Is test management wrong?

I was somewhat confused by what was meant by the recent article entitled “Test Management is Wrong“. I couldn’t quite work out whether the author meant Test Management (the activity) is wrong, Test Managers (the people) are wrong or Test Management Tools (the things) are wrong, but here’s my view of these three things:

Test Management (the activity): now embedded in agile teams;
Test Managers (the people): on the way out; and
Test Management Tools (the things): gathering dust

Let me explain with an example. Most organizations see the benefit of agile ‘iterative’ development and have or are in the process of restructuring teams to work in this way. A typical transformation looks like this:

Agile Transformation

Instead of having three separate larger ‘analysis’, ‘development’ and ‘test’ teams, the organization may move to four smaller cross functional teams consisting of say one tech lead, one analyst, one tester and four programmers.

Previously a test manager managed the testing process (and testing team) probably using a test management tool such as Quality Centre.

Now, each agile team is responsible for its own quality, the tester advocates quality and encourages activities that build quality in such as accurate acceptance criteria, unit testing, automated acceptance testing, story testing and exploratory testing. These activities aren’t managed in a test management tool, but against each user story in a lightweight story management tool (such as Trello). The tester is responsible for managing his/her own testing.

Business value is defined and measured an iteration at a time by the team.

So what happens to the Analysis, Development and Test Managers in the previous structure? Depending on the size of the organization, there may be a need for a ‘center of excellent’ or ‘community practice’ in each of the areas to ensure that new ideas and approaches are seeded across the cross-functional teams. The Test Manager may be responsible for working with each tester in the teams to ensure this happens. But depending on the organization and the testers, this might not be needed. This is the same for the Analysis Manager, and to a lesser extent, the Development Manager.

Step by Step test cases (such as those in Quality Center) are no longer needed as each user story has acceptance criteria, and each team writes automated acceptance tests written for functionality they develop which acts as both automated regression tests and living documentation.

So the answer the author’s original message: no I don’t think test management is wrong, we just do it in a different way now.

5 thoughts on “Is test management wrong?

  1. As a Test Manager I hope my job is not on the way out ;-( Fortunately, agile (in my opinion) increases the need for Test Managers; a need that increases as the size of the organization increases. When you have 2, 3, or 4 teams working from the same automation framework on the same app, you need a “Manager” to ensure the framework is built properly using the best tools available. And you need a “Manager” to ensure each team member has the skill set needed to be the best tester they can on each team.

    Often times these skills vary from team to team. So the “Manager” needs to be a Jack of All Testing Trades; able to recognize a need and deliver training accordingly.

    And someone needs to staff each team knowing the skill set needed. If a team wants to remove an individual tester, the “Manager” needs to figure out the staffing; what to do with the removed tester and who to replace them.

    Agreed about Test Management tools. Although I will say weening testers off QC, ALM, of TFS is unfortunatley difficult and usually takes longer than you would hope.

  2. It is interesting that the role of the Project Manger hs been left untouched (in the graph) and unmentioned (in the post). Wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to it as for the Test Manager? And doesn’t the most recognized agile method (i.e. Scrum) get rid of it altogether?

  3. I’m not sure I quite agree that step by step test cases are no longer needed. You argue that they are no longer needed because automation has/will replace them. Yet no project, team or person is ever going to automate everything 100%. And if you can’t automate everything that implies that you still need a degree of manual testing. If you want to track that aspect of testing then a test management tool is still a good place to go.

    It’s also worthwhile pointing out that agile tools like Rally still have a signficant amount of functionality that is focused on managing test cases. So whilst I agree that tools like QC might not be the perfect fit (out of the box) for an agile approach they still have a place in our game.

  4. Hi Alister, I think my blog post may have been too subtle since I have read a few misunderstood responses like yours and for that I am sorry. I clarified it in a comment response to expand upon the blog post title to say: “trying to assure Quality through [only] Test Management is wrong.”

    Quality is not even the sum of all the testing activities we do. There are no Test Management tools (Waterfall or Agile) that can put a direct correlation between Quality and the Testing activities managed. “Quality Center” is not. Is QC an ALM? Maybe, but not a “Quality” center.

    Test Management is important, and just like we manage code, it needs to be done. Similarly, having tools to help us manage the boring, repetitive tasks is a good thing. Just don’t ever call these tools “Quality Management” tools because that’s wrong. I don’t recall saying that “Test Managers (the people) are wrong”, however, the ones who claim they know what the “quality” of the system is to their clients and stakeholders based only upon their black-box or system testing activities are certainly confused.

    Thanks for the post. Love your site and your illustrations.

    Cheers! Paul.

  5. I totally agree that test management must be lighter for agile processes. In particular exploratory testing should be preferred to plan-based testing. But in the end some verification is needed and so some plan-based testing, but you don’t need step-by-step test descriptions, lighter checklist like approaches are desirable.

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