Meet our Consultants – Gary Shepherd (Head of Test)

A Ten10 test automation engineer creates a bespoke solution for a client

Come behind the scenes of the Ten10 Consultancy Practice and meet Gary Shepherd as he explains his role as a Head of Test

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What does a ‘Head of Test’ do?

The Head of Test (which could also be called Head of Quality) will typically oversee the testing process within an organisation. They are responsible for ensuring that all the key elements of a successful test process are in place – test strategy, test processes, test resources (people, tools, environments), and overseeing current and planned testing activities.

As software does not get delivered in isolation, the Head of Test also needs to collaborate with key stakeholders and partners to ensure that software is being planned, developed, and delivered effectively and efficiently with quality being considered throughout all the delivery activities.

What difference does your role make to organisations?

At Ten10, we believe that a good Head of Test can add a lot of value to an organisation by being someone who is overseeing the whole test process and seeing the big picture – capable of looking ahead and not just focussed on the current delivery items or fire-fighting issues. This allows them to put in place the test strategies and processes that the test team will need to follow, monitor the process, identify any areas for improvement, and ensure the test team members have the required skills to deliver the strategy.

The Head of Test will often report to the C-suite level within an organisation, which ensures that you have someone responsible and accountable for quality within the organisation. The result of this is:

  • a consistent working approach and a high level of quality of the work being delivered with reduced costs (because the software is being tested thoroughly and delivered on time and does not need as much re-work)
  • a high level of customer/end-user satisfaction
  • a testing process that is efficiently delivered by people who are developing their skills and enjoying their work

A good Head of Test can take an existing test process within an organisation and improve upon it. At Ten10 we have implemented test frameworks, built teams up (ensuring permies have relevant skills and experiences or augmented teams with our consultants/academy) and put in place continuous improvement actions so that the testing process is fit for purpose.

What are the top five tasks/deliverables/responsibilities that make a difference to successful organisations?

1. Test strategy

What I’ve learnt from working with many companies is that the foundation of a successful testing framework is having a clear and understood test strategy, with supporting policies and processes. This includes the test methods, approaches, and governance, and will need to take into account the overall software development life cycle – so the Head of Test will need to liaise with senior representatives from Business Analysis, Development, and Business Support to ensure the test strategy works efficiently for the good of the organisation as part of a whole system (not some bureaucratic step that has to be got through).
It’s not enough to just say that a process exists. The Head of Test also needs to make sure that people are aware of it, understand it and are following it – so having it documented, walked through in a manner that the audience understands, and then conducting audits/flagging up shortcomings – if the Head of Test doesn’t appear to mind if a release gets promoted to production without approval then it will happen again and become the norm.

2. Test metrics

Having the right metrics is key for an effective testing process as often it is the test team that is looked to provide information to base key decisions on:

  1. How many defects have been raised during system testing and what severity are they?
  2. Are we ready to start User Acceptance Testing?
  3. Are we ready for release?

Making use of effective tools with built-in reports and dashboards helps here too. Having real-time stats available for anyone to see keeps things transparent and avoids unwanted surprises.

We shouldn’t be taking the testers away from test prep/execution in order to gather statistics to produce a report. It’s far better that the stats can be produced in a consistent and clear format. Testers can instead use their time to add any additional commentary that may be needed as quite often a report showing lots of failed tests can get stakeholders very anxious which raises the pressure; when if there is a supporting explanation of what the situation is and what it actually means this can ensure people are informed but not panicked.

Making sure you have the applicable test metrics for the organisation is key. Although at Ten10 we have a good base set of reports to use they will invariably need a bit of tailoring to specific situations so that the right information is available.

3. Staff development

Ensuring that you have the right skills within the testing team is something that the Head of Test has a real say in as they are often responsible for recruitment and training budgets. Having someone aware of the different skills within the team helps with allocating the right person to a project, making sure that there are no single points of failure in expertise and making sure that team members are getting good experience and learning opportunities. A skills matrix can help with this.

Giving team members an opportunity to grow their leadership and soft skills by mentoring, owning projects as well as their technical abilities. On larger teams this may need to be delegated to test managers/leads, but the Head of Test can ensure that this is something that is always considered. This is also where the strategic direction of the organisation and the supporting Test Strategy is applicable. For example, if the goal is for more test automation but you don’t have the required skills then it’s not going to be met. The skills matrix can highlight gaps and support recruitment business cases, as well as help with retention (as team members can see the self-development opportunities).

4. Tooling

Test tools can really help testing teams with their work but with the amount of tools now available (test management, test automation, test data generation, AI etc) sometimes this can get out of hand and you end up with multiple tools for the same purpose or a dependency on a little understood tool. The Head of Test can control the adoption of tools by ensuring a proper record is kept of the in use by the team:

  1. Which ones are on the radar but have not been looked at yet?
  2. Which ones are being trialled?
  3. Which ones have we adopted as part of our core toolset?
  4. Which ones should we avoid?

A bit of light touch control of this allows people to have a solid set of tools to use but gives the option for bringing in new tools that may be of value. It’s not purely the test tools used only by the test team that the Head of Test needs to consider; it’s ensuring that the tools used by the other delivery teams fit into the delivery process. Ten10 is tool agnostic but we encourage organisations use tools that can integrate across the SDLC (requirements management, development pipelines, defect management, support incidents) so that teams can work efficiently together.

5. Create an environment for continuous improvement

Creating the right environment for continuous improvement can make a real difference. If space is made for reflection and new ideas are encouraged then people feel that they are contributing to making the testing process run smoothly.

Ten10 makes use of retrospectives at key parts of the delivery process rather than right at the end of a project – as opportunities for improvement that can be implemented before the end product is delivered are going to add value to not just to the way the product is delivered, but the quality of the end product itself.

As well as identifying and implementing improvements, having a mechanism to celebrate successes and achievements is also key – providing team members and stakeholders with a way of thanking people helps keep people motivated. We use Bonusly within Ten10 which has a portal that shows all of the good things that our colleagues are doing and they can then convert the points into vouchers.

Modern organisations have to adapt to changing situations so making sure that your testing processes are pro-actively adaptable too is a major value add that the Head of Test can bring.

What do you enjoy about the Head of Test role?

I enjoy the Head of Test role as it allows me to do several things that I feel deliver value:

  • I can finetune or create new processes so that work is delivered efficiently and effectively.
  • I can help team members build their skills and contribute to successful deliveries.
  • I can build connections/relationships between different teams so that a common goal can be achieved.
  • I can learn more about emerging technologies and tools that help organisations stay competitive.

It’s a fulfilling role that I always look forward to doing when they come up for me.

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