Defect Managers – Accelators or Inhibitors of progress?
This text attempts to provide a short reflection on the role and meaning of test and defect management. It is a story of the individual experience of a newly emerged manager who hopes to approach and share the experience of transition from the executor of tasks to one that manages them. How this experience changed the view of what management is and how it contributes to the overall test process? You can find some of the answers below.
I first came up with the title of this blog about a year ago. At that time, I just successfully finished my first release. I was getting more and more comfortable in my new position as a defect and test manager. On the other hand, the whole situation was still very novel to me. This project was my first managerial experience, but I took it as an opportunity to explore this new territory.
I worked in testing for some time and had closely cooperated with managers (both from a project and testing perspective). But the defect manager role still has been somehow of a mystery to me. I was familiar with the tasks at hand, but the practice of concentration on those tasks within one position was new. Previously, defect management responsibilities were scattered across the team but not necessarily centralized and represented by a single person. Therefore I took the opportunity as a playing ground and observation platform in one.
Missing artifacts ≠ missing value
One of the first differences I have noticed has been a lack of artifacts. Products you are creating as results of your work. Previously, I had written test cases, executed them, raised defects. I had concrete artifacts of my work in front of me. In management, those artifacts turned into email exchanges, calls, and discussions. After a long day, I often struggled to see any tangible results of my work. Only later have I realized that those exchanges were one of the bases of my contribution. There is a direct link between the progress of a release and your communication as a manager. Every email, every call, or chat can help you to move further with your work. And every communication counts. By the end of the day, those email replies count as much as the number of created test cases or defects raised.
I admit it might be hard to put these activities into some numeric values, which might help to battle the feeling. And I won't suggest counting your email replies either. I guess this feeling is changing only gradually with time. And you might start to gain confidence that somewhere during this process, your contribution makes a difference. I will try to make such cases further in the text, where I believe this contribution is happening.
NOKIA of the testing world
As a famous slogan of this company suggests, it is all about connecting people. As a manager, you may often find you cannot solve all the issues by yourself. Sometimes you need help. And sometimes, you need to bring together the right people, enable them to engage in a discussion, and take the role of mediator. Your work depends on the results of others' work, but they might also be dependent on your ability to organize and manage what is needed. Clearly stating the issue and a common goal can help to achieve what is required. And you might learn a thing or two along the way. I often gained a lot of knowledge about a specific topic when being present in such discussions, even if only as an observer. I began to understand the issues I helped to resolve. And I also learned about the complexity of various solutions and how they are interconnected.
The second notable connection is between people and information. You are often in the position of holding and distributing information to others. How you engage in such activity can significantly affect the progress of your project. In this case, information sharing can also work against you (and you might be guilty of helping it). I believe the current pandemics only highlighted how careful one must be with the dosage and amount of the information distributed. With a switch to purely online communication, an overall increase of emails falling to one's inbox might be significant. So keeping track of all of them can take a large portion of your time.
Therefore, a compact and concise message is the key, but knowing your target audience plays. Sharing too much information with a way too large audience can often result in email bombarding and overwhelming people. It might cause a loss of interest in sifting through too many messages (the same applies to overwhelming people with JIRA ticket notifications). Then again - not enough information can cause problems as well. Do not expect people to know things only because you know it (this one I am still guilty of from time to time). To be brief and comprehensive, yet to provide a relevant message. Finding a balance between these two opposites is crucial for success.
Building connections - peer to peer network
If communication is a substantial part of your work as a manager, building quality connections with your work peers is equally important. It applies both to your closest colleagues (you work daily with) as well as a broader group of people you might interact with less frequently. For me, this is the most valuable asset of my work. It is something where I feel I can contribute to the project personally. Not that any other activity done in a manager role does not count. But creating relations with your colleagues is something that derives specifically from you as a human being, and it is directly affected by your character. It bounces back at you, and it might backfire as well.
I work on a rather big project, where my close group of colleagues is around ten people. The project itself, however, involves hundreds. As a defect manager, I came into contact with a majority of them at some point. And with several of them, I have managed to build (I believe) good quality relationships.
When I started at this job, nobody knew me. But as a manager, I had to interact with the people nonetheless. It was tough at the beginning. However, once you meet with them in person, they stop being just a name in the email or on the JIRA ticket. Not that they were not people before. But the representation of them as a person was limited to their name. And this directly affects your perception of them. They also get to know you better. I realized that tough conversations and extremely urgent tasks are much more manageable when you have good relations with people who need to perform them. They are much more willing to help you and assist you. It may apply to a fatal issue that you need to have analyzed or resolved urgently or a need for a quick retest that might tip the balance of success.
I must admit this part has been much easier before the pandemics hit us. Building relations online is not as natural as meeting people in person. Calls are a good alternative but do not convey the whole communication picture. Chats can be reductive in a way written communication is by design. The ability of video calls poses a limitation due to the stretch on the network. But, you can still build connections, even with limited tools. In general, every person is individual. What might work for one does not imply a universal rule. Be mindful while communicating with others. Try to find the path towards each of your colleagues individually. It takes time, but it brings benefits you might cherish later, not necessarily only from a professional perspective.
Steering the progress
Coming back to the beginning, how much your presence as a manager contributes or halts the progress might have more to do with what you do than with a particular position you hold. You are holding power of decision, but you are not almighty. You are in control of certain things, but you are also dependent on the work of others. It is almost like a system of checks and balances. The web of human interaction prevents you from a concentration of power. But the decisions you make do contribute to the overall progress. And they affect the result of the successful outcome. Be cautious when making one, but also do not hesitate to make them when needed.
To conclude, it is sometimes not easy to find a direct connection between your work as a manager and the effect on the progress it might have on the release. In my blog, I have tried to shed some light on the aspects which I believe hold a significant effect on the progress. It is not an exhaustive list, and there are many other aspects to consider. I am ending with a quote I believe sums up this blog well - Testing is all about people. Even more so when it comes to managing it.