The Changing Role of the Test Manager

test manager

The Traditional Test Manager

Ten years ago, the role of a test manager was comprised of managing the testers and reporting up to your boss.  A normal day would consist of  several meetings, data analysis and and HR work like performance reviews. With all of these management responsibilities, the test manager would hardly spends any time actually managing the team.

The Test Manager Role Has Changed

Today, organizations are much flatter. The traditional role of a test manager has evolved to a coach and mentor.  In many cases, the role of the dedicated test manager has been eliminated altogether. The modern test manager is no longer spending all day in meetings and managing up. They are doing hands-on work to drive the the project forward.

Here is another great blog post on a similar topic: “Where Do Tester’s Belong on an Agile Team”

The Modern Test Manager

One of the first things that happens during an agile transformation is the reshaping of teams. The large development groups are broken up into smaller and more manageable teams of 3 to 7 people. Team members will relocate so they are sitting together. “The Three Amigos” – testers, programmers, and product managers  all in one area and  reporting to one person. Within this new structure, the test manager often is left out because small, high performing teams don’t need specialized management.

So, what should the test manager do? Go back into a testing role? Find a new role in the company outside of testing?  Move on to a different organization that still has a need for test managers? Here are some options to consider.  

Options for the Modern Test Manager

The Facilitator

A facilitator or servant-leader is a scrum master with teeth. Instead of being separated from the team by an office door, this person is embedded with the team and has a clear unobstructed view of the good, bad and ugly. If a team is struggling to develop and test a new feature, the facilitator will feel the pain and help the team find the solution or have the team move on to the next thing.

The Non-Technical Contributor

For test managers who are not highly  technical, the idea of moving  to a production programmer role would not be, very exciting. For these people, there are roles like product manager that could be a better fit. In many ways, a test manager is similar to a product manager.  Both roles require people who are able to ask the probing questions, think about potential problems and find ways to solve them.  The best test managers have strong critical thinking skills that translate very well to product management roles.

The Coach

The Coach stays closer to the product and development work than the facilitator or non-technical contributor. A test manager switching to a coaching role should have strong technical skills.

The goal with agile is to have  testers embedded in a development team.  As the developer is writing the code, the tester is actively testing that feature. Think of this like building an airplane while it is flying through the air. Some testers shy away from the technical nature of this work because it requires you to touch the code. The Coach helps  guide people to testing the right level at the the right time, as well as developing the skills to make that happen.

A coach and tester together can help design better unit tests, start fleshing out BDD scenarios, build new checks against an API and much more. The role of the coach helps close critical skill gaps, and over time can help an agile team move faster.
As more and more companies are transitioning to agile, there inevitably will be a reduction in the number of test managers needed. Luckily, the skills of a test manager  are highly valuable and transferrable to many other parts of the company. While the titles might change, test managers can still leverage the skills and experience they have spent years acquiring.

Looking to learn more about testers and agile testing?  Download this free guide to understanding agile testing or check out this other great blog “Are Testers Essential for Agile Testing?“.

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