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3 reasons testers need a QA manager in Agile

Agile teams without a QA manager prioritize developers' perspectives -- even to the software's detriment. Here are three ways in which a QA manager offers value to Agile teams, and how they support testers.

As someone who was a tester throughout Agile's rise to prominence, I've seen the software QA manager role change, disappear and reemerge. Some of my QA managers were less than inconsequential; others significantly impacted the QA team, in both a positive and negative manner.

Throughout my years in QA, I preferred to go without a QA manager on my software development team. That is, until now.

What's changed is that I'm on a highly productive Agile team, but that doesn't stop some tensions from bubbling up to the surface. For example, an Agile team might find the designers struggle to adapt the product to reflect customer demands. It surprised me to learn how much a QA manager in Agile can improve a team's ability to coordinate and accelerate QA efforts.

Introduce a QA manager to your Agile team to help testers focus on what's truly important: software quality. The top three things a QA manager can do to make Agile work revolve around test planning and facilitation, task management and deadline enforcement.

1. Organize testing activities

In Agile, everything changes -- sometimes with far more frequency than necessary. A QA manager can organize information about these outside changes to save the team time and frustration, and keep testing schedules on track.

Introduce a QA manager to your Agile team to help testers focus on what's truly important: software quality.

Furthermore, a QA manager's responsibilities include both organizing test activities and facilitating communication between different teams or roles. A QA manager serves as an Agile team's point person to discuss changes with development or product management processes, general release scheduling, customer issues or team assignments.

An effective QA manager organizes these moving targets, enabling the individual tester to focus on their work.

2. Prioritize testing tasks

In many software development organizations, QA professionals work on multiple projects across different device platforms. Testers must evaluate mobile and web applications, a handful of device types and multiple web browsers. Even simple a testing task, whether automated or not, can be time-intensive.

A QA manager that tracks and controls how much work a tester is assigned can make that person's work much easier. By managing tester workloads, the QA manager enables each team member to understand and prioritize each task, which ultimately boosts test efficiency.

Not ready for a QA manager?

Perhaps your Agile organization isn't ready to hire for another management position. Many companies need more testers -- not managers. In this instance, there are a few viable alternatives.

Employ a QA manager who tests. This person understands the challenges that face the QA testing team firsthand, and can address those issues. Plus, in a resource pinch, this person can step in and test when needed.

Assign a QA team lead or project lead. Teams need a person who organizes the project at hand -- and it helps if they are also a capable tester. When there are three or more testers on a project, a QA lead can act as a manager to organize, prioritize and oversee test schedules. This arrangement enables other QA team members focus on testing.

Share a development lead or manager. Rather than assign a new management role, have a dev team lead assume QA manager responsibilities. This setup isn't ideal, as that person's focus won't be QA. However, the arrangement can work if the leader understands the testing process and its effect on software quality. This leader must grasp how to test thoroughly and the importance of various types of testing; knowledge of some key QA terms isn't enough. Without a fundamental knowledge of testing, you have a recipe for chaos and personnel issues.

3. Schedule text execution

An Agile team needs someone to manage the test execution schedule. The QA manager in Agile tracks dates across multiple projects, which might follow different approaches, such as Scrum or Kanban.

A QA manager keeps testers aware of deadlines and on track. When test execution is rushed or continuously fraught with crisis, tester morale goes down -- and so does the quality of their work. Test execution time needs realistic limits, but it should be lengthy enough to add business value.

QA managers boost testing productivity and test coverage for Agile applications. If that person also performs tests, all the better, but the focus should be to help QA engineers be capable and focused. This, in turn, helps Agile teams build higher-quality final products that customers want to use.

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