Where do test managers belong in agile testing teams?

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Development teams taking their first steps toward agile methods face many questions and challenges. But while testers clearly have their work cut out for them [Are Testers Essential for Agile Testing?], it’s a different story for testing managers. Their roles don’t seem so well defined in agile testing teams, and the agile structure is not conducive to the top-down leadership found in traditional methods such as waterfall. 

So the question remains: Where do test managers belong in agile testing teams, and what do their positions entail in an environment that is undergoing significant change? If you’re a manager or other member of an agile development team, read on to discover how these roles fit into this important structure, and how to best approach this transitional period.

People and Projects

In conventional development strategies, managers handle all the responsibilities typically associated with their positions. They monitor the progress of the project and gauge how individual testers are performing while promoting a sense of teamwork throughout the organization. Perhaps most importantly, they assign and allocate personnel to accomplish key testing tasks.

While the shift to agile does not completely alter the job description of the test manager, it does refine the managerial expectations of these leaders, according to StickyMinds contributor Johanna Rothman. Developers become more self-sufficient and staffing is handled upfront, meaning that managers are tasked with a slightly different set of objectives, including:

  • Identifying and removing project obstacles
  • Developing strong stakeholder relationships
  • Providing coaching and professional guidance
  • Introducing effective new software testing tools   

The agile shift may appear to entail less work for the test manager, but Rothman assured readers that the opposite is true. In fact, she argued that due to the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of agile development, high-performing teams will assign both project and people managers to effectively handle both aspects of the operation.

Check out this quick video to learn more about the role of the tester within an agile software development life cycle.

Expanding Capabilities

Aside from the specialized roles defined in terms of people and projects, managers entering the agile arena will need to remain flexible and adaptable. This means bolstering their knowledge bases and being prepared for any issues that may emerge in the agile environment. Critically, they’ll need to investigate the inner workings of their own organizations to overcome any unforeseen obstacles.

“Just as the capabilities between developers and testers blur, so do the capabilities of the managers,” explained Rothman. “It’s time for functional managers to become generalists, much like we have asked the team members to become.”

Most of all, managers will need to view themselves as agile evangelists, ensuring that all aspects of the testing operation adhere to the best practices of this approach, however they may be interpreted by the organization. Since developers and testers will largely be operating in unfamiliar territory, managers will be the go-to resource for any questions and concerns.

Ongoing Improvements

There is clearly plenty for test managers to do during their teams’ respective transitions to agile, and they will continue to play pivotal roles once the shift has been made. But there is a final responsibility that can’t be overlooked from a managerial perspective: process improvement and optimization. Not only must managers promote agile best practices, but they also need to discover superior methods themselves.

InfoQ offered some advice on this matter to guide managers in the right direction. When it comes to test strategies, thought leaders Tom Roden and Ben Williams argued that “[t]he trick is to treat them as living documentation, that live, breathe and grow along with the teams and people who use them.” This mindset ensures that strategies are never static and always ready to evolve.

Managers who understand what is expected of them in agile environments and can prepare accordingly will be at a major advantage once their organizations decide to make the shift.

Learn more about the challenges that come with transitioning to agile testing transformations, and how you can overcome these challenges by putting the right people, process and tools in place in our on-demand webinar “Agile Transformation: People, Process and Tools to Make Your Transformation Successful“.  

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