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Some tips for one-person software test teams

Last week I hosted a panel on time management for a local software testing group, IWST (Indianapolis Workshops on Software Testing). One of the questions asked during the meeting went like this: “I just started a new job and I’m at a company where I’m the only tester. Any tips for making that work?”

The entire panel was quick to point out that you’re never alone, and that you always have a team to work with. Brian Ball, a software engineer with Software Engineering Professionals, said that it’s important for you to realize you’re part of a larger team — whether they feel like it or not. He said you need to let the rest of the team know that you’re concerns are really their concerns.

Robby Slaughter, founder of Slaughter Development, a workflow and productivity consulting company, pointed out the following:

“What you really need to do in those situations is identify who are the stakeholders around you who care about the results of your work and the results of what’s happening, and find a way to leverage their expertise, their ability, their commitment and their passion towards what you do. Now that’s a problem that is magnified when you have technical expertise in some area of what you do, and the people around you — the stakeholders — don’t.”

Slaughter also pointed out that one of the most important things you can do is to help people give you information in a way that enables you to do your work better.

“You need to realize that you might have this expertise or this area of technical facility [and they do not]. You need to go back to the stakeholders and identify ways to communicate better. Maybe they need a form to fill out. Maybe they need a tracking system, your ticket tracking for the request. Or maybe you need to find a way to give them information in a more organized fashion, so they can find it more easily so they are not constantly calling you.”

Chris Wingate, principal software engineer for Liberty Mutual, summed up his thoughts on the question the following way:

“To me is seems to come down to two things…and those are trust and education. So you’re the only tester in your organization at the moment, and so it’s very important to build the trust in your competence with the rest of the team — with the developers and the managers. That way when you say, ‘Yes I can do that.’ or ‘No I can’t do that for these technical reasons.’ you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining all of that and rehashing all of those things that you continually do.

“The other thing is educating the rest of the team about what your capabilities are, what timelines are, and they go together… you have to educate your customer in terminology. Educating your customer is going to help improve the communication and help make you more efficient.”

You can find the complete audio for the panel members’ advise for one-person test teams on the IWST website. There you can also find more information about the speakers along with additional audio from the meeting broken out by topic.

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