How to Be a QA Leader

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

22 thoughts on “How to Be a QA Leader

  1. Viktoria

    Thanks a lot for your post , it is really helpful. I have a question . I have been promoted to QA Lead , but I still have the same responsibilities like testing features developed by 8 programmers and I do not have time to do something else (testing processes take all my time ). I attend only one meeting as a QA Lead. I also try to motivate and support my team. But that is all. When I asked my boss when I have to do the responsibilities of a Lead , he said “You should do it after your working day” . I feel completely demotivated. Okay , I still want to test , but not as much as earlier . What should I do in this situation ?

    1. kristinjackvony Post author

      Hi Viktoria- the only way to solve the problem of not having enough time is by figuring out ways to save time. I’ve written a few posts about this: Time Management for Testers is about general time management, What to Test When There’s Not Enough Time to Test is about deciding what your testing priorities are, and A Question of Time is about deciding what testing tasks are worth automating. Whenever you come up with a way for your team to save time, you can use the time saved to find another way to save time. For example, if you create a regression test plan that your team can run through quickly, saving two hours of test time, you can use that two hours saved to automate the regression tests, which will save even more time. I hope this helps!

    2. BG

      Someone once said to me that “you can’t lead the team and do the job at the same time”…. and there is a lot of truth in this regardless of the discipline or industry you are in. When you take on leadership roles, your day to day testing involvement will ultimately reduce and your experience will add value in other ways.

      For your boss to say “You should do it after your working day”, that is a dreadful answer and says a lot about them and the the organisation you work for.

  2. Guillermo Chussir

    “Solve problems for your team”
    Totally agree on this point.
    I think a good QA Lead should also be proactive and try to identify these problems even before they impact the rest of the QA team.

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  4. Lucas Amaral

    Nice post. I do not agree with the last one. Not playing “the blame game” does not means take the responsibility to myself, taking the blame on behalf of the team. Sharing it as OUR fault and as something WE need to figure out how to overcome seems more useful to make the team grow in responsibility and ownership of the product.

    1. kristinjackvony Post author

      Hi Lucas- that’s a good point. I think we need to distinguish between how we discuss the failure as a team, and how we discuss the failure with our supervisor. If I were leading a team and we made a mistake, I would tell them “WE made a mistake here. What can WE do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” But when I was reporting on the mistake to my supervisor, I would say, “We made a mistake, and here’s how I failed to catch it. Here’s how I am going to change things so that we won’t make the mistake next time.” For a good description of the way I am thinking on this, read the book “Extreme Ownership”, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

  5. David Bezděk

    Hi, nice post!
    I would add one point – reporting/communication with rest of the team. We had problem in QA team that almost nobody from the rest of the team knew what we were doing (especially management).
    So i came with regular reporting of QA team progress/work for the rest of the team. At the beginning i though i present quite meaningless information but i got great feedbacks on my reports after a while!

    Ps. It is also good place to praise partial accomplishments of your team members 🙂

    1. kristinjackvony Post author

      Hi David- This is a great point! It’s very important to make sure that you communicate all your successes and projects to the rest of the team, especially management. And you are right that it’s also important to encourage your team members even if their accomplishment was only a partial one! Thanks for writing in with these suggestions.

  6. melissa fisher

    This is a great post. I wondered, when you were promoted to qa lead/manager did you struggle with “letting go” e,g, someone that was hands on testing, rather than supervising. It’s something I really miss at times – doing the actual testing- but i think as a lead if you start getting involved too much, then it prevents others from taking on new challenges. I suppose overall, manager/lead is a different type of work and that should be accepted.

    1. kristinjackvony Post author

      Hi Melissa- I’m glad you enjoyed my post! Yes- I definitely struggled with letting go when I became a QA Manager or QA Lead. It’s hard to let someone else do the testing work when you are sure that you can do it better- LOL! But helping other people become better testers- either through your guidance or through working through challenges on their own- is what’s best for any organization. Trying to do it all ourselves is what creates testing bottlenecks. This doesn’t mean that you have to totally give up testing; you can do things like contribute to exploratory testing just before a release, or do some investigative work on a bug that is confusing the whole team. You can also keep up-to-date on the latest test automation trends and try them out yourself when things are quiet at work, or after work hours. Thanks for this great question!

  7. Lina Zubyte

    Thank you for a lovely post, Kristin! It is a great summary and reminder for everyone.

    I especially want to stress point #2: it’s so important to be transparent.
    Some people hold their power with information hoarding. That is a huge disservice for themselves & the team, and, it’s the difference between a leader and a boss. Leader will guide the team through, while the boss seeks power which can backfire greatly to the company, team, and themselves.

    1. kristinjackvony Post author

      Hi Lina- I’m glad that you enjoyed my post! I agree with you about #2; hoarding information is never a good way to make a healthy organization. It’s also good for leaders to be somewhat open about their own struggles; we don’t need to be superhuman to be good leaders, and it’s helpful for our team to see that we sometimes have bad days just like they do.

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