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The final exit of the test manager? (Magnifiant: exploring software testing)

On October 8, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Last week I attended the autumn event by TestNet. This was an awesome event (as always!) where Leon Bosma did a interesting talk on the role of the test manager in the future with the title “Test Manager: the final exit”. His slides can be found here (in dutch).

In his presentation, he focused on the question what makes a manager? He used the model of Quinn as the basis for all tasks/roles of a manager. Then he compares these tasks to the testing activities according to TMap. In this part of his talk he covers the role description, tasks in testing and its importance to the tester. Then he talked about the developments in the testing profession covering developments in approach, the testing craft itself and the systems under test. The latter coincided with the theme of this event “The Cloud”. In the last part of his talk Leon gives his view on the impact of these developments on the role of a test manager. I have summarized them in the table below.

Role From To
Director He determines what I should do I’ll decide what to do in consultation
Producer He makes sure I can do my job The team make sure we can our job
Innovator He comes up with new solutions We come up with new solutions
Broker He makes the stakeholders happy The actors make each other happy
Facilitator He inspires the team We inspire and build the team
Mentor He teaches me the craft I learn from other specialists
Coordinator He decides what to do when I decide in coorperation the team what to do when
Monitor He sees to it that I do the right things The team ensures that I do what is needed

So, is the test manager a dying breed or not? I think they are! With developments like agile it is obvious that the team will be more responsible to do planning, coordination and determine the test strategy. For that we no longer need test managers. I never really understood the role of a test manager in many projects. Why should we divide the role of the tester in test executer, test analyst and test manager? We don’t do this in the other disciplines in IT, do we?

I think it has to do two major reasons:
1. The immaturity of the testers and therefore the (wrong?) interpretation of the role tester
2. The career path in many organizations

Immaturity
A good tester IMHO “deals” with all aspects of his job, maybe in consultation with the project manager. The tester controls the entire process from writing test plans containing an appropriate strategy to the reporting to the Steering Committee. I know many testers who find it scary to facilitate a workshop (for example, product risk mapping) or to give a presentation (e.g. reporting to the steering committee). The unfamiliarity of the testing craft by other IT professionals makes it worse. Testing is a difficult discipline but most people in IT do not recognize that. A project manager is often unable to make a good estimate of the testing activites is his project. Let alone that he is capable of creating a proper test strategy. Acceptance criteria are very difficult to determine and test managers are often asked to take care of this.

Good testing is quite difficult. Traditionally, business analysts and developers have a relatively easy job. The analyst has only a few dependencies: he talks with stakeholders and writes that down. The developer only needs a development environment and he can do his work. Testing is often much harder: always at the end, started too late with fixed deadlines, organizing various test environments, the many procedures your organization has to prepare acceptance environments, different user groups who should be involved in testin, etc. A lot of arranging and organizing to do! Hiring a test manager is an easy thing to do. Especially if there are people you think the testing itself is not as interesting. Or even worse: if you are not so good at your craft… It is easy to grow (read: flee) towards coordination.

The interpretation of the test role
In a situation where dedicated testers are present, test managers are often needless. Some time ago I worked as a test manager at a customer. In that organization a group test managers were the only “testers”. Most of the actual testing was done by the functional application managers and the users. The test managers did the coordination, wrote test plans, made sure that the testing went as smoothly as possible and were supposted to coach the users. In my opinion this organization of testing is terrible. Sure, users are involved, but testing is a profession and that cannot be delegated to untrained users. Writing requirements or programming is also done by professionals! The users in this situation had a short training. Enough to do proper testing, right?

Test carreers
But who did invent the test managers role? And why? I do not know where the test manager role came from, but I have a suspicion. Testing in many places is still a role that “used” as a stepping stone to another role in IT (WRONG!). Because everybody can test and testers do not need a lot of training (WRONG AGAIN!) so he can focus on the next steps in his carreer. The knowledge and experience of the the systems he gains along the way may well be used in the rest of his career…

Of course a tester grows and his role will be different over the years. I see many junior testers who are doing far less than a senior tester. I often wonder why. The junior needs to learn the craft and he can learn it by just doing it! So let the junior tester do everything himself. Maybe under the guidance of a senior tester as coach. Learning is making mistakes and evaluating them with your (senior) colleagues.

There is only one role: Tester! Test coordinators are in my opinion just senior testers (foremen) responsible for a certain part of the project. One tester is happy to coordinate, the other likes the content. Ultimately, a good tester has mastered his craft in every aspect!

Imagine that after ten years you still want to grow as a tester. What do you do? This is very difficult in many organizations. The salary scales of a tester will not let you. Test manager is a common role in which testers grow. This is a curse for our profession: it makes people want to make money and grow quickly by leaving the role of “ordinary” tester and become test manager. Without focusing to become a great tester they are busy becoming managers. Too bad!

So, will the role of test manager disappear soon? I think not! The test manager is still needed in many places to fill the gaps created by bad testers not in control of their own job!

 

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