Thursday, May 09, 2019

What the April 2019 U.S. Jobs Report Means for Software Test Managers and Leaders

Last week (May 3, 2019) saw great economic news as published in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ April 2019 report.  In April, 2019, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% (the lowest since 1969) with over 263,000 new non-farm jobs added. Also significant was the prior March report with 196,000 jobs added. That is great news, indeed. But, like with so many things, there are implications along with these numbers.

Without taking away anything from this great report, it is important to remember that it is a snapshot, which will change in future reports, either up or down. Also, there are other economic indicators that show not-so-great things, like historic levels of consumer debt. And, as with any metric, there are nuances.

I have had two bug problems for many years with how these general numbers are reported: 1) the quality of the jobs are not factored in, so they could be skewed toward minimum wage jobs, for example. 2) The unemployment rate is only based on people that are currently receiving unemployment compensation, not on people who may be unemployed but not on assistance. There are sub-metrics that do address things like people who have “given up” looking for work, etc., but those are hardly ever reported in the media.

With that being said, and with no particular political position taken, plus I am not an economist (although with their track record of forecasting, I think I could do as well), I offer my analysis.

Since software testing and QA is my focus, I have been thinking about what this means for testers and test managers. In this article I focus on impact on test managers and leaders. I am simultaneously publishing an article for the impact on testers.

By the way, the impact is not just about economics. There are forces both now and ahead that will drive the need for development and testing skills at numbers we have never seen before. These forces include digital transformations of legacy systems (including the move to virtualized data centers), connected devices and Internet of Things applications, cybersecurity challenges, Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence and the effective creation and maintenance of test automation - all of which will need tested.

Big Questions to Ask and Answer

Your company is probably already involved with, or planning, many new projects. You face some big questions.

1.     How can we get the people we need, when we need them, and for as long as we need them?

2.     How will we keep our team(s) if they leave for better opportunities?

3.     Even if we keep the team(s) intact, how will we find new people we need in a tight job market?

4.     How can we keep up with rapid development that never stops sprinting?

5.     How can we help our company make the best of the business opportunities?

Here are some thoughts, given the current economy and marketplace.

New Options Are Available To Finding Resources

In the last twenty or more years, offshore outsourcing has been a quick and easy way to fill staffing gaps, especially in software testing and QA. However, merely outsourcing testing tasks has been shown to have significant drawbacks, such as:
  • Lack of transparency as to the work being performed, who is doing the work, and how proprietary content is being safeguarded
  • Lack of testing training and competency
  • Lack of critical thinking on the part of the testers
  • Little sense of teamwork between the customer company and outsourcer company (offshore or near-shore)
  • Lower overall value of the work due to fewer defects found and less valuable information about the software being tested
  • Uncertain and unpredictable outcomes from the testing effort
  • Communication problems between the customer company and the outsourcing company

Testing should be a “whole team” activity. Everyone on a project (developers, users, testers, management, and others) has a role in testing whether they realize it or not. When testing is seen as just one team’s job, some aspects of testing will be incomplete.

Co-sourcing has emerged as a solution.  This is an innovation that takes outsourcing to a new level. The testers are remote, but there is an expert that is in the US and can be connected to you and your team to make sure work flows smoothly and you get the results you need. Instead of individuals, you get a fully training and certified team, tailored to your needs. Rice Consulting is the exclusive provider of this service in the USA.

Co-sourcing involves independent testers in a way that brings the whole team approach closer to a company than traditional outsourcing. This is achieved by close communication with the co-sourcing team, led by an on-shore testing expert.

In response to the challenge of diminishing returns from traditional outsourced test delivery (the mere execution of tests and reports without analysis), the co-sourcing model is based on Dedicated Product Test Teams.

It is obvious that more eyes catch more defects, but more than that, effective teamwork creates value greater than the sum of its parts.  This is achieved by building and sustaining a collaborative culture conducive to critical thinking, questioning and clear communication.

Instead of having ten individual testers designing and conducting tests, consider a team of ten people critically thinking about the application, brainstorming, designing and performing tests and providing feedback – all led by highly experienced test leaders.

To learn more about co-sourcing, please visit

Keeping the Team…and Improving Them

The Rise of “The Career Nomad”

A new trend is the “career nomad”. My friend, Tom Staab, brought this to me attention recently. This is a person that moves from job to job, either inside a company or between companies to accelerate their advancement. In my day, it was called “job hopping.” I did it and my parents were very concerned about it, but in the programming field it was the way to advance. The other option was to work for 20 years at one place and hope your boss moves on and you get the slot. But, there were no guarantees for that, either.

It takes a good economy to make the career nomad approach work, but working it is, right now. To get an idea of the scope, a true career nomad will have over 20 jobs in a career.

The key takeaway here is that the stigma is going away from moving jobs too often. Employers are realizing this is the new reality. Actually, many employers helped create this new reality by layoffs and poor management. The old mindset was, “Let ‘em go…we’ll find more.” Not so, today - at least, not full-time employees in tech.

Yet, there are ways to retain talent., such as:

Investing in Their Skills

The most-mentioned thing I hear from testers is that getting funding for training and conferences is a major way companies tangibly show investment.

An interesting thing has happened over recent years in the radical shift toward virtual learning. Because of this shift, department training budgets have shifted to individual training budgets, with the individual having more choice in the training. This definitely meets individual needs, especially in smaller shops and those in remote areas. And…many companies just feel they don’t have the time for live training events for QA, test, developers, etc. I have seen virtual training work extremely well, which is why I offer over 30 e-Learning and live virtual courses at

However, this shift to virtual does come at an expense in two ways: 1) Some people just don’t like virtual training. They have a preference for a live in-person classroom experience. 2) Live classroom courses and workshops provide an opportunity for the team to learn and experience together, as a team. This results in a very important thing – getting everyone on a common footing of terminology and practice. I prefer workshops that emphasize immediate application of the concepts learned. In fact, I offer the option in my workshops to work on your own projects.

True, some companies don’t invest in people for fear they will leave. That’s a risk, but it’s also a circular argument because they might well leave anyway for lack of investment. I say, take the chance. The cost of training can be easily recouped by the efficiency and effectiveness gained by the person applying the practices learned in training. I know, I’ve seen it.  And, this is another reason that team training events makes sense in that it shares the knowledge investment in a group, rather than individuals.

Let’s just take the average cost of a post-production defect in the US at $5,000 as an example. Just catching one of those defects due to something learned in training would pay for 2 – 3 people to attend training in some format.

Or, it could be like the major government agency where I trained testers, developers, BAs and senior leadership for two days at an off-site event. As a result, my client told me later that the UAT effort on the next project only required two cycles of testing instead of the usual three. He credited that to the things they learned in training, plus the synergy of everyone learning them together. Each cycle of testing cost them around $40,000. That paid for the training multiple times over!

But, the bottom line remains the same. A major way to attract and keep team members is to invest in them.

Improving Motivation by Improving How Work is Done

People get very de-motivated and disengaged when they feel they are doing a bad job due to the way work is done. In fact, the numbers of disengaged workers is very high – around 85% according to a Gallup poll. That is depressing news!

There is a misperception that testing slows delivery down. I call it a misperception because it is often not the activity of testing, but the use of ineffective and inefficient testing practices, automated or not, that causes problems.

It is management’s responsibility to address and fix broken processes. But, in many cases management doesn’t even know the testing process is broken. The focus today is on speed, with the other misperception that automation alone will make testing go faster.

The real culprit besides broken processes is defects found too late.

Now that I have talked so much about training, I need to walk back a step…

When it comes to process improvement, the first step is not training – it is an assessment of where you are. Any training before that is likely to meet the real needs of improvement.

Transforming the Culture

A major reason people join or leave a company is the culture. Bad culture is also a major reason for disengagement.

Changing a culture is hard. Transforming a culture is even tougher, but it can be done. Most companies will not make the change and that is why they remain toxic and dysfunctional. That’s why it’s so hard to keep good people in these companies.

The only way I know to transform a corporate culture is a shake-up from the very top. However, I have seen teams form islands of great team culture, even in a sea of dysfunction. Here is how they did it…

1.              They had a leader who understood people and their needs, including the business stakeholders.
2.              Each person on the team was a respected “resident expert.” Whenever a decision was needed, they deferred to the resident expert as much as possible.
3.              They collaborated in a great way.
4.              They really didn’t get pulled into the negativity of the corporate culture. The leader was a buffer for much of that. By the way, the other teams who were highly dysfunctional thought this team was weird.
5.              The team delivered quality on time, every time.

As I look back on this one example, years later, I realize I was looking at an agile team before the term “agile” was associated with software development.

Finding New People

It is getting harder and harder in some markets to find the right people for your needs. This is a major expense, in both time and money. It costs over $4,000 just to hire one person on average, over a period of 30 or more weeks. And those numbers were before the recent events!

Companies will need to re-evaluate their hiring approaches, including cutting back on the massive laundry lists that so many companies post these days. In some job postings I have seen, no individual tester could possibly meet all of them. I suggest keeping expectations realistic and trying to hit the 80% mark of desired skills.

Consider co-sourcing, as mentioned above, as an alternative to full-time employees. For more information, just contact me.

Keeping up With Rapid Development

Many people tend to see this as a resource issue. And, it could be, in some cases. However, I have been researching tester-to-developer ratios since 2000 and have found that just about any ratio can work with the right balance of tools, people and processes.

If your development and testing processes are inefficient, more people just makes it worse.

Co-sourcing with an initial process and tool assessment is a great way to get a grip on keeping up with rapid development and testing. I have seen massive improvement in weeks after making some very fundamental process changes and getting the right people involved.

Making the Best of Business Opportunities

Really, this is where everything hinges and is the pain point for many people in the C-suites. The execs want to beat a competitor to market, but the development manager says it will require months to build and test that product.

This is where a company must be very strategic and agile by shifting priorities to give the highest business value. Shipping incomplete and faulty products is not a workable strategy, as you may actually lose customers with that practice.

This is also where a fine-tuned process and scalable workforce comes into play. Process improvement aligned with co-sourcing can provide the resources when needed, to build and deliver a quality product to market, even in a very constrained resource market.


Here are the key takeaways from the current economic news:

1.              A significant number of people are changing jobs, which can be good for the individual, but leaves gaps in the companies they leave.
2.              Career nomads are a trend which places a greater burden on companies to work harder to keep good people.
3.              There are fewer QA and Test professionals in the open market to hire, so employers will need to explore alternative options.
4.              The future holds a massive technology challenge as the convergence of several waves all hit at once. It will make Y2K seem like a “normal” project.
5.              Trying to meet these challenges with ineffective and inefficient processes combined with inadequate resources is a recipe for failure.

The good news is that there are answers. If you would like to learn how to get on top of the situation as opposed to being whipped by it, just call (405-691-8075) or write me today.


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