A Testers Hierarchy of Needs

As part of my role I manage testers and also those involved in delivery operations. This means thinking not only about testing and test techniques, but also about person management, and the tools and techniques that a good manager uses in order to have a happy and productive team. These two areas should not, of course, be treated in isolation since, in order to have a successful test team, it’s the managers job to ensure that the two areas fit well together. If this can be done in as seamless as possible a way, maybe even without the team members even being aware of it, then my experience tells me that you can hit that sweet spot where the team is technically excellent as well as being the sort of team that testers want to work in, and are proud to work in.

I’ve studied a lot of theories of management in the past but the one that I keep coming back to again and again is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At it’s simplest it seeks to explain the needs of human’s in their most basic form, expressed hierarchically in order of those needs.

So, for example, the theory puts forward the hypothesis that it is most important (and therefore at the bottom of the pyramid) that human’s experience a need for food, water, etc. Safety needs come next, followed by a need for belonging, and so on.

As a manager, keeping this simple theory in mind can really help. I’ve found numerous occasions in the past where it has helped me understand team members actions, and to help ensure the team is working effectively together.

But it has also got my thinking about how one might go about applying Maslow’s Theory of Needs to Testing. More specifically, how a tester in a team or project might experience and visualise those needs, as reflected by their status within the team. This lead me to produce this:

Testers Hierarchy of Needs

Test Mastery is a place I see the respected, happy tester sitting. Probably people like you, who interact and are involved with the software testing community, who self-learn and who are able to articulate the need for testing effectively.

This is just the start of the theory. I’m sure, as a community we can add more to this. What would you add to the different levels and why? Leave a comment below.



16 thoughts on “A Testers Hierarchy of Needs”

  1. What I’m more interested in is how certain activities affect the movement within those levels and to what end they are experienced. For example if the testing is offshored, the testers must adhere to test management with which they disagree, and so on.

    Also Test Mastery and not being consulted/taken seriously are not mutually exclusive. One is a personal statement, the others are to do with the culture of the work environment. Perhaps the top should be the freedom to express creativity, morality, etc.

    Just some thoughts to work with 🙂

    1. Good points and thanks for commenting.

      I agree, we can move between the levels dependant on circumstances and clearly activites such as off-shoring are likely to move someone lower. Potentially to a position of fearing for safety (of their job) as much as anything else. I’m considering Test Mastery here also in organisational terms; one can be the greatest tester but if the organisation doesn’t value that then it’s unlikely you’ll feel valued and therefore you’ll be more likely to drop down the pyramid. Not your own fault of course if your organisation doesn’t value testing but you could ask what you could do to improve matters. Or find an organisation that does value you as a Test Master 🙂

      1. Ah, so Test Mastery in terms of the role in the context of the organisation, both a need of him/herself and one of the organisation combined. In the light of that I now read the pyramid slightly differently, I think I’m starting to grok what you’re on about. At the bottom level you could be replaced by someone off the street, then you have job security, then you are seen as adding value (not just costing the company), then you have a position of respect.

  2. I like it!

    From my experience the safety level is more about there being a test team within the organisation(hopefully with active recruitment ongoing). I feel the PM consultation fits with the feeling of belonging.

    It would also be interesting to think about types of testing alongside this. Can you be a test master if you don’t automate/security test/performance test? Maybe there is something in there about having the freedom to learn and apply these skills?

    1. Thanks Amy.

      Great idea about the types of testing. I feel another blog post coming on 🙂

  3. I love blogs that make me think! To be equivalent to Maslow’s hierarchy, the lower levels would be base needs written in a positive perspective – these get kind of negative near the bottom. I would have written the lowest level as “testing is accepted” at the organization. Then it could progress to learning, respect, interaction, and finally recognition as a key component of the organization (mastery). You could also produce a parallel hierarchy on just tools, which includes some of what Amy was expressing in the area of automation near the top. Another track could express the hierarchical relationship with customers from app-only testing, into requirements analysis, and finally customer interaction through meetings and interviews. So many dimensions to this job!

    1. Thanks for the comments Jeff. I like the idea of a parallel tools hierarchy as well. Something for another post.

  4. Stephen

    An interesting start, and I’m interested to see where it ends up. What would you say the testers’ needs are at each level?


    1. Hi Iain. Thanks for the comments.

      Do you mean the personal needs of the tester at each level, or the needs as viewed from the businesses side? (i.e. the balance between the expectations that the tester has of the company or client they are working for, v.s. the expectations that company or client has of the tester).

  5. Interesting in deed! I think this also depends a lot on where a person is in his career? You could approach this by answering what kind of outcomes do you see when testers are fulfilling a basic need at certain level? Physiological level could be complying with work rules and basic processes to continue staying in job. The next two levels are already about meeting and exceeding moremdemanding expectations of peers and bosses, sometimes unspoken, to meet moral and social code. Unique value adding elements are coming into picture as outcomes of operating on the self actualisation level? That in my opinion is the real value add and innovation space. Not everyone will be interested in that but for anyone to reach those two upper levels in any role or job discipline the basement has to be sufficiently in place.

    1. Hi Jarmo – thanks for the comments.

      I agree, it could be affected by the point at which a tester is in their career. With time and experience comes not only the likelihood of greater technical ability but also greater confidence which I think is needed to move to the higher levels.

  6. Hi Stephen
    I really like the thought behind this conversion of Maslow’s pyramid. I don’t agree that this depends on where a person is in their career or whether teams are offshored though. I’m a senior manager in a global department of over 600 testers. We have teams in various locations, with as many people at each level in this pyramid regardless of the location they work in.
    We also have graduates that are fast approaching the top of the pyramid because they have the personal drive to be excellent.
    I would suggest the key for anyone to succeed in their role is a combination of personal drive, management support plus tools of inspiration to help them see what it is possible for them to achieve. Your hierarchy of testers needs is a good example of one of those tools.
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Hi Leah, thanks for the comments. It’s great to hear other views, particularly real world examples.

      I’m interested in your comment about a person’s career position. It got me thinking about whether a person’s career could be made up on a number of smaller pyramids, each encapsulating their particular role at a particular time. The off-shoring comments were more about the effect that off-shoring of work could have on those left ‘on-shore’. I’m sure this method could be applied anywhere.


  7. Wow – how did I miss that one – what a great article. I’m aware of Maslow and how it works in psychology.

    I think there is another trend there though – at the bottom testing is essentially mandated “as a tester you will”, but with higher levels the tester is more in control of their own destiny, and able to choose their course more.

    1. Thanks Mike.

      Great point about the control aspects as well, very important to how one feels about one’s work.

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