July 7, 2014

Managing, engaging and motivating test groups

Managing, engaging and motivating test groups isn’t hard if you do what needs to be done. To get a working group to actually work, you need communication, team spirit, responsibility, authority and delegation, and objectives for the individual, group and organization. In this article you’ll learn more about how to do all these things effectively.

Improving communication

To communicate, you need start by getting to know your surroundings. You can think of your organization and its environment like a sports stadium populated with your teammates, opponents, fans and referees. Make a list of all of these participants, and figure out what kind of information each one is interested in. Referees may want one type of information, while opponents are more interested in another type of data.

You can develop processes that will help you keep in touch with various parties as a means to communicate their goals, progress, and problems for example. Involve the programmers — whether they belong to your own organization or to your consultant, because you actually play on the same half of the field (I sincerely hope that both you and the programmers think you’re on the same team). Keep in mind that there are multiple ways to communicate, such as one-on-one dialogue, meetings, and written information posted on the intranet or sent via e-mail.

Which method you choose to communicate has a significant impact on how your working group will work:

Method Impact
No information Exclusion, alienation
Verbal information (Q&A)Verbal information (general)Printed Information Understanding
Dialogue – how and whatDialogue – how Involvement

Forming teams from groups

A group can only become a team if all of the following conditions are met:

Trust and Commitment

To achieve trust and commitment, each individual needs to feel important and included in the process. Everyone should feel that they’re contributing to the common goal.


The group needs a shared vision of responsibility, authority, delegation, and respect in order to feel committed to the team.


Without clear objectives, the group’s motivation will eventually falter, no matter how committed they are at the beginning. You need to provide goals at each level of the organization, group, and individual.

Responsibility, authority and delegation

A responsibility is an obligation to perform a certain task. Examples of a test manager’s responsibilities include:

  • Leading and managing testing processes
  • Ensuring that tests are planned, specified, implemented, documented, reported, and communicated
  • Planning and managing eventual rework, and reprogramming
  • Following up and reporting on results of testing
  • Ensuring that the team corrects and retests defects

Authority implies the right to utilize resources and permission to perform a task. Examples of a test manager’s authority:

  • Appoints, designates, and proposes needed resources
  • Makes decisions on measures for labor progress
  • Makes recommendations and provides advice
  • Is allotted sufficient time for testing or help with testing work
  • Receives the right information at the right time
  • Defines roles and responsibilities for testing work

Anyone who delegates a task to another person is responsible for ensuring that the person is able to perform the task, including that they have the skills needed to solve the task and that the task is clearly defined. Delegation implies responsibility during a specific time period, and whether the person given the task may delegate it further. If you assign a task to another person, you still ultimately have the responsibility to ensure that it is done well. In other words, you only delegate tasks, not responsibilities — delegation reduces your workload but not your liability if things go wrong.

Setting goals

Imprecise goals eventually kill motivation. Top-level goals should be at the global level of the entire company, then broken down and specified to the level of groups and individuals so that each individual is pursuing the same overall goal and knows where their contribution fits in. It’s important that you define goals concretely, so that individuals don’t dismiss the goals as fuzzy or based on the management’s whims. You can increase motivation and commitment by having each employee and group set their own targets, so long as they’re linked to the overall company goals.

You can develop goals using the “SMART” approach, which helps you ensure that each goal is:


Lay out the “who, what, when, how, and why” of the goal.


Ask yourself, “How will I measure this?” For example, by time, cost limits…


The person responsible for accomplishing the goal(s) needs to accept them, for example by setting and agreeing to them.


Are the goals achievable given the available time and resources?


The goals need a time limit, or else you run the risk that they will never be met.

At organizational level, the testing operations team might have the goal of ensuring high quality, consistent systems throughout the company. A specific test group’s objective might be to foster a rich exchange of experiences between test leaders. For one individual, the goals might be increased participation in planning, achieving the next level of the training curriculum, and ensuring client satisfaction with delivered results.

Clear goals lead to realistic expectations, explicit problem solving, greater engagement and greater focus. Unclear objectives can lead to missed expectations, poor prioritization of tasks, low motivation, and employee confusion.

Improving the group’s skills

You can break the concept of competence down into theoretical and practical skills. Theoretical skills can be developed by taking courses, reading books, achieving a certification, reading a magazine about software testing, or by joining a professional testing society. Many organizations run highly successful internal competence networks for their testing managers, providing a forum for meeting peers within the organization, sharing experiences, and discussing current issues and events. Each group of participants in your organization needs a training plan to lay out long-term goals and define the path towards achieving them.

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