I need a TDM team, but how do I staff it?

My name is Jessica Toton. I’m a senior consultant at Orasi Software. The first six years of my career, I was a PL/SQL developer for custom Oracle projects. Over the last 7 years, I’ve been leading Oracle Development and Test Data Management teams. I’ve been a consultant for the last 8 years and have worked at many different types of client sites. I specialize in Test Data Management at Orasi because I have a tenacity for the subject. I can finally say, yes, I like my job.

I’ve seen a distinct trend with Test Data Management, clients are realizing that they need to have it but they don’t know how to accomplish this task and this is where I step in. There’s a strategy for implementing and practicing TDM that I’ve successfully used at a number of clients. Frequently I get the question of ‘How long does it take to have a TDM team up and running’, my response to that is: does one currently exist? And if so, what are the details of that team?

No matter what the current situation is, implementing best practices are always in the best interest of the project. So we’ll take a look at what those best practices are: First and foremost, a specialized TDM team is needed. This team should be part of the Quality and Assurance organization and work side by side with the testing teams. The people staffed on this team should be focused on delivering data for the testing teams to use; in other words, the TDM team should be dedicated to TDM tasks, not multi-tasking across teams.

Determining the number of people needed on a Test Data Management team is based on the number of testers. I’ve found that the most successful ratio is 1 TDM engineer per 5 testers. This is based on the average number of testers per month on the project; the numbers of testers will go up and down throughout the project life cycle, in order to handle this, additional data analysts can be added to the TDM team in order to help figure out requirements. A notable portion of the TDM team’s time is getting to the details of what is required of the data. By adding data analysts instead of test data engineers, the analyst does not need to learn how to create the data, they simply need to find out the requirements. This enables the test data engineers to spend more time on creating the data rather than on getting solidified data requirements.

Thus far, we’ve talked about where the TDM team should be within the organizational structure, how many team members should be staffed, and how to handle the ups and downs of staffing. Now we get to the actual staffing part. You have a number of open positions on the new TDM team, who do you hire for these positions? We come back to the best practices concept. For a test data engineer, you want to staff a developer who has relational database experience, someone who gets the concept of what one is; this resource should additionally have SQL experience, the stronger the better and full SDLC experience. Appreciation for TDM is also key. If a resource doesn’t understand the importance of TDM, then the quality of their work will likely not be its best and the bad performance will impact the team. I’ve had far more managed attrition on my TDM teams than I have ever had on my Oracle Development teams. Plain and simple, TDM resources need to be fully focused and engaged in order to be successful.

When it comes to staffing the TDM Lead, all of the requirements for being an engineer are needed, in an amplified way. The lead needs to be the SME for the team to go to with questions, he/she should be a strong person who is able to push back when teams do not want to give the necessary requirements in the data requests. Also, the TDM team is very high profile and often takes the brunt of the issues that arise in testing which is why the TDM lead needs to be able to handle these situations and mitigate through them.
In short, here is the breakdown for attributes I look for in staffing a TDM team:

Team Lead

  • 8+ years of development and lead experience
  • SQL and PL/SQL expertise at the schema design level
  • Deep SDLC experience
  • TDM enthusiasm (understands the importance of test data quality)

TDM Engineer

  • 2+ years of strong SQL experience (typically paired with PL/SQL development)
  • Full SDLC experience
  • TDM enthusiasm (understands the importance of test data quality)

Additionally, if you are interested in knowing more about TDM, I’ve done a couple webinars recently that might be of interest:

TDM Strategy
Grid Tools Overview & Demo


Jessica Toton, Senior Consultant of Test Data Management at Orasi Software

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