ArticlePDF Available

Managing The Proportion Of Testers To (other)



One of the common test management questions is what is the right ratio of testers to other developers. Perhaps a credible benchmark number can provide convenience and bargaining power to the test manager working with an executive who has uninformed ideas about testing or whose objective is to spend the minimum necessary to conform to an industry standard. We focused on staffing ratios and related issues for two days at the Fall 2000 meeting of the Software Test Managers Roundtable (STMR 3).
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 1
Cem Kaner, J.D., Ph.D.
Florida Institute of Technology
Elisabeth Hendrickson
Quality Tree Software, Inc.
Jennifer Smith-Brock
Ajilon Software Quality Partners
Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference
October 2001
One of the common test management questions is what is the right ratio of testers to other
developers. Perhaps a credible benchmark number can provide convenience and
bargaining power to the test manager working with an executive who has uninformed
ideas about testing or whose objective is to spend the minimum necessary to conform to
an industry standard.
We focused on staffing ratios and related issues for two days at the Fall 2000 meeting of
the Software Test Managers Roundtable (STMR 3).
This paper is a report of our
thinking. We assert the following:
In most companies, testers work in the product development organization and they are part of the
technological team that develops software products. Testers are developers. The ratios that we are
interested are the ratio of testers to the other developers on the project.
An earlier version of this paper appeared in the 2001 Proceedings of the International Software Quality
Software Test Managers Roundtable (STMR) meets twice yearly to discuss test management problems. A
typical meeting has 15 experienced test managers, a facilitator and a recorder. There is no charge to attend
the meetings, but attendance must be kept small to make the meetings manageable. If you are an
experienced test manager and want to join in these discussions, please contact Cem Kaner, The meeting that is the basis for the present paper was STMR3, in San Jose, CA.
Participants included Sue Bartlett, Laura Anneker, Fran McKain, Elisabeth Hendrickson, Bret Pettichord,
Chris DeNardis, George Hamblen, Jim Williams, Brian Lawrence, Cem Kaner, Jennifer Smith-Brock,
Kathy Iberle, Hung Quoc Nguyen, and Neal Reizer.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 2
One of the common answers is 1-to-1 (1 tester per programmer) or that 1-to-1 is
the common ratio in leading edge companies
and is therefore desirable. Our
experience has been that (to the extent that we can speak meaningfully about
ratios at all) 1-to-1 has sometimes been a good ratio and sometimes a poor one.
Ratios are calculated so differently from project to project that they probably
Project-specific factors will drive you toward different ratios, and toward different
ratios at different times in the project. Such factors include (for example) the
incoming reliability of the product, the extent to which the project involves new
code that was written in-house, the extent to which the code was subjected to
early analysis and review, the breadth of configurations that must be tested, the
testability of the software, the availability of tools, the experience of the testers
and other developers, corporate quality standards, and the allocation of work to
testers and other developers.
More is not necessarily better. A high ratio of testers to programmers may reflect
a serious misallocation of resources and may do more harm than good.
Across companies, testers do a wide variety of tasks. The more tasks that testers
do, the more tester-time is needed to get the job done. We list and categorize
many of the tasks that testers perform.
The set of tasks undertaken by a test group should be determined by the group's
mission. We examine a few different possible missions to illustrate this point.
A ratio focuses executives on the wrong thing. The ratio is a comparison of body
counts. For this many programmers you need that many testers. The ratio
abstraction focuses attention away from the task list that drives up the staffing
cost. It conveys nothing about what the testers will do. Instead it focuses attention
onto a pair of numbers that have no direct link to anything but each other. At this
level of abstraction, it even sounds meaningful to say, "Last time, your staffing
ratio was at 1.2 to 1. You need to work smarter, and so I am setting you an
objective of 10% greater efficiency. Go forth and become 1.08 to 1." The ratio is
likely to distract attention from the important questions, such as: What will you
not do in order to achieve that 10% reduction? And what task list is appropriate
for you in the context of this project?
What do we mean when we refer to a 1-to-1 ratio of testers to other developers? Across
groups or even across projects by the same groups, these ratios can have wildly different
Consider the following stories:
We thank Ross Collard (1999) for providing us with a summary of his interviews of senior testing staff at
18 companies that he classed as "leading-edge," such as BMC Software, Cisco, Global Village, Lucent,
Microsoft. Six companies reported ratios of 1-to-1 or more, and the median ratio was 1-to-2.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 3
Jane manages a project with the following personnel:
Staff Counted as
4 programmers programmers
1 development manager programmer
1 test lead Tester
1 black box tester Tester
2 test automation engineers Testers
1 buildmeister Tester
According to the numbers, there’s a 1-to-1 ratio between programmers and testers.
However, when a new build comes into the test group, only one person is available to test
it full timethe black box tester. Because of the apparent 1-to-1 ratio, management is
puzzled by how long it takes the test group to do even simple tasks, like accept or reject a
build. Jane is hard-pressed to explain the bottleneck to managementthey keep coming
back to the 1-to-1 ratio and insisting that means there are enough testers. The testers must
be goofing off.
Now consider Carl’s dilemma. His staff looks like this:
Staff Counted as
1 programmer programmer
1 toolsmith programmer
1 buildmeister programmer
1 development lead programmer
1 development manager programmer
1 test lead Tester
4 black box testers Testers
According to these numbers, there are 5 programmers and 5 testers, a comfortable 1-to-1
ratio. The testers report dozens of bugs per week. However, because they have no access
to the source code (they test at the black box level), they cannot isolate the bugs they
report. It takes the programmers significant time to understand and fix each reported
issue. Carl is hard-pressed to explain why the testers can find bugs faster than his staff
can fix them. Are his programmers lazy?
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 4
Sandy's department provides even more counting challenges:
Staff Counted as
5 programmers programmer
5 on-site consultants (doing
1 project team (10 people of
various specializations) who are
under contract with Sandy's
company to write and deliver a
series of components to be used
in Sandra's product.
1 full-time, on-staff test
3 technicians (they work for
Sandry's company, are
supervised by the engineer, but
have limited discretion and
3 temporary technicians (they
work for a contracting agency,
not Sandy's company, they
report to the test engineer, but
are not counted in the
company's headcount)
3 testers who work offsite in an
independent test lab
Should we count consultants as programmers? What about programmers who work for
other companies and are simply selling code to Sandy's company? Should we count
technicians as testers? What about technicians or other testers who work for other
companies and provide testing services under contract? We don't know the "right" answer
to these questions. We do know that different companies answer them differently and so
they would calculate different ratios (ranging from 1-to-10 through 10-to-1) for the same
Here are even more of the classification ambiguities in determining the ratio of testers to
Are test managers testers? Are project managers developers? What about test
leads and project leads? If a test lead sometimes runs test cases, should we count
her as a tester for the hours that she is hunting for bugs? What about the hours she
spends reviewing the test plans of the other testers?
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 5
When programmers do code reviews, they find defects. Should we count them as
testers? Imagine a six-month project that has one officially designated tester and
ten officially designated programmers. In the first four months, the programmers
spend 60% of their time critically analyzing requirements, specifications, and
code, doing various types of walkthroughs and inspections. They find lots of
problems. (In the other 40% of their time, they write code.) The tester also spends
60% of her time reading and participating in the meetings. Her other 40% is spent
on the test plan. For these four months, should we count the ratio of testers to
programmers as 1-to-10 or as 7-to-4? (After all, didn't the programmers spend 6
person-months doing bug hunting and only 4 person-months writing code?)
If the testers write diagnostic code or tools that will make the programmers' lives
easier as well as their own, are they working as testers or programmers?
Imagine a six-month project that starts with four months of coding by ten
programmers. During this part of the project, there are no testers. In the last two
months, there are ten testers. Should we count this as 10-to-10 ratio or 60-to-20?
(After all, there were 60 programmer-months on the project and only 20 tester-
Suppose that your company spends $1,000,000 licensing software components.
These components required 36 programmer-months (and an unknown number of
tester-months) to develop. Your company uses one programmer for 6 months to
write an application that is primarily based on these components. It assigns one
tester for 6 months. Is the ratio of testers to programmers 1-to-1 or 1-to-7 or
something in between?
How should we count technical writers, tech support staff, human factors analysts,
systems analysts, system architects, executives, secretaries, testing interns,
programming interns, marketeers, consultants to the programmers, consultants to
the testers, and beta testers?
If the programmers dump one of their incompetents into the testing group and one
of the testers has to work half-time to babysit him, did the ratio of testers to
programmers just go up or down? In general, if one group is consistently more (or
less) productive than industry norm should we count them as if there were more
(fewer) of them?
The answers to these questions might seem to be obvious to you, but whatever your
answers are, someone respectable in a respectable company would answer them quite
differently. At STMR 3, we marveled at the variety of ways that we counted tester-units
for comparison with programmer-units. Because of the undefined counting rules, when
two companies (or different groups in the same company) report their tester-to-
programmer ratios, we can't tell from the ratios whether a reported ratio of 1 (tester) to 3
(programmers) involves more or less actual quality control than a ratio of 3 (testers) to 1
To put this more pointedly, when you hear someone claim in a conference talk that their
ratio of testers to programmers is 1-to-1, you will probably have no idea what that means.
Oh, you might have an idea, but it will be based on your assumptions and not their
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 6
situation. Whatever your impression of the staffing and work-sharing arrangements at
that company is, it will probably be wrong.
Most of the participants at STMR 3 (including us) had worked on projects with high
ratios of testers to programmers, as many as 5 testers per programmer. Most of us had
also worked on projects involving very low ratios, as few as 0-to-7 and 1-to-8. Some of
the projects with high ratios had been successful, some not. Some of the projects with
low ratios had been successful, some not. This corresponds with what we've been told by
other managers, outside of STMR.
Why are some projects successful with very few testers while others need so many more?
Low Ratios of Testers to Programmers
Most testers have seen or worked in a test group that was flooded with work and pushed
up against tight deadlines. These groups typically staff projects with relatively few testers
per programmer. The work is high stress and the overall product quality will probably be
However, some projects are correctly staffed with low ratios of testers to programmers.
In our experience, these projects generally involved programmers (and managers) who
had high quality standards and who didn't rely on the test group to get the product right.
Projects with low ratios of testers to programmers might occur:
routinely, in a company with a healthy culture whose projects normally succeed
routinely, under challenging circumstances
on a project-by-project basis based on special circumstances of that project
Healthy Culture
Healthy cultures that have successful projects with relatively few testers often have
characteristics like these:
The test group has low noise-to-work ratios. "Noise" includes wasted time arising
out of organizational chaos or an oppressive work environment.
Staff turnover in the testing and programming groups is probably low. It takes
time for testers to become efficient with a product--time, for example, to gain
expertise and to build trust with the programmers.
The company focuses on hiring skilled, experienced testers rather than "bodies."
There is a shared agreement on the role of the test group, and little need for
ongoing reevaluation or justification of the role.
There is trust and respect between programmers and testers, and members of
either group will help the other become more productive (for example, by
helping them build tools).
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 7
Quality is seen as everyone's business. The company emphasizes individual
accountability. The person who makes a bug is expected to fix it and to learn
something from the experience. There is a low churn rate for bugs--they don't
ping-pong between programmers and testers ("Can't reproduce this bug", "I can",
"It's not a bug anyway", "Marketing says it is", etc.)
The code coming into testing is clean, designed for testability, and has good
debug support.
There may be an extensive unit test library that the programmers rerun whenever
they update the product with their changes. The result is that the code they give
to testers has fewer regression errors and needs less regression testing (Beck,
In general, there is an emphasis on prevention of defects and/or on early
discovery of them in technical reviews (such as inspections).
In general, there is an emphasis on reuse of reusable test materials and on
intelligent use of test tools
The expectation is that reproducible coding errors will be fixed. Testers spend
relatively little time justifying their test cases or doing extensive troubleshooting
and market research just to convince the programmers that an error is worth
The culture is more solution-oriented than blame-oriented.
Challenging Circumstances
Some companies need much more testing than they conduct, but they might not do it
The product might be so complex that it is extremely expensive to train new
testers. New testers won't understand how to test the product, and they'll waste too
much programmer time on unimportant bugs and misunderstandings.
They may have decided that time to market is more important than finding and
fixing defects.
They are in a dominant market position in their niche and their customers will pay
extra for maintenance and support. There is thus (until competitors appear)
relatively little incentive to the company to find and fix defects before release.
They believe that it's right and natural for people in high tech to work 80+ hour
weeks for 6+ months. In their view, adding staff will reduce the free overtime
without increasing total productivity.
The testing group may be perceived as not contributing because they aren't
writing code.
Other members of the project team might believe that testing is easy. ("What's so
tough about testing? Just run the program! I can find bugs just by installing it! In
fact, we should just bring in a bunch of Kelly temps to do this.")
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 8
Testers might be perceived as too expensive.
Testers might be perceived as incompetent, counterproductive twits.
The test manager might be perceived as a whiner who should use his staff more
The test group's work might be perceived as poor, with an overemphasis on
unimportant issues ("corner cases") and the superficial aspects of the product.
The testing group may have little credibility. They are seen as politically
motivated and being preoccupied with irrelevant tests (e.g. some extreme corner-
case tests). Therefore they are not sufficiently funded.
The relation between testers and programmers may be toxic, resulting in
excessive turnover in the testing group.
Some companies will never develop respect for their testing staff, and will never staff the
test groups appropriately, no matter how good the testers or test managers. But in many
other companies, testing groups build their own reputations over time. Some testing
groups work too hard to increase their power and control in a company and not hard
enough to improve their credibility and their technical contribution. Down that road, we
think, tight staffing, high turnover, and layoffs are inevitable.
Project Factors
To some degree independently of the corporate culture, some projects are likely to
succeed with few testers because of factors specific to those projects. For example:
The product might involve low risk. No one expects it to work well and failures
won't harm anyone.
There might be little time-to-market pressure.
The product might come to the test team with few defects (perhaps because this
particular project team paid a lot of attention to the design, did paired
programming or did a lot of inspections, etc.)
The code might be particularly easy to test or relevant test tools that the testers are
familiar with might be readily available.
There might be no need to certify this product, no need for extensive
documentation of the tests or (except for bug reports) the test results, and no
requirement for detailed evaluations of the final quality of this product.
The testers might simply not have much work to do on this project because it is
easy, reliable, intuitive, testable, etc.
High Ratios of Testers to Programmers
We've met testers who respond enthusiastically when they hear of a group that has a very
high ratio of testers to programmers. The impression that they have expressed to us is that
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 9
such a high ratio must indicate a corporate commitment to quality, and a healthier
lifestyle (less stress, less grinding overtime) for the testers.
In many cases, though, a high number of testers results from (and contributes to)
dysfunction in the product development effort.
One of us worked on a project that had roughly three times as many testers as
programmers by the end of the project. The programmers were under intense time
pressureand they couldn’t help but notice the large pool of people next door just
waiting to catch their mistakes. The result? The bug introduction rate skyrocketed. One
programmer commented about a particularly buggy area of the program under test, “Oh,
yeah. I knew there would be bugs thereI just didn’t have time to look for them
Programmers find the vast majority of defects in their own code before they turn it over
for testing. When a programmer finds a bug in her own code, she can usually isolate it
quickly. She doesn't have to spend much time documenting the bug, replicating the bug,
tracking it, or arguing that it should be fixed. When programmers skimp on testing,
testers must spend much more time per bug to find, isolate, report, track, and advocate
the fix. And then the programmer wastes time translating a black box test result back to
We suggest that there is a significant waste of project resources whenever an error is
found by a black box tester that could have been easily found by the programmer using
traditional glass box unit testing techniques. Some of these errors will inevitably creep
through to testing, but we think staffing and lifecycle models that encourage over-
reliance on black box testers are pathological.
Having an army of testers can encourage a spiraling drop in productivity and quality. (We
talk more about this in Hendrickson, 2001, and Kaner, Falk & Nguyen, 1993, Chapter
The best solution for severely buggy code is not to add testers. The best solution might be
to freeze (or even reduce) the size of the testing group while adding programmers. The
programmers should fix and test code, not add even more buggy features.
Healthy Cultures
Some companies need more testers because of the market they are in or the technology
they use. The examples below might describe the culture of the company or the
circumstances of a particular project. Examples:
Much more formal planning, documentation, and archiving of all artifacts of the
testing effort is needed when developing safety-critical software. Heavy
documentation might be required for other software because of regulatory agency
interest or high litigation risk.
Extensive documentation may also be needed for software that will be sold in its
entirety to a customer, with the expectation that the customer will assume
responsibility for future maintenance, support and enhancement.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 10
Some markets are particularly picky about fit and finish errors or are more likely
to expect / demand technical support for problems that customers in other markets
might seem small or easy to solve. If you are selling into that market, you'll
probably do much more user interface testing and much more scenario testing.
Extensive configuration testing is needed for software that must work on many
platforms or support many different technologies or types of software or
Load testing is needed for software that is subject to bursts of peak usage.
Some companies hire domain experts into testing or train several testers into
domain expertise. These testers become knowledgeable advocates for customer
satisfaction improvements and are particularly important in projects whose
designs emerge over time.
Some testing groups have a broad charter. Along with testing, they provide
several other development services such as debugging, specification writing,
benchmarking competing products, participation in code reviews, and so on. The
broader the charter, the more people are needed to do the work.
If the company relies on outsourced testing (this is sometimes a requirement of
the customer's), there is substantial communication cost. The external testers need
time to understand the product, the market, and the risks. They also need
significant support (people to answer questions and documentation) from in-house
testing staff.
Software that involves a large number of components can be very complex and
requires more testing than a simpler architecture.
The development project might involve relatively little fresh code, but a large end
product. The product might be knitted together from many externally written
components or it might be an upgrade of an existing product. The testers will still
have to do system testing (the less you trust the external code or the modification
process, the more testing is needed). When the external components come from
many sources, the test group may have to research, design and execute many
different usage scenario tests in order to see how well the components work
together to meet actual customer needs.
Challenging Circumstances
Some companies or projects back themselves into excessive testing staff sizes. For
Some test groups don't understand domain testing or combinatorial testing, so
they try to test too many values of too many variables in too many combinations.
Some test groups rely on large numbers of low-skill testers. Manual execution of
large sets of fully scripted test cases can be extremely labor-intensive, mind-
numbing for testers and test case maintainers, and not very effective as a method
of finding defects.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 11
Test groups that suffer high turnover are constantly in training mode. The staff
may never get fully proficient with base technologies, available tools, or the
software under test. Tasks that would be easy for a locally experienced tester
might take a newcomer tremendously longer to understand and do.
Testers may be given inadequate tools. Most testers need at least two computers,
access to a configuration or replication lab, a decent bug tracking system, and
various test automation tools. To the extent that the software under test runs on
platforms for which there are few test tools, the testers have less opportunity to
become efficient.
Testing can be inefficient because the team doesn't use basic control procedures
such as smoke tests and configuration management software.
Software that was not designed for testability will be more difficult and thus more
time consuming to test.
Some corporate metrics projects waste time on the data collection, the data
fudging (see Kaner, 2001; Hoffman, 2000), and the gossiping about the dummies
in head office who rely on these stupid metrics. We are not suggesting that
metrics efforts are necessarily worthless. We are saying that we have seen several
such worthless efforts, and they create a lot of distraction.
Programmers might focus entirely on implementing features. In some companies,
testers write installers, do builds, write all the documentation, etc. This is not
necessarily a bad thing. Instead it reflects a division of labor that might be wise
under the circumstances but that must be factored into the budgets and staffing of
both groups.
Programming teams might send excessively buggy code into testing, perhaps
because they are untrained in base technologies, or new to the project, or managed
to implement features as quickly as possible, leaving the testing to testers. The
worst case of this reflects a conscious decision that they don't have to test the code
because they can count on the testers to find everything. Add more testers and the
programmers do even less checking of their work. This can become a vicious
spiral of increasing testing costs paired with declining quality (Hendrickson,
One-to-One Ratios of Testers to Programmers
Sometimes groups that describe their work in terms of one-to-one ratios really mean that
they use paired teams of programmers and testers. For a given type of feature, a specific
tester and a specific programmer work together, perhaps for several years.
There are many advantages to this approach. In particular, the tester is in a position to
become very knowledgeable about the types of features this programmer works on and
the types of errors this programmer makes. If the programmer and tester get along well,
their communication about product risks and bugs will probably get very efficient.
On the other hand, a programmer-tester pair sometimes develops an idiosyncratic model
of what things are acceptable to customers or reasonable to report and fix.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 12
Suppose that your boss calls you into a meeting and says, "We have just been assigned
Project Whizbang. It will take 20 programmer-years. They started last week and will be
done in 6 months. How many testers do you need?"
How do you come up with an answer?
If you use the ratio approach, you might say something like, "In the last 10 projects, we
averaged 1.2 testers for every programmer. We were pretty understaffed, though. We had
to work lots of overtime, and the product still went out with bugs. So I think we need a
ratio of 1.5 testers per programmer, or 30 tester-years. How soon can we start?
A few colleagues of ours, who have significant and successful management experience,
have had good experiences with this approach. They don't expect to stop at 30-tester
years. They use this number to open the negotiations, to give them a reasonable place to
start from.
We agree, we strongly agree, that historical data is useful. But we are concerned that
historical data, summarized this way, can be counterproductive.
A ratio focuses on a relationship between two numbers.
These numbers have no direct link to anything but each other. The relationship conveys
nothing about the task list, about what the testers will do or what the programmers will
At this level of abstraction, it might sound reasonable to say something like, "Last time,
your staffing ratio was at 1.2 to 1. I am setting you an objective of 10% greater
efficiency. Go forth and become 1.08 to 1."
So, how can we use historical data but still steer the conversation to our needs and
We think we can use the same information that we'd use to justify a ratio, to justify a
predicted staffing level. The difference is that when someone asks about the staffing
level, we'd talk about the tasks that the testers do (and the ones they won't do if they run
out of time) rather than the proportion of testers to programmers.
A Two-Factor Model for Predicting Staffing Requirements
Here's a simple approach for estimating the testing needs for a project. Create a table that
shows project size and risk:
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 13
Project Size
Small Medium
Project Risk
As you complete projects, fill in the staff size you had and the staff size that (at the end of
the project, with the benefit of hindsight) you think you needed.
Here's an example. The project is maintenance of a product that has been reasonably
stable in the field. There are several bug fixes, totaling about 1.5 programmer-months of
work. The programmers involved are familiar with the program and have a good track
record. However, some of the bug fixes involve device-handling, so extra configuration
testing is needed. Therefore, you spend 3 tester-months on the project and at the end of
the project, you feel that this was about the right number. You might class this as a small
project with low riskenter 3 months into the Small/Low cell.
Project size is partially determined by the number of programmer-hours, but there are
many other factors. For example, adding a hundred new components makes the project
large (from the viewpoint of what will have to be tested) even if the programmers took
them from a library and spent almost no time on them. Similarly, the project size is
increased by an extensive documentation requirement.
The level of risk is affected by such factors as the technical difficulty of the programming
task, the skills of the programmers, the expectations of the customers, and the types of
harm that errors might cause. The more risk, the more thoroughly you'll have to test, and
the more times you'll probably have to retest.
As you gain experience (yours or colleagues'), you'll fill the table with values.
When someone asks you to estimate a new project, use the table. Ask questions to get a
sense of the size and level of risk, and then you can say, "This is like these projects, and
they took so much staff."
This two-factor model is quite useful.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 14
Rothman (2000) proposed a useful three-factor model, that considered the product (some
are harder to test than others), the project and its process (some projects employ better
processes than others), and the people and their skills. As with the two-factor model, this
folds quite a few considerations into a few variables.
We think it is useful to think explicitly in terms of a longer list of factors, such as the
following ten:
Mission of the testing group.
Allocation of labor (responsibility for different tasks) between testers and
People and their skills.
Partnerships between testers and other stakeholders.
Product under test.
Market expectations
Project details (e.g. what resources are available when.
Process (principles and procedures intended to govern the running of the project)
Methodology (principles and procedures intended to govern the detailed
implementation of the product or the development of product artifacts)
Test infrastructure
We don't think this is the ultimate list. You might do well to generate your own. Our
point is that if you are trying to understand your staffing situation, it can help to start by
listing several different dimensions to consider. Considering them each in turn, alone or
preferably in a brainstorming session with a small group, can lead to a broad and useful
set of issues to consider.
Here are additional thoughts about two of these factors, the group mission and the
allocation of labor.
Mission of the Testing Group
Different testing groups, even within the same company, have different missions. For
example, these are all common missions (although some of them might not be possible):
Find defects.
Maximize the number of bugs found.
Block premature product releases.
Help managers make ship / no-ship decisions.
Assess quality.
Minimize technical support costs.
Conform to regulations.
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 15
Minimize safety-related lawsuit risk.
Assess conformance to specification.
Find safe scenarios for use of the product (find ways to get it to work, in spite of
the bugs).
Verify correctness of the product.
Assure quality.
A group focused on regulation will spend far more time pre-planning and documenting
its work than a group focused on finding the largest number of bugs in the time available.
The staffing requirements of the two testing groups will also be quite different.
Allocation of Labour
The most important driver of the ratio of testers to programmers should be the allocation
of labor between the groups. If testers take on tasks that go beyond the minimum
essentials of black box testing, it will take more time or more testers to finish testing the
To estimate how many testers you need to perform the job, you need a clear idea of what
those testers are going to do. At a bare minimum, the testers will probably:
Design tests
Execute tests
Report bugs
They will probably also spend time interpreting results, isolating bugs, regressing fixes,
and performing other similar tasks.
In some organizations, the testers have a much broader range of responsibilities. For
example, testers may also:
Write requirements
Participate in inspections and walkthroughs
Compile the software
Write installers
Investigate bugs, analyzing the source code to discover the underlying errors
Conduct unit tests and other glass box tests
Configure and maintain programming-related tools, such as the source control
Archive the software
Evaluate the reliability of components that the company is thinking of using in its
Provide technical support
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 16
Demonstrate the product at trade shows or internal company meetings
Train new users (or tech support or training staff) in the use of the product
Provide risk assessments
Collect and report statistical data (software metrics) about the project
Build and maintain internal test-related tools such as the bug tracking system
Benchmark competing products
Evaluate the significance of various hardware/software configurations in the
marketplace (to inform their choices of configuration tests)
Conduct usability tests
Lead or audit efforts to comply with regulatory or industry standards (such as
those published by SEI, ISO, IEEE, FDA, etc.)
Provide a wide range of project management services.
We do not espouse a preferred division of labor in this paper. Any of the tasks above
might be appropriately assigned to a test group, depending on its charter. There is nothing
wrong with that, as long as the group is appropriately staffed for its tasks.
We think that the best way to estimate your staffing level for a project is task-based. Start
by listing the tasks that your staff will do and estimate, task by task, how much work is
involved. (If you're not sure how to do this, Kaner, 1996, describes a task-by-task
estimation approach.) The total number of staffed tester-hours should be based on this
estimate. The ratio of this staff to the programming staff size will emerge as a result, not
as a driver of proper staffing.
Ratios out of context are meaningless. Attempting to use industry figures for ratios is at
best meaningless and more likely dangerous.
Testers often ask about industry standard ratios in order to use these numbers to justify a
staff increase. To justify an increase in staff, we suggest that you argue from your tasks
and your backlog of work, not for a given ratio.
Even if you have a backlog, adding testers won't necessarily help clear it (Hendrickson,
2001). Many problems that drive down a test group's productivity cannot be solved by
adding testers. For example, poor source control, blocking bugs, missing features, and
designs that are inconsistent and undocumented are not going to be solved by doing more
Kaner, Hendrickson & Brock (2001) Page 17
Beck, Kent (2000), Extreme Programming, Addison Wesley.
Collard, Ross (1999), "Testing & QA Staffing Levels: Internal IS Organizations", Collard
& Company.
Hendrickson, Elisabeth (2001), "Better Testing--Worse Quality?", Proceedings of the
International Conference on Software Management, San Diego, CA.
Hoffman, Doug (2000) "The Darker Side of Metrics", Proceedings of the 18th Pacific
Northwest Software Quality Conference, Portland, OR.
Kaner, Cem (1996) "Negotiating Testing Resources: A Collaborative Approach",
Proceedings of the Software Quality Week conference, San Francisco, CA.
Kaner, Cem (2001) "Measurement Issues & Software Testing", QUEST Conference
Proceedings, Orlando, FL.
Kaner, Cem, Jack Falk, & Hung Quoc Nguyen (1993; republished 1999) Testing
Computer Software, John Wiley & Sons.
Rothman, Johanna (2000), "It Depends: Deciding on the Correct Ratio of Developers to
Testers," <>.
Full-text available
this paper to describe a nominal scale. Suppose that you had hundreds ofdifferent pieces of cloth and you sorted them by color. Here is the brown pile. There isthe pink pile. This is the green pile. By sorting, you have nominally (or categorically)scaled the cloths. For those who insist that measurement is the assignment of number toan attribute according to a clear cut rule, make brown color 1, pink color 2 and greencolor 3
Elisabeth Hendrickson Assess the Requirements .Make sure that everyone understands what they are building and why. .Make implicit requirements explicit. .Let the stakeholders see the software periodically throughout development. .Listen carefully and question assumptions. Copyright 2000, Elisabeth Hendrickson Bug Proof the Implementation .Define coding standards and good coding practices. .Hold reviews to make sure the coding standards are followed. .Take advantage of code reviews as opportunities to share tips and techniques for bug proofing in your environment. Copyright 2000, Elisabeth Hendrickson Don't Let It Be Someone Else's Problem Watch out for a culture that encourages the idea: Don't Do Today What You Can Push Off Onto Someone Else's Plate If it doesn't become someone else's problem, it's no one's problem. The software will suffer as a result. Copyright 2000, Elisabeth Hendr
Negotiating Testing Resources: A Collaborative Approach
  • Cem Kaner
Kaner, Cem (1996) "Negotiating Testing Resources: A Collaborative Approach", Proceedings of the Software Quality Week conference, San Francisco, CA.
Testing & QA Staffing Levels: Internal IS Organizations
  • Ross Collard
Collard, Ross (1999), "Testing & QA Staffing Levels: Internal IS Organizations", Collard & Company.
It Depends: Deciding on the Correct Ratio of Developers to Testers
  • Johanna Rothman
Rothman, Johanna (2000), "It Depends: Deciding on the Correct Ratio of Developers to Testers," <>.