Test manager in agile projects 

 22 March 2021

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Do you still need test management in agile projects? Is a test manager necessary in agile testing? I get asked these questions again and again. My answer is quite clear: It depends. Namely, on which tasks one needs from this role and considers helpful. And who takes them on.

The ISTQB defines the test manager as "The person responsible for the project management of test activities and test resources and for the evaluation of a test object."

In a professional project environment - whether traditional or agile - there are quality assurance tasks. In the traditional approach, a test manager with a focus on test planning and control performs many of these tasks. In the agile team, everyone has responsibility for quality. These tasks also exist here, although not necessarily in the person of the test manager.

Sometimes, these tasks accumulate in agile projects nevertheless with individuals. That is also ok, as long as there are no knowledge silos. In my experience, a sensible division among several people and a joint view of the activities is more optimal.

Agile test management tasks

What is it all about? Here are a few examples of quality assurance tasks that the test manager would have taken on in a traditional project:

Release and iteration planning

  • Estimation of test efforts and feasibility (e.g. via Planning Poker)
  • Grouping of content that is close to each other and therefore efficiently testable in one / few releases or iterations

Structure/expansion of the product backlog, prioritization of the backlog items

  • Review of backlog items for unambiguity, consistency, completeness and especially testability
  • View from customer and end-user perspective
  • Are acceptance criteria available that are formulated clearly, unambiguously and without contradiction? Important: Are these verifiable (and if relevant for the test) testable?
  • When estimating effort, the test manager role can ensure that testing aspects are included here.

Setting up the development environment for development, continuous integration, testing and pre-production

  • Setting up the process for Continuous Integration (with testing)
  • Integration of test levels from unit tests (for test-driven design) to systemand acceptance tests, as well as transparent presentation of their results in reports, dashboards, etc.
  • Definition of the process from test to pre-production

Selection / definition of the development procedure

  • Creation of a suitable test strategy

Forming a team / finalising the team structure

  • Ensure experienced testers and test management expertise are on board
  • Ensuring and, if necessary, expanding the test know-how in the team
  • Define collaboration - how does the collaboration between development and testing work? Are there separate developer tasks and tester tasks? Or does the test always come automatically after the development?
  • Is there transparency as to when development is complete and when testing can begin?
  • How do testers organize their own tester tasks? Do they use the same task board as the team or their own?
  • Determine how defects are communicated (task board/tool)

Definition of the working environment

  • Provide test rooms and equipment
  • Especially for test environments

Tool selection

  • Proof of Concept of Tools
  • Create procedure/concept for test automation on system and acceptance test level
  • Defining the test management

Automation

  • Drive automation of unit, integration and acceptance testing
  • Ensure that test automation framework is available and usable

Joint development of the Definition of Done

  • Focus on quality, testability and measurability
  • Are predefined framework conditions covered in DoD (such as legal regulations)?

Many of these tasks are already covered in agile software development by developers, product owners, scrum masters or other roles. For the others, it is up to the team to decide whether and who will perform them. How something like this can look in detail, we have described in our book "Agile Testing - The agile way to quality".

Is the test manager out of a job now?

All tasks are now distributed within the team. Is the test manager now obsolete? Quite the opposite! His knowledge and experience are invaluable. When one's company switches to agile software development, the legitimate question arises: What's next for a test manager? I have coached many test managers over the years who have faced this question. Some of them have gone on to agile projects as testers and pushed the testing agendas forward. Others I have guided on the path to becoming Agile Quality Coaches. They have created a new understanding of their role and now accompany projects in the company. There they support developers and other team members:

  • How to integrate quality tasks into everyday life
  • They serve as sparring partners for software testing and quality issues
  • How quality is established as an attitude in the team
  • You support with infrastructure, test data and test strategy

The future of the test manager

The need for accurate software testing is increasing more and more due to the interaction and complexity of systems. The knowledge of today's test managers is indispensable and will become even more important in the future. What can efficient tests look like? Which tests have which priority? In my opinion, the classic image of the test manager has had its day. We won't often find the manager who writes hundreds of pages of test concepts and spends the whole day poring over Gantt charts. What does the agile test manager look like? He is a team companion who accompanies development and test teams with his know-how and enables them to find their agile quality path.

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