What’s the Real Problem?
First, what problem is that manager trying to solve? She believes that the project managers aren’t listening to the testers and giving their concerns due consideration. Why is that happening?
Is the real issue that the testers lack clout, or do they lack credibility? If it’s the latter, it’s doubtful that isolating the testers in their own organization would make project managers take them more seriously, even with their own manager advocating for them. It might well backfire and fuel antagonism.
If the issue is low credibility, why is that? Perhaps the testers are perceived as always “crying wolf” about minor problems. Or, perhaps they don’t have the skills needed to test adequately, and they repeatedly miss important bugs. Or maybe they’re highly skilled at testing but need help with their communication skills.
It’s always essential to ask if testers are afraid to defend the information they’re paid to uncover about the software. If managers don’t make it obvious that they value what testers have to say, testers won’t feel supported.
What signals does management send the project managers? It could be that the testers convey credible information, but the project managers feel management pressure to deliver on time regardless of product problems. Does management reward project managers for delivering quality products or only on-time projects?
If testers’ concerns are being ignored, it’s likely that several cultural factors are in play, and it will be futile to try and solve the problem without addressing the culture. Simply reorganizing the teams won’t do that—and it won’t give the testers any more clout.
The Truly Independent Tester
If we don’t believe that separate test organizations are the solution, does that mean the concept of tester independence is no longer important?
I think it is important. A tester needs to be both a full development partner and an independent observer—able to dive in and collaborate, and yet maintain his or her identity as a tester. That can be an extraordinarily difficult balancing act for anyone. If the whole culture doesn’t support it, the tester will fall off the wire.
Not everyone wants to hear what a tester has uncovered. Sometimes the tester’s information could delay a release and cause problems for management. And sometimes, not listening to that information results in bigger and more expensive problems.
It’s possible that a separate reporting stream for testers might still be useful in some circumstances. By itself, though, organizational independence will not guarantee that testers can uncover and communicate their information without fear to managers who will listen.
Instead, I suggest that tester independence is a state of mind—one that every healthy software development culture encourages and nurtures.