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Managing Testing People

Adam is a professional software tester and can be contacted at [email protected].

Managing the Test People
Judy McKay
Rocky Nook, 2007
180 pps., $39.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-933952-12-3

The QA/Test vocation has finally started to come into its own if the number of books on the subject is any indication. For most of this year there have been at least one or two solid books released on the subject each month, the majority on test tools and techniques. What has been missing until now is a book aimed at people who manage and run QA departments. It is this void that Judy McKay's Managing the Test People nicely fills.

Using the analogy of a QA group being a "perfect beast" (one with the eyes of an eagle, skin of a rhinoceros, nose of a blood hound, and so on), she walks readers through the creation, maintenance and even culling of her creature. At first I thought this approach a bit of a stretch, but it nicely ties the narrative together with chapter headings like "How to Build the Perfect Beast," "Feeding the Perfect Beast," and "Delousing the Perfect Beast." It also makes for a more colorful read instead of, say, "Building a QA Team," "Rewards," or "Reducing Headcount."

This beginning-to-end writing style is the strongest part of the book. The first chapter starts by asking how you, the manager, got there (promoted from within, inherited the department, starting the department) and explains the challenges and opportunities of each. The next three chapters deal with hiring people that will make you and your team successful from creating job descriptions through interviewing and referral checking. McKay follows this same pattern for the remainder of the book when discussing topics involving inter-group communication, project allocation and career growth of your team -- all areas where a painful learning curve can hide and one that can lead to an exodus of talent if not tackled properly. The departure of team members is the subject of the last chapter and in 20 pages covers improvement plans, termination (with cause), and layoffs. While the information that is presented is good I would hope that anyone finding themselves in true need of this information would be consulting other resources as well.

I really liked this book, but as someone whose job it is to find problems, I have three minor nits to pick. The book is titled "Managing the Test People" and yet from that point everything is in reference to the QA group/team; there is a distinction between the two and most of the target audience will see it. Also, one gets the impression that McKay has had some bad legal experiences when dealing with HR issues. Like most books targeted at the recently minted manager, it mentions that there are certain questions you cannot ask during an interview, but the prospect of either your employer or yourself being in legal trouble is brought up enough that I have "Am I going to get sued?" written at the back of my book. Finally, references to figures are done in a relative manner such as "the above chart" which likely worked before final layout moved the charts around. It would have been less confusing to readers if charts were referred to by their figure number.

I generally make the distinction between a manager and a lead on whether or not they can make personnel decisions; managers can, leads cannot. This book is written principally for the manager type of role with its focus on hiring, promoting and removing employees. This is not to say though that leads cannot get a lot out of the book though as there is a lot of good non-HR specific content and leads often have the responsibility to recommend if not implement change at an HR level.

If you have been running QA groups for awhile, then perhaps this is not the book for you. However, if you are new to the role or still not feeling comfortable in it yet, then Managing the Test People should be added to your bookshelf.

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