Q&A with Mike Lyles

Welcome to Q&A, a series in which we discuss testing and quality with guests from the world of technology and software development.

Some guests you may know well, and others might be less familiar. You should learn something new about each of them, and something new from each of them. Each brings their own perspectives and insights on quality and testing.

The format will be the same each time:

  • a little information about this month’s guest and what they are currently up to
  • some questions for them to answer
  • some answers for them to question (the ‘Jeopardy’ section where I will provide the answer and ask the interviewee to give me the question)
  • finally, the ‘Pass it on’ section with a question from last month’s participant and the opportunity to pose a question for next month’s guest

In the last Q&A of 2017 we are joined Mike Lyles. Mike is a QA Director with over 20 years of IT experience in multiple organizations, including Fortune 50 companies. He has exposure in various IT leadership roles: software development, program management office, and software testing. He has led various teams within testing organizations: functional testing, test environments, software configuration management, test data management, performance testing, test automation, and service virtualization.

Mike has been successful in career development, team building, coaching, and mentoring of IT & QA professionals. He has managed multiple high impact programs simultaneously, on time, and under budget.

Mike has been an international keynote speaker at multiple conferences and events, and is regularly published in testing publications and magazines. Mike’s passion to help others improve and grow, in the field of testing, leadership, and management, is his key motivation. His first published motivational book will be released this year.

You can learn more about Mike at www.mikewlyles.com where you can also find his social media links and connect with him. You can find more on his upcoming book at www.thedrivethrubook.com.

Welcome to Q&A, Mike. Would you like to tell us about anything interesting you’ve been involved in recently, any exciting upcoming ventures, or just what you are working on at the moment?

2017 was really the year that I felt that so many things came into perspective for me.  I spent 20 years with a very large Fortune 50 retailer, then 1 year with a Fortune 50 company in the financial domain, followed by almost 2 years with a major retailer that had been in business since 1888.  But my most recent job, with Bridgetree, where I joined a year ago as the Director of Testing and working with the Project Management team has been the most fulfilling year of my career.  Our company is growing exponentially as a marketing services organization, and I’m excited about the things we are going to build onto the work that we accomplished in testing in 2017.  In addition to my work, I’ve been privileged to speak at several testing conferences in 2017, which I will cover in some of the upcoming questions.

If you encountered a version of yourself from earlier in your career, and talked about how you approach your work, what would you disagree on?

In 6th grade, I took a computer science exam on an Apple II/e computer and I went home and told my mom that I was going to be a computer programmer, and I would be for the rest of my life.  Half of that was true.  I did study programming in college, and I started my career as a programmer.  I enjoyed programming and eventually managed multiple large development teams, but it was software testing that fulfilled the passion in my career.  I stumbled upon a testing training course when I was a project manager, and after taking this course, I developed the desire to build a practice within my organization.  It would be a year later before the company built a formal test team, but I had already began using the practices within our development team and sharing with the others.

You ask me what I would disagree on – I would disagree on the things I believed so strongly in during those initial years in testing.  I thought I knew it all and I really felt the approach and practice we had in place was one of the best.  We had everything from the process of planning, to executing, and finally, reporting on testing.  Obviously, the things we built with the test team were better than the organization had ever seen, but when I look back on how things were done – it’s nothing like the way that I drive the testing practice for my current organization today.

Major things I would tell myself in the early years of testing would be as follows:

  • Testing CAN start before requirements are delivered
  • Testing CAN be productive even if the requirements are lacking
  • Running test cases to completion and all of them passing does NOT ensure SUCCESS
  • Metrics which measure testers on productivity will change BEHAVIORS – not quality
  • Automation is not “testing” – it supports testing, and is important – humans test
  • The role of testers is not to find defects – that is a by-product – testers investigate & report

When you look back at your career so far, what do you consider to be the highlight(s)?

My first year out of college, I worked one year with a small consulting company before I moved to the 2nd job of 20 years.  The owner of the consulting company was my boss, and I learned more from this great leader in one year than I would ever learn from anyone else in many years to follow.  I’ve told him many times that so many people go all of their careers and never a mentor, coach, and friend like him.  I was fortunate.  This first job gave me a desire to be part of innovative, strategic, mountain-moving efforts.

Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to be part of “inaugural teams”.  I got to be part of a new Project Management Office (PMO) organization, and I got to be part of the start-up of a formal testing organization. 

Through my early years in testing, I was fortunate to be part of every aspect related to, or associated with, testing:  functional testing, test automation, performance testing, test environments, test data management, service virtualization, software configuration management, release management, and metrics & measurement.

In 2011, I began writing articles on testing.  This led to speaking at my first conference in 2012.  Through the years that followed, I have spoken at over 30 conferences and events, given keynotes, workshops, sessions, and talks internationally, and have enjoyed every minute that I’ve got to spend with the testing community in doing each talk.

When you think back to these highlights, what were the most important lessons you learned?

The most important takeaway I have from building and growing testing teams for multiple organizations is this… Everyone has very similar problems and obstacles that must be overcome.  And as you mature in testing, and learn how to deal with those obstacles and learn the culture, you will develop multiple solutions to making the practice better.

For the highlights in my speaking and writing on testing, I remember vividly the day I made my first conference presentation in Miami, Florida.  I remember looking up from my slides and out across the room full of attendees and I saw something for the first time ever in my career.  I saw the eyes of each attendee locked in on me – eager to hear what I had to say – hungry for what this speaker would give them as a takeaway.   It was at that very moment that I realized the intense responsibility on speakers to do the right thing, study their presentations, ensure their facts are correct, and to make their presentations compelling, inspiring, and educational.  For every year following that first presentation, I take tremendous pride in building a presentation with material that will give people something that can help them.  And I’ve enjoyed sharing my stories across the whole world these last few years.

The last thing I will say here is this – from my work, to conferences, to those that I have met in the testing community, no matter how hard I try to be the ‘teacher’ or the ‘mentor’, there is ALWAYS something I learn from all those that I meet.  Whether I’m their boss, their mentor, their coach, or their conference speaker – I always feel I leave learning just as much as I gave, and that is one of the most fulfilling things about being in the testing profession.

When you consider the many organisations around the world involved in developing software and technology, is there an example of one which stands out for you as having a focus on quality?

Through the years, I have seen many organizations that, at some point in time, showed a high focus on quality and a dedication to the customer experience.  However, the more I watch great companies deliver more, the more we see that everyone is vulnerable. 

Maybe years ago, we could pinpoint one organization that was bulletproof and was not impacted by quality or security risks, but with the speed of technology today, we see companies fighting to deliver more products and services, and to do it faster than the competition.  And when you are focused on the competition, you lose the internal focus on yourself.   Everyone that knows me will laugh with what I’m about to say – because I always find a way to mention this – but there is a book by Simon Sinek called “Start With Why” and a video which has millions of hits on YouTube where he speaks of the “Golden Circle”.  If you haven’t seen it, I always recommend everyone to search and watch it.  He talks about how that great companies start with WHY they do what they do instead of WHAT they do.  This resonates to me as a testing professional because I feel that if organizations focus on their WHY, they will ensure that the quality of their products are higher than the competition.  They will focus on what they can do for the stakeholders/customers, and pay less attention to the competition.  They will find that they no longer need to compete, and they will, instead, let their focus be on improving the customer experience.  Organizations that start with WHY, focus on what the customer or stakeholder gets in the end, will, without even realizing it, focus on quality of their products.

What do you think is the most common misconception about testing?

It’s difficult to answer this question with just one answer.  I have three:

  • Anyone can test” – if you’re in an organization that believes that testing is not an art and science and that professional testers do something special, then you must either help change the culture/mindset, or change your job. I take pride in being a testing professional, and I know for sure that the abilities that professional testers have, the skills they use to find the most obscure and hidden of defects, and the craft they use to research a product – these things should never be taken for granted.
  • The Role of Testing is to Find Defects” – as mentioned earlier, it’s a by-product, but it’s not the role. Great testers evaluate, investigate, research, and compile their thoughts on products.  They ask questions, they dig deep, they go in directions that many would not even think about going.  They provide their investigative reports – and allow the project teams to determine if their questions, observations, and notes result in defects, calls for requirements reviews/changes, or call out the product as a high risk.  When a professional tester realizes their role is to investigate as fully as they can given the time they have, and to report those observations, you will see a highly productive result in the projects they support.
  • I Gain All of My Testing Experience On-The-Job” – I recently developed a presentation which has now been presented at conferences as sessions and an upcoming keynote, called “Testing is Not a 9 to 5 Job”. I use the example of Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer that won more gold medals than anyone in the history of Olympics.  I speak about how that we only see the great competitor he is for a few months – but what we don’t see is the years and years of time she spent swimming, exercising, conditioning himself.  We don’t see the many times he failed and learned from his mistakes.  We don’t see all the time he spent studying to be the best in his field.  As testers, we cannot go to work every day and hope that the work we do there is what makes us great.  Study after hours.  Follow others on social media.  Read blogs.  Watch webinars.  Dedicate time to your profession.  Study until it feels like you can’t study any more.  Every minute you spend preparing and building the way you test will make your ‘testing toolbox’ stronger.  Talk with others.  Learn from them.  Teach the others.  But never stop growing in your craft.  You’ll see a major difference in how you are perceived in the community and you will see an improvement in the work that you do.

And now, the Jeopardy section. I’ll provide you with some answers and ask you to suggest the questions…


What is…one thing that can NOT be BUILT into a product as part of the software development lifecycle, and something that is the responsibility of everyone on the project team to deliver?


What is…a combination of curious evaluation, investigative research, exploratory vision, and creative thought processes – with the goal of clearly sharing the results of the findings?

Lastly, the ‘Pass it on’ section. The question posed last time out, by Andreea-Zenovia Popescu was:

“Which challenges do the evolution of technology bring in testing, and what changes will digital transformation bring to the testing domain?”

One of my most favorite Stephen Covey quotes is “Nothing Fails Like Success”.  The theory behind this quote was that the things that make you successful today are likely not the things that will keep you successful tomorrow.  Many years after this quote, we are living in one of the most awesome times in the history of technology.

It seems incorrect to me in 2017 that the iPhone has only been around for 10 years.  It seems unreal that the internet was formally created in the late 1980’s, and most people were not engaging with it until the 1990’s.  I found myself, this week, explaining to my 14-year old son, that when I was young, connecting to the internet required a phone line and a modem.  And the fear of a family member accidentally picking up the home telephone while you were ‘connected’ was a common thing.

As the world of technology becomes, what I would call, a “simplified complexity” (so perfectly simplified for our lives but with a great deal of complexity in the Internet of Things and how everything is connected), we must be able to adapt, grow, evolve, and become testers that look for new ways to evaluate, investigate, and disclose our confidence in the products and services we are testing.

Some people say testers need to be more technical.  Some say they need to be less technical.  Some people even say that everything will be automated and moved out of the testing organization and the traditional ‘tester’ role will vanish.  I say “It’s up to us to determine how the future will look”.  Strive to be the first to understand how to solve a problem with evaluating a product.  Strive to observe and report something that makes people say “how did you do that?”.  Be creative – always looking for new ways to look at the product from multiple angles.  Work with all of the cross-functional teams.  Drop the old ways of thinking, reinvent them with your team, and make testing, quality success, and user satisfaction something that everyone across the organization gives everything they have to support.

And finally, what question would you like to pose for next month’s participant?

What is the one suggestion / advice that you were given by someone earlier in your career that inspired you to make a change which made you more successful, focused, or completely changed your career direction in the most positive way?

Thank you to Mike for taking the time to participate in Q&A. See you again in 2018!

2 thoughts on “Q&A with Mike Lyles

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