Improving the State of your Testing Team: Part Three – Strategic Objectives

Whenever we start a new testing effort, one of the first activities is to define the mission. Why are we testing? Who are our clients? What information are we trying to find? Knowing your mission is an important part to successfully meeting your projects objectives and the driver for what you produce during the life of the project.

From an organizational perspective, it is my opinion that it is equally important to define the mission for your testing group. Laying out the high level objectives for your team will give them a lens to view their work and prioritize that which moves them closer to the goal. Driving congruent action in large or small teams, regardless of their location or distribution  (or methodology) requires common themes people can personalize and manage themselves.

It is also imperative that your test teams strategic objectives are aligned to your company goals. I know that sounds obvious, but I don’t run into many test teams that actually define their OWN objectives, let alone know and align to their business. The benefit to alignment of your mission, is that your team can now articulate how your testing effort is helping to contribute to the company’s progress. Want to increase the value of your test team? Give solid evidence of how it’s helping meet business goals.

The following are examples of objectives I give our test teams and are a guide for how I want the testers to judge the effectiveness of their work:

  • Manage risk by continually assessing and reporting on product quality

  • Decrease costs by increasing test efficiency

  • Deliver a best in class global testing service that uses industry leading techniques

  • Improve utilization of technology and tools through reuse and collaboration

Each of those link directly to an IT objective, which are in turn linked directly to the business. They are also worded specifically so that they don’t prescribe what people should do – but how they should continually question their work. Is what I am doing efficient? How does this activity help us get information about quality? Does my work make use of all available resources? How does what I am doing benchmark to whats excellent work in the industry?

There are significant challenges in keeping people moving in the same direction and testing objectives can bring an additional set of problems. Once you think you’ve got a good set of business aligned goals, there is a huge hurdle I’ve seen you should be prepared to address: numbers.

In my experience, if you want to derail your test improvement effort as quickly as possible, introduce a maturity model or metrics program. It sounds counterintuitive, but assigning number based targets to your goals almost ensures they will interfere with their achievement. In his book, “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations“, Robert Austin talks about measurement dysfunction and its consequences. That book was written over FIFTEEN years ago, but the testing industry is still rife with consultants and companies selling this stuff to your COO.

Trying to measure quality and testing through strictly quantitative measures flows directly from the false analogy of software testing to manufacturing. That’s a direct route to low value testing and commoditization. Unfortunately, your test team will probably be the ones bringing the metrics to you, because they feel its a concrete way to demonstrate their value. (and some testers just love to count their test cases!) Don’t take the bait! You’ll be setting up an environment where people are valued based on their perceived productivity, and the next thing you know you’ll be talking about unit pricing!

Set business aligned objectives that can be used to guide your efforts and you’ll get long term, sustainable improvement can be tied directly to value. Good luck!

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