The Product Manager and The Manual Test Script of Doom

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Once upon a time we were six months into a contract to provide an additional development team to an organisation when we were assigned a new product manager. This PM was formerly at one of the big consultancies. He wanted to focus on quality, which to him meant executing and logging a detailed manual text script before each release. We were unable to persuade him that there are other ways to work.

There were various ways we could have dealt with this; one option was conflict. We could have refused and appealed to the client's technical director. That might have worked and been gratifying in the short term, but would certainly have caused trouble down the line.

We chose another way: we buckled down and did the work. We carefully checked each screen affected by a change, logging what was done and the result. It was tedious; it slowed us down; it was frustrating. But we carefully followed the process, in good faith.

Six weeks later we had a client retrospective. The PM was delighted with the high quality of our work. He was also very pleased with our manual test logs, and asked us if we had found them useful. We seized the opportunity to tell him that we did not believe that they added much value.

We showed him our automated test suite and this time he was receptive to our arguments. The intensive manual testing was stopped. By working with the PM to deliver value, we built trust. Only then were we able to change his mind.

One of my favourite parts of this story is how it ties back into most of Cultivate's values:

  • Professionalism - we were courteous with the PM even though we disagreed.
  • Empathy - we worked to understand and ultimately allay his fears of working without the manual test scripts he expected.
  • Quality - we wrote high quality code with good automated tests; without that he would have been correct about needing the manual tests.
  • Honesty - we were always truthful about our opinions, without over-emphasising them in an unprofessional way
  • Sustainability - it is possible that we may have been able to override the PM in the first place. Short term that would have resulted in us being able to follow our usual processes; in the longer term we would have ruined the relationship with the PM and his colleagues.
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