Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part III)

You may want to read Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part II) if you haven't done so already.

The Test Manager as a company approach

A Test Manager (or Development Manager or any other type of Manager with line management responsibilities and a certain degree of freedom and responsibility) usually has roles that reflect the whole company. This allegory works best for people who lead a team or department.

She would be the CEO, expected to prepare a vision for her team and provide guidance; the CTO to provide the technical vision and advise on which technology path is suitable to follow and which isn’t; the Finance section for keeping track of budgets; HR for hiring and firing people and providing guidance about policies in the company and so on.

So in very many ways a Manager is a company acting in a Micro-cosmos in their own little world. Of course the good ones make sure it fits with the Macro-cosmos of the outside world.

Not every Manager can be good at everything so what are you going to do about it? Delegate or get train yourself in the weak areas? This is very much a personal and context question which I can’t really answer here, it’s only there to remind us that the day to day tasks not necessarily encompass everything a Test Manager is responsible for and that some time and thought may need to go in these areas as we tend to forget about the things that we’re not so comfortable with.

One role that I haven’t mentioned above is that of a trainer. If I want to train, coach and mentor I should know a thing or two about the area in question. So everyday learning is a must in my opinion. This does not mean that I’m reading a testing book or internet articles every day although I try – often live interferes. Some days I learn a lot just by talking to colleagues, how they approach a particular problem and how their experiences play a part in that. Sometimes I learn how to do something, sometimes how not to. But it’s all useful, one way or another.

One thing that should be pretty clear is that you can’t manage what you don’t know. If you rely on reports about how the team is doing a lot is lost in translation. If the Test Manager and the Test team are located in the same building there shouldn’t be any excuse for the Test Manager NOT to sit with the team. That private office may look fancier and more comfortable but you could just as well sitting in another country. All the day to day problems, friendly banter and everything that makes up that team will be lost to the manager. In short, co-location with the team is a must, otherwise the Manager will not properly understand the problems that the team is facing. If the Manager doesn’t know where the rocks on the road to success are he can’t remove them.

It works the other way round as well. The team sees the problems and challenges and work that the Test Manager does. Overhearing discussions I had with dev managers, sys admins, etc has helped my team understand what’s expected from their manager so they could work toward helping towards these goals. When sitting with the team any small problems can be nipped in the bud before they become serious problems. Morale issues can be spotted early before they become serious problems. If there are talks that need to be had without the team that’s what meetings rooms are for. Letting people overhear all discussions also fosters an atmosphere of openness. It's saying “see I have nothing to hide” and we're all heading in the same direction.

Read on in the final chapter of Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part IV) coming soon.

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