I recently spent 3 very pleasurable days at the EUROSTAR Conference in Dublin. I was genuinely impressed with the range and quality of talks and activities on offer. For me the conference had taken great strides forward since I last attended in 2011 and congratulations have to go to Paul Gerrard and the track committee for putting the excellent conference together.
As with all conferences, while the tracks were really interesting, I found that I personally took away more from the social and informal interactions that took place around the event. One of the subjects that came up for discussion more than once was the fact that, for many of the permanently employed folks attending, our roles had changed significantly in recent years. For some of us our remits had extended beyond testing to include other activities such as technical support, development or documentation. For others the level of responsibility had changed more to management and decision making and less on testing activities involving interfacing directly with our products.
The new challenges presented by these new aspects of our roles dominated much of the conversation over the pub and dinner table, for example Alex Schladebeck in this post mentions exactly such a conversation between Alex , Rob Lambert , Kristoffer Nordström and I. Subjects discussed during these interactions included
- How to motivate testers in flat organisational hierarchies.
- How to advance the testing effort and introduce new technologies and techniques, sometimes in the face of demand to deliver on new features.
- Making difficult decisions when there are no clear right answers.
- Balancing the demands of testing when you have other responsibilities
- How to ensure that areas of responsibility are tackled and customers needs met without putting too much pressure on individuals or teams. In my case this can include how to fit maintenance releases for existing products into the agile sprint cycle.
- How to approach the responsibilities of managerial roles in organisations with self managing scrum teams.
- Exerting influence and exhibiting leadership whilst avoiding issues of ego and 'pulling rank'.
It was clear in conversations that, whilst testing was an area that we had studied, talked on, debated and researched, these areas of 'not testing' were ones where we were very much more exploring our own paths. Traditional test management approaches seem to be ill suited to the new demands of management in the primarily agile organisations in which we worked.
The problem with not testing
Whilst testing is a challenging activity, for some of us 'not testing' was presenting as many problems. One of the things that I know was concerning a number of us was balancing the up to date testing and product knowledge with performing a range of other duties. As the level of responsibility for an individual increases, inevitably the time spent actively working on tasks testing the product itself can diminish such that it is easy to lose some of the detailed knowledge that comes from interacting with the software.
One thing that I personally have found definitely does not work is kidding myself that I can carry on regardless and take on testing activities like I always have. Learning to accept the fact that I'm not able to pick up a significant amount of hands on testing whilst facing a wealth of other responsibilities has been a hard lesson at times. It is a sad truth though that in recent years when I have assigned myself sprint items to test these have ended up being the stories most at risk in that sprint, due to my having not been able to focus enough time to test them appropriately. Whilst I enjoy testing on new features, the reality that I have had to accept is that the demands of my other responsibilities mean that others in the team are better placed to perform the testing of new features than I am.
Dealing with not testing
I won't pretend to be entirely winning the battle of not testing, however I find that most of the other activities that I do perform contribute to my general product knowledge and can balance and complement the time spent not testing:
- Attending elaboration and design meetings for as many features as possible
- Reviewing acceptance criteria for user stories, both at the start and also the confidence levels at the end
- Having regular discussions with testers on test approaches taken and reviewing charters
Additionally some of the areas that I have become responsible for help to give different perspectives on the product
- Discussing the format and content of technical documentation reveals how we are presenting our product to different users
- Scheduling update releases and compiling release notes helps me to maintain visibility of new features added across scrum teams
- Time spent on support activities helps give an insight into how customers use the product, how they perceive it (and any workarounds that folks are using)
These all help, however I think that as a company and product grow it is inevitable that individuals will be unable to maintain an in depth understanding of all areas of the product. Something that I have had to get accustomed to is deferring to the levels of expertise that exists in others on specific areas of product functionality which are much higher than I can expect to maintain across the whole product.
I came away with the feeling that I'm part of a generation who are having to provide their own answers to questions on managing within agile companies. We are seeing a wave of managers who haven't had agile imposed on their existing role structures. (tweet this) Instead we are growing into managerial roles within newly maturing agile organisations which don't necessarily have a well defined structure of management on which to base our goals and expectations. We are attempting to provide leadership both to those who have come from more formal cultures and to those who have only ever known work in agile teams, and have very different expectations as a result. Consequently there is no reference structure of pre-defined roles to base our expected career paths around. Some, like Rob, have taken on the mantle of managing development. Others, like myself, have the benefit of colleagues at the same level who are focused on programming activities, however this does mean learning to work in a matrix management setup where the lines of responsibility are not always clear given the mixed functions of the team units.
It was clear from the conversations at EuroSTAR that for many of us our perspective on testing, and test management was changing. Whether this was simply the result of individuals with similar roles and at similar points in their careers gravitating towards each other, or the signs of something more fundamental, only time will tell. The conversations that I was involved in at the event were only a microcosm in relation to the wider discussions and debates over testers and testing that were going on amongst the conference attendees.
If anything can be taken from the range of different management roles and responsibilities that the individuals that I know have evolved to adopt, it is this - there is no clearly defined model for test management in modern agile companies - (tweet this). It is really up to the testers in those organisations to champion the testing effort in a way that works for them, and to build a testing infrastructure that fits with the unique cultures of their respective organisations.