Managing Your Stakeholders

I’ve just qualified at Practitioner level in Managing Successful Programmes. MSP is, (in the UK), the preferred approach to programme management, and the normal next step after getting the relevant project management qualification PRINCE2. As well as being a very hard week of training and exams, and very useful for me and my career, what can it teach us when applied to the software testing area specifically?

MSP teaches us to take the programme approach to controlling groups of projects, gives the bigger picture, vision and framework in which to run them, and most importantly for me, it teaches the importance of your stakeholders. I’ve found during my career so far that this is one of the most important areas that a test manager can focus upon. I’ve managed projects and groups of projects, programmes if you will, and the most common problems I see are always related to lack of buy-in, understanding, or focus on rolling out changes and embedding them in the groups that need them. That’s not the technical test methods and techniques, the dashboards required to track progress, and the planning that needs to be done; this comes easily. Or if it does not then you make sure there are people in your group to whom it does. But overall management of the stakeholders falls to you, as head of the group, senior test manager, programme test manager, (or whatever job title you have). You have overall responsibility.

MSP gives a good framework in which to manage those stakeholders, encouraging regular communication and follow-up, focused planning of stakeholder engagements and close cooperation.

It’s easy to get stakeholder engagement wrong. It’s not easy to do, it’s sometimes not nice to do. You believe in what your programme is trying to do, why the need to convince others? But ignore stakeholder management at your peril. This is especially important in testing where you often have to fight for your budget and your resources more than other disciplines. Being able to provide the right vision to secure initial buy-in, to follow this up with the right targeted communications to the right people, and give the required and regular continued communication means that your life can actually become easier.

Where should you focus when considering test management stakeholder engagement? Start with identifying who the stakeholders are. Do you need to roll out a new testing process in many teams and projects? Do you also need to introduce new tools and new teams, possibly off-shore? You’ll need to focus on different people and you need to know who these people are and what stake they have. Then think about a vision of the future, paint a picture where testing brings higher quality to the products, through better process or tools. Talk in terms of money saving, of shorter release cycles, and of long term quality. This will be high level so target this further towards each individual stakeholder; think about what each one will care about. Are they a ‘money guy’ or a ‘people guy’, are they fascinated by the process or the tools? Tailor the message to each one and you have a much better chance of success.

Then don’t stop. You need to be communicating to these people regularly. And don’t stop once you have delivered something; keep talking to them as the new processes and tools are rolled out and become operational. They will have questions and they often won’t want the changes. It’s here that stakeholder engagement often fails; people stop it too early, leaving stakeholders un-happy, and expensive new processes and tools unused.

Ultimately you hope to win over some of the doubters, those who do not see the value that testing brings. You want to ‘push the right buttons’ to do this. And if you can do this, whilst letting the rest of your team handle the individual projects where testing is taking place, then you have proved your value at the programme level.

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