Test Managers in Agile – Creating the Right Culture for Your SQA Team

David Tzemach

Posted On: October 20, 2022

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I was once asked at a testing summit, “How do you manage a QA team using scrum?” After some consideration, I realized it would make a good article, so here I am. Understand that the idea behind developing software in a scrum environment is for development teams to self-organize.

Test Managers in Agile

That implies that the team members should essentially manage themselves and hold each other accountable, correct? That being said, it begs the question, “What do QA managers do with their time?” For me, it’s always been about creating the right culture—respecting those below you just as much as those above you. It is about figuring out how to manage your team without being engaged with them directly. I understand that finding your niche within a scrum environment can be challenging for some. For these reasons, I’ve listed some of the main things I worked on with my teams to create the right culture.

Role of Test Managers in Agile

First and foremost, provide the necessary support and mentoring to your team. You are their voice, and their reflections are reflections of you. Be their representative when the company needs to turn around another major release quickly. It is your responsibility to consider how this will impact your team. Is it necessary for them to create any new environments? Are there any high-priority bugs that must be addressed? Is the automation testing complete? Are other teams required to perform any integration testing? Are there any security flaws that must be addressed? If the team encounters any difficulties, it is your responsibility to express their concerns. The team leader assists the team in self-organization and is responsible for removing any roadblocks that impede them, but the QA team can be easily ignored, which is when you as a leader must step up and clear a path for them.

As a leader, you must assist the QA team in self-organizing testing efforts. Help them remain focused on the tasks at hand and on what they do best: testing the software’s features and functions. This can be as simple as locating a third-party license or attending a meeting on their behalf. Or perhaps the team is working on integration testing and you need to organize a meeting with various co-located teams to explain how certain functionality works. The most important thing here is to be available for your team. When they require your assistance, do your best to keep them focused on the task at hand, which is testing.

Second, just because you are a manager doesn’t mean you can’t be hands-on in assisting your team. Lead by example. I’m sure we’ve all heard that saying, but it’s so true. Yes, among other things, a manager’s role is to delegate and ensure that the team is moving in the right direction and adhering to the company’s procedures and policies. However, as previously stated, you want the team to concentrate on testing, so you may need to step in and take on tasks that will free up your team. We recently had to recertify one of our software solutions. Aside from the additional testing required to obtain certification, we also required additional documentation to be written for the certification process. We already had a certification report that QA would generate at the end of a release cycle when the software was distributed to the general public.

As part of this new certification, we decided to update our existing certification report with the necessary information. Instead of asking my team to add additional information to the report, I decided to go through the entire report and tried to condense and merge information that the certification considered necessary. I knew the team would have a significant number of questions and concerns when I did this type of report for the first time, so I went through the report with a fine comb to try to standardize and easily explain to the team what was expected. I was able to communicate what was expected moving forward once I had a tangible report. This simplified the process for everyone involved, and it freed up my team to concentrate on other activities that needed to be accomplished.

How to Manage your Agile Team

As a QA manager in an agile environment, you do not have the opportunity to work one-on-one with each team member as they do with their scrum teams. As a result, you must meet with your team as often as necessary. Yes, you will go over the usual high-level areas of what is going on within the team and company to keep the team informed. However, this also allows them to express any potential bottlenecks or issues that may arise during their sprints. You can use this time for team members to demonstrate the tools they are using or to discuss ways to enhance the team’s efficiency. Alternatively, involve the UI/UX developers and discuss any troublesome usability testing that may cause uncertainty between the programmers and testers.

Discuss what Quality assurance measurements the team would like to present during sprint reviews. You can use this time to effectively bridge the gap between the company’s other business units. Keep in mind that the meeting is for you as a manager as well as your team, so you can observe how team members are accomplishing their tasks and how they are operating within the scrum team. As a manager, you must focus on ensuring that each member of the team communicates with one another, especially if you have many cross-functional teams. You must ensure that the left and right hands are testing in sync and that there are no inconsistencies in each team’s testing. Although you should try to keep meetings to a minimal level, meeting with the team as often as necessary is essential to stay in alignment with your team and their tasks, especially since they do not work directly with you.

Yet another thing I’ve learned from my experience as both an engineer and a manager is that you can’t always treat every team member the same way. I’m not suggesting that they should treat all aspects of their responsibilities differently. For example, when enforcing company guidelines or policies that should be the same for all employees. If you have to discipline a team member, they should all face the same consequences. What I’m referring to is how you manage each individual.

Let me explain where I’m coming from on this. When I first started as an associate engineer, I was full of enthusiasm and motivation, ready to take on the world and climb the “corporate ladder,” so to speak. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I needed some direction. I needed someone to point me in the right direction. I was like a sponge, soaking up anything and everything. As I progressed and spent my years perfecting my craft and fine-tuning where and when to exert my energy, I realized I no longer required that hands-on mentoring. Whereas I needed a mentor when I first started, I am now the mentor for others as they begin their careers. This didn’t mean I didn’t want to learn new things, because in this industry if you’re not learning new things year in and year out, you’re falling behind the industry standards.

This simply meant that my mental state had shifted, and I no longer required the hands-on management that I had desired when I first began. This is why I believe you cannot treat all engineers the same. Professional developers with more experience should require less attention than junior-level engineers. That is why there are different titles and salary brackets—senior engineers are expected to do more, including managing themselves. Whereas an associate engineer is still learning and requires guidance from their manager to point them on the appropriate path, even if they don’t think so at times. I despise the term, but they could benefit from some micromanagement.

As previously stated, this industry is always changing, which is one of the main reasons I chose this career path. There’s always something new to learn. Keeping this in mind, your team must be able to adapt and change following industry standards. As a manager, you must constantly look for ways to educate and improve the skills of your team. This can be accomplished by upgrading some of the techniques they use or simply providing them with mentoring. If your engineers do not enhance their skill sets from year to year, your team may begin to fall behind. If the team falls behind, you as a unit will fall behind, and it will be a domino effect. Trying to promote and push your team to educate themselves, learn new tools, and learn new skills is a mindset that must be ingrained. This could be as simple as enrolling them in an online training program. Send single or a few team members to a tech conference if the budget allows.

I believe it is extremely beneficial because your team sees that you are investing in them, and in my experience, they return to work energized with fresh ideas. Updating the toolkits your team uses is another way to improve their skill set. For example, we previously relied on an antiquated bug tracking system. I decided to update the bug tracking system to something more modern that integrated with other development tools, so that QA and developers could collaborate with a unified platform, making life easier not only for us but for the entire development group. It took a lot of time to research and migrate the data to the new system, but once completed, it helped my team become more efficient in performing their day-to-day tasks. Always seek ways to improve as a whole, as this industry is constantly adapting and changing.


Make yourself available by making a phone call rather than typing in a chat session. Alternatively, during a Zoom meeting, turn on your video so that the team can see you. Little things like this make a difference and add a more personal touch. When it comes to building the right culture within the team and getting everyone on the same page, QA managers have their work cut out for them. They must keep the team on track so that no testing gaps or tasks are forgotten. They must keep the team focused on what they do best: testing software. They must find ways to keep the team inspired and productive in their day-to-day activities. The tasks pile up but don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish: maintaining the high-quality standards that your company and clients expect.

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David Tzemach

The founder and owner of the Agile Quality Made Easy blog (25K followers). A platform that he uses for teaching and coaching others, sharing knowledge with people, and guiding them towards success while giving them the inspiration and tools to discover their own path.

Blogs: 55


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