Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Testing Micromanagement

I spent the last week in CAST2011 in Seattle, talking with testing people and listening to the most interesting-sounding tracks I could find. One that left me thinking for a long time was by Carsten Feilberg on Managing Testing based on Sessions.

After his quite interesting talk, I had to ask if he felt like his style of SBTM had too much of micromanagement included and naturally he did not feel that way. I wrote in my notes that managers responsibility is not to manage, but to make sure it is managed, and have been pondering about my strong reaction to what I felt was micromanagement.

We briefly talked about the contextual differences, but way to shallow to actually yet know of the determining factors. One of the differences we identified is how we felt responsibility in our organizations is allocated, e.g. is test manager responsible for coverage or can that responsibility lie within the team members. My team members are subject-matter experts and I would not dream of controlling their work in less than 2 hours chunks, I just teach them to do that themselves. Thus I have sessions that are "private" and that are "shared", so I do heavy sampling to guide the team and test if they are on the right track as per I understand it.

I went for wikipedia to check what micromanagement is: a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of his or her subordinates or employees.

Having thought about it for a week, I still feel SBTM as it has been described originally is a form of micromanagement. It's less granular than detailed test cases, but it was intended for high accountability - that comes with a cost. I most often don't feel I need that.

In a local discussion whether SBTM is micromanagement or not, a lesson I picked up in agile circles several years back came to mind. In some material I read, there was a typical quadrants picture of two dimensions of building a self-organized team. One axis was Willing vs. Unwilling: whether there was attitude building to do with the individuals in the team. Another was Capable vs. Uncapable: whether they had deep enough skills to do the work that needed doing. For now, I think assumptions on where my team is on these scales are significant in deciding how often you'd need to control to keep the notes good enough.

I feel lucky to have a team that is willing and mostly capable. And that my capabilities amend to those that the team already has.