We need test managers only if they provide any significant value. My ideal test manager would be one who:
1 - knows the domain or features well,
2 - has some knowledge of the automation tools we use,
3 - can coach or mentor team members,
4 - can distribute work in a fair and balanced way,
5 - resolve any conflicts in the team.
6 - represent the team in any meetings.
There were times when I really needed point 4, but my test manager was not able to do it. The team had one very experienced QA person who had a tendency to hoard all the work and not complain about doing too much overtime. That person was the main expert in the domain, the team’s features and the company’s technology. So, the rest of us got very little work (especially me since I was new to the domain) and little opportunity to learn anything about the domain or the features. That is, although there were other team members, the bus factor of this team was essentially one person. Despite this, and despite hinting about my displeasure, the rest of us did not get much work. Hence, there was a conflict in the team and I felt the need for point 5 which the manager handled ok.
There were times when some team members did not know the domain or features well, were either unavailable or simply could not explain it well. Then, I felt the need for point 1 and my manager was able
to help me sometimes. A good team manager will share knowledge instead of hoarding it and will step in to help you when others won’t. They will remove any blockers created by other teams or your own team members.
On the other hand, I have also seen a test lead who did not really do any real work. They don’t have much knowledge of the product or the tools, and don’t really contribute in terms of code, reviews, strategy, testing labor etc. The rest of us could easily perform whatever clerical work they do such as pulling reports and sharing them etc. Moreover, this person was not exactly bright or creative when it came to testing. This is the kind of dead weight you don’t want on your team. You’ll usually find such people in big companies which have a monopoly of sorts, such as big banks, telecom companies, cable or internet companies, giant & decaying e-commerce companies etc.