insight test management

How’s your signal to noise ratio going?

It’s not only engineers that need to deal with S/N (Signal to Noise Ratio). 
Test Managers have to deal with lots of noise, in managing projects, dealing with stakeholders, identifying potential future risk, maintaining test environments, hiring testers, and meetings,meetings & meetings. Traditionally that’s what the role has involved. We deal with the noise, so testers can get on with doing their job – testing.

But is this really what is required? The reporting, the stats, the work allocation, the test strategy work and did I mention the meetings? It’s all STUFF. There’s always STUFF to do as a test manager. If we don’t have STUFF to do, we go out and look for STUFF. We roll our eyes at all the STUFF we have to do, but secretly we like it. It makes us feel important and keeps us busy.

Recently, I did a peer review with my team. I asked them to anonymously review my work. One question I asked them was “what I should start doing more of?”.

The resounding signal was loud and clear.  They wanted me to increase the amount of coaching and training within the team.

So I stopped doing STUFF. I dropped meetings that were optional, I’ve distributed recruitment and I worry less about planning for ‘the future’.

Instead I test and I encourage other testers to pair with me as I test, or to invite me over to test with them.

That way I’m sharing my knowledge and expertise.

It’s been hard to let go the high level STUFF but in some ways, these management type activities can be performed by most managers. Very few people can train and coach testers.

How’s your S/N ratio going?

3 replies on “How’s your signal to noise ratio going?”

Wow, Anne-Marie, you are definitely right that as a test managers we feel good when we have a lot of small and routine things to do. At least I noticed this about myself. Maybe it’s some common situation and understanding – manager should be busy, even when STUFF takes most of the time. So I think that we should control ourselves and dedicate our time to really important things (such as coaching and training in your example). But it’s usually harder than just flow without any control and continue doing STUFF.

This is exactly what I am trying to be. I didn’t want to be a test manager anymore, so I only reacted to assignments for tester. And that’s what I’ve been doing now for a few years. But I’ve also coached and trained testers and non testers, helped with testing questions and implementation of testing procedures as a tester. I cannot only test and not help other people. Last week I had the opportunity to talk about a new assignment, but only because they said they wanted someone who could train and coach testers in a new organization. In the job interview the manager said: We don’t want a testmanager. So I explained about being more a ‘test lead’, a coach and trainer. It feels like this is the new testmanager role for the coming future and I am really excited this is the role I maybe will fulfill the next months. No manager, but working and collaboration and guiding a team into fantastic, great and fun testing!

Hi Anne-Marie,
The S/N ratio has been too low and has had me feeling frustrated, somewhat rudderless and ineffective, as though I am not playing to my strengths, particularly because I have not been a direct influence on the actual testing front. As a QA lead\devops team member\manager I often feel like Alice in this ( image. I am working on strengthening the signal by doing the following:

– Remind myself that I have a measure of control over my time.

– Since my role is to help strengthen quality practices, then it is important that I make time to step back and look at the bigger picture and strategize rather than getting lost in the weeds of day-to-day. In order to accomplish this I need to block out some time for myself to plan, but to also get away from my desk and get a real feel for what’s going on across multiple feature teams, make time for building tester community, and foster sharing of knowledge share and expertise within my organization.

– Try out Ben Kamen’s “Maker-Manager Survival Tips” (

Like Rob van Steenbergen, I want to eventually be doing more of exactly what you are doing. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

[Anne-Marie’s comment]
Hi Lanessa, I don’t get it right all the time though! What’s important I think is to a) recognise that its a problem for you (and you seem to be aware of that) then b) find a way to help you become aware that you’ve dipped below the level you’re willing to tolerate.

I agree its about discipline. I block out my mornings for testing and coaching. Afternoons are for interviews, meetings and STUFF.

Good luck with your battle 🙂

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