Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part IV)

You may want to read Trials and Tribulations of a Test Manager (Part III) if you haven't done so already.

The stuff they didn’t tell you about when you got the job

Some of the most challenging and tragic but also some absolutely hilarious things happened in this category. Some were sort of harmless where I found out some time after I started that the Test Manager job meant that I’m also expected to take the role as the Environment and Configuration Manager for the test environments at least.

Some examples of the more serious situations were that I had people come to me telling me they’ve been diagnosed to be bipolar; partners with failing kidneys; alcoholics; parents in hospital with live threatening illnesses; current divorce proceedings and the list goes on. At times like these the people approaching me were usually quite vulnerable. So while knowing that the next project will surely be impacted by sometimes grave news what they want to hear is that I’m taking care of the business side and say “Don’t you worry, I’ll take care of the work side, how can I help you – do you need time off, flexible working, etc?”

I always gave people leeway in situations like these mostly because it’s the right thing to do and I would like to be greeted by understanding from my line manager myself. But at the end of the day there isn’t really an alternative. Under pressure people will put their personal interests above the company anyway. Sometimes without knowing, sometimes with full understanding they don’t really ask for permission for time off / flexible working hours / understanding/ etc. They are only letting me know that their work will be impacted for some time. They do the right thing and expect the same in return.

Once they get a positive response it usually makes their lives a bit easier with one thing less to worry about. I had several instances where people then put in double the amount of effort and working hours once the situation was resolved, far in excess of what they took in the first place. Sometimes HR needs to be involved, sometimes it was fine to deal with it myself depending on the situation.

I worked in multicultural teams and what one perceives to be a joke can be an insult to the next. Careful explaining and setting of boundaries of what’s allowed and where the no man’s land begins becomes very important here. Sexual harassment, invoking grievance policies and offering a trip to the nearest dark alley are all part of this area which I have been lucky enough to diffuse before anything too serious happened.

Something related which tended to be between hilarious and so far out there that it stretched my years of experience to the extreme are what I call the “Rammstein” jokers. (After the band – insult and make fun of everybody, no taboos but expect to get some feedback). How do you react if someone sends an email round to the team saying something along the lines of “Peter is OK but he smells a bit this morning, probably borrowed his wife’s perfume again. I worry more about John who got out his thing under the table again, talks to it a bit in a Gollum voice and then looks at ‘hoff pictures.” (Names and wording changed but that email happened...) In these cases it’s either a “Thank you for working for us, don’t bother logging off. Let me escort you out of the building.” Or seeing how the rest of the team handles it, have a quiet word with the author and then take it from there.

I hope you enjoyed the musings of my last few years as a Test Manager. It was an interesting experience and I like to manage teams. There’s always something new, exciting and sometimes unexpected to learn and I hope I gave something in return. 

Thanks for reading.

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