Observations from combining tester with other roles Martin Jansson

This article is about combining the role of the tester with other roles. These are observations based on my own experiences. I’ve not studied any books or other articles about this.

I assume that each role has its own mind set, focus and goals. I will try to identify the agendas and possible mind sets that I had at each time and then try to form an opinion on how a certain combination worked together with the tester role. I will cover the roles of test lead, test manager, project manager and documentation specialist.

A few objectives/goals of the tester are (taken from materials from Cem Kaner):

  • Find defects that matter
  • Find important bugs, to get them fixed
  • Maximize bug count
  • Block premature product releases
  • Help managers make ship / no-ship decisions
  • Check interoperability with other products
  • Minimize technical support costs
  • Assess conformance to specification
  • Conform to regulations
  • Minimize safety-related lawsuit risk
  • Find safe scenarios for use of the product
  • Assess quality
  • Elucidate the design and prevent errors

The tester and test lead have similar, if not almost the same objectives. One observation I can share is that as a test lead or team lead for testing you sometimes dwell a lot on resource planning, keeping everyone occupied at testing. This stole a lot of focus from thinking of new test ideas.

The tester and test manager is a bit different. Depending on which stage you are in organization you will have different agendas as a manager. If you are focused on test processes, propaganda around testing, selling the test concept to the organization or whatever it is, you will behave differently. What I experienced was taking a step away from the actual testing and putting more focus on the processes. I even considered letting certain issues pass, thus not dwelling on them so that the organization can learn from the mistakes. I thought that going in to do this temporary fix would be good in the short run, but it is better for it to fail so that we can have good discussions and perhaps doing something in the long run. Many of these thoughts were contradictory to what I usually thought as a tester. So, in order for this to work I needed to be very clear when I was the tester or test lead in the project and not acting the test manager.

Another experience from being test manager combined with being a tester is the first months of my employment as a test manager. I entered as a tester in a project while at the same time was supposed to build the test organization at the company with everything from introducing tools to having presentations about what testing was. In the project there was a test lead that had no experience from being test lead and little experience from testing. We clashed several times since it was very hard to go from being a tester to being a test manager, often in the same discussion. As a test manager I wanted us to use a bug tracking system and a test management system in a certain way, while he saw no use for these. In any case, it was very hard to do a good job either as a tester or as test manager having different agendas at the same time.

In another situation I was project manager, test lead and tester. I was also supposed to be documentation specialist, but I was able to duck that in the last seconds since I was incapable of taking on a whole new focus in my work. Actually, I almost broke down completely since as a documentation specialist I needed to have full focus on the documentation and manuals. I would not have been able to maintain the meta-perspective as a test lead or project manager at that stage. Combining the project manager and test lead was not that hard, in some cases I made project management decisions with a touch of test lead focus. Still, it was easy to notice that the dominant role was project management having the focus on deliverables, time, cost and resources. In those situations quality was pushed down on the list automatically. When I took on the test role I had to be very clear on that I was tester and that I was allowed to focus on that. Combining these roles was very hard and sad to say, quality and testing did not get the attention that they should have seeing that project management became dominant.

As a summary, if possible do not combine the tester with any other role than test lead. It is too easy to push away the strengths of the tester’s mind-set and objectives. Seeing that project management becomes dominant might also mean that it can be hard to keep the focus on so many things as a project manager. If you think about all the things that testers and test leads do, it will just become too much. In projects where you do not have someone who have the role of tester and test lead you will miss so much. In projects where you have someone acting tester and test lead in combination with other roles, do know that you will not be able to use their full strength and expertise.

Henrik Emilsson December 3rd, 2008

Interesting stuff!

I wonder what had happened if you as a tester had objectives driven from the project objectives?
* You as a project manager setup objectives that are valid for the project
* You as a test lead would use these objectives to derive into a test mission which then might include one (or a couple) of the information objectives that you have listed above.
* You as a tester worked according to the information objectives, and then would contribute to the project with the information gathered according to your objectives.

This might help with focusing on the right things for each role, and to understand that you can work towards the same goals as a tester and as a project manager.
(But I guess that time is the biggest issue in reality when combining several roles.)

Also, this way you might discover that if you as project manager are not interested in quality-related information, then why should you as a tester spend time on finding this information?
In other words, you as a tester provide a service to the project (and project manager); a service that provides information regarding the product and project. If you as the project manager are interested in utilizing the tester as a service provider, you would then try to guide the tester by telling the tester what information that the project is interested in and what information that would matter to the project stakeholders.

Martin Jansson December 3rd, 2008

I am about to combine the tester, test lead and project manager in a new project starting on monday. It would be interesting to test myself in various stages of the project.

I will consider using using myself, as tester and test lead, to provide information and as the service. I know the project will be under tight time preassure (as always), but I will at least try to do something with this experiment.

Rikard Edgren December 7th, 2008

I fully agree, even though the only roles I have combined is test lead and tester, which is very natural (wouldn’t it be strange to only test lead without testing at all?)

But to switch roles in general is a good thing since you learn more and see things from different perspectives. I learned a lot about testing by doing project management (testing is just a small part, communicate what is important, and probably more…)

Interesting post. Thanks – Changing roles helps to know the project work flow.