Test Management – a skill, not a job!

Are dedicated Test Managers just more overhead? I see it in every project that I do for my clients, the grey area of responsibility between the project manager and test manager. They need the same information, attend or organise the same meetings with the same people, write similar plans and reports and so on.

We all know that test managers do a important job. At least, I feel I’m doing a important job and that I contribute to the goal of my clients. So why do we get hired? – yes – to plan, control and report on the quality side of the project. That means analysing risks and plan measurements to cover those risks. But isn’t that part of the responsibility of the project manager? They are responsible for managing the scope, time, budget and quality are they not? They just delegate some of the responsibility to the test manager. But why can’t they do that themselves?

I have found that most project managers simply haven’t tried it because it seemed complicated and tedious but also because it’s the way it has always been. I dug a little deeper some time ago to find the job descriptions of both roles, and the overlap was tremendous. So in my opinion, a Test Manager is a very narrowly specialised Project Manager. They are only needed in very large and or complex projects. In all other projects, the project manager should be able to manage the testing himself. But can the project managers find the right balance between the quality and the scope, time and budget.

I say that they should be able to do that. And you may think that they will cut corners and settle for less quality to satisfy a deadline but if that would be bad management all together. So I want to open up the discussion right here. Do you agree with me that test management is a primarily a skill, not a job?

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2 comments

  1. René Tuinhout

    Hi Bram,

    Thanks for the views in your article, I enjoyed reading it!
    However: I do see, and have seen, the disadvantages of a project manager being responsible for managing the testing himself: Corners are (were) cut regarding quality to meet deadlines and budgetary demands.
    Ýour conclusion that that would be (is) bad project management alltogether I can endorse, however, I think just concluding that doesn’t solve the issue.

    Also, I would plead for some more insight into the project manager’s position:
    I think the causes for “corner cutting” are quite obvious:
    * Project managers themselves are managed toward goals in time and money. In many cases, quality is included in the initial goals set for project management, but it’s deemed far less important than time and money and the goals are easilty forgotten when time and budgetary pressure rises;
    * Since time and money are (far) easier to comprehend for stakeholders, governing the project manager, quality goals are forgotten about quite easily.

    Now, can we blame the project manager for this? I don’t think so: (S)he get’s an assignment, goals in time and money are assigned, and the project manager is trying to manage the project in such a way that these goals are met in a way that’s satisfactory for the stakeholders who gave him/her the assignment.

    However, what to do with the quality goals in such a case?
    In the past, and I agree with you that this seems to have become a habit and is not a deeply contemplated decision for each and every project, a test manager was hired to take care of “quality”. Even in times when none of the stakeholders actually knew what quality was exactly, and how it should be measured.
    This is where the test manager plays an important role: Find out what quality means to and for the stakeholder(s), find ways to measure quality in a way the stakeholders understand, and give insight into (the effect of) failures in the quality of the project being produced, thus enabling the stakeholders to base management decisions on the information on quality provided.
    Please be aware regarding quality this test manager should, based on the above, not be reporting to the project manager, but to the stakeholders: Although they have assigned project goals in time, money, scope and quality to the programme manager, for the measurement of the impact of project decisions on the quality of the product produced they rely on the test manager. So they should receive the reports regarding quality (of course there’s common sense in this: the project manager is a very interested party, and sending quality reports to him/her is benificial for him/her, in that (s)he can assign tasks in the most appropriate way covering for (impending) gaps in quality. However, overall reporting on quality by the test manager should be to the stakeholder(s)/stakeholder representative).

    Knowing how to measure the effect of design/development decisions and glitches in such a way that insight is created into the effect of those decisions/glitches on the product’s quality, as well as finding the quality indicators a stakeholder understands and can base well founded decisions on, is a skill needed to be able to provide the information the stakeholders need to understand the quality side of a project.

    To summarise, in my view and I agree with you on that, the project manager does manage a project on time, money, scope and quality.
    However, next to general project management skills, managing on quality requires extra skills. Skills a project manager rarely has, and skills (s)he is not managed on.

    Those skills are found in test managers.
    Therefore I would advocate not regarding the test manager as a ‘very narrowly specialised’ project manager, but as a project manager with extra skills!
    Therefore, a project manager can very well manage a project an quality (as well as on time, money and scope). But: (S)he’ll need information on the status of the developing product’s quality on that. A test manager can provide this information, preferably via (a representative of) the stakeholder(s).
    With such a set up, roles are clear: The project manager is trying to “get the project done” within time and budget, for the full scope and quality agreed and is held accountable for this by the stakeholders.
    For the stakeholders to find out if their demands are met, they receive reporting on time and budget (and sometimes scope) created by the project manager. For the reporting on quality (and, often, suggestions regarding scopy) the stakeholders rely on the test manager. This information is needed to manage the project manager.

    I would like to conclude with a maxim:
    “A project manager rarely makes a good test manager. However, a test manager makes quite a good project manager.”

  2. René Tuinhout

    Erratum in the comment above:
    The sentence:”… and give insight into (the effect of) failures in the quality of the project being produced,…”
    should read:
    “…and give insight into (the effect of) failures in the quality of the product being produced,…”

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