Prompted by a comment from our sticky-minded audience, this week Johanna shares some ways test managers can assess their performance against specific management deliverables likely to be high on an organization's priority list.
Managing the Project Portfolio
As a test manager, I work hard with my project managers and development managers to understand what's in planning for development and what's currently in active development. Some organizations do portfolio management in a systematic fashion, but most organizations do three to nine month planning at best. Actually, if you're in a young organization, it may make a lot of sense to do continual portfolio planning, since you'll be listening very hard to your customers, and you'll change what you do frequently. For older organizations with already existing customers, the changes are less frequent, and more systematic portfolio planning is possible.
How do you assess how well you do portfolio planning? Here are some measures:
- Are you able to rank projects, and assign your best people to the most important projects? Especially as a test manager, you need to put the most valuable people on the most critical projects. Of course, you need to balance assignments with cross-department learning opportunities and other hiring and retention strategic measures, but putting your best people on the most important projects is one organizational measure of a great test manager.
- Are you able to influence the portfolio planning, so that projects are not started, stopped, started again, with the associated context switching?
- How many projects surprise you? I'm sure that we've all been surprised by projects we didn't know about in advance, but if that happens to you more than once or twice, it's time to investigate why that's happening. You are much more effective as a test manager if you can plan to use specific people on specific projects, not just robbing one project to satisfy another.
- Another measure is how often you need to move people from one project to another. The more often you move people, the more you need to look at your hiring practices. If you have a scarce resource, it's time to change job descriptions and hire differently.
Hiring Strategy and Planning
How many times do you hire someone just like the last person? Or have you hired someone based on a tool they know or their GPA? Test groups require a variety of people, in order to thoroughly test the software. And if you have a scarce resource, it's time to develop more of those capabilities in your group. Some measures I've used are as follows:
- Do we have people who can create test strategies, test plans, and test cases? Do we have test architects, and people who are expert users?
- How many times do I need to use the same person on each project? Do I have a scarce resource in the test group? Have I planned to deal with the problem of a scarce resource?
- What kinds of flexibility do I have in staffing projects? Can I trade off senior people and less time against more junior people and more time?
Even if your company is in the midst of layoffs or if you have no open positions, you can still plan your hiring strategy and write job descriptions, so you can hire the most appropriate people when things ease up. Do it now, when you're not distracted with the time it takes to hire people.Staff Retention Strategy
Not everyone wants to stay in testing for a career. Some people want to move into support, development, project management, or people management. No matter what people want to do, if you've hired ambitious self-starters, you're going to have the problem of retaining staff. Some measures I use here are:
- How many people have voluntarily left the group during the past six months, one year, two years? Is there a trend to people leaving? (If there's a trend, it's time for me to discover if I'm contributing to the problem.)
- How many and what kinds of perks do I offer the testing staff to ensure they will want to stay in testing?
As a manager, you deliver value to the organization based on how well you manage the work you have to do on all of your projects, by how well you staff projects, and by how well you retain the people who work with you. Consider these questions, measure the answers to those questions, and see where you have holes. That's your measurement and value to the organization.