QA reporting to development managers

Hi all! :wave:

I’ve been through a couple of reorgs in my career so far that have unfortunately resulted in QA management/lead positions being completely removed. On both occasions QA analysts and engineers ended up reporting to development managers in their respective scrum teams.

In my experience this has been a bit of a mixed bag; it’s nice to have a little more freedom, but the lack of meaningful guidance/feedback for QA related practices (from someone who fully understands the context of your work) can make it difficult to tell if you’re doing a good job or not.

I’m curious to hear what the community thinks about this -

  • Has anyone been in a similar situation? How did it go?
  • What is the best/worst thing about reporting to a non-QA line manager?
  • Should situations like this generally be seen as a red flag or an opportunity? (or both?) (or neither?!)
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  • Similar situation : Yes, I’ve encountered where QA reported to development managers. It was a mixed experience - on one hand, it provided more freedom and collaboration opportunities with developers. However, the lack of dedicated QA leadership sometime made it challenging to prioritize QA tasks and ensure alignment with the quality goals.

  • Best/Worst Aspects: The best aspect is it can make a deep understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. Worst is they cant understand your tasks, your day-to-day activities, planning, test coverage.

  • Red flag/Opportunity: This could be both. Removal of QA management may lead to concerns about visibility and recognition of QA efforts. However, it also presents an opportunity for QAs to step up, take on leadership within their teams and drive quality initiatives.

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Brilliant question Adam. I have in one job managed to move myself slightly out from under the QA team manager by working closely together with the DEV team and with all of the release managers. I thus reported to 2 managers, and I loved the freedom to choose which QA ‘ceremonies’ I wanted to be part of. BUT this only worked for me because I was a coder in my prior job.

The worst part if that you have to learn to push back on 2 managers at once, and never to play the parent-swap , ‘but mom said I could have one’ game. It only works if you are a mature tester who can plan their activities and talk about and timebox as well as estimate all of your testing activities as well as document well everything you do so that your ‘time’ appears on all the Jira (other pain-inducing timesheeting apps do exist) boards and get heard in all team sprint plans. You will also have to attend feature design meetings and make intelligent suggestions related to product architecture, so it’s probably not a role for someone with no product-coding experience.

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Thank you both, awesome responses!

Experience definitely has a big part to play with this kind of situation and how well you handle it. Less experienced QAs might end up getting railroaded into things that might be detrimental to quality without realising.

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Yes indeed. My previous position was exactly that. No QA leadership. All QA part of their respective development teams and reporting up the dev leadership org. As Conrad and Ansha note, it is a mixed bag.

I found that I had to step into a “de-facto” QA lead for QA resources across multiple teams on the same product. There is a void and it has to be filled by someone willing to advocate for QA and to take the point on decisions specific to QA activities (Automation best practices, QA role in the SDLC, bug report definitions and trending, etc) There is a very real risk that the dev leadership has no or a biased understanding of QA; leading to stunted QA career development and poor QA morale. That will lead to QA simply grinding away and checking out instead of furthering QA practices and “Quality as a Feature”. Probably the most frustrating aspect of my otherwise awesome tenure at that company was constatly fighting this lack of inertia and bias.

So, if a company were to organize in this fashion I would strongly suggest that leadership work to avoid that scenario. Encourage QA to organize outside of the SDLC in a self supporting org. Make sure QA continues to advocate for best practices and guard heavily against that bias. Select for leadership that is willing to learn QA practices.

In my new role I am reporting to the Head of Product in the product management organization. This will be an interesting scenario for me. I have always engaged with product (they are the guardians of business rules and “what the product does”) so there is some logic to it. At the same time I have been given free rein to shape Quality in the organization. We will see how this goes.

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I couldn’t agree more - this is exactly what I ended up doing the first time!

Interesting - I hope it goes well.

In some ways this sounds like a better approach. I guess it would naturally encourage shifting left.

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Im taking the approach Ive often taken: Identify the customer. Design the Quality Practices to serve their needs.

That can be a service, an end user, another product or a product owner. In the end the head of product has wants: high customer satisfaction, a lack of defects, all business rules functioning, etc. Thats a good place to start, I think.

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When I’ve worked under a non QA focused manager, it’s been important for me to have a community of practice or a mentor.

The reason being that a general manager might not know how to help you meet your career goals, or even what those goals should be. So to that end it’s important to take ownership of that yourself and be able to come to your manager and say “I want to achieve XXX and need you to unblock me by giving me YYY”.

Rather than being passive and letting a manager skilled in the area / discipline lead you, they become more of a coach and an unblocker. You have to find ways to articulate to them what you want and need for your career growth.

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Exactly!

I told my manager that I wanted to develop QA as a discipline and be a formal QA lead. I was told in no uncertain terms that was not going to happen. That QA will never be separate and distinct in any way. This was a paradigm that was top-down from CTO and VP of engineering. And there were many other leaders who just wanted to not have any QA people at all. A structure that has been discussed in another recent thread here.

I was stagnant in my role until I began advocating to lead an engineering team of my own design. I outlined what its role would be and what it would do. It took a full year of pushing on that before I finally got to do it. And for over two years I led a team of Dev and QA engineers. It was quite successful and I am proud of it. It set me up for my new role as QA and Release Manager for a small company.

So yeah, advocate for yourself. If your exact desire is being denied, find a way to meet business/engineering goals and to still get what you want.

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I’ve worked in all situations. Direct reporting to QA manager, Engineering Manager, Product Manager, Developer… you name it.

When under EM and time has come for performance review, my boss openly told me he had very hard time evaluating my work since A) it was his first time ever having a QA under him and B) he didn’t know a lot what was I working on - cause I was on several projects. After talking it through and seeing my review of my own work and the areas and projects I’ve worked on, he got a lot more insight and we updated my yearly objectives accordingly.

I loved the time spent under QA Manager. He was senior and very knowledgeable, I learnt tons and tons from him.

I hated working under a PM since he was kind of non-tech guy and I had to fight for every decision, even testing-oriented, which is why they brought me in the team in the first place.

This was my personal experience but could go either way, I could have had great PM and bad QAM… I think it’s down to personal traits of each lead/manager and how they handle people that are subordinate to them - and that is agnostic to the title they hold.

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Absolutely! a terrible manager is a terrible manager.

This is a great point - it definitely prompted me to become more proactive.

Very true!

My own experience has also been a mixed bag.

I was head of QA where they tried to mix Testing with Process QA, with the latter title I suggested head of development and Head of Project Management report to me, I was half joking but it had some merit if they did actually want me to be head of process sort of thing.

I ran a testing center of excellence, yep fancy words but it sort of worked, we drove better understanding of testing and improved testing practices but were baggaged with things being thrown over the wall, non-functional gate keeper expectations, developers had lower quality responsibility and yeh well that whole blame game element when the shit hit the fan.

I can still see these of value in some of the enterprise level companies, they tend to have old practices and struggle to move forward quickly and they can be an okay match for these old practices.

These days I am in a flat structure, I report to CEO as do most roles and loosely to currently 3 PM’s as I am on multiple projects at any given time, the PM’s though recognise our testers as having more expertise than them so all testers are empowered to make the calls on testing under basic input from PM.

I also importantly facilitate our testing guild, training, coaching, good testing practices and continuous learning and try and promote that across the company. This is also the feedback loop for other testers wanting to improve and we have regular review discussions on how their own projects are going. This bit is key.

I was paid a lot more in the former roles but the reality is that I test a lot more and add a lot more value in the latter role as does every tester in the team compared to them being under me as QA or Test manager separately. *Edit I also regained my passion for testing and love my job with this change.

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I haven’t moved in a re-org to go from having a line manager who is QA, to a Dev manager. But over my career, I’ve had both, and a majority Dev managers.

The best thing about having a manager who is directly and actively in the same team as me is that we can talk in detail bout the work and they get great visibility of the work I do.

The worst thing is that they often do not have a good context on what I can do, to improve in my role, grow and develop. The feedback is project-related, but not craft-related. Sometimes we have also had conflicting views on where my focus should be, and I don’t have that independent backup of QA-specific management.

Is it a red flag the re-orged a bunch of test managers out? yes probably. Unless they have a great plan on how to improve quality in other ways that they are actively investing in, instead of assuming will happen by magic.

And, yes it’s a huge opportunity, especially if you’re now in a team with a mix of roles, with a shared purpose of delivering incremental value to your users. It’s a huge opportunity to transition from more traditional QA methods, if that is what you’re currently doing, to modern Quality Engineering methods where you work with and coach the team to make meaningful improvements to the quality of your processes and products.

Bottom line, my personal take: I would appreciate more support, feedback, and growth coaching from an experienced Tester, and I find ways to get this from experienced peers, but I would not want to go back to being managed by someone outside of my team. Belonging in the team, and working together collaboratively to make improvements, is far more useful and makes me happier. Throwing bugs at people from a distance is more disruptive than screaming into avoid when no one is listening, and it’s soul destroying.

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I’ve had similar experience.

Also had a change in business organisation structure at work. My current manager who is a delivery manager in the team has experience in software development.

I feel it’s going good, my manager is suggesting as one of my career goals to become a developer. Understands the software development lifecycle processes.

When it comes to testing I feel there’s some aspects his not too sure about. It might just come down to how we communicate.

The best thing about reporting to a non-QA line manager is understanding more of the overall aspect of the software cycle. Having freedom to sign up test plans, environment, researching tools for automation.

I would say the worst thing would be, it tends to be other QA people who lead the line of work in terms of what needs to be testing. Sometimes they not part of my manager’s direct hierarchy but it feels sometimes all over the place in terms of tasks and responsiblity. I feel they make it overcomplicated and having more daily meetings for QA when a daily scrum meeting is enough.

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I’ve been in both situations—having a software test manager or a development manager. Fortunately, my current development manager “gets it” and is very supportive of my work.

The worst situation I’ve been in, regardless of direct manager, is reporting up through project management versus functional management. I once told the project manager I reported through that what he perceived as “negativity” was basically my job—pointing out problems—but I really think that perception hindered my career growth.

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Sometimes the other person willfully doesnt get it. “Hey its my job to point out that the baby is ugly”

I’m in the same situation fortunately. I’m the only and first tester my company employed so have never experienced reporting to a test manager.

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Chiming in on this…

I was a QA at a large company for 10 years. It was my only QA job I have ever had. We never had dedicated QA leadership. It just wasn’t seen as necessary. Our team manager that we reported to was either a former BA or Dev depending on the time and place.
I ended up becoming a defacto lead, not because I was the most technically proficient, but because my personality worked for it.
But I totally get the defacto lead position. It’s weird.

I always thought our QA group suffered from not having real representation or at least a title that worked with higher leadership.

I thought this was normal until colleagues, may of which came from outside company, said it was unusual.

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I think I’ve spanned the whole gamut from totally independent test department to just being another member of the software team who happens to be the tester/SDET/QA*. I greatly prefer the latter.

* Plus accidental tech docs and accidental trainer.

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