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Hey, Agile Test Manager- Do You have a Vision, Roadmap, Strategy?

By Mary Thorn, Director, Software Test Engineering, Ipreo

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Mary Thorn, Director, Software Test Engineering, Ipreo

Your first question might be–why does an Agile Test Man­ager need a vision, strategy, or roadmap? Isn't that the role of the Product Owner, maybe even the Devel­opment Manager, but certainly not the Agile Test Manager? When someone asks me what I do, I say: “I build high performing Agile Test Teams”. “I provide the vision, roadmap, and strategy for the test team and remove any roadblocks that are impeding their success.”

Vision

When I talk about vision, I often think of my days as a collegiate basketball player when my coach would bring in sports psychologists. They would teach us how to envision winning the big game and what we could contribute to it: for example, by making the game-winning shot I envision the things I could do to contribute more to my team’s success and all the things that need to happen to get us to the point of be­ing high-performing. For those of you who are first time Agile Test Managers, you might not necessarily know what a high-performing test team looks like, so you might challenge me to help you envision it.

“Without team buy-in and the Agile Test Manager's leadership of the strategy, it is no more than writing on a piece of paper”

Characteristics of a high-performing test team from my perspective include:

• The test team members are functioning as an equal part of the overall Scrum Team

• They are Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the area of the application.

• They are technically competent.

• The next five adjectives come from the book by Patrick Lencioni called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”: the test members are accountable, com­mitted, trust their teammates, driven to results, and don’t fear conflict.

The bottom line is that you need to figure out what success looks like for your test team and create a vision of how to get there.

Roadmaps

Roadmaps are my favorite subject with my test man­agers. It helps them define to me what ‘good’ looks like and how they are going to achieve ‘good’ for that quarter. The things that I have found helpful in hav­ing a testing roadmap include:

1) Transparency around areas where improvement is needed within test, especially

2) It helps define what success looks like for the test personnel for the year define individual objectives around this.

3) Defines the strategy discussed above.

4) It looks like you know what you are doing.

Who Creates Them?

There are three contributors to roadmaps:

1) Your team(s)

2) You as a leader (your experience, instincts, etc.)

3) Your organizational directives

The Team

So where do you start? With The Team, The Team, The Team, The Team—and no that was not a typo. I am sure some of you are saying that I just said that it was part of the Agile Test Manager’s job. It is, but all the content is contributed by the Test and Devel­opment team members.

You as a Leader

Once I understand what is important to the team, I then pull from my experience and add items that I know will make us suc­cessful. While I usually use my experience to get items on the board for discussion during the team retrospective, sometimes that does not happen and I make decisions to add additional roadmap items.

Organizational Directives

Often there are organizational directives that influence the Test roadmap.

Putting it all Together

Once you have gathered all the input for your roadmap, you put a baseline together. I say “baseline” because now you have to review it with several key stakeholders to make sure they buy in to what you are trying to do. Every year, once I have my road­map, I review it with my team again to make sure they agree. I review it with the product owners to make sure they understand the business value. Once we all agree to this, then I have my roadmap for the year.

I have one. Now what?

Once you have your roadmap, you need to work with your prod­uct owner organization to create stories, and get them prioritized and injected across your entire team’s product backlogs. This is not always easy, as it often seems to undermine the product own­ers’ initiatives and direction. You will need to convince them of the importance of your work and how it fits into their overall strategies, roadmaps, and plans. Make sure that you put all of your work in a “business context”, explaining what it will do for “them” or the “customer”. Another approach is to allocate a specific percentage of each backlog to this sort of work.

Roadmap–for Sale

Another thing that you will need to do is to “sell” the roadmap. How do you SELL a roadmap? Promote it in your next town hall, put it on your wiki, discuss it in agile meetings (grooming, plan­ning, retrospectives), email the group, etc. This is actually one of the most critical steps in the process. If you are not transparent about what you are trying to do, then nothing will ever get done. I cannot emphasize how important it is to keep it up-to-date and hold yourself and the team accountable to it.

Strategy

Strategy is defined as: A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

Again, referencing my basketball roots, just like we envision hitting the game-winning shot, you have to come up with a strategy to put yourselves in a position to be able to take that shot. The key here, though, is executing the strategy once you have one. The team has to get it done, do it incrementally, measure it, and make adjust­ments along the way. With that said, I cannot emphasize enough how much you should collaborate with your team in the execution phase. This will allow them to buy into the strategy and help con­tribute in terms of how they think the strategy should be executed. It also gives them ownership and accountability, and creates trust. Without team buy-in and the Agile Test Manager’s leadership of the strategy, it is no more than writing on a piece of paper.

Wrapping up

So, is the above a "slam dunk" to win the game? No. But someone once asked me:“What are the three great characteristics of a Prod­uct Owner?” and I responded:

  1. They understand their business context
  2. They have a strategy, vision, and roadmap and can effectively communicate them
  3. They are organized

To be honest, I feel like these are exactly the same three char­acteristics needed to be a good Agile Test Manager. If you do these three things then you should be able to at least setup the team to “win” the game.

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