Meet our Consultants – Ben Neuss (Programme Test Manager)

a man working on a laptop with colleagues in the background

Come behind the scenes of the Ten10 Consultancy Practice and meet Ben Neuss as he explains his role as a Programme Test Manager

Listen to this article:

What does a Programme Test Manager do at a high level and why are they engaged?

At Ten10 a client will typically engage with us for representation at this level when they require someone to take overall accountability for the quality assurance of a large program of work or multiple projects. I’d emphasise quality assurance here rather than testing because nine times out of ten the role requires exactly that focus and goes beyond just the management of testing-related activities.

It might be that the client doesn’t have the required expertise in-house or it could be the case that their program is so critical to their organisation’s success that they need the level of professional managed service that we specialise in.

So I’ll often find myself reporting to the client’s senior management or executive teams, and I’ll be sitting on leadership groups and forums where I represent quality assurance and testing as a discipline across the whole program of work. So it’s a role that comes with a high degree of responsibility.

What I personally enjoy about these kinds of engagements is that each is different and each requires its own different tailored approach. The trick is to try and leverage my past experience, as I’ve worked on lots of different programs and projects across the years, but also to treat each placement as an opportunity to add to my knowledge base. There will undoubtedly be new and unique challenges that arise with each job and I think it’s important to be humble to a degree and accept that however many years of experience you might have there are always opportunities to add more strings to your bow. This fits in nicely with Ten10’s own ethos in fact. In addition to being able to benefit from my colleagues’ experience in addition to my own, we have an in-house methodology that we refer to named Tenology® which revolves around exactly this concept of re-using, repeating and evolving our knowledge base.

So being a Programme Test Manager can certainly be a challenging role, but at the same time, it’s extremely rewarding.

And on a day-to-day basis what does it typically involve?

I think this rather depends on where we find ourselves with respect to the maturity of the program in question.

Early on I would typically ensure that a universal QA approach and strategy is established that clearly defines all our processes for handling change, defect management, risk, planning, reporting etc. as well as ensuring that we have a suitable resource profile in place which often may involve working with other third parties.

You will also appreciate that there is a strong emphasis on project management with an obvious focus on assurance and test activities. So, I would typically put in place a project plan and schedule of events often separated out by workstreams, and establish key QA milestones.

These primary activities help to set expectations for what will follow, and so I’ll look to ensure I get early buy-in from all our key program stakeholders. We can of course re-assess and modify as the program evolves but it’s very important to set the scene early.

As the program moves more into core delivery my role will then switch more to ensuring that we are adhering to our agreed QA approach, and I’ll typically find myself heavily focused on ensuring that our senior stakeholders have a clear view of how things are progressing from a quality perspective. Are we on track to meet our quality targets? Are all quality-related activities running to schedule? What risks have been identified and how are they being mitigated? And are we running to budget?

Finally, for the final stages of a program of work, I’ll usually be busy ensuring that all quality expectations and objectives have been met. Senior stakeholders will look to me for affirmation that their program or project is fit for purpose from a quality perspective. It’s my job to ensure that they are fully informed in this respect so that they can make key decisions around production releases for example.

What difference does your role make to successful programmes?

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that rather than just being boots on the ground I empower the client to deliver effective working outcomes, whilst balancing quality with risk.

Can you expand on what you mean by that?

Sure, it might sound like a good aspiration but how do I ensure that this happens right? As senior test managers, we have a lot of experience working in different sectors and for different clients, and we utilise our expertise to ensure that our clients remain informed to the extent that they can make pragmatic balanced decisions.

For example, I might produce a heat map that indicates across their product landscape where they have more quality challenges. And I would focus heavily on trying to engineer quality throughout the lifetime of a programme or engagement by establishing clear standards and reviewing working practices. It also helps to quantify exactly what ‘quality’ means in terms that make sense to their business environment. Quality impacts can be different. They may imply reputational damage for example, or different degrees of financial loss either immediate, ongoing, or predicted.

The role also requires me to use my experience to assess our client’s delivery methodology so I’ll look to identify gaps and improvements in processes that can lead to efficiencies, whilst also helping them to understand the cost vs reward of any recommendations I might make. Typically I’ll look at what already works and try to make it better rather than reinventing the wheel if I can help it. I also like to think that I can go beyond simply fulfilling the contract that the client has signed with Ten10 and properly partner with them in this respect. The idea is to look at identifying where we might be able to go above and beyond, adding even more value.

In terms of measuring success. Sometimes in this role, it can be easy to get caught up in the delivery aspect of the task at hand. So it’s tempting to define success as “the program has gone live without any reported issues/problems”. Whilst satisfying, I don’t think this covers the whole gamut of what I’d want to achieve though. I think a truly successful engagement also means that we have been able to leave some kind of legacy in terms of improving the client’s ongoing approach to QA in general (that perhaps they feel they have moved forward or matured somewhat in their approach to quality engineering).

And what would be the top five tasks/deliverables/responsibilities that make a difference to successful programmes?

There are so many ways that in this role we can influence the success of IT programs but if I had to touch on some of the most important, they would probably be:

Clear reporting to senior stakeholders

These senior people must have all the information they require to make core program decisions in a way that they can assess that quality vs risk aspect we touched on earlier. It’s important to get the balance right here. Too much detail can be overwhelming and we need to consider their needs alongside our own experience of what constitutes important data. It’s largely about establishing a level of confidence. I would look to tailor the tools that we use to support real-time dashboard reporting for example. And ensure that we remain agnostic in terms of this tool selection, the emphasis should always be on utilising the most appropriate, rather than the most recognised tools.

Team management

It’s a senior role and I am usually dependent on teams of other people who work within the QA space. So I need to be comfortable providing our teams with the support and guidance they need to effectively meet our goals, whilst feeling empowered themselves to raise risks and highlight concerns. As a senior consultant, this is a key aspect of my role, regardless of whether I might be operating as part of a fully embedded service, or working in a more complex multi-vendor environment.

Planning and processes

Effective planning is key. The nature of the role means that I am often called upon at short notice to provide a situational assessment. Having an up-to-the-minute view of events, and processes in place that allow for immediate status evaluations, are hugely important. And when providing these assessments and updates I think it’s really important to be up-front and honest. I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t want to over-promise, the goal is to see the work through to completion but always be transparent with regards to how we are progressing.

Understanding our client’s vision and values

To operate effectively in this role, it is important to partner with our clients and be fully on board with the journey that the client is taking. It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in what we believe to be best practice when it comes to quality assurance and testing but this is only helpful if considered within the context of what it is the client is trying to achieve and why. I like to think that I’m able to deliver an effective service because I make myself aware of the bigger picture which includes a clear understanding of the client’s market position and their future aspirations.

Interpersonal skills

Large programs and projects can often be quite demanding and high-pressure. It is not uncommon for there to be multiple organisations working together towards a common goal but also sometimes whilst working toward their own agendas. So as a Program or Senior Test Manager, I need to be equipped with the necessary soft skills to be able to effectively navigate this landscape. I think it’s about being able to show the right level of tact and diplomacy, but also be outspoken when the situation requires me to.

Work with our expert consultants

Need assistance with your software testing? Speak to us today and learn how we can help bring your solutions to life.