The Entrepreneurial Test Manager


Ever notice that when IT budgets get tight, testing takes the hit? Or when development schedules compress, testing gets the squeeze? I have been angry, frustrated, and baffled by this phenomenon and I'm sure you have been, too. It's too easy to say management doesn't realize the importance of quality, because that isn't the whole story. My experience is that managers aren't stupid, just uninformed. That means we have to take some of the responsibility for our fate. I'll always remember the day I encountered a senior manager of a huge manufacturing company standing outside his office, contemplating a floor full of cubicles awash in testers working frantically. He turned to me with a puzzled look and said, "What are they all doing?"

Consider This
The reason development is usually spared is easy to understand: what developers produce is tangible. A new product is created, a feature is added, and a defect is removed. The challenge for testing is that testers produce intangible goods; you don't see bugs that have been removed and users aren't frustrated by performance issues that have been fixed. In short, the value proposition for testing is not as obvious. But that's not an excuse. We have to find ways to communicate our value and then make sure we deliver it...constantly.

Raising Money, Awareness
A useful model for getting and keeping commitments for testing is one used by entrepreneurs, like myself, to raise money from investors. It's actually similar, in that in both cases we ask someone—an employer or a venture capital firm—to give us money, time, or resources in exchange for a return on investment (ROI).

It works like this: First you identify a problem or a need in the market and you place a value on it. Next, you propose a solution and detail the time and costs of production and marketing. Finally, you estimate the ROI. If your proposal is right, you get the initial commitment. But it doesn't stop there. From then on, you'll have regular board meetings or produce investor reports aimed at keeping your investors informed about what has been accomplished so far and what remains to be done.

Entrepreneur in Action
An entrepreneurial test manager, who successfully applied this model, noticed that while projects were usually adequately staffed for the specific scope involved, the projects did not address regression testing. The problem is if you apply the usual ratio of testing to development for enhancements to an existing system, it fails to take into account the inventory of functionality that already exists. In other words, a ten percent code change still requires 100 percent testing.

The result, as he noticed, was that regression errors escape into production and wreak havoc. One recent occurrence affected the commissions of thousands of brokers and was fresh on everyone's mind. He took this as an opportunity to solve the problem and went to work.

First he created a proposal for establishing a testing competency center that would focus strictly on regression testing. He used the commission issue as an example of the problem, which was loss of broker confidence, loss of company credibility, and the hundreds of man-hours spent answering irate phone calls, remedying the problem, and issuing the correct checks. While he didn't have hard dollar costs, he did know the number of brokers affected and was able to extrapolate the lost productivity.

Next he prepared a budget for creating the competency center, as well as a schedule for which systems the center's testers would attack and what testing goals were. He was very specific about his work plan, including a strategy for identifying the areas that were either most problematic based on past issues, or were most mission critical based on business imperatives.

He scheduled a meeting with top management and presented his proposal, which was well received. He got the initial commitment and went to work.
Make a Difference
Instead of going back underground and expecting his results to speak for themselves, he meticulously tracked the costs and results at every step of the way. At regular intervals, he scheduled follow-up meetings and presented his progress. He tracked the number of man-hours invested; the number of test cases identified, developed, and executed; and the number of defects found. He also tracked errors in production. Although it took time, eventually the payoff showed up. Now his testing competency center is expanding.

The lesson to learn is that if we don't think we are being valued, then maybe it's time to speak up—not just at budget time, but all the time. Make yourself visible, make yourself heard, and make sure your value is communicated and understood. Realize that you're, in effect, raising money from your company to pay for the time and people you need. Like any investor, they want to know what they are getting for their investment. So tell them...constantly.

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