Building a Successful QA Team
Building a new QA team can undoubtedly be a daunting task. If you’ve just been hired at a new company and tasked with creating or restructuring their QA department, then you have a lot of homework to do. I’ve seen new managers come in like a whirlwind, moving people and process around with no real direction or goal. It’s as if they feel the need to change things just for the sake of change, not taking into consideration the thoughts and feelings of the individuals they’re working with. An approach like this can lead to confusion and resentment, creating division and making the team even less effective.
In my 20 year career, I’ve set up over a dozen QA teams of varied sizes from scratch, in the US and abroad. Most of the companies I worked with had limited budgets and I wasn’t always able to hire people with the experience I needed. Success was still achieved, even with teams of people who were not initially experts, QA savvy, or had little to no IT experience. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Investigate Products and Process
First things first, you need to learn all about your new company, their products, their development process, and current QA process – if there is one. It’s important to fully understand what you’re working with before you can determine what needs changed or how to change it.
Do they have automation in place anywhere? How much and what tools are used? Is there a bug tracking system, and if so, is it integrated with anything else? Do any members of the team work offsite or even offshore? What’s the level of communication and the general process for communicating? Is QA aligned with business and given the space and authority they need?
These are all pretty standard things to discover in your first couple of days, no big revelations there. But the most important thing to focus on is determining where the gaps are in the existing process. Is there a technical gap? (Missing skilled personnel) Or possibly software or hardware gaps? (Missing defect tracking or test environments) Find out the strengths of the process along with its weaknesses. After all, leading the charge by proclaiming that everything is wrong might not be the best way to make friends.
The approach shouldn’t focus solely on the QA members. Finding out what the developers, as well as staff outside of software development think about the current process can be very insightful. If the process is changed, the others will be affected as well, so their input is important. Determine what people think is working, and what they feel is not working.
Knowing what products the company offers and their planned future offerings will provide a great deal of useful information. What is their customer base? Who is the target audience? How mobile-friendly are they? What are the growth expectations?
Once you’ve established the way things currently are and what the future expectations are for the company, then you can move to the way things should be in order to meet those future goals. Are they using waterfall when they should be using Agile? Are they using Agile when they should be using XP? Should there be multiple teams, or should the multiple teams join into one?
Identify Roles and Assess Skills
Process is important but the people involved in the process are even more so. Assessing the roles of each current team member, their feelings about their roles, their skills, and future goals is vital to understanding what you have and what you still need as a team. A new leader needs to sit down with all of their current team members and find out the answers to all of those questions. Does everyone know and understand their role on the team? Do they have goals to move into different roles? Do their skills align with those goals, and if not, what can be done about that? It may very well be that some roles should be switched and it’s the job of the new team leader or manager to figure that out. Finding the balance between what the team needs and what the team members need can be difficult but doing so will create a strong and successful unit.
Not only will this step help utilize the strengths of each team member, but it will go a long way towards earning their trust and respect if they feel you’re invested in them as individuals as well as a team. During some initial discussions with a new team I had taken over years ago, I discovered that one of my testers had both the skills and aspirations to be a developer. While I didn’t want to lose one of the stronger testers on the team, I still needed to encourage him to pursue his true goals and give him the opportunity to prove himself. I queried other development managers and when the opportunity arose, I made sure he knew about it. He’s now a happy developer within that same company.
Fill the Gaps
So, you know what you have, and have identified what you need. Now it’s time to start pouring new talent into those gaps. Finding the right people will be a huge determining factor in your team’s success, but it’s important to focus on more than just skills on a resume. While skills are important, a good fit is equally so.
Since you should know the goals of the team and the company, as well as the process you’re going to take to meet those goals, you can interview with that in mind. Share some of your vision with the prospective team member and gauge how they would fit into it. A team I used to work with was a very relaxed one, with few rules. We could pretty much make our own hours and we were very self-directed. A woman that was hired onto the team, while greatly skilled, was the type of person that wanted and needed more structure, rules, and direction. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but she was never completely comfortable with us. Her skills matched what we needed, but she didn’t really fit the environment she was walking into.
For instance, are you going to run an Agile shop but the interviewee has a dislike of Agile? Are you planning on putting all team members in an open office environment but the person you’re interviewing expresses issues with that kind of setup? Skills and experience are important, but if the new hire has problems with your vision from the beginning, then they may never completely fit in and the whole process of hiring could be a waste of time for all involved.
Sometimes you can’t afford to hire the skills you need, but that’s not the end of the world. I’ve paired junior team members with senior resources to help guide them, and then provided personal training and coaching to help move things along. I monitored and offered support, constructive criticism, and continually raised the bar higher and higher until they flourished into experts.
You have your team and your vision, now lead them through it. A good leader sets expectations for the process and the team, but allows for a level of self-direction at the individual level. You should place some trust in each of your team members after all, you hand-picked some of them. If you’ve let everyone on the team know what their role is, what value they bring to the team, and what the goals of the entire team are, then it’s much easier for the team members to figure out how to work together to achieve those goals. Also important to keep in mind, when an engine runs smoothly and all of the parts work together, it can handle the loss of a key resource with less difficulty, should someone decide to leave.
Consistency, communication, and empowerment are three tools that will help any team reach a shared vision for success. Each person on the team should feel important and vital to the team, understanding their impact and willing to take ownership of the work they do. Regular one-on-one meetings can help a leader ensure that individuals are still aligned with the vision they have for themselves, as well as the vision for the team. It also gives you an opportunity to assure them of your faith in their work, or to provide constructive criticism. It’s important to encourage and coach team members to continue moving forward and broaden their skillset. Another consideration to help keep testers fresh is to set up a rotation through different projects so they aren’t seeing the same things week after week, year after year.
There’s no one right way to create a successful QA team, but keeping these suggestions in mind and maintaining the delicate balance between individuals and team will aid the process. I’ve found my greatest success using good people skills, a little psychology, and genuine concern and understanding for each of the team members.
Note: You can read this article in Tea-time with Testers Magazine June’s edition http://www.teatimewithtesters.com/
About the Author
The author, Ruslan Desyatnikov, is the CEO & Founder of QA Mentor. He created QA Mentor to fill the gap he has witnessed in QA service providers during his near 20 years in QA. With Ruslan’s guidance, unique services and methodologies were developed at QA Mentor to aid clients in their QA difficulties while still offering a high ROI. Ruslan offers monthly seminars aimed at imparting his extensive testing knowledge that can be applied to start-ups as well as large companies. To learn more about QA Mentor and testing services please visit www.qamentor.com or contact Ruslan directly by sending email to [email protected]