From leadership to confidence

Since before prehistoric times people have always tended to organize themselves under leaders, from chieftains, kings and emperors to presidents. However the popularity of leadership figures seems to be deteriorating. Traditional political leaders are increasingly challenged by newcomers and outsiders. Business leaders have also seen their popularity drop since the financial crisis.

If we look at the Netherlands we can see the same trend. Parties winning in the latest election mostly had limited or no government experience. Leaders in public, semi-public or privatized sectors are increasingly scrutinized by mainstream media. An increasing number of people are self-employed and self-organizing teams are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in healthcare, finance and IT. In the latter case this development has gained momentum with the increasing adoption of Agile.

Therefore many companies have started to consolidate, disempower or vacate leadership positions. Leaders losing their positions either take on different roles, like Agile coach or Scrum master, or leave the company. Open positions for project managers, release managers and test managers are becoming increasingly scarce.

Companies adopting self-organizing methods often report positive effects such as increased productivity, decreased costs and increased customer and employee satisfaction. However one complaint often sticks out: inconsistent quality of deliverables across different teams. Measures introduced to resolve this often contradict the self-organizing principle, such as creating separate test teams, having separate test iterations or organizing acceptance testing outside the Dev(Ops) team.

At the same time test managers have been discussing their role in Agile processes. Some have suggested new roles, like test coach, test master or quality supervisor. Others present test processes as described in TMap NEXT® as traditional, waterfall and therefore outdated and suggest to organize testing activities within the team. All tend to agree that in Agile a test manager will not lead a team in the traditional sense nor produce a detailed budget, planning or progress report anymore.

Why is it that Agile teams have so many problems organizing testing activities without a test manager? Why is the role of test manager so special that it cannot be replaced within self-organizing teams with consistently similar results? And why are test managers having such a hard time adapting to Agile software development?

Because the role of test manager is actually NOT a leadership role! It is a controlling role, much like an accountant, security officer or chief editor. The main goal of being a test manager has always been to provide insight into quality and thus provide confidence. Anything else is secondary to that goal.

Unfortunately the role of test manager has increasingly been presented as a leadership role, even to the extent where leadership experience was considered more important than testing experience for fulfilling this role. While leadership definitely comes into play when leading a test team, building a test organization or managing your stakeholders, this should always be a means to an end. Test managers who present themselves as a leader and depend entirely on their test experts to provide insight into quality are deemed obsolete or even unwanted in Agile processes.

Therefore test managers need to return to the content side of their profession and focus their attention on those activities that directly or indirectly lead to confidence: perform product risk analyses, create test strategies, support test preparation, specification and execution, arrange test tooling and test environments, report on test results and thus provide insight and give advice regarding quality.

Fortunately the TMap Suite provides test managers with all the tools to do so:

  • TMap HD describes the elements relevant to you as a test manager. The starting point is always confidence, which needs to be provided throughout the entire product life cycle.
  • contains the building blocks you may need to customize the way you fulfill your role as test manager (coordinator, master, or coach) in your specific situation, such as Product risk analysis, test varieties or test tool implementation.
  • TMap NEXT® may describe processes that apply to waterfall projects, however it was written to be adaptive as well. Techniques, metrics, deliverables and other topics may still apply in Agile projects.
  • The other books in the TMap Suite may also contain information relevant to your specific situation, such as when testing in Scrum, testing cloud or infrastructure solutions or automating test execution.

Niek Fraanje is a Test manager working for Sogeti in the Netherlands