QA/Test Manager: What Skills are needed?

It’s not uncommon for testers with many years of experience to gravitate towards management roles. Of course many of us, myself included, may not feel that we have the skillset to take on such positions.

What skills do you think people who gravitate towards those roles should have? How do you see testing skills transferring to management roles?

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If you have a genuine interest in working with people and to help then grow then I think many of the skills and traits that make a good tester transfers nicely.

  • Communication skills
  • Curiosity
  • Drive towards common understanding (i.e asking that extra clarifying question(s))
  • Knowing that things could be different
  • Never being satisfied with bad a answers (e.g. “That’s just the way it works around here.”)
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There are at least two angles here, one is line management - the other is more within the project/delivery.

For being a line manager, and part of the corporate hierarchy the work is part growing people, growing the team and growing the business. Some good testing skills could be: reading the room, building self-reliance in others. But it also requires a drive for results and an skill for office politics - which aren’t your usual testing skills.

For being a test manager (or even scrum master, or similar) - the way I see it now, is part about finding a good test approach (aligning expectations), part enabling and implementing the approach. So building self-reliance in others is key. Seeing the whole picture as compared to being detail oriented, is also a plus…

Is it a testing skill to be detail oriented? sure
How about having the big picture? yeah, that’s good too.
What skills are specific testing skills, and which are not? I wonder…

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What skills do you think people who gravitate towards those roles should have? How do you see testing skills transferring to management roles?

There are different contexts to consider: manager in a team, department, company, project, product, alone, or with people under you, with responsibilities or without, with highly complex or simple systems.
I met many managers in testing which are very week at testing, some of which are awful at treating people, some awful at managing the work, some which are badly communicating with stakeholders, etc…
Each of the weaknesses of a manager can be dealt with in different contexts.
A manager of testing should be able to model the testing space, in an effective and efficient manner, and reach as fast as possible to certain mission information goals, with the resources and helpers available to him.
A manager of QA is a different beast. He’s like a software architect + project manager + product technical manager + optimization specialist with a bit of testing management knowledge.
Gitlab, although building a highly technical product and being code oriented, has an example of job description of a person in Quality Engineering Management.

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A good tester should always be proactive in their approach to delivery, as part of their job they should willingly engage with analysts and developers and feel comfortable asking questions, chasing progress, attempting to resolve any blocked issues and focusing on delivery.

Whether working in Agile framework and trying to deliver a story or sprint commitment, or working in more Waterfall environment and focusing on deadlines, the emphasis should always be on a route to completion and having a proactive and at times pragmatic approach to achieve that.

In addition, a good tester will share methods, approaches and documentation across their team to aid improvement.

Finally, a tester needs to have the confidence to say no and push back if they are being pressured into letting someone go out the door without having confidence in it. or if they feel process is being circumnavigated without good reason.

All of the above are constantly preparing testers to improve aptitudes and soft skills that naturally lend themselves to managerial duties.

That includes the ability to ensure process is followed under pressure to deliver, ensuring only critical activities are followed to focus on that delivery, harbouring and developing a team ethos to improve individually and as a team, and being confident enough to go to senior management with news that may not always want to hear.

A good manager has to have excellent interpersonal skills, a proactive mindset, the ability to compromise and be pragmatic when the time arises, but equally be strong enough to have courage in their conviction when the situation requires. All of that is equally true of a successful tester, so at of the fundamental transferable skills are in place and just need applying differently.

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I got some replies from folks on Slack too:

Organisation, planning, analytical, communication, and general people skills seem pretty integral to both. There’s a big difference between service management and people management roles, but I still think those skills apply, just with different importance weightings perhaps.

being in a role where you end up being expected to do loads of stuff beyond your job description because you see stuff needing done and can’t let it just not happen

If we’re talking people management, transferable skills from testing:

  • communication skills - we learn as testers to talk to different people, different levels of understanding and this is needed when managing people. You need to learn how to handle different team members, having 1:1s, giving feedback etc
  • time management and context switching - something I think you get used to as a tester and is definitely needed as a manager as you’ll be pulled in more directions, helping other people, more meetings etc

Testers are often good translators between technical and non-technical folks, the ability to code-switch for different audiences about the same topic is very helpful.
Systems thinking and root cause analysis are really helpful in both. Seeing a problem and wanting to go down the rabbit hole to find all the things that caused it is good for being a manager too, leaders who address causes rather than symptoms have much better long-term success.
Testers are often expected to perform well in interrupt-driven ways. That expectation is a whole different conversation, but a manager definitely needs to be ready for working in small chunks and not expecting to get good stretches of flow time (see writing on Maker Schedule vs. Manager Schedule).