Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose: What Motivates a Tester

By now, I think most people have heard of the Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose (AMP) model of motivation that is put forth by Dan Pink in his book Drive. He’s also given a TED talk on the subject. In case you aren’t, here is a quick overview: studies show that the traditional incentive method (higher salary or bonuses) only produces better performance on purely mechanical tasks. In tasks that require cognitive skill, it can actually decrease performance. Dan Pink suggests that what motivates people in roles that require creative or critical thinking skills is a trifecta of qualities called Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

There’s no question that testing, as a profession, requires cognitive skills. From test design to the communication of results, every step of the way demands critical thinking and careful, deliberate cognition to perform well. A recent talk at the Quality Jam 2017 conference got me thinking about how I define AMP in my role as a tester. For each of the three qualities, I’ve listed some ways I see them manifested in my role.


“the desire to direct our own lives”

⇒Control over your tools – In my experience as a tester, I’ve very much valued being able to select the tools that I feel best meet the needs of my project. Being forced to use a tool that lacks key features or, sometimes worse, is unnecessarily bulky, makes the day seem longer and lackluster. Of course, many companies will want a level of consistency and will ask all the testers to use the same set of tools. In these situations I try to become a part of a feedback loop so that I can help suggest new ways to use the tools available, or even propose adoption of new tools.

⇒Control over your process – Not every project will need the same process. Being able to adjust how I work with my team makes me more energized and more productive. From Session Based Test Management to Mob Testing, I’ve been lucky to have the freedom to experiment with different testing methods. While some experiments have succeeded, it’s important to note that this must also include the freedom to try something new and fail. Even our failures can help us learn and inform our future testing efforts.
⇒Control over your development – No, that doesn’t say over your developers. This isn’t about code, but your development as a tester. Do you have the opportunities and support to learn and grow? Are you encouraged to learn skills even if they aren’t immediately or obviously useful to your current work? Being able to direct my own growth helps keep me always looking outward for new or interesting ideas on how to improve myself and my work.



“the urge to get better and better at something that matters”

⇒Building and improving skills – James Bach proposed that there are “Seven Kinds of Testers” that he has identified during his time coaching others. I feel like I naturally fall into mix of the Administrative, Emotional, and Social tester categories. Knowing your own strengths can be a big boon when it comes to self-improvement. You can choose to play to those strengths or use them as a way to identify the gaps in your skills. While I am a firm believer in the benefits of specialization, I also prefer to build at least a baseline knowledge in as many areas as possible. I’ve recently been working to improve my technical and analytical skills. I recommended the Ministry of Testing Masterclass “Multiplying the Odds” by Fiona Charles as a jumping off point for ideas on specific skillsets to learn or improve.

⇒Feeling like your input is valued – I think this facet can take several forms in the workplace. Being invited to planning or refinement meetings, influencing the development strategy by asking critical questions, and informing stakeholders of potential value or risk are all areas where a tester could feel like their voice was treasured – or trashed. Knowing that others want to hear what I have to say makes me feel like they see me as a subject matter expert – or at least as subject matter experienced. This can include both testing and domain knowledge.


“the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves”

⇒Serving the Customer – Some people work in industries that match their personal interests or activistic desires, but everyone works in an industry with customers. No matter what you do, the software you help produce is making someone’s life better somehow. It’s very fulfilling to know that I’m improving someone’s experience. I find that keeping this in mind makes my job brighter and more personally satisfying. There is a real sense of pride when I know I assisted in building a quality product.

⇒Pushing technology/design boundaries – Sometimes I’m motivated simply by the idea of getting to work with a new technology or design idea. The first time I worked on a responsive design website I thought it was just SO cool. Getting to explore new frameworks or UX concepts brings both purpose and a new potential area of mastery to my role.

There are numerous ways that the AMP motivation model can be applied to the tester role. Having worked in environments with and without AMP, I do believe that it makes a difference in the level of my performance. Being self-directed, feeling competent, and understanding the bigger picture of the service the product I work on provides helps me push myself harder and do better work. However, I do feel like this model is missing a factor – passion. Simply loving what you do makes getting up to go to work each day easier. If you think of any other factors or AMP facets, please mention them in a comment below!


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