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G(r)ood Testing Volume 3 – The role of test manager: It depends

  • 11/03/2014
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  • Posted by Derk-Jan de Grood
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A colleague said to me: “I’ve been in the testing profession now for many years. In each of the test management assignments I had, my role was completely different”. His statement was well timed, because I had just received a request from one of our customers. The client ask me to define the role of test manager. In the conversation that followed, we identified some crucial factors that affect the role of test management: e.g. Size of the test team, management style, quality of the team, organisational structure and the development method used. In this column I share how they influence the role of the test manager.

The work of the test manager strongly depends on that of the test coordinator. The dividing line between the two roles is difficult to draw and varies with different organizations. The decisive factor is the size of the test team and the number of test levels. In small teams (say 1-3 employees) you often see that one of the testers is a foreman. In our conversation we concluded that adding an extra test manager to lead the test team, only adds value if the test manager directs multiple teams. For larger teams, we see the foreman take a more formal role and he/she is often employed as a test coordinator. If the project has multiple testing teams a test manager is assigned. His work is determined by the organization’s definition of a manager. If managers are autonomous and have their own budget, probably they will have a focus on HR and financial reports. If they are not, they will be more involved in planning and other operational aspects of the testing at hand.

The prevailing management style of an organisation determines the approach?! of the test manager. Some organizations are managed from the content, other organizations are driven by costs and deliverables only. Managers of the first type will be merged into the project, and it becomes a full-time task. The second type of management style, is less demanding in time because it relies on the team more. This makes it easier to manage multiple projects simultaneously.

Regardless of how the organization defines the test manager’s role, its true interpretation depends highly on the quality of the teams. A good team that is highly self-organizing needs little management. Conversely, the test manager with a weaker team, will need to perform test coordination tasks himself. In addition, the work of the test manager is also influenced largely by the professionalism of organisation. After all, if things are well organized in the project, there is significantly less need for coordination. This will create time to engage with more long term and strategic management issues. The test manager can, for example emerge as a quality ambassador. He will enter the political stage of the project to ensure that quality and testing are given sufficient attention. Test Managers facilitate and make sure all requisites are in place. When cooperating with a large number of chain partners, the test manager makes sure the test environments and schedules are aligned over the different organisations and teams.

There is one topic I saved for last, and this is a factor of great influence. This is of course the development method used. In agile projects, there is no formal test coordinator and no test team. We see that some organizations have abolished the testing department all together. So the role of test manager …. well , what would you do if you were a test manager?

In practice, we see that the SCRUM team often has one or more testers. Sometimes one of them takes the role of foreman. There is also room for a quality ambassador, who takes on the responsibility for the overall QA approach. Many organisation have a test manager outside the SCRUM teams, who is responsible for the over-all strategy and organizes the test activates that do not fit the sprints (e.g. the E2E test). Matrix organisations have team leads that manage the testers or the regression tests. Obviously, a well-organized regression test will demands less coordination than testing within a new project that holds uncertainties around in planning, technical solutions, environments and collaboration partners. But even here there is sufficient space to be busy at a managerial level.

The daily work will vary with each organization. Unfortunately I had to give my client that one answer I did not want to give: “It depends”. Given the large number of factors that we encountered in our discussion this is not at all surprising. To me personally this variety is what makes the role of test manager interesting. It forces me to think about what is really needed in the project and what the stakeholders expect. Since there is often a gap between the two, this leads to an interesting dialogue that incorporates many of the above factors as arguments.

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Derk-Jan de Grood

Derk-Jan de Grood works for Valori as senior test manager and Agile Transition Coach. His drive is to improve the visibility of testing in both agile and traditional organizations, by sharing his knowledge and experience by means of training, presentations, workshops and publications. He is a regular speaker at conferences like EuroSTAR, wrote several successful books on software testing and publishes articles for the major testing magazines. In 2014 he won the EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award.

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