lead to challenges.

So, let’s talk about differentiation.

Imagine five testers working on an e-commerce software team. A month after go-live, the logs show a huge amount of traffic from Safari run on Apple computers. Not only that, the Safari users are spending a disproportionate amount of money. The team is all using standard Windows PCs, so a leader shouts, “We’d better get a Mac in here.”

Three team members talk about the process. They create a ticket that needs to be approved and sent to purchasing to get a Mac in four to six weeks.

The fourth team member goes on eBay and says, “I can have a Mac shipped here by Friday. It will be slow but current. Can I get a corporate card or expense it myself?”

The fifth team member says, “I can run home and get my Mac and be back in twenty minutes.”

Let’s stop here and think. When the project moves into maintenance mode and only a fraction of the testers stick around, who is going to get renewed? Who is going to get a raise?

Given Porter’s three ways to gain a competitive advantage, the best approach to me seems to be finding ways to be different and add value.

Don’t worry about everyone reading this and getting cutthroat attitudes; I suspect it will only inspire a handful of readers to give real thought about what to improve, how to improve, and how to explain that difference in a meaningful way.

Will you be one of them?

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