Making the Case

[article]
Summary:

As a test manager, you constantly are looking at what you need in order to carry out the mission of your group. You know that you need several resources to do your job, but when you go to your manager looking for resources, her eye goes immediately to the bottom line. When it appears as if there's no way to make your boss comply with your requests, Esther Derby has a tactic that will help you make your boss see things your way.

You've told your manager that you need an additional server to create a production-like test environment. You also need a new test tool to adequately test a feature and a person with test automation skills to provide frequent feedback on the state of the code.

"We didn't budget for that expenditure," your manager intones and turns away from you to check her email.

Still, you run through the reasons why you need the equipment and the additional staff.

Your boss looks up at you. "Look at the bottom line. This costs too much. You'll just have to be creative and get the work done with what you've got," she says with a note of finality.

So it's time to be creative-not in making do with the resources at hand or making up new numbers. It's time to be creative in refocusing your boss's attention. Below is a six-step process I've used successfully to focus attention on hard-to-count benefits as well as easy-to-see costs.

1. Identify the Proposed Alternative(s)
It's almost always useful to consider at least three alternatives. Even when the first option that comes to mind seems like the best, you'll understand more about it for having delineated more than one approach.

If you've already made a proposal for one course of action and your boss has rebuffed you, identify at least two additional options. You may find another viable option; at the very least you'll show your boss that you are considering alternatives.

2. Determine What Is Important to Your Manager
People are more likely to consider proposals that speak to issues they care about. You may think you already know what is important to your boss—meeting a budget target or a quality standard or sustaining morale, but it's still a good idea to sit down with your manager and ask her. You want to know what's important relative to her issues and what factors would help her make a decision. Let's look at an example drawn from real life.

A VP in an IT organization who is concerned that poor communication between the development groups and the operations folks is leading to production problems when the developers release new features to production. You've done an experiment with a pre-production turn over meeting, but she's skeptical that it will help.

When you ask her what's most important to her, she might say that the most important things to improving communication between her development and operations groups are avoiding production problems, limiting disruption to business, and taking a proactive stance rather than reacting to problems.

3. Ask Your Manager Who She Considers to Be a Credible Source
Quoting an expert whom your boss believes is a bozo won't help your cause. You need to know who your manager believes is credible-whom she would listen to regarding your case. (If there's no one she'd believe, that's another problem.)

Ask your boss to list these credible people and share with her that you intend to interview them. Don't lock yourself into interviewing the complete list or specific people on the list. Here's why: if for some reason you are unable to interview everyone on that list, or some of the people on the list are unavailable, you leave an opening for your manager to dismiss your analysis.

4. Create a Short Interview Protocol
Outline a short questionnaire—about four to six questions-and use them to guide your interviews. Frame your questions to elicit information about the factors your boss cares about.

To make the case for a pre-production turnover meeting for the VP who wants to avoid production problems and take a proactive stance, you might ask questions like this:

  • What issues that cause production problems were a result of miscommunications or misunderstandings between the development group and the operations group? Give your assessment of the impact of the single biggest problem on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 negligible impact; 10 a major disruption to business).
  • Which of those could have been discovered before the new features went into production?

You can ask free form questions to follow up on interesting answers as well.

About the author

Esther Derby's picture Esther Derby

A regular StickyMinds.com and Better Software magazine contributor, Esther Derby is one of the rare breed of consultants who blends the technical issues and managerial issues with the people-side issues. She is well known for helping teams grow to new levels of productivity. Project retrospectives and project assessments are two of Esther's key practices that serve as effective tools to start a team's transformation. Recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation, she often receives requests asking her to work with struggling teams. Esther is one of the founders of the AYE Conference. She co-author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. She has presented at STAREAST, STARWEST and the Better Software Conference & EXPO. You can read more of Esther's musings on the wonderful world of software at www.estherderby.com and on her weblog at www.estherderby.com/weblog/blogger.html. Her email is derby@estherderby.com.

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