When Enough is Not Enough


Have you ever found yourself stuck in a situation where, no matter what you do, you can't seem to please your senior manager? Your manager wants you to decrease test time, but at what price? You go back and forth, but no matter how much you compress the schedule, it's never enough. Johanna Rothman explains how to avoid the bring-me-a-rock trap, when enough is not enough, and keep your team from being sucked into unreasonable time constraints.

If you've ever been in the position of knowing your management would like you to decrease test time, but you don't know what your management wants, then you've been a player in the bring-me-a-rock schedule game.

The general form of this game is:
"Bring me a rock."
"OK, here's a rock."
"No, not that rock. A different rock."
"OK, here's another rock."
"No, not that one either..."

Although, in the software testing world it probably looks a little more like this:

Senior manager: How fast can you test this product?
Test Manager: We'll start our work during requirements, but we'll need eight weeks of final system test time at the end of the project.
SM: Not good enough. Decrease the time.

The test manager walks away, gathers her staff, and determines how to cut corners. She returns to the senior manager with a new estimate:

TM: OK, we can get it down to six weeks.
SM: Still not good enough. Decrease the time.

The test manager is starting to see the bring-me-a-rock trap.

TM: Well, how long do you want the testing to take?
SM: You're the test manager, aren't you? You tell me!

No matter what the test manager does to compress the schedule, it won't be enough—unless she can reduce the final test time to zero. Whatever duration she proposes, it will be too long.

If you find yourself in this situation and you succumb to the game, you'll end up agreeing to something unreasonable, whether that's a reduction in scope or time, or an increase in defects.

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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