Do agile organisations need a Test Manager?


I have had this discussion a few times in the last few years, the question whether or not agile organisations need Test Managers keeps coming up. Now that the agile transformation wind is blowing stronger over traditional software testing departments, more and more Test Managers have their role challenged.

This blog post is not about the need of a Test Manager during a transition to agile, this blog post is about the need of a Test Manager within a mature agile organisation.

As software development professionals, the first thing that we should do when somebody is asking us to build a software product, is to ask “what problem are we trying to solve with this product?”.

Software products are financed and built for the same reason people are hired and paid, that is “to resolve a problem”. Software products are built to resolve a problem for users and people are employed to resolve a problem for organisations.

If we look at traditional software development organisation with phases, gates, siloed development and test departments, a Test Manager resolves the following problems:

1) Communication/Negotiation with other silos
2) Schedule/Resource allocation
3) Process improvement
4) Quality signoffs
5) Test strategy
6) Skill and Resource Development
7) People leadership

Now let’s think about a mature agile software development organisation.

Problem 1 disappears with the existence of a cross-functional team where people with all skills are sitting together and don’t need an intermediary to communicate.

Problem 2 ceases to exist because testing, in an agile team, is a continuous activity, there is no need to schedule anything. On resource allocation, testing is a shared activity and everybody in the team will help; the team itself will know if one or more testers are needed. Through retrospection the team will identify skills shortages. No need for somebody to call the shots from outside.

Problem 3 evaporates. Continuous improvement is a team activity, again, retrospectives will trigger changes, not an external entity.

Problem 4 gets sucked into a black hole and implodes, agile teams don’t need quality signoffs, quality is owned by the team, the team is accountable for it and a high five is all they need.

Problem 5 is not relevant. The test strategy is part of the development strategy and is defined by the team. Let’s remember that we are talking about a mature agile organisation where teams have the necessary skills.

Problem 6 can be resolved by a Test Guild or Test Community of Practice that don’t need a Test Manager for functioning, it simply needs people passionate about testing and software quality.

Problem 7 is still a problem we need to resolve. We need a people leader, so let’s solve the problem and hire a people leader then!

I was a Test Manager, I had a choice, fight the system and create problems that didn’t exist anymore so I could justify my role or embrace the new challenge, learn new skills and start resolving real problems for my organisation. I chose the latter and never looked back.

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9 thoughts on “Do agile organisations need a Test Manager?

  1. Problem 1 goes away if the people on a team are all sitting together. However, in some large organizations, there are multiple teams all working on the same product, and communication between those teams still needs to happen. I’m not saying a test manager is the answer, but the problem does exist and organizations / teams need to figure out how to solve the dependencies and communication needs.

    Problem 5 will still be relevant in this case as well – who is testing what, and how do the teams prevent duplication or testing gaps.

    Ideally, these problems would dissolve completely 🙂

    • Janet, thanks for your feedback.
      On problem 1: We have currently 4 teams working on one large program, the need for cross team communication emerged very early, we managed to satisfy it without a test manager. My next question would be, if you had 10 mature agile teams that will have to work on a very large program, would you hire a test manager? What problem will he resolve?

      On problem 5 we have used cross team collaboration and the most experienced testers have made sure this wouldn’t happen, we didn’t need a test manager.

      I think the secret is having good test resources in the individual teams, they can self organise and find a solution that works for the full program.

      • It depends on which type of company you mention. The software development company may be will manage it without test manager. But if there is a company which actually develops software for their own business support purposes, they already have a huge amount of applications running. And probably kind of internet of the things… You need to run the operation acceptance tests and regression test in the pre-production environment continuously. And well, scrum musters are not the right candidates for this role…

        • Irina, thanks for your feedback. I appreciate that scrum masters might not be the right choice for testing, but why do you need a Test Manager to do that? Can this task not be done by the testers/developers that work in the teams that integrate in your pre-production environment? There might be some coordination needed, can this be organised by the most experienced tester within such teams?

  2. It is my opinion that a pain point of Agile is when the teams grow LARGE. I work in an engineering department with 20+ agile development teams and 60+ SET where we work on multiple releases at the same time in multiple code branches and there are times I wish someone would JUST MAKE THE CALL when it comes to important but not necessarily complicated issues that affect all teams.

    Think naming conventions, where things should live in a repository, and general solution leadership (each team should not use different defect tracking, different agile storyboard tracking, unit testing when it provides value to use a shared resource). Also think in terms of priority. We run many tens of thousands of automated TC’s nightly and the resources needed for this are real. Who decides what teams tests are more important if there aren’t enough nodes to go around? The tea working on a HOT roadblocking client defect on version 3, or the team working on the latest release that is now 2 weeks behind schedule and needs to be production ready by the upcoming user conference?

    I think that many of the issues you claim are fixed by agile might be fixed in the context of a single agile team, but when you are discussing multiple teams with complicated dependencies you are going to run into trouble without management. It can’t be team driven because consensus building is impossible between many teams.

    Also, I assume it falls within a test managers roles to coordinate regression testing, resources (do we need to bring in an offshore team for this release / feature / whatever?)

    A peripheral issue is that as we hire engineers out of college, and view our SET practice as a part of the Engineering department, there is a decreasing level of domain knowledge on the QA side of things. I think a Test Manager could help with that.

    Some of this could be addressed by a QA architect rather than a test manager but at a certain point if you have enough people with enough parallel development you are going to need someone, or more accurately a group of someones to coordinate everything.

    I guess we don’t call these people Test managers, we just call them Engineering Managers… And I love Agile. But it is no silver bullet for complicated resource and dependency management.

    • Eric, thanks for your feedback, very interesting points.
      I seem to understand that some of your problems exist because you are in a situation where decisions are not taken timely, problems linger for a long time and people that care (like you) get frustrated.
      What I would do in your situation is air my concerns at a community of practice level, if you don’t have it yet, start it. You will find out that there are many other people that share your concerns and want to take action. I have had some extremely good experiences with community of practices, both for problem solving and for innovation and strongly recommend them for this very purpose.
      I also appreciate the fact that agile is no silver bullet, for anything, one thing that being agile means is though, is everybody has the opportunity to initiate, and be the change.

  3. Ahoy Augusto,
    recently I was thinking about the same problem. What do you think about the problem of overall quality. Each team is aware of it´s “team quality”, but who´s aware of the complete thing. Who is asking the hard question if something seems to have a bottleneck.

    Should everything address to the community of practice ? Or what about feedback to project management ? Who is the right person for them to talk to about quality ? Each PO ? Or should they just check the boards ?

    I am just afraid that most testers within teams are maybe a aware of 2 or 3 sprint in the future. But we need also some people who have a vision.

    Chéers,
    Camal

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