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Test Management: Creating and Building Relationships

By Rex Black

When I do assessments for clients, I talk to a lot of people, both inside and outside the testing group. In the opening moments of each interview, I try to engage in a friendly exchange, where I break the ice between the interviewee and myself. Not only is it more pleasant to have a friendly conversation than a tense one, but people are more open and honest with someone with whom they have some kind of positive relationship, compared to a complete stranger—or someone they see as hostile, cold, or inscrutable. Most of the time, I succeed, and I get to spend an interesting hour or so with someone who gives me the benefit of their insights and opinions.

The same is true, on a much larger and longer scale, for test managers. Testing is a matter of providing useful services to stakeholders. If those stakeholders have a good relationship with you and the other test managers in your test group, information will flow more smoothly in both directions. The job of the test group will become easier because it has better access to information it needs. The test group will also become more valuable because the information the group produces will flow more smoothly to the recipients of that information. It’s just human nature: We listen to and value the communications we receive from people we are comfortable with, and we are happy to reciprocate that flow of information.

It’s not that you must be a personal friend to every stakeholder with whom you work, but a good professional relationship with those stakeholders is a major factor in the success of a test manager. How well you and the other managers in the test group initiate, cultivate, and sustain these relationships will strongly influence the flow of information, as well as the support, you obtain from your colleagues.

A relationship is necessarily a two-way affair. You and the test group can’t be the only beneficiaries from a relationship, at least not a good one. Once, a person with whom I worked on a project described the CEO of one vendor as follows: “Every time I meet with that guy, I want to take a shower afterward,” meaning that he felt soiled just by being in the same room. Later in the project, when my colleague legitimately but accidentally came into possession of a memo that was certainly not in the vendor’s interests to disclose to its client, my colleague felt no compunction about copying the document before returning it in a way that did not disclose that he had seen it. The relationship had become two-way, but not in a good way.
As a contrast, I had an excellent relationship with this same vendor’s test manager. Across a significant cultural difference—the same difference my colleague and the CEO had not bridged—he and I forged a relationship of honesty and trust. I felt I could tell him the truth about what was happening on my side of the project, and he felt the same. We shared information to advance our mutual goals of a successful project and high-quality deliverable while at the same time respecting the limits on communication imposed by our different positions in terms of who our employers were. Even when the relationship between the two companies became testy, he and I were always able to communicate as friends with a good relationship of mutual respect.

I note that this anecdote does not represent an isolated incident but rather a truth that has become plain to me throughout my career in testing. The successful test manager, perhaps more than any other managers in the software business, must cultivate strong relationships with stakeholders, continuously reinforce those relationships with mutual benefits, and maintain the relationships through good times and bad. In the next few subsections, let’s look more closely at how.

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Category: Management

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