Agile has become the standard for many companies in the past few years. As a result, the job requirements of QA managers became more demanding. Although the traditional roles are gone, managers still have their place, but their responsibilities and scope may look different, especially for QA managers.
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It can be hard to identify the QA manager’s activities during agile ceremonies. Lately, there has been a debate about the redundancy of having a QA manager or a QA lead performing individual contributor activities.
Many traditional QA managers seem confused about their roles and feel out of place when put in agile circumstances. In a formal context, the QA manager has managed a testing team, defined QA processes in the testing department, and helped with QA escalations.
Reshaping the QA Manager Role in Agile Methodologies
Since the agile manifesto appeared in 2001, we have attempted to apply those statements to our software development process, delivering software frequently in shorter sprints. Still, as we have noticed, QA must also be on top of many things, adapting to the shorter timescale (including test automation) and avoiding slowing down the development process.
QA Managers should help with continuous testing processes in the delivery pipelines. For example, some testing activities can start early in the requirements phases and continue during development (Shift left testing). The first bugs can be written on paper before any line of code is created. In addition, some feature testing can be performed even on production (Shift right).
As QA managers, we must build the teams carefully, including team members with different skill sets, such as functional, automation, and performance testers. In addition, we must define the responsibilities and roles of team members and how to attack tasks. Finally, we must guarantee that the testers are appropriately equipped to test their team’s specific work during the sprints.
As QA managers, we need to eliminate complexity (testing activities not adding business value) and improve our QA activities (implementing low-code testing tools, testing methodologies, and testing strategies). A single QA manager may become responsible for more than one team. That combination of units may include all the cross-functional skills (functional, automation, performance, security, accessibility, usability, etc.) necessary to deliver high-quality value.
Observe and Monitor Quality Metrics
In agile teams, there is no interaction where the QA managers monitor the QA progress during the sprints. Instead, the agile methodology allows the organization and other stakeholders to see the team’s progress using boards, backlogs, and burndown charts.
It seems that with agile, the QA managers lost their ability to see the big picture of the testing project, as it used to be in traditional testing projects. Scrum teams are now responsible for communicating and reporting their progress, providing their estimations as part of the agile process; there is no need for a QA manager to act as an observer.
The question remains: what can QA managers do in an agile environment? Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer to this question; the only thing that I can mention is how we can add real value to the business/companies if we understand that we must change to remain relevant.
It is common among agile organizations to fear downgrading the quality of their deliverables. It is a logical fear because quality ownership is hard to track between multiple agile teams, and it could be tough to follow if we don’t have a clear owner.
To overcome this fear, the organization should ensure quality KPIs, which will provide the crucial ability to measure the significant quality aspects of an agile working environment.
The QA managers can help the business define the quality KPIs and trends among the different teams:
- Number of bugs and severity per sprint
- Team velocity compared to team capacity
- Number of user stories meeting the DOD
- Defects leaked to production/customer environment
- Improve lead time to market
- Test automation value
- Percentage of application performance improvement
Quality metrics have another significant advantage; they allow organizations to identify the most challenging areas and make the required changes to meet quality standards.
A Technical QA Manager Approach
As we have seen, shifting from a traditional QA environment to an agile one will significantly impact the QA manager role. However, QA managers can add real value to the business if they understand that they must adapt to remain relevant in a completely different world, perhaps moving into a more technical role.
Self-organized agile teams are essential to the agile concept, but this does not guarantee they have the technical skills to handle the challenges during the sprints.
Technical QA managers can provide support by:
- Getting involved in technical meetings to see how to reduce risks
- Assisting the teams in creating functional user stories
- Work with the product owner to define better-expected criteria
- Improving the testability of the user stories
- Offer suggestions that will lead to a robust QA process during the sprint
- Implement new testing practices or new testing tools to improve quality standards
- Reduce complexity and save time for QAs during the sprint
A technical QA manager can help with testing knowledge and provide technical expertise to set specific quality guidelines. These guidelines may include what testing methods fit better to the team, advice about testing tools, implementation of automation strategies, testing standards, and the overall test methodologies to apply.
The current market has a lot of leadership opportunities for quality people, and we believe that will continue in the upcoming years. Therefore, if you want to pursue a QA manager career, you must remain relevant to the current technology circumstances; also, if you are an experienced QA manager, you must know this is a never-ending journey and keep learning.
A few years ago, I remember discussing with some managers and technical leaders how we could combine our technical and people skills in perfect balance. So my opinion was to keep learning and applying your knowledge (technical, soft skills, and more) during your day-to-day activities.
One of my favorite quotes from Karate Kid is, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?” Great leaders must balance people skills, QA processes, technology, strategy, and business. Stay curious and keep learning.