Measuring Up

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Summary:

Prompted by a comment from our sticky-minded audience, this week Johanna shares some ways test managers can assess their performance against specific management deliverables likely to be high on an organization's priority list.

Managing the Project Portfolio
As a test manager, I work hard with my project managers and development managers to understand what's in planning for development and what's currently in active development. Some organizations do portfolio management in a systematic fashion, but most organizations do three to nine month planning at best. Actually, if you're in a young organization, it may make a lot of sense to do continual portfolio planning, since you'll be listening very hard to your customers, and you'll change what you do frequently. For older organizations with already existing customers, the changes are less frequent, and more systematic portfolio planning is possible.

How do you assess how well you do portfolio planning? Here are some measures:

  1. Are you able to rank projects, and assign your best people to the most important projects? Especially as a test manager, you need to put the most valuable people on the most critical projects. Of course, you need to balance assignments with cross-department learning opportunities and other hiring and retention strategic measures, but putting your best people on the most important projects is one organizational measure of a great test manager.
  2. Are you able to influence the portfolio planning, so that projects are not started, stopped, started again, with the associated context switching?
  3. How many projects surprise you? I'm sure that we've all been surprised by projects we didn't know about in advance, but if that happens to you more than once or twice, it's time to investigate why that's happening. You are much more effective as a test manager if you can plan to use specific people on specific projects, not just robbing one project to satisfy another.
  4. Another measure is how often you need to move people from one project to another. The more often you move people, the more you need to look at your hiring practices. If you have a scarce resource, it's time to change job descriptions and hire differently.

Hiring Strategy and Planning
How many times do you hire someone just like the last person? Or have you hired someone based on a tool they know or their GPA? Test groups require a variety of people, in order to thoroughly test the software. And if you have a scarce resource, it's time to develop more of those capabilities in your group. Some measures I've used are as follows:

  1. Do we have people who can create test strategies, test plans, and test cases? Do we have test architects, and people who are expert users?
  2. How many times do I need to use the same person on each project? Do I have a scarce resource in the test group? Have I planned to deal with the problem of a scarce resource?
  3. What kinds of flexibility do I have in staffing projects? Can I trade off senior people and less time against more junior people and more time?

Even if your company is in the midst of layoffs or if you have no open positions, you can still plan your hiring strategy and write job descriptions, so you can hire the most appropriate people when things ease up. Do it now, when you're not distracted with the time it takes to hire people.

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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