Role of QA Manager in Agile Project

What is the role of the QA Manager in an agile environment? Do we really need QA Managers in Agile projects?

The role and responsibilities of QA Managers have changed a lot over the past few years, mainly due to many organizations moving to agile development methodologies where there are clusters of Agile Teams working together to deliver business objectives.

Many QA Managers often feel confused about their roles and feel out of place when put in an agile context, especially when they have been in charge of managing a testing team and defining QA processes for an organization.

No Testing Department

For starters, in a proper agile setup, there is no such thing as “Testing Department”, where a group of testers are sat together, usually away from the developers and managed by a Test Lead or Test Manager.

Also in an agile environment, there is much less emphasis on heavy documentation such as detailed test plans which is usually the job of the QA Manager to write these documents in traditional methods.

In Scrum, which is a popular agile development methodology, there are three main roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Scrum Team. The Scrum Team is self-managing and composed of developers, designers and testers and the team itself is responsible to deliver high-quality software.

QA Manager in Agile is not needed to manage the testers and the testing effort, as in Agile testers become part of the Scrum Team.

No Accountability

Gone are the days when the QA Manager was held accountable when there was a defect leaked to production. In Agile, everyone is accountable and quality is everyone’s responsibility.

When a production incident is encountered, everyone gathers together to see what went wrong and how it can be avoided in future.

There is no place for QA Manager in Agile because it indirectly takes away team responsibility for QA which is the whole reason why good Scrum teams deliver much higher quality. It is important to realize that QA and thus testing, is an inherent part of Agile development methodologies.

No Day-to-Day Management of Testers

In Agile, business priorities change frequently and the Scrum Team needs to accommodate the changing priorities. It is almost impractical to keep up with all the changes especially when there are multiple Scrum Teams in a large organization.

As Stephen Janaway cites in his blog post on “The End of Road for Test Managers?

Being a Test Manager in an Agile environment can be isolating at times, particularly when the department is big, and the number of agile teams is large.

It requires an ability to balance a lot of information, priorities, and tasks, across a number of areas. Stakeholder management and influence become key. Context switching comes as standard. Often it’s not much fun.

More Developers Test

In Agile teams, developers are encouraged to test their own code and to write sufficient and effective unit tests to ensure the new code has no obvious errors and to get notified quickly as soon as something is broken.

When we have a solid foundation of good unit tests that we can rely on, it removes the responsibility of testers having to test for obvious mistakes; instead, they can focus more on exploratory testing and assist with UAT which doesn’t require extensive planning and documentation.

Role of QA Manager in Agile

Although the traditional role and responsibilities of a QA Manager might not be seen as necessary in the Agile context, there are certain areas where QA Managers can add value.

A QA Manager in Agile needs to be an experienced tester to be able to provide advice on challenging situations. They have to know how testing fits into an agile project.

The points covered on blog post Test Manager in Agile by Katrina Clokie (aka Katrina the Tester) gives a good summary of the new role of QA Manager in Agile:

  • Facilitation of inter-team communication across many agile projects within an organization
  • Presenting an aggregate view of testing to the high-level management
  • Personal support, mentoring, and professional development for testers
  • Being an escalation point for testers
  • Budgeting or forecasting for testing as a service dependent on organizational process

Other areas where QA Managers in Agile can add value are:

  • Be an advocate of QA throughout the organization
  • Recruitment of QAs and Automation Engineers
  • Providing technical expertise, e.g. proper use of test techniques in appropriate cases
  • Ensuring the teams (Scrum Teams) implement and follow best practices to prevent defects

To summarize, the role of a QA Manager in Agile is more of a support, training, facilitating and consulting other QAs and other team members and to ensure QA best practices are established and that quality is baked in from start.

2 Replies to “Role of QA Manager in Agile Project”

  1. Hi Amir,

    Thanks for the great blog article on the role of a QA manager in an Agile Project. I was pointed in the direction of your blog by my own QA manager in my current role, and we both feel that the points you have raised here are very accurate.

    Since we have so many Agile teams here, and the QA manager sits outside of these teams, there is a regular conflict when the QA manager needs to assign work to testers (since they already have X number of story points assigned to them for the sprint) – do you have any thoughts on how this could be resolved?

    1. Thanks James
      I guess we can call this “QA Scope Creep”. If the QA Manager sitting outside of the scrum teams and would have adhoc requests, would be good to attend the sprint planning with the non-sprint QA tasks, so that when QA estimate, they will consider the outside sprint work as well.

      The other solution is that, if QA members are really needed to do outside sprint work, other members of the scrum team can continue with the sprint QA tasks – testing shouldn’t be only the QA’s responsibility.

      Either way, I see the role of the QA manager in agile as more of mentoring, training and facilitating and let the team itself manage the testing tasks.

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