I love testing software; so, why did I change roles and follow a career path that led me to be a Test Manager and later a Test Strategist if I loved the cut and thrust of breaking software? Because I wanted a greater challenge and the opportunity to make a bigger difference (ok, it was mainly ego). However, what I have seen increasingly over the past 5 years is a tendency for others to shy away from following the same path that I have trod and stay closer to the doing jobs (rather than the managing and leading roles). It is therefore quite natural for me to ask why this is so and why do we have a shortage of sufficiently skilled Test Managers.
Having spoken to many people around Australia on this subject, I hear one response over and above the rest – “I don’t want the hassle and/or pressure to compromise my role as a QA or QC professional”. When pressed on this, the majority feel that Test Managers are over-worked and under-appreciated. They sometimes add that while they enjoy the software testing arena the last thing they want is to be in the headlights of some oncoming Project Manager looking for a reason why he can’t go live with his project.
Many companies hire a Test Manager and then don’t allow them to implement strategies and processes that enable them to perform the duties for which they were hired. Many Testers sit in meetings and see their Test Manager coerced and cajoled into signing-off a software release that is outside the (previously) agreed acceptance criteria. The stampede to market is getting in the way of good old-fashioned QA & QC and this is leading to more and more software testers becoming disillusioned and wary of seeking higher office.
I never allowed myself to be coerced or brow-beaten into submission when it came to recommending what should happen next, be it:
- Another phase of testing
- A repeat of the same phase of test phase again
- A recommendation that the business provide sign-off with respect to the quality and risk attributed to the product or project
I would rather walk away from an unrealistic Project Manager or Business Sponsor than have daily battles with them over the readiness of a solution. I never wait to discuss readiness until towards the end of the testing phase, I talk to the PM and/or Business Sponsor as soon as I am engaged, so that I can develop a Test Strategy that will meet their requirements.
Good Testers don’t always make good Test Managers but we should be concerned that more and more Testers are not even prepared to try. So, how do we deal with this issue? I believe that education would be a good start. Not just for the Testers but also for the PM’s and the Business Sponsors. In the mid 90’s I worked for a fantastic company called Planpower and we were predominantly a Project Management company. What we discovered very early on in our existence was that most of our clients were really bad at being stakeholders and sponsors for the projects they’d hired us to deliver. So what we did was to develop a series of half-day training courses to educate them in how to be effective in their roles. This reduced the possibility of our projects failing and increased our clients understanding of how to run successful projects. Guess what? In the 5 years I spent at Planpower we had a zero failure rate – and during that period we took on what was the highest risk project in the country at the time (a three-way bank merger) and successfully delivered it. No bad for a company that had 5 staff when I joined it!!!
We also need to educate the Testers, so that they don’t feel exposed when they are in lead roles. We need to assure them that they won’t be alone in the firing line and that they will receive support at all times. We need to ensure that we don’t rush their development. I recently had a bright young Test Analyst leave my team because he thought we were developing him too slowly – he wanted the glory of running his own Test Team. I strongly advised against this, but he went anyway. He’s really smart and he may turn out to be a great Test Manager, but he will struggle and he will fail occasionally – I just hope he has a great deal of support when he does.
I have attended and spoken at many conferences and seminars around the world and the value of these should not be under-rated when it comes to gaining access to very experienced software testing professionals. In fact, one of our premier software testing conferences kicks off in Amsterdam on Monday (November 5) – EuroSTAR 2012 and I will be sad not to be there. I have spoken at Eurostar on four occasions (most recently last year in Manchester, England) and attended as a delegate another three times and every time I learn an amazing amount about how to manage and strategise testing outcomes. Best of all, I meet loads of great testers who share their experiences and passion.
Test Management is an amazingly rewarding job and I encourage as many of you as possible who want to try it to grab the opportunity with both hands.