Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to start a new mission as a Test Manager

Starting to work in a new company or starting a new mission that sometimes even looked pretty similar to the previous one, I always find every mission to turn out quite different in it's objectives and challenges.

In this blog post I will focus on how I learnt to orient in a new job as a test coordinator or test manager.

Who will I be working for? 

This might be a Project or Programme manager or Line manager - but there might be other important stakeholders out there. Find out who they are. Who will need/want information from you? They can be persons trusted by higher management, key business users, release managers, operation teams...These are your stakeholders. Know who they are and what they want, as you will be working for them and reporting to them (this can be directly or indirectly).

Who will I be working with?
  • Who are your team members that will be reporting to you? What are their skills? What do you expect and what can they deliver? Find out what you can learn from them and what you will need to teach them. Also here, involve your stakeholders so that you can align the stakeholders' wishes with the budget they need to set aside for it.
    Your team can be on shore or off shore, external or internal, and work under different contractual situations. You need to get a hold of each of them and find a way to make all of them work together as ONE team.
  • Who are  your direct colleagues that you need to share information with? Release management or deployment management, delivery management, analysts, designers, architects, project managers, development, infrastructure... Get to know them and find out for each of them how you will exchange information and what you will require or what might be required from you. You'll need a project planning, a methodology, an architectural blueprint, a data model, designs, analysis or a test environment in a specific way so that you can use it for testing. You'll need to address questions, issues, defects and in this way that they accept them and understand your team's role.
Watch and observe. Treat your colleagues and team members with respect. Understand what they need from you. Make them understand what you need from them. Communicate with them.

How does the project team structure look like?

You can be working in many different kinds of structures using horizontal divisions or vertical divisions, flat structures, resource pools, very hierarchical structures or even complete chaos. A project manager might in reality be an issue manager or a project management officer. A business analyst might be an architect and a designer might be an analyst. Get to an understanding of the project structure and your responsibilities. Find out how the informal and formal roles and responsibilities are defined and where you find yourself in this structure. You can even test the project structure, identify the gaps and bring them up to your management. It's always your job to consult in favor of qualitative delivery.

How is testing implemented and what are my responsibilities? 

  • Look at test levels - Are you responsible for unit, system testing, system integration testing, acceptance testing? Who will be performing the tasks? Define your scope and check with your stakeholders.
  • Look at reference material for testing - What will you need to perform testing and to prepare for testing? Assess the quality of the reference material and inform about possible risks or issues.
  • Look at entry and exit criteria - Are you responsible to report on entry criteria or to even monitor them up front?
  • Look at the testing approach - How is testing performed currently? Can it be improved? Point to gaps in the used methods and to their risks to your stakeholders and find out if those risks are accepted or if you suddenly increased your job scope.  
  • Look at test environments and infrastructure - Are you responsible for defining, ordering, maintaining test environments or test infrastructure, defining or improving release processes? 
  • Look at test types. Are you responsible for functional testing only or also for usability testing, security testing, regression testing, performance testing... ? Do you have the required skills in your team to address the required test types to be performed?
  • Look at test tools. Which test tools will you require or are standard in the company? Do you need to define or adhere to procedures? Make sure all your team members are mastering and if required contributing to the tool selection and setup.
  • Look at communication and reporting patterns - What is discussed in which structural meetings? Which deliverables, reports and metrics are expected at which times? What would you think would be required? Come forward with proposals.
Refer to existing, representative products and processes in the company. Find out how testing has been performed in the past. What was expected, what was delivered and how it was the result perceived by stakeholders.

Don't go in and re-invent the wheel. Gather the existing knowledge.  If there is one, adopt the existing way of working. Bring your colleagues, team members and stakeholders towards improvement step by step.

Some tips and tricks that help me
  • Make a list of your colleagues' names. You can make a drawing of the desks in the office and put their names on it.
  • Document what you learn as you learn it (if not yet documented) and store it in a central place. Let other team members contribute to that.  (special phone numbers, creation of test users,...)
  • Hear people out. Ask for their opinions. Show that you can listen - and learn from their skills and experience.
  • Wear clean, washed clothes. Don't go meeting people directly after smoking.
  • Say good morning and good evening to everyone on the floor.
  • Don't say directly YES or NO if you don't understand the request or question completely, but say you will look into it and come back on the next day.
  • Set-up workshops with your business users and identify the important end to end scenario's with them as soon as possible. This will keep you focused during project delivery.
  • Always get to an agreement with at least your key stakeholders separately before proposing new elements to them together in a meeting.
  • Estimate and plan, using techniques and common sense. Make plans with input from your team members. Make them all agree on and commit to the plans before presenting and committing a plan to your management.
  • As a people manager, try to make a positive difference for your people. 

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