Hit the Ground Running
by Pat Craig 

From the Fall 1994 issue of the Complexity Management Chronicles 

Software project managers often have an overly optimistic view about how quickly they can add productive testers to a project. Time and again we are amazed at how slowly our clients equip new staff with even the most basic tools and equipment needed to be productive. Based on our observations, it takes six weeks to set up a new person. Apart from management's desire to complete testing as soon as possible and get the product shipped, labor costs are usually one of the largest items in the budget. With the race to produce new software quickly and cheaply, haphazard methods for bringing new staff up to speed are increasingly unacceptable. 

We have observed at several clients that no one takes responsibility for getting new people on board. All too often the new person is left to fend for themselves, dealing with this network administrator, that PC guru, another person for the mainframe, and yet another for building access. We believe centralizing the responsibility for new staff will alleviate these problems. 

Consider appointing a technical person to be responsible to ensure that all hardware and software infrastructure for both PC and mainframe is in place for new people before they start. Your designated representative (D.R.) would keep a checklist of all the steps needed to get a new person on-board. They need not do all the tasks themselves but would be responsible to coordinate these activities. Management would reward the D.R. based on the time it takes them to equip new staff with required infrastructure. 

Whether you decide to centralize the responsibility or not, here are nine things you can provide to make the next staff addition go smoothly: 

1.Clear specifications of the work to be performed. Clear specifications are required to determine hardware and software needs. In addition, the more specific the description of the work to be performed, the better. 

2.Space to work. Have a work area prepared for the new tester, preferably a well stocked desk. 

3.A fully loaded, powerful PC. Provide new staff with a PC comparable in speed and power to everyone else's. Ensure that all software the new person needs is loaded before they arrive. 

4.A second PC. Provide a second PC to anyone testing PC products. This is common practice at large PC development organizations. Testers run tests on one PC and do their other work (writing test plans, analyzing results) on the other. The second PC does not have to be the most up to date, it could even be a 486. If you cannot provide a second PC, let testers borrow PCs by forbidding the locking of PC's. (Locking PC's does not make much sense. Organizations are already password protected.) 

5.File accesses. At many client sites, the security department has established strict procedures to which all managers or new staff must conform. In a best case situation the security department would serve the hiring manager, not the other way around. In any case, an experienced technical person should arrange to get appropriate file accesses ahead of time. 

6.Up to date documentation. Give your staff only the most up to date documentation. It is a tremendous waste of time to do anything else. 

7.Building Access. Provide new staff with key access to the building so that they can get to work early or stay late. At one of our best clients, it only takes one day to get an access card to new staff. 

8.A librarian. If the development staff is larger than twenty, someone in the group should be appointed the official librarian. This person would be familiar with all the various avenues to gain information: IBM manuals, the best technical bookstores in the area, courses, etc.. When a developer or tester is working with something totally new, the librarian would help them gain information about the subject, fast. 

9.A buddy. Assign an experienced person to work with new staff. Choose the official buddy with care. Find someone who is motivated to take on this additional responsibility and who will make the time to fully answer any questions. An official buddy/mentor can provide all sorts of informal, yet vital, information. 

We at Complexity Management are especially concerned with software development productivity. Hence, we decided to write this newsletter. Quality without productivity neglects the bottom line. Productivity without quality is not true productivity because fixing bugs after the product has shipped is so costly. This checklist should help you get your new staff in a position to hit the ground running. 

©Complexity Management 1994 
Somerville, Massachusetts
Located in Metropolitan Boston

Complexity Management Chronicles, a newsletter for software quality assurance professionals, is published in print form four times a year. Send your name and snail-mail address to the e-mail address below if you would like to be on the mailing list - at no cost to USA mailing addresses. 


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Contact Pat Craig at patcraig@alum.mit.edu