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Are Test Reports for Your Project Providing All the Information You Need?
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.         

When conducting planning discussions with a test manager, Project Managers’ typically focus their attentions on the scheduling of test activities.  All too often the topics of test goals and status reporting are ignored, the tacit assumption being that there is agreement in these areas.  Effective Project Managers prepare for planning discussions on these often-ignored topics, ensure that these discussions are conducted, and that agreement is reached.  This article outlines the Project Manager’s preparatory steps and describes a Test Reports toolkit that each project manager should have.


A Project Manager with a Problem to Solve

Drew was a project manager with a big problem: not enough relevant information about testing activities was being reported by the test team.  Drew really had no idea how well (or poorly) testing activities were proceeding nor was any information available on the quality of the system under test.  Imagine the problems when it came time for Drew to present project status to the PMO!


Starved for Information on Testing

Drew was leading a moderately sized project to deliver a new procurement management system.  Because the existing system was not going to be made Y2K compliant, this project team had to purchase and test a new system and bring it operational well in advance of 1/1/2000.  System testing was perhaps the most critical activity of the project.  Unfortunately for Drew:

Although Drew was without timely or thorough test status information, there were many requests from executives and the PMO for project status information – for a few weeks, none of these requests could be fulfilled with information about test activities.  Faced with this unmanaged situation, Drew’s Director eventually stepped in to establish a core set of required test status reports and was heavily involved in managing project activities during the test execution phase.

A quick post mortem on this project situation uncovered these key findings:


Do You Have an Obvious Problem with Tests Status Reporting?

Drew’s predicament is not unique.  I have repeatedly seen situations and heard from Project Managers about projects that had inadequate status reporting about a project’s test activities.  Sometimes the gaps in reporting effectiveness are obvious, as in Drew’s case:

I suspect that it is quite likely that even experienced project managers (including those in an organization that uses standard test reports) do not have ample visibility of testing activities on their projects; as a result, the Project Manager cannot possibly have a sufficient understanding of how testing activities are impacting the overall project status.  Having inadequate status information about testing will be difficult to detect without some early groundwork, which is the topic of the next section.


Constructing your “Project Manager’s Toolkit – Test Reports”

At last we reach the key premise of this article: Project Managers are best positioned to heavily influence the definition of test status reports by preparing and giving substantial consideration to the type of status information that a project manager really needs.  The insights you gain through your studies will be valuable when planning discussions are initiated with the test team. 

Project managers should never follow a path of carelessly accepting the content of ‘standard’ test reports that are defined without their involvement; while a laissez-faire approach may give some useful information, the project manager does have an obligation to ensure that their complete information needs are defined and incorporated into reporting by the test organization.

These tips for Project Managers can help structure your preparations for planning discussions with the test managers on your projects.  Independent of your planning for any specific project, devote some focused attention on test report contents and format.  The first four activities described here involving locating and creating information that will comprise your own reusable “Project Manager’s Toolkit – Test Reports.” 


What’s Next: Using your “Project Manager’s Toolkit – Test Reports”

Because you have researched test reports and have created a toolkit of general testing goals and reports, you are now well-prepared for planning discussions on all of your projects.  Your planning discussions with the test manager will now go well beyond typical discussions that only cover testing schedules.  You’ll want to use your toolkit in covering these topics:

This approach of preparing a toolkit that covers your information on test reports, and then using that toolkit in planning discussions can be a very effective vehicle for ensuring that you have useful, meaningful and sufficient information about testing activities on your project.