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Test Manager + Agile = ?

By 13 October 2021December 12th, 2022No Comments

Software testing is a core part of quality assurance when developing software products, and traditionally, a solid test manager is key to successful testing. But in today’s world, client demands regarding speedy delivery of high-quality software products have increased tremendously.

A recent joint survey by Forrester Consulting and Eggplant indicates that up to 46% of businesses found testing speed to be anywhere from average to poor. Furthermore, 41% feel the same way about the overall custom software development speed, and 36% of executives rate code quality as average to poor.

This is part of why many organisations have adopted other approaches to software development such as an agile methodology. Agile software development is largely about unlocking the power of collaboration amongst proactive cross-functional teams to make feedback loops more efficient and quickly extract more value out of each development iteration.

Often, this means significant shifts in how software is produced. These include conducting development and testing concurrently to detect and rectify product issues early and avoid delays in delivery. So where exactly does that leave the test manager? Before we answer that, let’s dissect the conventional role of a test manager.

Who is a test manager and what role do they play?

Typically, a test manager oversees the testing efforts for a software product. They are usually in charge of planning testing exercises, putting controls in place, tracking any issues/defects discovered during testing, and ensuring that testing personnel are working in sync with each other and the rest of the teams.

A test manager has to define the scope of the testing process, work with testers to establish the technical benchmarks the product should meet, elements to be tested, the duration of testing, and also work with other decision-makers to deliver the needs of testers.

Test managers also reinforce a standard in the testing workflow, ensuring that testers work in the agreed phases, with efficient methods, and document their findings appropriately. In that respect, they should be able to compile comprehensive reports on the testing process.

How is agile testing different and how can test managers adapt?

In an agile setting, the boundaries between teams are intentionally and actively reduced. A developer can complete the smallest piece of code that has a clear function and notify a tester who will begin testing it as soon as possible. The teams are more connected, meaning that managers are a little more on the outside and relieved of some of their usual tasks.

There are many ways in which test managers can re-apply themselves upon shifting to agile management such as:

Coaching testers

A test manager usually has a sufficient background in testing and project management disciplines. But with teams working more efficiently, the test manager doesn’t have to fully participate in the actual testing exercises.

They can use their extensive knowledge to train testers on how to conduct thorough tests on software products. A test manager can show a tester how to ensure that they aren’t overlooking certain aspects of the product or test environment conditions that could adversely influence test results.

The test manager can also show testers how to organise their test-related tasks, so they don’t end up having to repeat some procedures or run out of time. They can explain to the testers why some elements of the product must be handled differently, why some tests come before others, and why some parts of the product are tested both individually and as part of a larger system.

Consequently, testers will have more technical knowledge on what parameters to adjust when pursuing different goals from various tests. More importantly, a test manager can guide testers on how to test in a demanding business context while still making the most pertinent detections that end in added value for the customer.

Empowering testing teams

While a test manager may not always know the full details of each test exercise conducted as it unfolds, they are uniquely positioned to have a better picture of how testing fits within the organisation.

They are more likely to engage with other managers and know how much resources are available, how drastically some product goals could change upon receiving user feedback, and a lot more. Therefore, a test manager can secure buy-in from other decision-makers regarding the required tools and practices.

They can gather suggestions and requests from testers, then relay them to the concerned parties, showing why they make business sense. This can be something like pushing for test automation to limit errors, cut costs and free up team members’ time for more demanding tasks.

It can also be a simple effort such as getting more time for testing teams to use certain facilities for meetings, or access to existing communication and collaboration tools.

Balancing documentation and strategy

In traditional models like waterfall development, meticulous documentation is a big part of how you plan and perform tests. However, in an agile environment, testing is more about strategy and collaboration. With multiple shipments being completed more rapidly, there’s greater room for error and less time for full coverage exercises.

It is important for teams to know which testing technique might work best, but even more so, which one leaves room for responding to unforeseen eventualities. For instance, a SaaS product may have multiple updates, some of which could be flawed in areas like platform compatibility or security.

An agile team needs to be able to conduct any additional tests needed to properly understand the cause of a defect, while also still carrying on with ongoing tests and not falling behind on pending ones. This is where a test manager can come in to orient the team towards leaner documentation and planning, including adopting a priority-based test planning approach and more robust and repeatable test frameworks.

For example, a test manager can ensure that testing personnel design more concise and clear tests, to reduce the maintenance overhead of test automation. They can also make sure that team members are deployed in such a way that the fluctuating demands for experienced resources can be best satisfied, leveraging the skill set of each team member to its fullest.

Team members should be given a sense of where their efforts will most likely be needed as time goes by. Additionally, the documents they’ll need must be designed to highlight the information that’s relevant to those particular testing exercises rather than the entire process so they can quickly get to work.

Expanding the culture of quality

This is a much broader mission that can cut across various internal and external stakeholders. A test manager can identify general work practices that make the testing team more effective. They can then learn from managers of other departments about the strengths and weaknesses of their respective teams.

The test manager can then suggest methods that other teams can adopt to make their work easier and produce better results. This is particularly important in the areas of intersection between different teams like the developers, testers, and the business end.

The aim is to have mutual goals such as speed and security translated into a comprehensible form for each participant so that no team misunderstands or slows down another team in collaborative work. For example, a developer can promptly communicate to a tester about a product’s memory usage, to the extent that it affects performance, load, and stress testing.

Everyone should strive to work with a clear picture of what deliverables they need to make available to a colleague in order to achieve higher quality, and how to present those deliverables. Test managers can also create and contribute to internal knowledge bases with educational content on the organisation’s testing regime, along with collating and providing access to reusable test assets.

Externally, a test manager can pursue greater transparency and clarity in contracts with microservice providers to avoid getting blindsided in integration tests.

Conclusion

All-in-all, there are many ways in which a test manager can maintain their relevance in an agile company. However, it all starts with refining their relationships with both their subordinates and fellow managers.

This way, they can always have the most important information at the right time to achieve agility when creating and implementing software testing strategies. Whether you’re hoping to conduct testing internally or outsource it, you can always benefit from the support of a company that specialises in the testing and release of software products.

Reach out to us at [email protected] for guidance on the most suitable frameworks that will enable your organisation to succeed at agile testing and ensure that key members of the test team are properly utilised and motivated to succeed.

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