What do YOU know about Test Managers?

8

March 2, 2013 by Mike Lyles

Calling all testing professionals, practitioners, and enthusiasts!

I’m working on the material for my STPCon presentation “A Day In The Life of a Test Manager” in San Diego (April 22-25,2013) and I’m soliciting your inputs on specific areas you would like to discuss in the course. As I wrap up my own plans and ideas, I’d like to pull in specific input from this forum to add additional material to the presentation.

The following is the description of the presentation

Test Managers: the world is full of them. But do we really know what they do? Does your organization agree on the core roles and responsibilities? The answer is probably “No” for many organizations. This session will examine the day-to-day life of past and present test managers, case studies on their practices, review results of a survey taken among various test managers, and suggestions on which responsibilities need to be core in a successful quality organization.

I plan to have topics regarding Test Managers and Test management that are common among all organizations as debate items – specific discussions where half the room may feel one way and the other half feel another way.

Some questions that I am currently polling various groups on are:

  1. How would you describe the roles, responsibilities of a Test Manager? What are the skill sets that successful future Test Managers should possess?
  2. What are the challenges of the Test Manager Role in your view? Does the role vary a lot across industry or the core of the role remains same always? How important is People Management as a skill required for a Test Manager role? What weightage (%) would you give it in the role for a TM.
  3. Which are the major conflict zones in a testing organization , internally within themselves and externally with the other teams – PMO, Development , SCM, Release Management team, Maintenance team , Environment teams .

I appreciate any inputs you have or areas where, if you were an attendee to a conference presentation of this title, would want to see discussed.

Thanks in advance for your inputs and help!!  Please add your ideas, notes, suggestions, questions, comical remarks, or just simply your support as comments below!!!

NOTE: Come back in a few days – I will be posting a survey for which I will be putting together questions that both I (and each of YOU!!) have put together, for a survey on Test Managers, which will be used to share the results with conference attendees!

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8 thoughts on “What do YOU know about Test Managers?

  1. Peter says:

    Wow, what a broad subject. You sure you can get it done in a single presentation?
    Firstly I suggest you look at a couple of profiles and scan the list of jobs people who are test managers have done. Try mine. For each job I give a quick list of roles and responsibilities. That should give you a good starting point.
    The next thing that I think is important is understanding how people came to be test managers. This in turn will tell you something a bit more about what they can and can’t do. Did they get there thru gradual progression (it took me a while) or were they sort of pushed into the role as they were the best suited at the time? This, together with team size is very important to get a better idea of what tasks they are completing. Sometimes it’s just management, sometimes its technical and sometimes it’s everything. I recently had to cut some SQL code as the programmer was off and I had the skills (although rusty) to keep us on track.
    It would also be nice to gather some demographics. How long in IT? How long as Test Manager? Contractor Vs Permanent? Sex? Why do you want to be a Test Manager? Do you actively engage in process improvement or just follow current practices? If there was anything you could change with regard to testing, what would it be?
    I would be very interested in getting a finished copy as I don’t plan on going to America anytime soon.
    Good luck
    Peter Bolin
    An old man of testing

    • Mike Lyles says:

      Peter this is so very helpful. I have about 20 survey questions so far but I will truly use your ideas to add more. I appreciate it so much!

      • Peter B says:

        That’s what people true to the industry do. We work together to make our little part of the world a better place. Cheers.

  2. John Ruberto says:

    When I read the title, my first question is “where do I spend my time?”. Coupled with a presentation/story that our CEO recently shared, I did a quick bucketing of my time. (his story, he likes to say the single most important decision we make is where to invest our time. He has a target distribution between growing the business, growing talent, learning from outside our company, and investing in his personal growth).

    Anyway, your question, and his story inspired me to check where my time goes. My buckets are: developing my team (1:1, coaching, etc.) 25%, Focus on Product (status/planning/scrum meetings, testing, engaging with customers, reading customer reported bugs, etc.) 35%, Sync with other leaders (staff meetings, off-sites, email, meetings, etc.): 15%, Learning from outside (technology/testing blogs/magazines/etc, conferences): 10%, personal development (1:1 with my boss, experimental coding, training, etc) 15%

    Don’t know if this helps with your question, but its one way to look at “A day in the life of a test manager”. (actually, a year in the life divided by 365)

    • Mike Lyles says:

      We are in such alignment John. I can’t wait to show you the survey I have pulled together – these exact questions are most all there but i like your idea of “A year in the life / 365” – thats truly what it is! And by the way, i think our article on Ask THe Tester is coming out in another 1-2 weeks!!

  3. Partha says:

    How would you describe the roles, responsibilities of a Test Manager? What are the skill sets that successful future Test Managers should possess?

    People may have different perspective on what is expected from a Test Manager. At a high level a TM is expected to be involved in planning, monitoring and control of testing projects. As per my experience, the team both onsite and offshore look up to the TM to guide various individual activities in the right direction considering all aspect of the project. The most crucial part in a success of the testing project is to define a reasonable scope of work and a strategic approach to achieve the objective. The above activity is defined under the planning phase of a testing project. It is extremely important for the TM to understand the overall objective of the initiative and accordingly define a logical strategy and approach for the initiative. In practical testing project situation, unless the TM is deeply involved in the planning phase, it became extremely difficult for the team members to undertake the test planning as per the expectation from the business unless you have highly experienced test lead and test engineers to interact with the business. There are additional challenges to communicate the expectation and requirements to the offshore teams. A distinction between a good TM and an average TM would be arrived based on individual capabilities and the inclination to go deeper in to the project for self-understanding and guiding the team in the right direction. Another important aspect where the TM plays an important role would be the quality of deliverables. The TM would be the last check point before the deliverables are shared with the business and the client. A TM is regularly interacting with the customer and he is in a better positing to understand the customer expectation. Therefore, it is expected that the TM would be knowledgeable enough to review the quality of the test scripts at an high level and also review various deliverables from a coverage, comprehensiveness perspective.

    However, as I mentioned above, people may have different opinion on TM’s roles and it is hard to find a perfect match. However, from my practical experience, if you have a TM with the above qualities, the chances of success is much higher.

    What are the challenges of the Test Manager Role in your view? Does the role vary a lot across industry or the core of the role remains same always? How important is People Management as a skill required for a Test Manager role? What weightage (%) would you give it in the role for a TM.

    In my opinion, one of the challenge for the TM is to keep a balance on expectation of both, the end customer and the testing organization that he belongs to. What would be the exit criteria, how much back up support a TM gets from his testing organization to approve or disapprove a code for prod deployment. At times, especially in large organization, these are some of the critical decision a TM needs to take in a project where things are not very clearly defined. There are several other challenges for a TM such as lack of knowledge of the subject of the initiative which result in either no or wrong direction to the team members. At times, acceptability as a TM within the team became an issue. At times the end customer is highly demanding and illogical which result in difficultly in explain challenges experienced by the testing team. In large project, coordination and interaction with multiple support teams became a bottleneck for the TM in keeping the project as per the defined timelines.

    Well, I don’t think, the overall roles & responsibilities and what is expected from a TM will vary in different industries. However, it is highly recommended to have specific domain understanding in order to be a productive TM for specific industry.

    They says a good manager can be identified based on how smartly you get things done from others. And in order to get things done from your team members, one need to first gain their confidence and respect. In today’s situation, the challenge is further intensified due to multi locations onsite offshore teams. A TM must spend 35% to 45% of his time and effort in coordination and interaction with the team.

    Which are the major conflict zones in a testing organization , internally within themselves and externally with the other teams – PMO, Development , SCM, Release Management team, Maintenance team , Environment teams .

    According to me, each of the entity as mentioned above is a conflict zone. We need to accept that fact that in most of the matured organization, the roles and responsibilities of the testing organization are not supported by appropriate authority within the organization. This is a complex topic and deserved to be a separate discuss point of discussion. In a large PMO with business, development and various IT support representation, testing team have very limited say in the decision making process. From development perspective, there is a constant conflict with the testing team in terms of poor code handover or poor quality of testing, lack of knowledge etc. From SCM perspective, it is important to understand the services offered and extend of such services to the testing team. In large integrated project, passing the responsibilities on testing issues or configuration issue result in huge impact on actual testing timelines. Another major bottleneck would be the environment support extended to the testing team. In large multi-application integrated project, at times testing timelines are compromised or coverage is reduced due to major time investment in test environment related sourcing and troubleshooting.

  4. 1. How would you describe the roles, responsibilities of a Test Manager? In my world, the Manager is the person that supports the Test team that reports to them – HR responsibilities, career enhancement, issue resolution, etc. They also had a lot of interaction with their counterparts in PMO, Product, Development, Architecture, Operations, etc. I came from an organization where I had 160 Test Engineers spread out around the globe, so I relied on the Managers to ensure that information coming from me as the Department Head were followed up on and understood. Imagine having a monthly or quarterly Staff meeting with 160 people. Not everyone is going to speak up with questions after information was presented, so managers were responsible for that. They needed to both contribute to and execute upon the overall vision and strategy of the department and understand it fully, to the point of being able to support their team members who would be responsible for the daily tasks. However, that’s a large organization, in some cases, the Manager could also be testing along side of their team.

    1a. What are the skill sets that successful future Test Managers should possess? a) A deep understanding of the SDLC and methodologies that exist to execute on the SDLC that their company chooses to adopt. b) issue and/or conflict resolution c) diplomacy and professionalism to be able to speak and present to a variety of roles like executives, PMO, Product, Development, Architecture, Operations, etc. and have a high-level understanding of how those roles interact and produce in the company.

    2. What are the challenges of the Test Manager Role in your view? The role is viewed as “overhead” by some companies – especially where Test rolls in to either Dev or Product/PMO. In some cases, the Test Manager needs to advocate for the Test team and in companies where Test is not valued (or not as valued as other roles), some of our time is spent trying to convince others that Test is needed.

    2a. Does the role vary a lot across industry or the core of the role remains same always? It varies somewhat (less than 40%, I would guess), but depending on the size of the Test team will determine how much Management versus Testing the individual can do.

    2b. How important is People Management as a skill required for a Test Manager role? I would say very important. I am of the opinion that good leadership is something that will rise to the top given a healthy environment – I mean that, regardless of someone’s title, a leader is a leader. We have done a disservice to the term “Manager” by making the assumption that the title assumes that they are a good leader. A good Manager will be a good leader and a good Manager will be able to see leadership qualities in their team and recognize them in an appropriate manner. Understanding someone’s resume skill sets (Or “hard” skills) as well as their “soft” skills and making sure they are able to function as close to 100% and removing blocks when they can’t is a critical function.

    2c. What weightage (%) would you give it in the role for a TM. 65% in my organization.

    3. Which are the major conflict zones in a testing organization , internally within themselves and externally with the other teams – PMO, Development , SCM, Release Management team, Maintenance team , Environment teams? Internally, I’ve seen lots of conflict between automation teams/individuals and manual Testers. The general theme is that Automators are somehow “better” or more valuable to the company, but I’ve also seen Automators who believe it is beneath them to manually test something. Externally, the age-old conflict is whether Test adds value and whether it’s a true skill or not. I’ve heard statements like “how hard can testing be?” or something similar and those types of statements will spread like wildfire across the department. I’ve also seen and heard executives make blanket statements that “there is no need for manual type tasks because automation can replace the individual.

    Bottom line is that the Test Manager should be an advocate for the practice of Testing and should be a strong enough people person to recognize those who are excellent at what they do and to make the sometimes hard decisions to manage (out) those that need to move on in their career choice.

  5. jlottosen says:

    A “Test manager” is a role – the generic form of the role is the person coordinating the test efforts. Where the tester in the generic form is more into the details. Yet, persons wit both attention for details and focus on the big picture can both be successful test managers.

    It’s also a balance between leadership & management (See Testing Planet issue 10 + http://jlottosen.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/establish-yourself-as-an-expert-or-thought-leader/). Again both leadership and management is required, how much depends on the context.

    A test manager might not be managing anything (staff, tests) – he might be leading like http://testertested.blogspot.com/ 🙂

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