The Art of Test-Team Management & Motivation

 

Background

There is umpteen information on how to manage the test process itself, but the less predictable area of managing the team is often neglected. Good management skills go a long way, but managing and motivating a test team does present some rather particular problems. When it comes to a test team, a real understanding of the personalities of testers and the challenges of working in testing will go a lot further than relying on a standard management approach.

A Tester is a Creative Intellectual Professional Pessimistic Thinker that breaks the software by uncovering errors, defects, bugs, failures and faults in it.

What’s the difference?

The People

A good tester thinks about software differently to a developer. They look at software and expect to find fault. Having this pessimistic concept of software is essential for a tester to be effective. Good testers like to find defects! Effective testing requires skill and creativity, and brings real intellectual satisfaction. 

Advice:

  • Don’t expect them to restrict this to the software! 

The Environment

Testing teams are highly dependent on others to achieve test goals. We need developers to deliver code and fixes, system and database administrators to implement the changes, business people to triage defects found and a host of others depending on the complexity of the project. This is a source of much frustration to the team, particularly when things are not going well or deadlines are tight.

There is some truth in the belief that the information coming out of testing is undervalued. Testing exit criteria are used as a “pass mark” for a project, instead of a means of evaluating risks; the information provided by testing can be played down, or dismissed as just negative. This can impact on the team’s perception of the value they contribute to the project and the organization.

Others’ Perception

A high-quality system may earn accolades for the development team. If there’s a quality problem, the question too often is “why wasn’t it tested?”

Answer to this would be:

  • Quality is NOT just Testing Teams’ responsibility. It is an integral part of SDLC, and hence every stakeholder in the loop holds responsible.
  • The expectation that testing can absorb development overruns, without a change in the scope of what has to be done is absolutely WRONG. It has the same magnitude of overrun unless there is a reduction of testing scope.

Advice:

  • The perception of testing as a low skilled, easy activity is a major morale-buster.
  • Others would feel the pain on their ass to know the level of “Creative Intellectual Professional Pessimistic Thinking”

Test-Team Management & Motivation Strategy

Unlike NASA’s 1:6 developer–tester ratio, Software industry uses 3:1 developer–tester ratio. Hahaha …

Set Reasonable Team Objectives

  • Realign your tester’s expectations about what they can really achieve.
  • No test team will find all the defects.
  • Slashing in schedule? Reduce the scope of testing. No long hours and extended weekends’ work ….
  • Set and Influence test-teams’ expectations to other stakeholders – Business & Project Management

Set Reasonable Test Manager’s Objectives

  • Sell the real value of testing to the key stakeholders
  • Communicate the impact of reduced timeframes and resources
  • Guide the team to align with the project objectives
  • Create a positive culture within your team
  • Set the test objectives clearly in the test plan
  • If hard dates to meet due to business imperatives, make the team aware, so that the project objectives as well as the quality issues are focused.
  • Nurture a collaborative approach with the development team

Align the Test-Team to Project Objectives

  • In reality, the systems do go live without successful completion of testing, with defects outstanding, even where the test team is convinced it should not.
  • Testers should assess the quality of the system and provide information for risk-based decision making by the project and/or business team.

Team Motivation

  • Reward ingenuity in the testers
  • Make team realize their contribution towards the company goals and to champion it for greater job satisfaction
  • Do NOT let testers slide into total pessimism about the project as a whole, and keep them committed and energetic through evidence-progress about the task in hand when they already believe it will fail
  • Manager should champion the quality issues despite the challenges
  • Incorporate fun into their working lives without compromising progress or efficiency.
  • Create an environment that your testers enjoy and take pride in.
  • Encourage flexibility, diversity and pragmatism
  • As a Manager, improve your estimation skills evaluating past estimates and refining them for future test projects.
  • Develop the skills within your own team, by mentoring and training people to take the place of those who move on.
  • Lead by example from the front and work with the team

Reality:

  • The essential skills of a tester complement that of a developer.
  • Testers believe they will be blamed for the quality of the software, and tend to develop a risk-averse approach, adopting a position of quality guardians, becoming rather myopic in their view of the world – They stop taking business drivers into account.
  • When the system does get implemented, testers get demotivated that their efforts have been wasted, in that the information they provide is not considered valuable enough to influence the final go-live decision.
  • Morale is impacted, and resentments towards development are nurtured.
  • If people happen to work from a position of constant conflict creating emotional overheads, it wears them down. If it continues long enough, then
    • They leave in search of a better place
    • Compromise on their beliefs and standards in order to get rid of the conflict
    • Credibility of the Manager is impacted

Conclusion

This article has been developed through trial, error and observation over the past 18 years of my experience.

There is no magic bullet for managing a test team, but hopefully, the ideas may help when dealing with some of the issues that arise so frequently.

The most important factor is how much these things are under the direct influence of the Test Manager who can’t always influence the whole IT world, but have the capability to significantly influence the culture and success of his own teams.

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