Why Test Managers go on Stress Leave

Being passionate about my job has got me into more hot water than a cooked lobster. I have the burns to prove it. When I first started out on my quest to understand software testing (and ultimately Quality Management) I took the approach that I had always taken with the passions in my life – I embraced everything and everyone and fully immersed myself until I understood the very essence. The result, initially, was pretty messy. But I did come out the other side with greater perspective and harmony – although some of you who have worked closely with me may think I’m being over-optimistic here.

Software Testing is often a challenging/thankless task with many bloody battles fought and lost in the search for quality nirvana and the higher up the corporate ladder you go the bloodier the battles get.

The fact that I’m even writing in this tone is an issue. Why do I think in terms of a quality battle? Because – that’s the dance I’ve been part of for most of the past 30 years. There are many stakeholders in the running of a business and many of them have an opinion (however misguided) on how much money should be spent on testing the software that supports and/or drives their business.

I’ve taken up the Quality/Risk mantle on far too many occasions for my own good. “We must do more Testing” was a line I used far too often before the grey hairs began to appear exponentially. That was until the day Phil King (an exceptional human being and ManU supporter) and I shared a taxi in Sydney and he challenged me on my thinking around software testing and it’s place in the business change universe. It was 1996 and Phil was the CEO of Planpower (my employers at that time) and he wanted to understand how much our company should invest in what I was peddling at that time. So we talked about all the stuff CEO’s care about when running their businesses. We worked on our blueprint and when I left Planpower four years later it had grown (from a fledgling 5 personnel in 1995) to over 300 amazing consultants and was being primed for sale by the four owners. Today, Planpower is still an integral part of the UXC Consulting empire.

As I have said before, software does not exist within a vacuum, it is fully connected to everything that exists and therefore it must obey the same forces of nature as the rest of us. Time is finite. Money talks. Great people are in short supply. The are far too many meetings that discuss bug numbers instead of risks and consequences.

Passion is a very powerful emotion that can transcend culture and beliefs. Normally placid colleagues can suddenly become whirling dervishes if you criticise their ideas or question their design. “Who made you the gatekeeper of quality and where did you get the idea that Quality Management is an activity?”

All too often the Test Manager takes on the role of Quality Champion without ever understanding the organisations strategic views on what is considered good enough or high/medium/low risk (in terms of running the business). How can we (yes, I am a Test Manager) then take ownership of the quality of the software when we are often not engaged until the solution is already half cooked? How can we assume responsibility for the quality of an outcome when we had no involvement in the original business meetings held to discuss a problem and whether it needed fixing?

When I wrote (late last year) that the majority of Testers have no desire to become Test Managers it is this sort of behaviour that the Testers see and want no part of – it’s a no-win situation…. If you are a Test Manager then your job is to manage (and possibly strategise) the Testing – not take on all-comers when it is time to triage the latest bug hunting safari. You are there to represent the efforts of the Test Team, not to pass judgement on the impact of a specific bug remaining unfettered when the “Go Live” date arrives. This is the domain of the business representatives.

I have witnessed countless Test Managers go on stress leave due to the contortions they put themselves through in the name of the Quality God. They lost sight of the independent role that Testing should play and became embroiled in the cross-fire between the Business Owner(s) and Project Manager. Provide the ammunition, but don’t ever fire the gun!!

Stress is something we take on, not something that is given to us. Stress less and have fun, that’s why you’re doing it – because you enjoy it.

Epilogue: As an addendum to this week’s Blog, I want to dedicate this article to a very dear friend of mine who passed away this week after losing a four month fight against cancer. Pat, you will be missed by all who came into your universe and I look forward to seeing you one day when my journey on this planet is over.

Dateline: January 9 2013, Doncaster, Australia

3 thoughts on “Why Test Managers go on Stress Leave

  1. “Provide the ammunition, but don’t ever fire the gun!!”

    YES! That is the perfect answer to the question you asked earlier…

    “How can we (yes, I am a Test Manager) then take ownership of the quality of the software when we are often not engaged until the solution is already half cooked?”

    In other words, don’t take the ownership. It’s not ours as Test Managers anyway.

  2. And how it hurts when a quality god smashes face first into the concrete! Your pearls of infinite testing wisdom are truly amazing.

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