The most frequent question I get from readers of my blog is one like this: “I’ve just been promoted to QA Lead. What do I need to do to be successful in this position?”
Whether you have been made a lead or a manager, it can be a bit daunting to be leading a group, especially if you have never been a leader before. Here are seven things you can do to be a successful QA leader, gleaned from both my experience as a QA Lead and QA Manager, and from leadership experience I’ve had in other areas of my life.
- Pay attention to the needs of your customer
When we are testing software, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of the day-to-day testing, without stopping to think about who our end user is and what they need. As a QA leader, it’s important to pay attention in product design meetings and look at the feedback you are receiving from your customers, and pass that information on to your team. When your testers know why a feature is being created and how it is being used, they can make better decisions about what to test.
- Communicate company information to your team
As a leader, you will be invited to attend meetings that your team may not be invited to. This means that you have information about what’s going on in the company, such as whether there will be hiring or restructuring, or what the development strategy will be for the coming year. You should communicate this information to your team so that they will feel “in the loop” and won’t be worried about the company’s future.
- Solve problems for your team
Testers have all kinds of annoyances that keep them from doing their job, for example: test environments that keep crashing, inaccurate test data, and incomplete Acceptance Criteria in stories. The more of these problems you can solve for your team, the happier and more productive they will be.
- Provide growth opportunities
When you are a leader and already know the “right” way to do things, it’s easy to take on all the challenging work for yourself, and give the simpler tasks to your team. But if you do this, your team will never grow! You want your team to improve their testing skills, and the best way to do that is to give them challenges. Identify the next step in the growth of each team member and think of a task they can do to take on that next step. For example, if you have a team member who has been updating existing automated tests, but has never written one herself, challenge her to write a test for a new feature. Provide guidance and feedback when she needs it, and celebrate her success when she accomplishes the task. It’s also possible that your team member might discover a better way to do things than the way you were doing them, which will make your team even more effective!
- Express appreciation for your team
Be sure to publicly praise your testers whenever they do something great, like find an important bug, create reliable test automation, or meet a crucial deadline. And make sure that you express your appreciation for them privately as well, for example: “Thanks for working late on Friday to test that new release in Production. I really appreciate your hard work.” People who feel appreciated are more likely to approach their work with a good attitude, which helps with team cohesion and productivity.
- When things go right, give credit to your team
As a leader, you will probably be praised when your team has a successful software release. Make sure when you get that praise to give credit to your team. For example, you could say, “Well, I’m really grateful for Sue for the test harness she created. It enabled us to test through many more scenarios than we could have done if we were doing all manual testing.” Or, “Joe gets the credit for chasing down that last tricky bug. Customers would have been impacted if he hadn’t been so persistent.” When you do this, your team will see you as their cheerleader, and not as someone who takes all the glory for their hard work.
- When things go wrong, accept the blame yourself
When a crucial mistake is made, such as a bug that made it into production, or important customer requirements that weren’t added to the product, it’s very tempting to play “the blame game”. No one wants to look bad, and if you feel like the mistake wasn’t your fault, you might want to explain whose fault it was. But don’t do this! Take the blame on the behalf of the team, and don’t specifically name others. For example, if it was Matt’s job to do the mobile testing, and he only tested on Android, don’t publicly blame Matt. Say: “We forgot to test the new feature on iOS devices. It’s my fault for not checking that the team did this.” After you explain the failure, talk about how you will prevent it in the future: “We now have a feature checklist that the team will be using for each release, which will include line items for both Android and iOS testing.” This is a great way to build team loyalty; when people know that they won’t be publicly shamed for their mistakes, they are more likely to innovate and take on new challenges, and they’ll also be very loyal to you and to the company.
Leadership is such an important skill, and so important in the area of software testing, where we can often be misunderstood or taken for granted. By following these seven steps, you’ll ensure that you have a happy, productive, accurate, and loyal team!