Box of Justice / by AB Mann

My primary view of justice this week was through my lens as a manager. I’ve been a manager at work for nearly 9 years now and only now are some pieces starting to click.

When people talk about compensation - salary, heath insurance, time off - they use the word “fair” an awful lot. But I don’t think that’s what most people mean. What they mean is “equal.” They want equal pay (1). If I’ve been working at a company in a role the same as someone else, I should be paid the same. After all, we’re doing the same thing.

No; no you shouldn’t, not necessarily.

Every person comes to a job with different backgrounds, different skills, and different interests. These two people will apply themselves in different ways, make different gains, contribute to their job function, their division, and the company in different ways. One person may be extraordinary in one facet of a job where another is well above average in sever key responsibilities.

These two people will not accomplish the same things even if their core job responsibilities are the same.

In my division, we expect people to meet core testing capabilities. You have to be able to dig in and understand features we add to the software, to write a coherent test plan that others could understand, expand testing beyond the “correct” workflows to find adverse effects outside of the features immediate workspace, and you must be able to own that feature of the software and make it better.

No person can maintain a job in our division if they cannot do these things. This is bread and butter for Quality Assurance.

Now, there are other things that we can and should do in our jobs. Often, we add large features that affect multiple areas in the software. There are two approaches to testing the overlap (2):

  1. Email test plans or maps around to other application testers and have them test overlap independently.
  2. Get a room, plan a co-testing afternoon to hammer on the feature with everyone in the room.

1 here is a base expectation. Informing other testers is key. An excellent tester, though, will coordinate that integrated room and get everyone on the same page. It is efficient even though the organizer loses more time up front. But it has traditionally led to better outcomes for that integration point.

Ability to coordinate is not a base expectation for the role. And if t takes away from core testing time, why is it a good thing? If Tester A takes 3 hours to coordinate an integrated testing session and Tester B uses that same 3 hours to completely finish testing the integrated area herself, who is the better tester? Who should be compensated more?

If you look solely at the base role expectations, A wasted that three hours. B contributed more to their job overall. My job, as a manager, is to understand how those differing contributions matter, and guide my people to places where they can do what they do best more of the time. It is, then, my job to take my understanding of what they do best and translate that back to my bosses and show how it matters and why it matters differently.

When you understand the broader impact of a person outside of what they “should do every day” it’s much easier to qualify a person’s contributions. B may be a good tester on their own and finds dozens of bugs, but if A got all the experts in the room and found some crazy complicated code bugs, these differing outcomes indicate different qualities of contribution. You cannot say that, just because these two people put the same time into a thing they should be compensated the same.

Outcomes matter. Depth matters. Method matters. Skills and efforts outside the primary role matter.

That is justice in the workplace. If I am not categorizing, understanding, and encouraging the best features in my team, I am wasting everyone’s time and money. Similarly, if I am forcing a person into the QA box and looking only at the core QA needs, that is a potentially more destructive waste of time and effort.

That is unjust. Core job requirements matter. But good people leave if that’s the only measure you’re using.