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Status reports can help provide software testing focus

Recently, I found myself struggling on a program to help plan and manage the testing effort for a couple of different concurrent projects. For both projects, testing is a critical path, and resources are tight. For both projects, there’s a mix of planning and execution activities happening within the next couple of weeks. I was just overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done and balancing that against my need to come up to speed because I was new.

When I start to feel like I’m slipping, I ask for help. I went to one of the project managers and asked for some feedback. After talking for about 30 minutes, wherein several good ideas were offered, she finally said: “I think it would also be good for you to submit a status report each week.”

You know the status report. It’s a project classic; percent complete by task, what you accomplished this week, what you hope to accomplish next week and risks to your part of the project.

While this would normally send of my this-is-busy-work-that-doesn’t-add-value alarm, for some reason I felt like she was right. It would help. A big part of what I had found myself struggling with was keeping track of what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, who was working on it and how I would communicate that in a structured way to the rest of the project managers.

As I started to pull together the report, I noticed that it started to change the way I was thinking about the project. It helped me clarify what needed to be done first. It helped me develop my story of where the testing was, why it might be behind, or why I didn’t think we were ready to start on certain activity. Even though I’m not a big fan of coming up with vacuous percent complete numbers, I recognize that in doing so it forced me to assess our status and develop a more meaningful story for where we were.

When you start to feel overwhelmed with a testing effort your managing, try the following:

  • Ask someone you respect on the team if you can talk to them about it. Sometimes just explaining what you’re struggling with can provide you with insights that will help.
  • Take that person’s feedback seriously, even if it’s not an approach to the problem you’d normally take.
  • Develop a clear method for communicating your status and issues to the rest of the team. It doesn’t have to be a formal status report.
  • Until you feel more comfortable with your status, continue to ask for help and continue to refine the story of your testing.

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