A Possible Assessment Technique


In the last few weeks, I've received several questions about how to assess the productivity and effectiveness of testers. I'm concerned about this, because a tester's effectiveness doesn't just depend on the quality of the tester's work, it depends on the quality of the work product the tester tests (as well as the schedule and the work environment).

I've used an assessment technique to qualitatively look at the testers and what they can do. This technique is appropriate when you want to develop a hiring strategy, or when you want to see if you're testing the product in the most effective ways. This technique is NOT good for comparing every person in your group. (Comparing every person in your group says each person is interchangeable and we know they aren't.)

  1. Define the types of activities you need performed in your group. Since this is an example for a test manager, these are some of the potential activities:
  • Technical experts to test behind-the-scenes interactions
  • Requirements experts who understand how the requirements translates into design
  • Exploratory testers
  • Step-by-step testers
  • Expert users
  • Automated regression testing
  • Unit testers (in development?)
  • Integration testers (in development?)
  1. Now assess each person on how well they perform these tasks. I use an Excel radar chart (kiviat diagram) to do so. That helps you assess functional skills. Here's what a chart looks like for a fictional group. The chart range is 0-5, where 0 is no experience and 5 is highly experienced and applies the experience. Yes, this is a judgment call by the manager.

Now, it's time to look at the rest of the person:

  1. Define the non-technical qualities, preferences, and skills that are necessary for job success in your job. Assess the person on how well they do that. Here are some examples of non-technical qualities, preferences, and skills for testers:
  • Ability to write clear defect reports
  • Ability to advocate for defects
  • Communicate across the organization in writing
  • Organizational ability (planning their work or coordinating the testing or whatever this means in your context)

Assess each person on how well they do that. Make another chart.


  1. Define the rest of the technical skills: domain expertise (problem-space and solution-space), tools/technology, industry expertise.

Assess each person on how well they do that. Make yet another chart.

Now you have four pictures of your group, one in each of four dimensions. Look for overlaps and what you value more. This technique helps you see where you have gaps and where you might need to fill in the gaps.

Productivity is a group problem in software. Efficiency is irrelevant unless the person is on the critical path. Effectiveness is sometimes more about how someone uses influence and/or negotiation rather than their technical abilities. If you're going to use an assessment technique, decide what's important to you, and decide what “effective” or “productive” means in your context.

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