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.