How to Organize a Test Data Management Team

So, you’ve recently learned about what Test Data Management is and why it’s amazingly valuable. Then, you’ve decided to start a TDM process at your organization. You’ve read about what Data Management includes, learned how TDM works, and finally went on to start implementing your Test Data Management strategy. But then you got stuck, right at the start. You’ve got a question for which you don’t have an answer: how to organize a Test Data Management team?

Well, fear no more, because that’s precisely what today’s post is about.

We start with a brief overview of Test Data Management itself. Feel free to skip, though, if you’re already familiar with the concept. We won’t judge you for that; we’re just that nice.

Test Data Management: A Quick Overview

Before we answer the title question, let’s take a step back and define Test Data Management itself. What is TDM, and why do we need it?

Test data management (TDM) refers to obtaining and managing the required data for automated testing, with as minimal human intervention as possible. TDM is responsible not only for the quality of the data but also for its availability. It should ensure the necessary data gets delivered to wherever it’s needed in an orderly, safe, and timely fashion.

TDM is crucial to implement a high-quality testing strategy successfully. Even with the best processes and professionals available, the result is bound to be faulty if the inputs are poor.

That’s true for virtually every process, and testing is no different. Data quality is essential, and TDM can help there.

As you’ve seen, another crucial responsibility of TDM is data availability. Perfect data is perfectly useless if it doesn’t get where it needs to be when it needs to be. Besides, the data needs to be delivered in a way that ensures safety and privacy for user data. Otherwise, you risk exposing sensitive data, which would put your company in catastrophic trouble, not only financially, but also legally.

That’s why your organization needs a sane Test Data Management process, equipped with the best professionals and tools available.

TDM Team in Practical Tips

We’ve just covered what TDM means, what are the reasons behind its use, and what role does it play in automated testing.

Make Sure to Follow TDM Best Practices Before Starting

If you are to implement a sound testing strategy, following best practices is essential. The same applies when it comes to organizing your Test Data Management team. If you start wrong, the likelihood of success decreases. So, what are these best practices?

First of all, is the fact a sane TDM approach requires a dedicated team. Dedicated, but definitely not isolated. Communication is key, and that’s best practice number two. You have to make sure that the TDM team is part of the QA department and works closely with the testing teams.

The Test Data Management team members should have only a single focus: making sure that the high-quality test data is delivered to every team and process that requires it in a timely, safe, and organized manner. Put differently: Test Data Management should be the full-time occupation of those professionals; ideally, they shouldn’t be part of another team.

Decide The Number of Team Members

The next step to organize your Test Data Management team is determining the number of members in the team. What makes sense for most scenarios here is to decide according to the number of testers. Although your mileage may vary, a good rule of thumb is one Test Data Management engineer for every five testers.

When we say “number of testers,” we’re actually referring to the monthly average number of tests on the project. Of course, that number can—and does—go up and down. How to handle that variation?

Add Data Analysts to the Team to Handle Team Size Variation

You can include more data analysts to your Test Data Management team to help you handle the variation in the number of available testers for the project. How can they help?

Data analysts are able to figure out data requirements. A typical TDM team will spend much (or even most) of their time figuring out the requirements for test data. Data analysts can help relieve this burden since they don’t need to know how to create the data. Instead, they focus on finding out the requirements, leaving the data creation part for the engineers.

The engineers are then freed to spend most of their time performing the data creation, which makes the whole process more efficient.

Select the Right Engineers

Now that you’ve decided on the number of engineers on your team, it’s time to fill those positions. How to go about that?

First, consider seniority. A team comprised entirely of juniors is not the route to go, for obvious reasons. But neither is an all-seniors team. Junior engineers often offer fresh perspectives and ideas that turn out to be valuable. Also, we’re all aware of how short the typical tenure of software professionals is. I know your company is an awesome place to work, but your most senior members will leave for greener pastures. That’s just the way it is. A balanced mix of fresh-out-of-school and more experienced professionals can help soften that blow. Ideally, a healthy organization will enable knowledge transfer, so the junior can become seniors in time.

What about the actual attributes for the job? First and foremost, relational database experience. This person should have strong abilities with SQL, and experience with the full Software Development Lifecycle.

But much more important than all of that is a profound appreciation and enthusiasm for Test Data Management. Lack of technical skills is fixable. A lack of enthusiasm is as well, but it’s going to be way trickier. A lack of appreciation for the importance of TDM will necessarily reflect in the quality of the work the engineer performs.

Select the Right Team Lead

And what about the Team Lead for a TDM team?

The requirements are the same as for team members, but stronger, if you will. Since this is the person to whom the engineers will go when they have questions, a strong technical background is needed.

However, that’s not all. The position requires strong soft skills. Remember, part of the responsibilities of the TDM team is to figure out the requirements for test data. That will necessarily involve talking to a variety of teams and people. So, communication skills are a must for this professional.

In short: what you want for a TDM team lead is strong technical skills coupled with even stronger communication and people skills.

Start Your TDM Process the Right Way With a Strong Team

In this post, we’ve shown you some practical tips you can follow to start your Test Data Management team the right way. Make no mistake, though: the tips presented are just that, tips. They’re not a panacea. Test data management is full of challenges, and you’ll certainly be facing a lot of them during your journey toward high-quality software.

What are the next steps for you now?

The best way to learn many things is by doing them. So, use the tips above to start a TDM team, and then you’ll be ready to start your own Test Data Management strategy. Change and tweak your approach as you go, learning from your mistakes.

Also, learn from other’s mistakes as well. Stand on the shoulders of giants by tapping into the collective knowledge of the web. For instance, the very site where you are right now, DataOps Zone, is full of articles where you can learn more about TDM and related topics. Stay tuned since more posts continue being published all the time.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.

This post was written by Carlos Schults. Carlos is a .NET software developer with experience in both desktop and web development, and he’s now trying his hand at mobile. He has a passion for writing clean and concise code, and he’s interested in practices that help you improve app health, such as code review, automated testing, and continuous build.