The final exit of the test manager?

Last week I attended the autumn event by TestNet. This was an awesome event (as always!) where Leon Bosma did a interesting talk on the role of the test manager in the future with the title “Test Manager: the final exit”. His slides can be found here (in dutch).

In his presentation, he focused on the question what makes a manager? He used the model of Quinn as the basis for all tasks/roles of a manager. Then he compares these tasks to the testing activities according to TMap. In this part of his talk he covers the role description, tasks in testing and its importance to the tester. Then he talked about the developments in the testing profession covering developments in approach, the testing craft itself and the systems under test. The latter coincided with the theme of this event “The Cloud”. In the last part of his talk Leon gives his view on the impact of these developments on the role of a test manager. I have summarized them in the table below.

Role From To
Director He determines what I should do I’ll decide what to do in consultation
Producer He makes sure I can do my job The team make sure we can our job
Innovator He comes up with new solutions We come up with new solutions
Broker He makes the stakeholders happy The actors make each other happy
Facilitator He inspires the team We inspire and build the team
Mentor He teaches me the craft I learn from other specialists
Coordinator He decides what to do when I decide in coorperation the team what to do when
Monitor He sees to it that I do the right things The team ensures that I do what is needed

So, is the test manager a dying breed or not? I think they are! With developments like agile it is obvious that the team will be more responsible to do planning, coordination and determine the test strategy. For that we no longer need test managers. I never really understood the role of a test manager in many projects. Why should we divide the role of the tester in test executer, test analyst and test manager? We don’t do this in the other disciplines in IT, do we?

I think it has to do two major reasons:
1. The immaturity of the testers and therefore the (wrong?) interpretation of the role tester
2. The career path in many organizations

Immaturity
A good tester IMHO “deals” with all aspects of his job, maybe in consultation with the project manager. The tester controls the entire process from writing test plans containing an appropriate strategy to the reporting to the Steering Committee. I know many testers who find it scary to facilitate a workshop (for example, product risk mapping) or to give a presentation (e.g. reporting to the steering committee). The unfamiliarity of the testing craft by other IT professionals makes it worse. Testing is a difficult discipline but most people in IT do not recognize that. A project manager is often unable to make a good estimate of the testing activites is his project. Let alone that he is capable of creating a proper test strategy. Acceptance criteria are very difficult to determine and test managers are often asked to take care of this.

Good testing is quite difficult. Traditionally, business analysts and developers have a relatively easy job. The analyst has only a few dependencies: he talks with stakeholders and writes that down. The developer only needs a development environment and he can do his work. Testing is often much harder: always at the end, started too late with fixed deadlines, organizing various test environments, the many procedures your organization has to prepare acceptance environments, different user groups who should be involved in testin, etc. A lot of arranging and organizing to do! Hiring a test manager is an easy thing to do. Especially if there are people you think the testing itself is not as interesting. Or even worse: if you are not so good at your craft… It is easy to grow (read: flee) towards coordination.

The interpretation of the test role
In a situation where dedicated testers are present, test managers are often needless. Some time ago I worked as a test manager at a customer. In that organization a group test managers were the only “testers”. Most of the actual testing was done by the functional application managers and the users. The test managers did the coordination, wrote test plans, made sure that the testing went as smoothly as possible and were supposted to coach the users. In my opinion this organization of testing is terrible. Sure, users are involved, but testing is a profession and that cannot be delegated to untrained users. Writing requirements or programming is also done by professionals! The users in this situation had a short training. Enough to do proper testing, right?

Test carreers
But who did invent the test managers role? And why? I do not know where the test manager role came from, but I have a suspicion. Testing in many places is still a role that “used” as a stepping stone to another role in IT (WRONG!). Because everybody can test and testers do not need a lot of training (WRONG AGAIN!) so he can focus on the next steps in his carreer. The knowledge and experience of the the systems he gains along the way may well be used in the rest of his career…

Of course a tester grows and his role will be different over the years. I see many junior testers who are doing far less than a senior tester. I often wonder why. The junior needs to learn the craft and he can learn it by just doing it! So let the junior tester do everything himself. Maybe under the guidance of a senior tester as coach. Learning is making mistakes and evaluating them with your (senior) colleagues.

There is only one role: Tester! Test coordinators are in my opinion just senior testers (foremen) responsible for a certain part of the project. One tester is happy to coordinate, the other likes the content. Ultimately, a good tester has mastered his craft in every aspect!

Imagine that after ten years you still want to grow as a tester. What do you do? This is very difficult in many organizations. The salary scales of a tester will not let you. Test manager is a common role in which testers grow. This is a curse for our profession: it makes people want to make money and grow quickly by leaving the role of “ordinary” tester and become test manager. Without focusing to become a great tester they are busy becoming managers. Too bad!

So, will the role of test manager disappear soon? I think not! The test manager is still needed in many places to fill the gaps created by bad testers not in control of their own job!

10 Comments

  1. Hi

    You make Testing sound like sex. Are you for real. Of course we dont need test managers who dont know anything, and just talk of TMAP all day. I think TM’s should be fired and allow testers do all the work. Test Managers cant even test these days, i have 1st hand experience with my line manager, and secondly, looking at your blogs, I would be interested what you have implemented in your organisation that has reaped rewards… My friend, theoretical and practical idealogies are very different in nature.
    Have a good day
    Love from India

    • Ali, testing IS like sex! In my context it is, but what where you trying to tell me?

      I am not sure what you mean with “I would be interested what you have implemented in your organisation that has reaped rewards”. Can you please explain?

      I fully agree that theoretical and practical idealogies are very different in nature. That is why I think test managers will always be necessary.

  2. Hi Huib
    Just read your paragraph “Traditionally, business analysts and developers have a relatively easy job. The analyst has only a few dependencies: he talks with stakeholders and writes that down”

    What a load of nonsense! Where did you conclude this from? You obviously dont understand how the project lifecycle works. ha bloody ha:-)

  3. Hi, interesting blog. I agree with Darren that there are good and bad managers, same as there are good or bad testers / developers / accountants / etc.

    If you remove the role of the test manager you’re likely to leave a gap. A role of something usually means “a collection of tasks” that this person does. So if you remove the role these tasks have to be picked up by someone else. If people have the skill AND the willingness you don’t need that role. Many startup companies work that way, the tasks are shared, there just aren’t enough people to have separate titles of BA, developer, development manager, tester, test manager, etc.
    We don’t have the role of Project Manager. Shock, horror I hear you say. What that means is that the tasks will need to be picked up by people working on the project. If they do the project works well. If not…

    Jean-Paul,
    interesting thoughts but I’d disagree with the notion of having several levels of testers or developers. IMHO career progression based on titles is an illusion. Does that mean that a senior always knows more in all areas than an intermediate or junior person? I would say that this can’t be reliably and objectively measured and leaves the system open for politics.
    I’d prefer a flat structure where people work on tasks based on their experience. Additional tasks, i.e. training less experienced people are added as experience grows. As long as the pursuit of more knowledge and work well done is recognised (and that’s important) there’s no need for having separate job titles that only provide the illusion of recognition in my book.

    • Hi Thomas,

      The sequence I proposed from junior, intermediate, senior to expert was not meant as a progression on titles. It is a way of modelling the growing experience, achievements and expertise one can have in his/hers craft. Something to be reckognized not by an HR employee but your peers. I symphatize with your idea of a flat structure. I just do not see the rest of the (IT) world ready for it.

  4. Fantastic article. While I can’t say I agree with everything said, I do think you make some fantastic points.

    You could also consider the role a trap to some extent. You might feel by being a manager you get the best of both worlds, only to find yourself doing something that is far from testing, or perhaps in some cases taking testing to a higher level.

    Good managers, coach, motivate, listen to fresh ideas and pin point the gaps missed by their teams. They build fantastic teams of testers and push for awareness in product quality.

    Poor managers dictate, enforce, structure and distance themselves as far away from blame as possible.

    Perhaps the problem is that there are very few good test managers around, so people aren’t exposed to the benefits they can bring to a project. I’ve had the chance to work under a fantastic manager in the past and can fully appreciate the benefits he brought to the project.

    It is a shame though I agree, that the rush for equal pay in the world of IT, often sees a lot of potential in good testers lost to the world.

  5. Hi Huib,

    I quiet agree with your reasoning that there is no actual necessity to have test managers as a separate role. I much prefer to have the following more general division of craftsmanship in IT:
    Junior Architect / Designer / Developer / Tester / Etc.
    Intermediate Architect / Designer / Developer / Tester / Etc.
    Senior Architect / Designer / Developer / Tester / Etc.
    Expert Architect / Designer / Developer / Tester / Etc.

    With each level the tasks they perform would intensify, change or grow in number.
    And with each level the skills needed to do so would increase and be of a different level accordingly. All in all the tasks needed to accomplish a project in a specific context would be fulfilled, as necessary, by the rolls and skill levels needed.

    So testers would follow a line of personal development and career more like any other role in IT. More so their behaviour would be similar also. So they would no longer write plans and reports none of the other IT roles do (Test Plan, Test Report, Bug Report, etc.). Reporting such content should be just as much a team effort as the actual development of software. This by the way contradicts your Immaturity section where you, in spite of the tenor of you post, still assign such specific tasks to testers.

    To conclude: I aggree but I would go a step further and integrate testers into IT completely. Something which by the way goes against the grain of many test methodologies, but thats a different story…

    Regards,

    Arborosa

  6. Astrid Claessen

    October 8, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    So actually you are saying that test managers are a bit like other “middle” managers…. their job should not exist if everyone else was doing a good job….

    • I’d agree with this; you could say the same for all disciplines – why do we need development managers? Or BA managers? Or project managers for that matter? The main reason managers exist is to coordinate different teams and ensure consistent approach.

      If you have an organisation with 20 different project teams, how can you ensure that they are all working in the same way, towards the same overall strategic goal?

      A test manager does not manager the testers in a project team. They manage the testers in the project teams.

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