Make Your Manager Test

Does your test manager ever test? They should.

I recently got promoted to test manager. About three months in, I started to get used to delegating much of the testing tasks. I have to admit, it was nice to focus on the big picture for a while. I began sounding like a manager, being more interested in status rather than test value.

When one of my testers took a vacation to India and the other two got sick, I had to jump in where my testers left off and complete a variety of testing activities. It was like getting smacked in the face.

  • In some places where I thought the tester was dragging, I discovered legitimate test impediments.
  • In some places where I believed the tester excuses, I found tester misunderstandings or poorly designed tests.
  • In all areas, I experienced the stress of uncertainty, the constant decision making, and the thrill of finding important problems.

The best way to really grok a job is to perform it yourself. Experiencing the act of testing is different than observing it or hearing summaries of it. So...

  • Testers, the next time you take a personal day off work, ask your manager to be your backup and actually do some of your work while you’re out.
  • Managers, offer to jump in and be the backup tester.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I've been a test (and/or test automation) manager for most of the past seven years. One thing I've found is that as my responsibility has grown, I have had less and less time to test. I still manage to get in maybe 4-8 hours a month. But my skills are kind of atrophying. I am having to change my game from player-coach to straight coach, and develop my best testers to be the player-coaches. It is just simply reality as my management looks to me to lead at a higher level.

  2. wolfgao said...

    Me too, I have been a test manager for 4 years above. I think my key responsibility is to let them work smoothly, then complete all test plans on schedule as we committed. Several more things, sometimes you have to audit their test results, and weekly review performance metric, keep a good working morale around team, let each members know what is the best job you agree, and what is our business goal.
    I sometimes took a backup to test products, that will help you keep test skills and improve your communication with your team members.
    One basic question for you, when do you think your team is the best in your company, meet your expectations?
    If yes, how could you do that? If not, why?

  3. Joe said...

    It's fun to do when you can, but unfortunately doesn't scale. If you have more than just a few direct reports, and the only way you can understand how they are doing is by performing their job, you won't have much time for anything else. In many companies, Managers have too much other real work to do.

    And jumping in for a quick test, then jumping back out is only useful in limited circumstances. For many projects, it's unlikely to be a very effective way to test.

    Consider other ways that you can get similar insight into your testers' work. Perhaps more discussion, or a brief bit of pairing during your weekly one-on-one meeting (you do conduct one-on-one meetings, right?) would help.

  4. Michael Bolton said...

    3. Being a manager doesn't mean you have to isolate yourself from your testers. You can pair with them, drop in, walk around, debrief actively, supervise them closely from time to time...

    When someone says "I don't have time for X", I often ask them "If your job is to comprehend and explain and justify and support and facilitate X, might it be a good investment to spend some time on doing X?"

    ---Michael B.

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