Monday 10 January 2011

Making yourself heard

Yesterday I attended an interesting session at the UKTMF Annual Summit run by Matt Robson of Capita on Tester access to Executive Level. Matt presented a number of case studies of various testing projects, all connected by the common theme of having issues of communication between the Test Team and the C level executives. The CIO/CTO and CEO in particular were highlighted as positions that testers rarely have access to, with testers acting as a satellite of development reporting into the Development Manager.

A common problem

In a previous employment I have enountered this scenario and it is clear to me now that many of the problems that arose during my time there could have been avoided given a stronger testing presence at the strategic level. The scenario that I was working in at the time was, I believe, a common one. This was a traditional waterfall house and the level of integration between development and test was poor due to the presence of some rather incommunicative developers in senior positions. As the test lead I reported into the Development Manager, as did all of the developers. In the organisational chart the test team stood alone under everyone else in the entire organisation. The result of this was that the test team had little or no access to the C level executives and zero influence on development strategy decisions. Some of the consequences were predictable but frustrating nonetheless:-

  • No consideration was given to the testability of the application

  • Any automation that I did implement was done using existing customer APIs and interfaces. In some cases later versions of software were actually implemented without the equivalent APIs that we were using to regression test the previous versions.

  • Testing was only involved in the development process towards the end of development

  • The lack of testing involvement championing the customer in the early stages meant that requirements were often in the form of technical tasks or solutions without any consideration towards user value.

I do not believe that this is an uncommon situation. If those in higher management consider testing as a rather negative process which comes after the productive development bit, then the operations of the testing team are always going to be restricted.

Sadly this has the tendency to lead to the self-fulfilling prophecy that 'testing is the bottleneck'. If management's opinion of testing is such that they consider that it can be the bottleneck, then they are likely to give little emphasis to the needs of the testing team until late in development. The result of this is that testing inevitably becomes the bottleneck as the identification and resolution of issues is postponed until the testing phases.

A refreshing change

In my current organisation I was recently promoted to "Director of QA and Support". I was obviously very pleased to receive a promotion, but I think what gave me greater pleasure was that the position was created at all. The fact that both myself and the Director of Development operate on a level playing field with equal standing and reporting access to the VP level says a great deal about the status of testing in my organisation.

  • Testing is highly valued

  • Both CEO and CTO place a large emphasis on testing (the CTO is one of the best performance testers I've come across) and understand the importance of testing in a sucessful development process.

  • Testing has a presence through the development lifecycle

  • I am present in tactical roadmap discussions and the impact on the test team is considered when new work items are tabled.

  • Testability is considered

  • I have access at the appropriate levels to raise testability issues and have previously the opportunity to get entire developments re-thought due to the impact that they would have had on the testability of the system and the consequential risks that would have been introduced.

  • Testing is seen as a valuable investment

  • We have benefitted from getting budget to obtain testing consultancy from Dave Evans at SQS, as well as the investment in machines and environments to support our efforts.
I hope that this does not come across as smug. The point that I am really trying to make is that the greatest challenge for testers in an organisation is actually getting the organisation to recognise what they do at all, and the specific challenges which the job entails. As well as being able to test, the successful tester must be able to communicate at all levels of the organisation in order to raise awareness of the value of good testing in senior management. If you can do this, then you can gain the influence at the appropriate levels which will allow you to do it well.

Copyright (c) Adam Knight 2011
Eusebiu Blindu said...

Hi Adam,

Read your post. That's great. I have great appreciation for companies that put testing where it should be and also for testers like you that strive for it.



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