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The future of the test manager in IT projects

Now that 2016 is coming to an end, I share with you some observations I made in the past year concerning testing in IT projects. At first glance these observations seem disconnected, but I started to realise that they were forebodes of general developments in the IT world and will also have their impact on IT testing and the role of the test manager. Connecting the observations also shed some light for me on how a test manager can stay afloat in a rapidly changing IT landscape.

The first observation was that during meetings participants very often mentioned they were busy testing and measuring by the number of times they mentioned it, these testing activities seemed to take a considerable amount of their time and effort and could be considered an integral part of their daily job activities. Yet these testing activities were not (always) part of their job description or project role. It could be that these testing activities were not mentioned or recognized in a test plan, let alone be known in advance to the test manager.

The second observation was that a lot of focus in IT testing is geared towards aligning testing activities with developments around continuous delivery and iterative development. The result of these new developments is that more and more energy within companies is geared towards working ‘agile’ and subsequently test automation becomes a hot and interesting subject, partly because a lot of the testing work now directly comes into the hands of the developers.

The test manager should have or develop a fine radar to pick up the signals about project members running their own tests. Not in a negative manner as if the test manager missed out on something in his planning phase but by understanding that testing is a very natural way of how humans make progress and how the human mind works. So testing is a basic human quality that enables us to get forward with IT projects and the test manager will never (nor has to) be able to catch all the testing activities during the IT project or in advance during the planning phase.

The tester on the other hand might not always be completely aware of the significance of the testing activities. He or she may think that the result of the test is not essential for the progress of the project (other stakeholders might hold a different opinion). Then there are two other effects that the test manager needs to be aware of. First, if the test was performed to see if the idea (or read: service, product, piece of code) works and the test is negative, then the tester might get shy to communicate the failure of the tests. It becomes personal and therefore not an experience to share broadly and be proud of.

If the test result was positive the tester could boast about the results, while the test might have a not too big relevance for the final outcome of the IT project. This is where the importance of the test manager is at stake. He is one of the few project members with the necessary objectivity who can valuate these ‘under the radar’ tests within the project and determine the attention they need as well as the level and range in which these test results should be communicated.

Gone are the days when the test manager could write his impressive test plan (that only few would read from beginning to end) and gone are the days when the test manager could claim time slots to execute with his team the carefully designed and well prepared test cases.

So what is the connection between the first and the second observation? With the current developments in IT projects, the test manager will no longer be able to completely influence or comprehend all test activities within an IT project before the project starts. For a test manager to be successful within a project, the test manager will have to develop a sensitivity to the signals about on going and intended test activities.

The number of implicit tests within IT projects appeal to elementary human qualities that are essential for progress in general and in our case progress within the IT project. They stimulate the participation of the tester, yet there needs to be an independent source who eventually can judge, evaluate and inform about these tests. The outcome of this process will determine how the test manager can support the testers (with necessary facilities and resources) and how information about the test results could be distributed among the stakeholders. These will be important features for the test manager to survive in an IT industry dominated by rapid changes in methodologies and views concerning the deliverance of IT projects. He can rely less and less on his own plans and methods but will have to bring the information from test results in the projects to the surface.

Music

Why does music play such a significant role in our lives? Do we know anyone who does not like music to some extent?

As humans we were blessed with the gift of creating, performing and passively enjoying music and are the only creatures on this planet who have all these capacities. As long as man inhabited this world he created music. Through scientific research we know that music is a powerful tool in the development of a child’s brain and the brain in general. Music is an important means to identify you as a human, especially when you are in adolescent age. Music can play an important aspect to determine the social group you want to be part of.

Music can give us consolation remembering past time experiences, our beloved ones or special occasions in our lives. Music can make us relaxed or make us aroused and lift up our spirits. Music brings us together and music makes us dance. Mathematicians have dealt with music because music and sound are bound to the laws of nature and therefor is a grateful subject for mathematicians since the days of the Greek and Roman physicians in Antiquity.

For musicians music can be a means to seek popularity. Or even look for a larger than life perspective, especially since mankind discovered ways to annotate and record music, so music could be reproduced for future performances Those could take place long after its creator had deceased. Yet music is -like all forms of art- vulnerable and each generation creates its own music hoping it will stay relevant. Those chances are unfortunately minimal: we only have to look back at our own history to know that music recorded in the 1930s through 1980s is probably relatively unknown to most of the audience that nowadays listen to music. If we travel back further in time we find that only a handful of the compositions of composers from the Middle Ages and Modern Age are still being performed and listened to in our time (think Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and the likes). Music created before that time is practically lost to us, although there are a few exceptions.

When the industrial and scientific revolution in Europe boomed at the end of the 18th century it also had a profound impact on composers, musicians and the way the listener experience music. Composers of music no longer needed to make their income from physical performances but could arrange their compositions for sheet music. Musicians from anywhere could buy those sheet music and perform the music without ever having heard the original from the composer. Early on in the 20th century new possibilities became available that even would take the reproduction music to a new level. Music could now be recorded and reproduced. First through the use of mechanical reproduction vinyl, later through digital media like the CD and in our current era through the use of streaming media.

On a personal level I always had a great interest in sound and music, an interest that went beyond that of the average interested musician or listener. As a young person I mastered different instruments like flute, piano and guitar. Meanwhile I discovered I found it more interesting to record the results of music making than to play music together with other musicians or to perform live. Over the years I always felt intrigued and inspired by how instruments sound, from the most simple percussion instruments to complex electronic instruments (and everything in between). Some of my favorite sounding instruments are: the gamelan, the dulcimer, pipe organ, celesta, Moog and Oberheim synthesizer.

So I developed an interest in creating and recording music. Composing and recording music is a strange process. It is difficult to express how and why ideas emerge and why some ideas grow into a composition and other ideas land on a shelf or worse, are forgotten over time. I save most ideas like making a notation that come to mind. Those ideas come from playing some piano chords or noodling on a guitar, but also riding on my bike is good for inspiration. At a certain point I decide that an idea is interesting enough to invest more time into it. When the time comes to record the music it is also a bit strange process. Sometimes things fall easily into place, sometimes you can struggle for weeks to ‘get it right’. What this ‘get it right’ exactly means is difficult to say but it has something to do with reaching a point where you find your composition and recording is ‘like it should be’ and can be considered finished.

Recently I finished a new album ‘Piano and Guitar, Vol. I’. It means to me that I return to these instruments and rely less on electronic instruments. You can listen to my new album on Spotify