Project Managers Have Mothers Too.


This blog is based on a presentation I gave recently at QA & Test in Bilbao. The reason I am blogging it now, will be revealed in next week’s blog…….
 

At times it can seem as if project managers are only put on this earth to annoy testers. All too often the first time a project manager comes to talk to the testers, it is to say that the product is being delivered late, the shipping date remains the same, and testers will have to work harder, longer and smarter to make up lost time.  Testers can be forgiven perhaps, if this leads them to thinking that Project Managers are inhuman monsters who enjoy making their lives a misery. The fact is that Project Managers have mothers too, and they have the toughest of all jobs to do. They need to manage the whole process through all stages, not just testing.  They need to worry about, and are answerable for, the whole project’s costs, overruns, delays, foul ups and disasters.  As test managrs and test leads, we have a part to play in making their lives easier.

The Project Management Institute states that the five stages of a project are;

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Controlling
  • Closing

and for each of those stages, testing has valuable information that the PM needs to understand and that we need to get right if the project is to succeed in balancing the  three conflicting demands of every project:

  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality

Information Is Everything.

The fist and biggest item on the PM’s wish list is ‘Timely and Accurate Information’. PM’s live and die by plans, schedules, work items, deliverables, milestones and deadlines. To us a Gantt chart is an unrealistic set of dates drawn in lines and red blocks. To a PM the Gantt chart is a road map, barometer, comfort blanket and talisman. 
Early on in the project, we need to sit down with the PM and get a good understanding of the process they are following and the information they require. We need to explain to them our own processes and plans and reach a common understanding. We need to incorporate our own plans and timelines into their planning tool.

In order to give the PM what they want, we need to understand our own process and requirements and have thought through our own time lines, costs and constraints; we need to think like Project Managers. If this is new to you, then ask the Project Office for help and guidance, as it is much quicker to get help to do it right early on than take the time to explain how we got it so wrong later on.

Having produces our own work breakdown structure, listing high and lower level tasks, decided what information we need to measure so that we can stay in control of our own area, we need to agree with the PM, what bits they want, and how they want it. We need to be involved at every level of the test process and understand the status of each item, but the PM may only want the high level items. We may have a fancy test management tool that outputs colourful charts, but that is not worth much if the PM has to re-key the information to get it to appear in his overall reporting. 

It’s important that we get our information right, for example, its very easy, in answer to the question, “how long do you need for testing?” to do a quick guestimate on how long will it take us to write and execute tests, forgetting all the other items that take up our time. In answer to the question we should also consider the following;

Tester Training -Time to understand the application or solutionEnvironment set up- Time taken to build and configure the environment for each phase and iteration of testing.

  • Data Preparation – Time to prepare, restore, load and clear databases.
  • Reporting – Time taken to prepare and present reports.
  • Issue management – Time taken to log, review, manage and communicate faults and issues.
  • Reviews – Time taken to review documentation, both those generated by your team and those generated by the business and development teams

Having agreed what and how to report, its important that the PM is kept up-to-date and that any threats to the time lines are communicated as soon as possible so that relevant corrective action can take place.

The Key Metrics

We need to make our test metrics as useful as possible to PM’s so that they will want to use them. That means giving really clear, concise and targeted metrics that matter. The reason for giving the PM this information is not, to show how bad a job development has done, or even what a great job testing has done, it is purely to give the PM the information they need to make critical decisions and be able to answer the basic questions they will be asked by their bosses.

The ‘Magnificent Seven’ pieces of information most PMs want to know from testing are.

  • Test Cases Executed vs. Test Cases Planned
  • The Total Number of Defects Open
  • The Number of Critical Defects (however they are defined, e.g. Sev 1 and 2)
  • The Daily Defect Arrival Rate
  • The Daily Critical Defect Arrival Rate
  • The Daily Defect Closure Rate
  • The Daily Critical Defect Closure Rate

With these figures a number of charts can be produced to quickly show the trends and risks associated with the testing process.

We Are In IT, Lets Use The Technology

More and more now, we are seeing Testing Dashboards incorporated into vendor toolsets, giving immediate and real time access to these sorts of statistics. We should where ever possible be asking the Project Office to set up a testing view in their own project management tool set to allow us to input our data.  If that is not possible, then it should be easy enough (even if we have to beg some help from the dev team) to build our own Excel, SharePoint, Intranet dashboard. With ‘waterlines’ for exit criteria, trend charts, progress indicator and RAG status, a Testing Dashboard is exactly the kind of thing that will bring a smile to your PM’s face.

Build Your Tool Chest

In order to develop approaches and resources that give the PM the information they need to make the critical decisions and also to give them the best chance of understanding our needs, it is vital that as Test Mangers we build our own Project Management Tool set. Ask to be sent on PM training courses, search the PM resource sites for tips and templates, talk to PMs and ask what they have that might help you help them. Be proactive and start to build your own PM Tool Chest. In the end, your PM, your developers, your testers and you yourself might be very glad you did.

Some useful PM related websites

http://www.pmi.org/Pages/default.aspx the site for the Project Management Institute, (check out the Global Standards, from their resources page)
http://www.suite101.com/course.cfm/17517/seminar a free introduction to project management course
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_management
http://www.cio.com/article/40342/Project_Management_Definition_and_Solutions?page=1 a good in depth article on project management

  

 

Tony Simms is the Principal Consultant at

Roque Consulting (http://www.roque.co.uk)

 

He can be contacted at tony.simms@roque.co.uk

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About Tony Simms - Test Manager
About Tony Simms Tony Simms is the Principal Consultant at Roque Consulting and has provided project and software quality management services to companies and organisations such as BT, The BBC, The NHS, NSPCC and Siemens. Since 1995 he has been involved in managing large software development programmes and projects, often requiring the managment of third party software development companies. Tony’s work experience has included managing a number of high profile test projects, including projects for The NHS Connecting For Health (CfH), The BBC, Siemens Traffic Controls, The NSPCC and CSC. These projects have involved both green site systems development and the upgrade or migration of existing or commercial off the shelf systems

5 Responses to Project Managers Have Mothers Too.

  1. Chris Heath says:

    I saw this article a couple of years ago, and it is one of a few dozen that I keep with me at all times. On the first few days of a new contract, I always sit down with the PM and try to do exactly what this says. An invaluable list of reminders when you start somewhere new, it helps you “start as you mean to go on”. Thanks for this.

  2. Tahira Syed says:

    good one; I share two organization with you BT, NHS :)

  3. Pingback: Reading « Readings

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