Skip to main content
blog title image

8 minute read - Techniques ROI

What do you do? As a Tester, when you are asked for ROI calculation

Jan 12, 2017

TLDR; push back, ask questions, and if all else fails - plan it as a manageable set of tasks

At the Test Automation Guild I was asked a question about how we calculate ROI for Test Automation. And its a hard question for me to answer in 30 seconds when I don’t know enough about the situation the person asking the question finds themselves in.

Because testers are often asked by managers for information that the manager should really be dealing with and which does not seem to add value to the process and which we are concerned trivializes or views the process from the wrong perspective.

I know this is a difficult position for testers.

And I know testers are asked to do this.

I empathize. I’ve been there.

And I want you to be able to take this less seriously - consider that your only warning for what you are about to receive.

So I will attempt to provide tactics to help with the situation.

Easy Answer

And the easy answer is to just go off and do a web search for “ROI for Test Automation”.

  • You’ll find loads of papers written by consultants on how to calculate the ROI
  • And probably tools and spreadsheets to calculate ROI

And the easy way is to look through those, find one that uses numbers that you have easy access to, fill in their template or tool and give that back to your manager.

That’s still going to take time, but maybe half a day, a couple of hours if you just pick the first one you find and don’t care about the results.

Here you go:

Job Done.

But You don’t want the Easy Answer!

And if you did not go for the easy answer then it might be because:

  • that does not feel right
  • you don’t think ROI is a good metric to calculate
  • it’s not all about money

Exercise: No really, ‘Insert your reason here’ 

Ask yourself enough questions so that you know
why you did not take the easy route. 

Because sometimes, the easy route, might be the right one. 

And if you choose not to take the easy road then
you are going to need some conviction to back you up
because what you have to do instead is harder. And you
need to have a solid core and belief to take you forward.

Hopefully you know why you did not go for the easy answer. And you’re ready for the hard path.

Here are some options, but these all require some assertiveness, and communication skills to put into action.

Are you ready for that?

OK then:

  • try and push it back on your manager to do the ROI calculation
  • ask more questions
  • turn the ‘ask’ into a well defined project, with a set of tasks and a plan

Step one - try and push it back on your manager

This is really a management activity. Why is your manager asking you? Something is going on here that has not been fully explained to you so we need to tread carefully when we phrase our responses.

  • “That’s your job you lazy ****!”
  • “Oh! Are you resigning?”
  • “Am I getting a promotion?”
  • “Does this new responsibility mean a pay rise?”

You probably want to avoid the above.

  • “Why do you want this?”
  • “Why do you want me to do this?”

You probably want to avoid the above as well, because asking “Why?” targets someone’s belief and we are assuming that " Something is going on here that hasn’t been fully explained to you":

  • “Why…?”
    • “Because I’m your manager!”
    • “Because I do!”
    • “Because I’m telling you!”
    • “Because I’m asking nicely!”
    • “Because I’m not asking nicely!”
    • “Because!”

OK, this isn’t going well. We need a new approach.

A Quick Introduction to the Art of Verbal Fencing

  • “I don’t have time for this because I’m busy with the testing right now, can you do it?”
  • “I don’t think I’m the right person to do this because I don’t have budget responsibility, could you do it?”

I’m using a “No…Because…Redirect” template here, which is quite a sneaky attack.

  • I’ve put the negation block at the front to get it out of the way early
  • I phrased the block as an “I don’t” rather than a “No” because many people don’t like to hear “No”
  • I put a ‘because’ in, because a reason makes the early statement seem like it has more weight and justification
    • the ‘Because’ does not have to be great, it just has to be there because then we add a because and then it looks more justified because of the because.
  • The killer punch is the question at the end “Can you do it?”
    • its a question and people answer questions, so suddenly you take control of the conversation and if you have persuasion and conversation skills at this point you gain an edge.
    • Thank goodness you gain +2 on all Charisma roles because of your new haircut.
    • its a question that deals with capability, so in order to answer it they have to think about their capability and ability to do the job
    • it innocently hints at the responsibility residing with them

Exercises: Fulfill and List 

There are lots of ways of fulfilling that template, so take some time and list more.
Identify other templates you could use. 

“If…Bad…Emotion” e.g. 

“If I did that then we would lose time on the testing and we don’t want to lose any more time” 

Chain templates for killer combos: 


“I don’t think I’m the right person to do this because I don’t have budget responsibility and If I did that then we would lose time on the testing and we don’t want to lose any more time because we’re already de-prioritising parts of the testing and if something slips through we might be facing a major production outage which would be a disaster, can you do it?” 


You might get lucky and they might:

  • concentrate on the question, in which case you can keep jabbing with more questions until they give up
  • concentrate on the reason, in which case they are no longer concentrating on the ‘ask’ and you have a chance to steer the conversation until they give up
    • even if they do manage to bludgeon down your objection you can follow up with another “No…Because…Redirect”
  • concentrate on the “No” and then they have to address your statement. In the two examples that would mean - re-prioritising and re-planning the project, boosting your self-confidence, organising a training course, etc.

But all of this might not work.

Your manager might be trained in verbal fencing as well:

  • “I understand and I want you do to it anyway.”
  • “I get that and I need you do to it anyway.”
  • “I take full responsibility for that and I need to you start now.”
  • “Just do it.”

So we need to move to the next step.

Step Two - Ask More Questions

You’re not going for the easy route so you need to make sure that the activity you are about to do adds the right value so you need to get the requirements sorted out.

  • Who is the audience?
    • “Is the ROI for you or for someone else?”
    • “What format does this have to be in: spreadsheet, document, slidedeck?”
  • What does it have to support?
    • “What will this be used for?”
  • Timescales and priority?
    • “When is this supposed to be finished by?”
    • “How much time should I spend on this?”
  • Risks
    • “Has the project been told I’m spending time on this?”
    • “Who is covering my work while I’m doing this?”
  • What is the content?
    • “What information do you need?”
    • “Is there a template I should use?”
  • How often?
    • “Is this a one off or will we calculate ROI again?”
  • How can I do this?
    • “Do you have any calculations we should use?”
    • “Any links to white papers or books I should read?”
    • “Do you have the current actual measures that I should use in the calculations?”
    • “Who should I speak to? Do they know I’m doing this?”
  • etc.

With any luck your manager will give up during the questioning process:

  • because they haven’t thought this through
  • because it will be easier if they do it

But, these are serious questions. There is a difference between a 25 page ROI document and an envelope with a guess on it - granted the only difference might be the time it takes to create, but that is still a difference.

And you need information if you’re going to do it.

Which is the next step.

Step Three - Agree a Plan

Using your questions and the answers you and your manager need to agree a plan of work to create this ROI.

You will agree:

  • scope
  • format
  • contents
  • timescales
  • effort
  • relative priority
  • how often to check in
  • what do to when you get stuck

At this point:

  • you have pushed accountability for the end result back to the manager even if you are responsible for the actual tasks,
  • you’ve made it clear that you will need help and it isn’t your job alone to do it
  • you don’t have to stress about it any more

But its still wrong

I get it, you still don’t want to do it.

Depending on your relationship with your manager you might even be able to tell them that.

And I agree.

I think trying to calculate ROI for ‘Testing’ or ‘Test Automation’ does not help.

We do need to know what benefits we are expecting from the process and how much we are prepared to spend on the process. We do need to understand how much it costs to do what we are doing. And we should manage the process to achieve the benefits and change the way we work if we can’t achieve those benefits within that cost.

And that sounds like the actual work of management, rather than calculate an ROI.

At some point in the future, I’ll write up something for managers on ROI of ‘Test Automation’ or ‘Testing or ‘Live Fish Regurgitation’.