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How test managers can shine in agile development: Tutorial, part two

In this second section of our tutorial on test managers role in agile, we look at key steps toward creating and leading testing specialists, choosing tools, reporting and providing organization. Part one covers interfacing with senior management; providing vision and leadership; and fostering cross-group collaboration.

Read Five roles test managers play in agile development: Tutorial, part one

Getting involved in test organization management and developing team skills are ways test managers can prove their mettle in agile development environments. In this second section of our tutorial on test managers role in agile, we look at key steps toward creating and leading testing specialists, choosing tools, reporting and providing organization. Part one covers interfacing with senior management; providing vision and leadership; and fostering cross-group collaboration.

Often test organizations are split into teams into a matrixed structure. Most testers fall easily into a project team, where they'll be busy until that project completes. There are, however, occasions where testers are hired who act in more of a 'Center of Excellence" function—for instance, performance testing, automation and tools, or security-oriented testers. These testers are shared across the organization, brought in as experts to play a specific role on a release. Organizationally it's often most efficient for these testers to report to the test manager, and the test manager manages their assignments.

In a large agile organization, there is often tension between the agile maxim of "do what works'" and organizational efforts to standardize, especially on tools. Standardization sometimes aids in keeping costs down (when expensive commercial tools are used), especially for tools like load testing tools. Standardization also aids in maintaining resource 'portability' (the ability for a tester to move from team to team, without needing to learn new tools). A test manager needs to be very sensitive to the needs (perceived and real) of a team, but can often be instrumental in maintaining consistent toolsets across the organization.

Agile is notable, among other things, for a distinct lack of metrics. Status reporting is as important to senior management as it is a burden to agile teams. The test manager can play a critical role in pulling together status out of several test teams, presenting it to management in a format they're used to. It seems a bit mundane, but in spite of the gains made moving to agile, many senior managers still yearn for detailed status reports.

Related to reports is the idea of consistent metrics. Just as the Agile team needs to 'do what works,' the Agile organization also needs to do what works. Sometimes that means a bit of a burden on the Agile team. With engineering expertise as well as an understanding of project management, a test manager can help Agile teams arrive at metrics which are easily generated (often times in an automated manner, if unit testing or defect tracking systems are in place). There are metrics that work – they vary from company to company, but they work—and the test manager is a key player in defining these metrics and automating the gathering process.

Finally, the test manager can offload the 'compliance' burden from the agile team, reporting up to senior management on the progress against various company initiatives. Again, maybe not exciting to the test manager, but critical to the company's improved effectiveness and efficiency (well, we like to hope each initiative is critical).

Handling administrative burdens: Testers and agile, part five

Even in the Agile organization, things like performance management have to happen. The test manager carries a significant administrative burden driving this process. This is a good thing – a good test manager not only helps his or her teammates grow in skills and experience, they also advocate with senior management for promotion and compensation increases. A good test manager must interact often with day-to-day teams and be aware of their testers' performance. They'll need to gather feedback from peers in order to build a fair performance evaluation.

As a test manager, my experience has always been that my teams are more effective when I screen candidates for open positions, and then pull team members in on formal interview loops. As a test manager, I have had responsibility for opening job postings, authoring job descriptions, and sourcing resumes for open roles. When the test manager takes on this administrative burden, it allows the Agile team to focus on their work. When decent candidates are sourced, the team can stand down briefly to perform interviews. The test manager provides an important long-term perspective to the hiring process, and also has a big-picture view of the team and knows what skills might be missing or might be well-represented by the current team, and can tweak the hiring process accordingly, to build a more balanced test organization.

Closely related to recruiting is the role the test manager takes on in hiring and onboarding new hires. The manager shuffles new hires through the hiring process, helps in signing up for benefits and such, and makes sure the new hire settles in well. A key role I have seen too many test managers overlook is introducing the new hire around the company. Finally, the new hire will achieve their highest potential as quickly as possible only if and as the manager assists them in setting goals for impact, development, and growth.

A test manager's work is to drive his or her team to higher levels of effectiveness and efficiency. Working in concert with members of the Agile teams, test managers can accomplish this in part by researching and procuring appropriate training. Whether it's bringing in experts in Agile testing or arranging for on-site training in automation skills, training is critical for improving what a test organization can accomplish. Procuring that training can be a time-consuming task. Also the test manager arranges for training which fits broad, cross-organization needs rather than focused on specific teams.

Finally, the test manager is critical in helping with employee retention. A good manager is aware of the interests and professional goals of each employee in the organization, and makes the effort to provide that employee with opportunities in sync with the employees wishes. With a broad, cross-organizational focus, the manager can also help employees find new roles when, without that assistance, the employee might have left the company.

Help the agile process work

A closing concept for the test manager's role in Agile is the idea that he or she is a make-or-break participant in the transition to Agile. It can take several months or even a year to successfully transition to an Agile process, and that transition can be painful—especially for testers! The test manager helps coach teams through the transition, aiding and lending support and encouragement, fostering courage, and assisting in power transformation. This is not a tops-down role, but a one-on-one, coaching role helping team members with courage, patience, and confidence.

Read Five roles test managers play in agile development: Tutorial, part one


This was last published in June 2009

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