How to Plan the Perfect 'T' Party

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Summary:

Software professionals have long engaged in debate over software development processes. Much has been written about how to improve those processes-resulting in better-quality, faster-to-market products. Often neglected are the people who implement the processes. Developers and testers frequently seem to have adversarial relationships, although they share the same goal: high-quality software. No matter how good they are, the processes are unlikely to succeed if the participants fail to get along.

Whatever the reasons for past failure, I was determined to have a better experience. As a former military officer, I had experience in building support teams; I hoped to draw on those skills when organizing our testing staff. This paper seeks to explore the techniques I discovered or adapted, as well as some that continue to evolve. I will share ways in which a testing manager can positively impact the professional relationships of software testers.

Testing Manager: The Hostess
"Leaders must take care of their people." Perry M. Smith

How exactly does a hostess plan the perfect tea party? She must decide who is to be invited and what they will be served. She must find a way to meet the guests' expectations while remaining within her budget. The hostess may require assistance in areas for which she has little expertise. She must use imagination and hard work to lay the foundation for a successful event.

When I became a testing manager six years ago, I found similar responsibilities awaiting me. I approached the testing process (or 'T' Party) much as a hostess approaches her tea party. My first order of business was to establish a theme, but I quickly determined that I would need more than one. To reassure management that a formal testing effort would prove beneficial, I selected the theme The results are worth the expense. For developers, I hoped to convince them that This invitation is too tempting to refuse. And finally, I wanted to interest prospective employees in the testing department with the theme Testing is fun!

The Perfect Job
To pull off a successful 'T' Party, I cannot work alone. But finding experienced testers is not always easy. I may have to encourage people from other software disciplines to join the team. On the face of it, testing may not seem like a very promising profession. Testers' jobs are thought of as destructive in nature, focusing on failure instead of success. Tester recommendations are often ignored or overruled. Testers work on a daily basis with software developers, a group not always known for humility, patience, or politeness.

So, to attract quality staff, I set out to shape the perfect job. I focused on three characteristics that made testing ideal for me.

  • Challenging: Technical challenge is built into my division's software, which includes client/server, data access, messaging, and Web-based products. The testing group has used a technique called rotation, where each tester rotates through the product line two or three times each year. As the product line and testing department have increased, I have abandoned rotation in favor of specialization. To ensure that junior testers do not "get stuck with the dull stuff," every tester participates in all aspects of testing--from designing and writing test cases to running regressions and supporting tools.
  • Worthwhile: The ideal job should give opportunities to contribute to software quality in a variety of ways. Testers see the tangible value with every defect prevented or detected; each missing bug is one less to hamper our customers. But more than that, testers can impact the long-term satisfaction of our customers in subtle ways. Physically locating testers near developers promotes regular exchange of ideas. This proximity to developers facilitates a tester's ability to provide early feedback on the usability and feature sets delivered in the software.
  • Fun: I believe that the perfect job should be a lot of fun. Testers may experience some fun individually; there is nothing like the thrill of hunting down an elusive bug! But we also try to inject humor in other ways. We spend almost as much

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