Test Management is Dead, Long Live Test Management

Do you remember the ‘Testing is Dead’ meme that kicked off in 2011 or so? It was triggered by a presentation done by Alberto Savoiea here . It caused quite a stir, some copycat presentations and a lot of counter-arguments. But I always felt most people missed the point being made. you just had to strip out the dramatics and Doors music.

The real message was that for some organisations, the old ways wouldn’t work any more, and as time has passed, that prediction has come true. With the advent of Digital, mobile, IoT, analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, some organisations are changing the way they develop software, and as a consequence, testing changes too.

Shifting testing left, with testers working more collaboratively with the business and developers, test teams are being disbanded and/or distributed across teams. With no test team to manage, the role of the test manager is affected. Or eliminated.

Test management thrives; test managers come and go.

It is helpful to think of testing as less of a role and more of an activity that people undertake in their projects or organisations. Everyone tests, but some people specialise and make a career of it. In the same way, test management is an activity associated with testing. Whether you are the tester in a team or running all the testing in a 10,000 man-year programme, you have test management activities.

For better or for worse, many companies have decided that the role of test managers is no longer required. Responsibility for testing in a larger project or programme is distributed to smaller, Agile teams. There might be only one tester in the team. The developers in the team take more responsibility for testing and run their own unit tests. There’s no need for a test manager as such – there is no test team. But many of the activities of test management still need to be done. It might be as mundane as keeping good records of tests planned and/or executed. It could be taking the overall project view on test coverage (of developer v tester v user acceptance testing for example).

There might not be a dedicated test manager, but some critical test management activities need to be performed. Perhaps the team jointly fulfil the role of a virtual test manager!

Historically, the testing certification schemes have focused attention on the processes you need to follow—usually in structured or waterfall projects. There’s a lot of attention given to formality and documentation as a result (and the test management schemes follow the same pattern). The processes you follow, the test techniques you use, the content and structure of reporting vary wherever you work. I call these things logistics.

Logistics are important, but vary in every situation.

In my thinking about testing, as far as possible, I try to be context-neutral. (Except my stories, which are grounded in real experience).

As a consultant to projects and companies, I never knew what situation would underpin my next assignment. Every organisation, project, business domain, company culture, and technology stack is different. As a consequence, I avoided having fixed views on how things should be done, but over twenty-five years of strategy consulting, test management and testing, certain patterns and some guiding principles emerged. I have written about these before[1].

To the point.

Simon Knight at Gurock asked me to create a series of articles on Test Management, but with a difference. Essentially, the fourteen articles describe what I call “Logistics-Free Test Management”. To some people that’s an oxymoron. But that is only because we have become accustomed in many places to treat test management as logistics management. Logistics aren’t unique to testing.

Logistics are important, but they don’t define test management.

I believe we need to  think about testing as a discipline where logistics choices are made in parallel with the testing thinking. Test Management follows the same pattern. Logistics are important, but they aren’t testing. Test management aims to support the choices, sources of knowledge, test thinking and decision making separately from the practicalities – the logistics – of documentation, test process, environments and technologies used.

I derived the idea of a New Model for Testing – a way of visualising the thought processes of testers – in 2014 or so. Since then, I have presented to thousands of testers and developers and I get very few objections. Honestly!

However, some people do say, with commitment, “that’s not new!”. And indeed it isn’t.

If the New Model reflects how you think, then it should be a comfortable fit. It is definitely not new to you!

One of the first talks I gave on the New Model is here. (Skip to 43m 50s to skip the value of testing talk and long introduction).

The New Model for Testing

Now, I might get a book out of the material (hard-copy and/or ebook formats), but more importantly, I’m looking to create an online and classroom course to share my thinking and guidance on test management.

Rather than offer you specific behaviours and templates to apply, I will try to describe the goals, motivations, thought processes, the sources of knowledge and the principles of application and use stories from my own experience to illustrate them. There will also be suggestions for further study and things to think about as exercises or homework.

You will need to adjust these lessons to your specific situation. It requires that you think for yourself – and that is no bad thing.

Here’s the deal in a nutshell: I’ll give you some interesting questions to ask. You need to get the answers from your own customers, suppliers and colleagues and decide what to do next.

I’ll be exploring these ideas in my session at the next Assurance Leadership Forum on 25 July. See the programme here and book a place.

In the meantime, if you want to know more, leave a comment or do get in touch at my usual email address.

 

[1] The Axioms of Testing in the Tester’s Pocketbook for example, https://testaxioms.com

 

What is Digital?

Revolution

If you are not working on a “Digital” project, the hype that surrounds the whole concept of Digital and that is bombarding business and IT professions appears off-putting to say the least. But it would be wrong to ignore it. The Digital Transformation programmes that many organisations are embarking on are affecting business across all industry and government sectors. There is no doubt that it also affects people in their daily lives.

That sounds like yet another hype-fuelled statement intended to get the attention. It is attention grabbing, but it’s also true. The scope of Digital[1] is growing to encompass the entirety of IT related disciplines and business that depends on it: that is – all business.

It is becoming clear that the scope and scale of Digital will include all the traditional IT of the past, but when fully realised it will include the following too:

  • The IoT– every device of interest or value in the world will become connected; sensors of all types and purpose will be connected – by the billion – to the internet.
  • Autonomous vehicles – cars, planes, ships, drones, buses will become commonplace in the next ten years or so. Each will be a “place on the move”, fully connected and communicating with its environment.
  • Our home, workplace, public and private spaces will be connected. Our mobile, portable or wearable devices will interact with their environment and each other – without human intervention.
  • Robots will take over more and more physical tasks and make some careers obsolete and humans redundant. Robots will clean the city, fight our wars and care for the elderly.
  • Software in the form of ‘bots’ will be our guardian angel and a constant irritant – notifying us of the latest offers and opportunities as we traverse our Smart Cities[2].
  • The systems we use will be increasingly intelligent, but AI won’t be limited to corporates. Voice control may well be the preferred user-interface on many devices in the home and our car.
  • The operations or ‘Digital Storm’ of commerce, government, medicine, the law and warfare will be transformed in the next few years. The lives of mid-21st century citizens could be very different from ours.

Motivation

Still not convinced that Digital will change the world we live in? The suggested scale of change is overwhelming. Why is this happening? Is it hype or is it truly the way the world is going?

The changes that are taking place really are significant because it appears that this decade – the 2010’s – are the point at which several technological and social milestones are being reached. This decade is witness to some tremendous human and technological achievements.

  1. One third of the world is connected; there are plans to connect the remaining two-thirds[3]
  2. The range of small devices that can be assembled into useful things has exploded. Their costs are plummeting.
  3. Local and low power networking technologies can connect these devices.
  4. Artificial Intelligencewhich has promised so much for so many years is finally delivering in the form of Machine Learning.
  5. Virtual and Augmented Reality-based systems are coming. Sony VR launched (13/10/2016) to over 1.8million people and Samsung VR starts at under $100.
  6. Robotics, drone technology and 3D printing are now viable and workable whilst falling in cost.

Almost all businesses have committed to transform themselves using these technological advances – at speed – and they are calling it Digital Transformation.

Ambition

If you talk to people working in leading/bleeding edge Digital projects, it is obvious that the ambition of these projects is unprecedented. The origin of these projects can be traced to some critical, but dateless assumptions being blown away. It’s easy to imagine some Digital expert convincing their client to do some blue-sky thinking for their latest and greatest project. “The rules of the game are changed” they might advise:

  • There need be no human intervention in the interactions of your prospects and customers and your systems[4].
  • Your sales and marketing messages can be created, sent to customers, followed up and changed almost instantly.
  • You have the full range of data from the smallest locale to global in all media formats at your disposal.
  • Autonomous drones, trucks and cars can transport products, materials and people.
  • Physical products need not be ordered, held in stock and delivered at all – 3D printing might remove those constraints.
  • And so on.

Systems of Systems and Ecosystems

According to NASA the Space Shuttle[5] – with 2.5 million parts and 230 miles of wire – is (or was) the most complex machine ever built by man. With about a billion parts, a Nimitz class supercarrier[6] is somewhat more complex. Of course, it comprises many, many machines that together comprise the super-complex system of systems – the modern aircraft carrier.

A supercarrier has hundreds of thousands of interconnected systems and with its crew of 5-6,000 people could be compared to an average town afloat. Once at sea, the floating town is completely isolated except for its radio communications with base and other ships.

The supercarrier is comparable to what people are now calling Smart Cities. Wikipedia suggests this definition[7]:

“A smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and IoT  solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but are not limited to, local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services.”

The systems of a Smart City might not be as complex as those of an aircraft carrier, but in terms of scale, the number of nodes and endpoints within the system might be anything from a million to billions.

A smart city is not just bigger than an aircraft carrier – it also has the potential to be far more complex. The inhabitants and many of the systems move in the realm of the city and beyond. They move and interact with each other in unpredictable ways. On top of that, the inhabitants are not hand-picked like the military; crooks, spies and terrorists can usually come and go as they please.

Unlike a ship – isolated at sea, the smart city is extremely vulnerable to attack from individuals and unfriendly governments and is comparatively unprepared for attack.

But it’s even more complicated than that.

Nowadays, every individual carries their own mobile system – a phone at least – with them. Every car, bus and truck might be connected. Some will be driverless. Every trash can, streetlight, office building, power point, network access point is a Machine to Machine (M2M) component of a Digital Ecosystem which has been defined thus:

“A Digital Ecosystem is a distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with properties of self-organisation, scalability and sustainability inspired from natural ecosystems”[8].

Systems of Every Scale

The picture I’ve been painting has probably given you the impression that the Digital systems being now architected and built are all of terrifying scale. But my real point is this: The scale of Digital ranges from the trivial to the largest systems mankind has ever attempted to build.

The simplest system might be, for example, a home automation product – where you can control the heating, lighting, TV and other devices using a console, your mobile phone or office PC. The number of components or nodes might be ten to thirty. A medium complexity system might be a factory automation, monitoring and management system where the number of components could be several thousand. The number of nodes in a Smart City will run into the millions.

The range of systems we now deal with spans a few dozen to millions of nodes. In the past, a super-complex system might have hundreds of interconnected servers. Today, systems are now connected using services or microservices – provided by servers. In the future, every node on a network – even simple sensors – is a server of some kind and there could be millions of them.

Systems with Social Impact

It might seem obvious to you now, but there is no avoiding the fact that Digital systems almost certainly have a social impact on a few, many or all citizens who encounter them. There are potentially huge consequences for us all as systems become more integrated with each other and with the fabric of society.

The scary notion of Big Brother[9] is set to become a reality – systems that monitor our every move, our buying, browsing and social activities – already exist. Deep or Machine Learning algorithms generate suggestions of what to buy, where to shop, who to meet, when to pay bills. They are designed to push notifications to us minute by minute.

Law enforcement will be a key user of CCTV, traffic, people and asset movement and our behaviours. Their goal might be to prevent crime by identifying suspicious behaviour and controlling the movement of law enforcement agents to places of high risk. But these systems have the potential to infringe our civil liberties too.

The legal frameworks of all nations embarking on Digital futures are some way behind the technology and the vision of a Digital Future that some governments are now forming.

In the democratic states, civil liberties and the rules of law are very closely monitored and protected. In non-democratic or rogue states, there may be no limit to what might be done.

Ecosystems of Ecosystems

The span of Digital covers commerce, agriculture, health, government, the media in its various forms and the military; it will affect the care, travel, logistics, and manufacturing industries. There isn’t much that Digital won’t affect in one way or another.

A systems view does not do it justice – it seems more appropriate to consider Digital systems as ecosystems within ecosystems.

This text is derived from the first chapter of Paul’s book, “Digital Assurance”. If you want a free copy of the book, you can request one here.

[1] From now on I’ll use the word Digital to represent Digital Transformation, Projects and the wide range of disciplines required in the ‘Digital World’.

[2] See for example, http://learn.hitachiconsulting.com/Engineering-the-New-Reality

[3] Internet.org is a Facebook-led organisation intending to bring the Internet to all humans on the planet.

[4] Referred to as ‘Autonomous Business Models’.

[5] http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/upgrades/upgrades5.html

[6] http://science.howstuffworks.com/aircraft-carrier1.htm

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_city

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_ecosystem

[9] No, not the reality TV show. I mean the despotic leader of the totalitarian state, Oceania in George Orwell’s terrifying vision, “1984”.

 

Re-branding the TMF to be the Assurance Leadership Forum

The Test Management Forum was set up in 2004 and the first meeting took place on 28 January of that year. We have run events every quarter since then, and the 53rd and latest meeting took place at the end of January. Over 2,600 people have attended the London events over the years. Although most Forum attendees come from the UK, the uktmf.com website has approaching 10,000 registered users worldwide and the LinkedIn group 11,800 members.

The TMF continues to be a popular Forum with a global (and not just a UK) influence.

The original aim of the Forum was to bring together more senior practitioners, to network and share knowledge. The core of the Forum meetings are discussion sessions. They are run by an expert in their field and comprise an introductory presentation of 15-30 minutes or so, followed by a facilitated discussion of the issues raised in the talk. Sessions are 75 minutes long and often stir up vigorous debate. The format and ethos of the Forum are unchanged since 2004.

But over the last thirteen years, there have been many changes in the industry and in the Test Management community. I’d like to talk around some of these changes and explain why we decided to bring the TMF up to date with an industry that is far different from that in the early days of the Forum.

In 2004, the Agile movement was still in the early stages. For the next ten years or so, we ran many sessions that explored the changing (sometimes disappearing) role of test managers. I recall having many conversations with people who had been ‘Agiled’ and were concerned their role and contribution to Agile projects was uncertain.

The Test Managers I knew personally reacted in very different ways. Some managers and leaders became testers again, some specialised in test automation or security testing or usability. Others moved closer to their business, became business analysts or consultants. Quite a few were promoted out of testing altogether to become project managers, development leads or heads of solution delivery. Some senior managers retired from IT altogether.

Agile had a big impact, but approaches such as continuous delivery, DevOps, shift- left, shift-right, shift-wherever and analytics are changing the roles of testers in fundamental ways, and I should say, usually for the better. Some testers are falling by the wayside; getting out of testing. The pressures on Test Managers continue, but new doors are opening and opportunities emerging. Some test managers become Scrum Masters, more are finding new roles which I have labelled as Test Masters and in general, these people are performing an Assurance role.

Assurance (as distinct from Quality Assurance) is very much focused on delivery. The assurance role supports the delivers team by acting, at various times, as a process consultant, as a testing expert, as a reviewer, as a project-board level advisor and sometimes as an auditor. This variety of roles is more senior, more comprehensive and more influential than the traditional test manager role. The range of skills and authority required are beyond many test managers – it is not for everybody. But Assurance is a more senior role with a broader influence and is a natural advancement for aspiring test professionals.

With this background, we have decided to re-brand the Test Management Forum to be the Assurance Leadership Forum (or ALF) from April 2017. The ALF has very much the same goals as the TMF, but with a broader organisational, managerial and delivery-focused remit. Test leadership and technical testing issues will figure prominently in the ALF, but the range of topic areas will increase, with an alignment to the aspirations and career progression of senior practitioners.

Mike Jarred, of the Financial Conduct Authority has helped behind the scenes with the Forum for some time. Mike is also one of those managers with a testing background who has advanced beyond testing and into broader software delivery management. He is well placed to take over the Programme Management of the Forum. In December, I moved house to Macclesfield in Cheshire, making it harder for me to host and programme the London-focused Forum events. Mike offered to take the programme role and I gladly took up his offer.

I will continue to be the ‘host’ of the Forum and of course support Mike in putting the events together. My more focused role will allow me to take a more active part in the discussions themselves, for a change! I’ll be asking for expressions of interest in setting up a Northern Forum in the Summer before too long, I’m sure.

In the meantime, I hope you will support the Assurance Leadership Forum, and Mike in leading it.

The existing uktmf.com domain will continue to point to the Forum website, but a new domain ukalf.com points to the same content and will be our preferred url from now on. The LinkedIn group will be also renamed shortly.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rewriting some of the content of the website to better define the purpose of the ALF. I expect we’ll have a debate on possible directions in the next Summit. The First ALF Summit will take place on 25 April in London and if you want to contribute to the day, do let us know.