Thursday, April 12, 2012

Decision Safety Net

Yesterday I was giving a talk for the STP online summit for Test Management. My talk was on getting your testing MBA and it was basically about how testers can and should consider the needs of the business, in order to work more effectively with business groups.

One of the questions I got was about what decisions it is appropriate for a test manager to make. The question actually applies to all engineering managers - test managers, development managers, support managers, etc.

First, a bit of background:

During my talk, I noted that there is some prominent thinking in the test field that testers and test managers should not make decisions. They are information providers and advisors, but they are not equipped with sufficient information to make decisions. The classic example is that the test manager shouldn't be able to block a release, because it's possible that releasing early with a huge bug is better than releasing later with no bug due to some contractual obligation with a client or potential customer. In that case, closing the deal by shipping (on, say, the last day of a quarter) might be more important than fixing the issue that would cause the test manager to say, "don't ship!"

My response to this is that there is a kernel of validity but that the overall message of "don't make a decision!" has gone too far. It's perfectly okay for test managers or development managers to make some decisions. There truly are times when the test manager or the development manager should be making a decision, and where not making the decision is simply a cop out.

And now to my actual point:
There is a decision safety net. The business will not allow you to make a decision you shouldn't be making - at least, not more than once.

That's the rub. NO ONE has perfect information in any business. The development manager doesn't know everything. The product manager doesn't know everything. The CEO doesn't know everything. Everyone knows some of the information that influences a decision, and no one knows all of it. That's the point of good management - to provide a safety net that maximizes the available information for someone to make a decision. Product managers do not have a monopoly on maximizing information; technical managers can do it, too!

So don't be scared of making a decision. And don't be scared of asking for opinions or offering opinions. Most business decisions are made by one person after being influenced by a lot of people. That's the job of a manger. Don't fear it. Embrace it.


  1. I'd say it's okay to not make decisions, as long as one doesn't take that as an excuse not to give recommendations at all (and just provide raw data of what works or not).

    If we have the means to analyse the data we dig up, we should. And, if possible, give a recommendation based upon that. If we have the power to make decisions based on it, we'd do that.