QA testers are often managed by different roles. At some companies, the Engineering Manager is in charge of QA. At very small companies, it could be a Project Manager, or even the CEO. In the ideal scenario, a company will have a dedicated QA manager. But what can you expect from a QA manager, and how can you succeed in management yourself?
How to Be a Good QA Manager
Some aspects of being a good manager are universal, whether the people reporting to you are QA testers or not. However, the field of QA has unique conditions to consider. Even without very much experience, a QA manager can excel by following the right guidelines.
As with any relationship, good communication is vital. Among other things, bad communication can result in poor process, missed bugs, and the exact type of issues that QA is supposed to prevent!
Some of the best ways to foster good communication as a QA manager:
- Encourage testers to ask questions. If a QA tester doesn’t feel empowered to ask questions, they may end up testing a feature incorrectly. This can even cause bugs to make it to production.
- Recognize that everyone’s communication style is different. For example, some people might feel supported by having constant Slack check-ins. Others might feel micromanaged. A good QA manager should find out how their staff works best, and support each person on an individual basis.
- Make people feel comfortable coming to you with issues. Just because a person avoids reporting an issue out of fear, doesn’t mean the issue ceases to exist. If there’s a problem brewing, it’s important for you to know about it.
- Let your testers give input on the process. The QA process shouldn’t be a top-down structure. Even if a manager has more experience, the people doing the testing can provide valuable suggestions and insight.
Some managers make the mistake of using their authority in ways that aren’t helpful to the team or product. As a manager, the importance of advocating for workers can’t be understated. This is especially relevant in QA, where testers aren’t always given the same level of acknowledgement as other tech colleagues.
- Advocate not just for your team, but for QA, period. Engineering colleagues outside of the QA group don’t always recognize the importance of testing. As a manager, you can help ensure that the need for QA is respected at your workplace.
- Stand up for your team members’ worth. It’s not always going to be possible to get your staff raises. However, if someone’s work quality and longevity at the company call for one, it’s important to advocate to higher-ups on their behalf.
- If a bug makes it to production, don’t accost your team members. Try to get to the bottom of the issue without making assumptions. There might have been a problem with the process, or a developer deploying a build that hadn’t been tested. In addition, even the best testers can miss a bug once in awhile. If a tester makes a mistake, it doesn’t mean they should automatically be fired. This doesn’t mean avoiding accountability, but including respect in the process.
- Allow workers to telecommute. This isn’t always going to be up to a QA manager. Sometimes higher-ups will have office policies preventing this. But when a manager has the power to allow it, doing so can make a big difference in workers’ lives.
- Don’t treat manual testers as less important than automated testers. While automated testing has been replacing manual in the minds of some, it’s not a strong QA strategy in the long-term. Both manual and automated testers play essential roles in ensuring that a website or app has quality user experience.
- Foster an environment of collaboration, rather than competition. Treat each person as an individual. It’s easy for QA testers to feel competitive with each other if a manager sets this standard. Respect the strengths that each person brings to the table, rather than treating the team as a hierarchy.
- Ask your workers about their career goals. If your workers have a high turnover rate, on top of making your job harder, you won’t look good to your higher-ups. In addition to being altruistic and a good management skill, helping workers achieve their career goals within the company will help your job – as well as the quality of the product being tested.
Avoid Unnecessary Bureaucracy
Some QA managers inherit or create a work environment filled with bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s even done with the best of intentions. For example, maybe a manager wants to make sure that there’s structure in place so people have clear directions. However, too much bureaucracy can stifle a workplace, and increase turnover rates. Ironically, some Agile processes can even be the cause of this!
Here are some ways QA managers can cut down on over-the-top bureaucracy:
- Skip the unnecessary meetings. In Agile, meetings are a built-in expectation – and they have the potential to be extremely useful. But if they aren’t optimized, meetings can be a time drain with little gain. Before scheduling (or keeping) a meeting, assess whether enough benefits will come out of it to be worth taking the time away from work tasks.
- Prepare for Agile ceremonies in advance. Whether it’s a Standup, Sprint Planning, or Retrospective call, encourage your team to come prepared. If everyone spent a few minutes jotting down their activities before a Standup call, it would go by quicker – and be more productive. If team members had issues in the prior Sprint, it would help everyone if they came to a Post-Mortem meeting with their list ready. And a few minutes spent eyeballing the ticket backlog beforehand can decrease a lot of hemming and hawing in Sprint Planning.
Ideally, a QA manager should be in-the-know about all things QA. Here are some ways to stay active:
- Follow QA blogs. Many QA managers are not involved in active testing any longer, as their main duties consist of managing other testers. However, in order to do a good job of managing QA, it’s helpful to stay up-to-date in the QA world. One of the easiest ways to keep up without spending hours every day is to subscribe to QA blogs.
- Review job descriptions. By keeping an eye on QA job description, managers can see if there are new popular tools and skillsets. This doesn’t need to be done daily, or even weekly – but spending an hour or so reviewing QA job postings every few months can make a big difference. (For the best places to find QA job descriptions, see How to Find QA Jobs.)
- Keep an eye on the details of your company’s product. Even if you’re not testing on a regular basis, this will help you stay current with testing best practices. In addition, your ability to jump in and provide back-up testing if your workers are out can help with your own job security (on top of their well-being).
How to Treat Your QA Manager
If you haven’t worked with a QA manager before (or even a manager at all), you might not know the best ways to interact – especially given the power imbalance. Should you treat them like a (hopefully benevolent) dictator, or in a casual laid back manner? The answer depends on the individual and company, but the ideal answer is somewhere in between.
A manager that acts overly authoritarian should be a red flag to look for another job. But they also shouldn’t be so far in the opposite direction that their ability to provide structured guidance is nonexistent.
Tips on interacting with your QA manager
- Keep them in the loop. Unless you’re told otherwise, cc your manager on any major communications. Even if you feel that it goes without saying, let them know when you’re starting a new major task (such as a suite of test cases) or encountering a build issue. This can proactively help you stay on their good side, and reduce potential friction down the road.
- Listen to their advice (but respectfully provide your own opinion). Managers aren’t always right about everything. But when someone is your boss, you’re generally expected to heed their instructions. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t provide your own opinion in a discussion about how to proceed. If your manager is respectful and skilled at management, they may very well decide that your idea is correct after hearing you out. As long as you stay respectful and tread lightly (especially at first), you can find a healthy balance of respecting the position you’re in while still advocating for smart ideas and processes.
- Don’t go over their head without good cause. No one likes when someone goes behind their back . And it’s safe to assume that your manager will find out about it if you do. If your manager is being verbally abusive or otherwise above and beyond inappropriate, then it’s time to take your issue elsewhere (although it might be best to simply look for another job at that point). But if it’s a simple matter of disagreeing on process, circumventing your manager will not usually benefit you.
- Ask for what you need (within reason). This doesn’t mean that you’ll always get what you ask for – or that you have license to be unreasonable. But if there’s a software tool that could improve your testing, or you feel that a raise is warranted, you can and should respectfully broach the subjects.
Should You Become a QA Manager?
People have different motivations for wanting to become a QA manager. Some of them are great, while others can indicate that it might be the wrong path.
You might want to reconsider a quest to become a QA manager if your motivations are:
- Money. Having a good salary can make a big difference in quality of life. Money is, of course, important. But if the higher salary is your only motivation in wanting to become a manager, it’s unfair to the people who would be working for you. Being a manager should be about more than just a bigger paycheck. When you’re someone’s boss, the way you do your job has a big impact on their life. If you want to be a manager, you should be prepared to support, guide, and advocate for your workers – even when it’s not easy.
- Power. Unfortunately, many people become managers for exactly this reason. While managers do hold a degree of “power” over their workers, it should never be abused or wielded inappropriately. As the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility. You might have more authority, but you can also be held more accountable as a result.
- Avoiding QA testing. If you’re tired of QA testing and ready to get away from it, it might be time to consider a career outside of QA. If you’re a QA manager, you may still have to provide back-up testing. And even if you don’t, you’ll still be expected to be an expert on anything and everything related to QA testing.
On the other hand, becoming a QA manager could be the perfect step for you if you have the following motivations:
- Helping others grow in their QA careers. If you love to help people, and have valuable lessons to impart from your own QA career, you could be a great manager.
- Implementing QA from the ground up. Do you love strategy and process? QA managers are often able to set these standards while building or overseeing teams.
You’ve Got This
If you’re already a QA manager, it’s never too late to add to your tool belt. If you want to be a QA manager, it’s never too late to become one! Being a manager isn’t always easy, but it can be very rewarding. And if you do the job well, it will be rewarding to your workers too.
My company is implementing a QA department from the ground up and will be posting a Quality Manager position. I have been a team lead over QA analysts for a special project and I love the job. I plan to apply for the manager position. You say that becoming a QA manager could be the perfect step for someone if they love “strategy and process” . Can you elaborate on that please. Thank you.
Absolutely! Some companies give QA managers more leeway with this than others. But typically, QA managers are able to implement or improve everything about the testing process itself. From deciding whether (and when) to use test cases, how early in the sprint QA should start testing feature updates, to the type of areas the team should prioritize first.
Strategy could be both about how the manager motivates testers and things like whether to spend more time testing staging or production environments.
Basically that a big part of a QA manager’s job can be figuring out best practices for how and when the testing should be done. Someone who likes finding ways to improve the way a team works would be a great fit.
Best of luck with getting the new QA manager position at your job! You sound like you would be perfect for it with having experience as a team lead for QA Analysts.