Blog: Testing and Management Parallels

Rikard Edgren, Henrik Emilsson and Martin Jansson collaborate on blog called thoughts from the test eye. In a satirical post from this past summer called “Scripted vs Exploratory Testing from a Managerial Perspective“, Martin proposes that “From a managerial perspective without knowing too much about testing, your sole experience comes from the scripted test environment…” But I think that from a managerial perspective, there is another place you could look to understand skilled testing: managing. I’ll follow the points in Martin’s post.

If you’re a capable manager, and you’re managing other managers, you know that there are things for which scripting doesn’t work:

Control. Managers guide the managers working under them, but everyone involved knows that managers don’t have complete control over what they’re managing. No script can capture the esssence of management work. (If scripts could do that, we’d have automated management by now.) Managers know that when they have some written guidance on how workers are to perform certain tasks, effective workers and managers alike must adapt to the situation and use their judgement. If, as a manager, you could script workers’ actions completely, they wouldn’t come to your office to ask for help, and you wouldn’t have to assist, guide, motivate, or reprimand them. You, the manager, have to observe a variety of things that cannot be anticiapted, and respond to what actually happens. You might have checklists, but you don’t have a list of scripted tasks. You recognize that knowing when management work will end for a particular project can be anticipated but not predicted with certainty. Indeed, that’s a function of the risks that you’re hired to manage and the problems you’re hired to solve. As a manager, you’re managing many things simultaneously. You have the freedom and responsibility to carry out your work in the manner you think best, and you grant similar freedom and responsibility to your people. Isn’t all that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Hierarchy. There is a structure to management, with different roles playing their part in the system. No competent manager supervising other managers would characterize management as “some people to do the thinking and others execute”. That would suggest that some managers think and other managers execute. As a manager, you recognize that all managers worthy of the role both think and execute, with the recognition that an organization is stronger as a collaborative network. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Scalability. You know that in management, you can’t easily bring in people who can execute management scripts that other managers have written. Managers need to own their processes. Getting new managers in the middle of a project would derail it, and you can’t take just anyone. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Management Software. As a manager, you know that no tool—even one that costs several million dollars—can replace your judgment. At best, it collate data and can generate excellent reports, but the decision-making is yours. As a manager, you’re leery of having your work overly mediated. When you have important but mundane tasks to perform, you hand off the non-sapient parts to computing machinery, but you apply sapience to planning, designing, and programming the tools—and you apply sapience to observing the results, to determining their meaning and signifiance, and to your response. When you have to delegate sapient work, you know that it can’t be performed by a machine. So you hire someone—a person, not a machine—to do the work with your collaboration and guidance. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Education. You look back on how you learned, and you realize that, whether you had years of schooling or learned on the job, you don’t believe in mail-order management courses, and you harbour no illusions that a two-day course accompanied by a piece of paper can teach you how to be a manager; nor can you trust that someone brandishing a similar piece of paper is ready for a management job until you know a lot more about him. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

What does Exploratory Testing (ET) include? Well, it’s kind of like management, isn’t it?

Empowerment and Self Managment. Managers perform management actions as they go along. Managers do not need people to design their actions for them. Managers foster leadership by empowering people to use their skills; guiding, but not controlling; granting freedom and requiring responsibility. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Taming Chaos. At the beginning of any management assignment, you can’t be certain about how you are going to manage, nor on how the managers reporting to you will manage. You have not planned everything out in detail before you start managing; you can’t, and you know you’d be fooling yourself if you pretended to do so. You cannot report exactly how long time you need, since you don’t know everything in advance. In fact, discovering what needs to be done is a key aspect of your work. You recognize that management is a holistic process, not a linear one. You will use your skills, combined with all of the information available to inform your decisions on time, scope, quality, innovation, skill, and learning. You will use feedback from your surroundings to gather the information you need to make decisions. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Scaling Up. When you’re hiring people to be managers who report to you, you only want managers. If you have people who aren’t ready to be managers, but who show promise, you’ll train and mentor them into the role. Not anyone can be a manager. It is hard to get “just anyone” to help out since you cannot use “just anyone” from the organisation immediately. They need to learn real management skills to be effective, which means that, among other things they must be given the freedom to make mistakes that can be observed and corrected in an empowering, fault-tolerant environment. That’s how people learn to become excellent managers:  through experience sharpened by mentorship. When looked at this way, management does scale. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Certification and Training. Multiple-choice based certification for managers is insufficient to evaluate the quality of a manager.  The certification doesn’t matter anyway; what you seek is skill.  To develop that, there are degree programs, and there are shorter skill-based courses that involve simulations, open discussion, and open-ended learning. Good courses are valuable supplements to an environment that fosters learning and innovation; courses that teach only management nomenclature are a waste of time and money. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Management Software Isn’t Management. Management isn’t done by software. Major software vendors have tools to support management, but the tools don’t do the management, and the tools don’t replace managers. Customer relationship management software is not customer relationship management; enterprise resource management software isn’t enterprise resource management. A real manager knows that it is what she thinks and what she does is important; that for her real work–the analysis and decision making–her paper notepad is as just as valid a tool as an Excel spreadsheet, and that no tool, no matter how big or how expensive or how powerful, is anything more than a tool. Isn’t that like being a tester, and like managing testers?

Excellent testing skill has much in common with excellent management skill. As testers, maybe we can use the similarities between them to help explain the work that we do.

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7 responses to “Testing and Management Parallels”

  1. Simon Morley says:

    Interesting post!

    What about a counter-example (maybe drifting off-track):

    This is the obsessive involvement and imposition of an additional layer of control into the unit/org where all (many small) decisions go via the manager. It's not good for self-organising (self-driving) teams and can skew the smooth-running of the team.

    Mmm, is this the example of a tester wanting to pre-specify every result and outcome of a test before it's executed – down to minute detail…???

  2. Martin Jansson says:

    Excellent analogy Michael! Thanks for putting more depth to the subject.

  3. James Martin says:

    Really useful analogy. Would have been even more useful about 12 months ago for me personally, but will definitely be sending this to a few of my old colleagues still left in the trenches.

  4. Rikard Edgren says:

    Good post, another brick in 'the management case'.

    Still, there are some concerns:
    What about middle-managers that aren't supposed to manage so much, just make sure the orders are executed.
    This thinking doesn't work if it is thought that managers are 'better' than testers.

    Maybe we need to sell trust before we can sell excellent testing?

  5. Vijay. Savalagi says:

    Hi Michael,

    As usual, nice thoughts. Always loved the way you approach a problem. Very nice article. Hope management wakes up after reading this post!!!

    Most of the managers feel insecure when they don’t see you piling up the TC’s in your test management tool. They simply use it like a dust bin. They don’t know it won’t works. I have seen this happen many a times. They even mention about this in meetings and AHM’s too, like one of their team came up with N number of test cases/per month/per resources and because of such an extensive scripting they found X number of defects (As per them X is a large number):-(. May be team would have done better than that instead of wasting time in so much of detailed scripting which won’t serve any one for better (Because no one is going to go and see the TC’s once they get sign off from the required person). Most managers think that exploratory testing is not measurable and cannot comeup with so called ‘METRICS’:-(. Many in the organizations need education on many issues I believe. They need to understand how things work before they manage the work.

    I have a very best example against the scripted and too much planning in testing.

    I was one of the participants in STC 2009 which was held in Hotel Le meridian, Bangalore. After all the sessions, we had some entertainment programs and networking sessions in the evening. Le meridian management had decided that one person will be serving the drinks, but that counter was so much crowd that he couldn’t serve everyone efficiently. He couldn’t even know who Michael is, where you were waiting to get your drinks 🙂 What happened next was that, they got to close the counter. I was very next to you and you said “Hhaa, for this vast crowd only one fellow is serving the drinks. Can’t management see this?”

    This is how the management is, most of the times. They preplan and go with that, without thinking much or without making changes when required. They want to script everything and every time. If management was well versed with context driven approach, then they would have come up with the best service with little change, in the above example. Most of the management has a single plan for many different adversaries, problems and they come up with these problem predictions before they know anything about the product under the test.

    Hope, management learns and respect what better testers do!!! Hope they will not count number of TC’s written, executed and the number of defects they log…


  6. I think also this should be shown in measurement. Testing efficiency should be measured similarly to management efficiency.

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