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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.