Making Requests for Additional Staff

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Getting senior management to agree to hire extra staff for the test team can be difficult, even in the best of organizations. The discussion is often a battle of differing opinions that leaves both sides feeling frustrated and uncertain of the real need for the extra staff. In this article, Mark describes how a fact-based approach can get senior management on your side.

Qualifying the need for additional Testing Staff
One of the things I always expect Test Managers and staff to say is "We need more testers in the team." I'd say this is so common I'd expect any Test Manager that doesn't say it to be thinking it. I certainly have and about what a struggle it is to get the extra staff.

The need for extra staff is very real for most teams, not just the test team, but for the test team it seems we often have a serious struggle to achieve sign-off of the needed budget and headcount.

Often the need for extra staff is a perceived one based on the Test Manager’s professional experience and understanding of what activities the team should be doing but can’t seem to get around to delivering. The need being a perceived one is often the central reason getting that extra budget and headcount signed-off is so difficult.

Unqualified Request
If the request isn't qualified then i's just an opinion based on the Test Manager's viewpoint and not driven by facts. As a consequence the request is easily countered by someone else’s opinion, usually that of the senior manager who has control of budget and headcount.

In my experience the responses from the organisation are so consistent they could be scripted;

  • "Are they wasting time, not working hard enough?"
    Because the senior management don't know what the test team actually do or what it takes to do what they do–they're obviously not being professional and efficient. If the test team would just work in a smarter way then they wouldn't need the extra staff.
  • "Are they doing the wrong work?"
    If they need more staff to do more work, yet we have quality issues such as bugs going out, then they mustn’t be doing the right kind of work in the first place. You want more staff to do more stuff wrong? Maybe start doing the right kind of work first then we can see if the extra staff are needed.
  • "They seem to waste a lot of time in meetings"
    Weekly team meetings last over an hour, does it take that long for such a small team, does it need to be every week? Also, they sit together going through documents with customers taking their time up as well. The Test Manager is in meetings that aren't that important for the test team, could they get the information off others afterwards?
  • "The Test Manager has only have 3 people to look after, aren’t they testing?"
    What is it the Test Manager is actually doing in the day other than meetings; with only 3 staff to manage that can’t be taking much time can it? When you say there are only 3 testers in the team we worked out we needed 4 and there are 4 with the Test Manager–or is the Test Manager not testing?

After the senior manager has shared these various opinions it's not uncommon for the Test Manager to find themselves frustrated and unable to respond in any convincing way. It's all too easy to get into many rounds of discussions such as the above, each side arguing their viewpoint but getting nowhere.

Remember the senior manager may feel the same way, don't forget they often have to go to their own managers and put forward the case you're giving them. They need to feel reassured about your request too.

In these circumstances the Test Manager needs to make sure they have all the facts to hand before they attempt to have the conversation again. While it would have been better to go into the initial discussion armed with the facts; not having done so isn't a disaster. The questions and opinions the senior manager shared set a loose agenda for the next meeting when the Test Manager will go with the data to answer and address them.

Qualify the request
The next step then is for the Test Manager to gather the data needed to ensure they are absolutely clear on what it is the team are doing day to day. In this way the request for extra staff will be a qualified request and not just an opinion.

This means the Test Manager must:

  • Define what activities may be performed by the team.
  • Devise a way to track time spent on each activity, by each team member
  • Decide when and for how long the tracking will be conducted.
  • Collate and analyse the data before presenting it to senior management.

The objective is to demonstrate that the opinions of senior management are ill-informed and the need for extra staff is very real. A factual presentation of the situation will ensure the questions and opinions of senior management can be addressed in a way that cannot be easily dismissed.

Capturing the Data
It's important to gather the data for a meaningful period and that period will need to be during a time when all of the key activities are being performed. Additionally, the period in question should be long enough for the team to settle into the routine of being recorded and reduce the risk of untypical patterns of working.

In practice I've found a period of around 6 to 8 weeks has proven to be sufficient to gather the needed data. However, the Test Manager can gather data until they are satisfied the data is reflective of how the team works day to day.

The data can be easily captured in an Excel workbook that provides all of the agreed tasks and splits the day down into 15 or 30 minutes slots. A new worksheet should be used every day and the data collated each week by the Test Manager. The tasks might include Analysis, Execution, Reporting Meetings, Waiting on Others and Awaiting Work.

With the data captured for each member of staff across the entire period it will be possible to know exactly what activities they have been working on and for how long, answering all the questions and opinions that may have been raised in the first meeting.

Of course there is the risk that the Test Manager will discover the team haven't been working on the correct things or working as efficiently as believed. If so this will need to be addressed before progressing the conversation about additional resource.

Current and Future work
Though the data gathered will be insightful and qualify statements about what the team are doing it isn't enough. Senior management may now agree the test team are working on what they should and doing it efficiently and they may even agree the Test Manager is correctly attending to non-testing tasks.

However, the next legitimate question from senior management will be around the team’s workload now and in the near future. Is there really enough work there for additional staff?

The next step is to assess the resource needed for current and future projects. To do that the Test Manager should ensure the activities and effort needed for these projects is precisely assessed and planned. Any lack of clarity needs to addressed with the team and Project Management. Factored into this should be the activities which are not currently being performed well or at all.

At this point the Test Manager has qualified the team are doing the right things in the right way and that there is more resource needed to deliver on projects than the team has available. But there's one more aspect that can be assessed.

The Ace Card
At the follow up meeting opinions will be replaced with facts from the research and analysis that’s been conducted. The case for extra staff should be proven and assuming the senior management is sympathetic and professional they will now work with the Test Manager to get the budget and headcount needed.

However, even at this point there's no guarantee the budget and headcount will be made available. The most common reason for not agreeing to release budget or assign headcount is that there is simply no budget or headcount to assign.

To find them the Test Manager should construct a survey that is sent to all departments and asks; "How many staff in your team and for how long–work on tasks you think the test team should be delivering?" The survey should also ask about average salaries, number of staff, etc. so that a budgetary value can be placed against the time these teams spend on testing.

In doing this the Test Manager can reveal two very important facts:

  • The number of 'hidden' testers in other teams masquerading as developers, etc.
  • How much of their budget other teams spend on testers thinking it's on developers, etc.

The argument here is that headcount and budget is already being spent on testers and they should be assigned to the test team not development, support, etc. What's more, doing this will raise questions from managers of those teams who will see their headcount and budget is being used to carry the test team and not getting their own work done.

Don't those managers also ask for extra headcount too? I’m sure they do and helping them realise the above will see those test tasks back into the test team faster than you can imagine. Because if they don't the message is they don’t have an excess of work, that the hidden tester was never needed headcount. I guarantee no manager will give away their headcount so willingly!

At this point the Test Manager has proven the team are all doing the right things in an efficient manner. They've shown there's more work in known projects than they can deliver in the timescales expected and that there are hidden testers headcount in other teams.

The opinions of senior management will now be very informed based on many well researched facts. Or their arguments fairly well demolished, depending on your outlook. Either way, the Test Manager will look professional and competent, possibly more so than other managers. The senior manager can either accept the case for additional headcount or feel confident taking it to their own manager.

A Case Study Paper and the Excel workbook for capturing the teams activity and time are freely available by emailing Mark at [email protected].

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