Building Better Test Teams

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Summary:
Mustering the best project or test team is key to any project's success. In this column, Johanna Rothman explains her interviewing techniques to help you find the perfect candidate. Find out if your candidates are qualified before they become part of your team. Johanna's methods cover six typical questions that will help you build a better test team.

Whether you're organizing a project team or hiring a whole new test group, you need to discover if the testers you're considering can perform the job you need them to perform or not.

When you think about the job, don't just think about the testing—although that's critically important. Consider these skills when you're defining what you need in a tester:

  • Selects test techniques that fit the project
  • Adapts to the project's conditions (changes testing or test techniques during the project)
  • Assesses and reports risks as the project progresses
  • Knows when to keep working and when to shift to something else
  • Advocates for defects that the tester believes should be fixed before release
  • Writes good defect reports

Here are some questions you can ask to determine if the tester candidate is right for your project, especially if the candidate hasn't worked on a project like yours before:

Selecting Test Techniques: "On your most recent project, how did you decide which test techniques to use?" (Wait for the tester to answer you.) Tell me about the project and how you came to your decisions." A follow-up question is, "Have you ever worked on a project where you chose techniques that didn't help you assess the product? What happened?" A final question could be, "What have you learned about test techniques that you apply to your work?"

Adaptability: "Have you ever had to change the course of your testing mid-stream? What did you do? What were the circumstances leading to that change?" (Make sure you wait between each question to full hear what the tester says.) Especially if I'm looking for a more senior tester, I want someone who can tell when the testing isn't discovering what we need to know and can take actions to manage those problems.

Managing Risk: "What risks occurred on your most recent project? Were you able to predict them? What risks did you plan for? When was the last time you were surprised by a risk?" (As you listen to the answers, allow yourself to ask questions in a different order, or modify the questions based on the tester's answers.) Risks happen, and the best way to manage them is to plan for them. If you understand what kinds of risks surprised the tester, you'll know more about that person's blind spots. If a tester hasn't been surprised by a risk in years, I assume the tester hasn't worked on projects critical to the success of his organization.

Changing Tasks: "How did you complete your most recent project? Were you able to perform all the testing you wanted? What tradeoffs did you make and why? Did you have any interim deliverables? What were they?" (Make sure you don't rapid-fire the questions, so the tester has the ability to answer each question as you ask it.) I want to know if the tester considered the information being generated by the tests, and if the tester used any techniques to see if the testing was progressing. I ask these questions to find out if the tester candidate knows when to stick with the current tasks and when to shift work.

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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