What are your thoughts on tester-led dev teams?

Hmmm… My team leader has been asked some odd questions lately, such as “If you died tomorrow, who could take over the team for you?”. He said it would be me in terms of leadership because I’m about twice as old as anyone else on a team of 20-somethings, I’m not afraid to be wrong, and have no problem in talking to people and telling them what to do. Our team leader is managing some other projects outside our purview, and my feeling is he’s about to be kicked upstairs, where he’ll hate it, with someone in the team being asked to backfill his current management position and reporting to him.

I hope that ultimately I won’t be asked (I only went back to work after lockdown semi-retirement to feel useful, and without any career agenda whatsoever), but what do you guys think of dev teams being led by a tester?

The first person to answer with “Great question!” earns my lifelong contempt :grin:

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Generally, I think that’s not such a bad idea. In my opinion, a good leader needs to know the produkt not only from the developer’s view and as a tester, you already fulfil this prerequisite.

Other qualities of a good leader are not so much affected by your role, but more by your soft skills. There was a question about the skills a tester needs recently. Many of them are certainly helpful to be a good team leader, too.

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As an oldie, I have had to overcome my ageist prejudices. But the question, was, can the tester lead the team while the lead is away on holiday? Sure, I think they should be able to or should be happy to. If not, then we have added load on one of the devs at a time the team maybe cannot afford the load.

Sorry I’m unable to earn your contempt @jon_thompson

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A leader doesn’t have to be an expert of all the domains of those they lead. Some context can help if used well but not experts. In fact I think it makes better leaders, those who ask why, listen to their team etc.

Who runs your company do they know your job?

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Well, it is a chance to install proper processes in the team to make it an order of magnitude more efficient @jon_thompson
You could instill the process where QA writes executable specifications for Engineers using Specification Driven Development (SDD) see here: https://testrigor.com/blog/how-specification-driven-development-works/
Note: I am associated with testRigor if that matters here.

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I think the skills for leading the team is different from the skills of testing or developing. And that are the important part if you are a good candidate from leading the team. I assume that you intend both lead the team and test at the same time, and now is the question if that is an good idea. Having been an engineering manager with a testing background leading a team of developers, that is not a problem (I was not actively testing for the team at the same time tho). I also think that there is no inherent conflict being a good leader for the team and testing at the same time. Sitting on two chairs is always tricky. Transitioning from a team member to a leader is also tricky, because of the existing relationships in the team. The worst experiences I have had is when you take “the best” team member and make them the leader, based on them being the best tester or developer and not that they have leadership skills. Because the team loses the most productive member and gets a meh leader. Among developers it has also lead to this. Yesterday we could discuss the best solution as peers, but today I will pull the leadership card when you do not agree with my solution. That does not end well. So I think the tester leading developers are to be preferred over the alternatives.

Good luck!

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As a tester what happens when a testing responsibilty conflicts with a business need?

Do you choose speed or risk aversion? Cost or throroughness? Fixes or efficiency? Ethics or profit?

And when you have a conflict with your team about their desire to accelerate and your warning to slow down who mediates that discussion? Do you triage your own bug reports, and what does the team think about that? Will you have the same working relationship if you also are imbued with authority, official or otherwise?

It’d take some careful examination of the scope of responsibilities and team conflicts to maintain an ethically independant tester with business decisions.

I think so long as you understand the objectives of the business and are able to continue to grow and develop the team, I see no reason it being led by a tester is an issue. It may be a good opportunity to make testing a focus if it’s not already, which is never a bad thing. In my org, we recently moved to being led by a product lead and the focus didn’t substantially change.
I think the more important question is can you picture this as something you are interested in doing and would be happy with a year, as far as taking on that role, 6 months to a year from when you got the position.

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When I do it its a subtle change.

I’m not actually leading the team as a tester, I’m leading the team as a leader who is also going to do the testing.

I’m aware of my tester bias and factor that in but then I’m doing dual roles which is fine.

I’m less of a fan of managing people or projects these days than I used to be, with age I have also found that some elements are just not worth the hassle and I downright refuse to micromanage but I still get the odd request, “Andy I know you dont enjoy it but your still the best person to run with this” so I’ll do it now and again but I also currently have a bit of a luxury that mostly I can focus on the testing or coaching side which I enjoy more.

Upping my rates significantly for management stuff keeps the balance and negotiation clear, might be an angle to consider.

One thing to add, if you have a QA process hat on rather than a tester hat do not lead the team.

Telling developers how to code or do code reviews when they are much better qualified than you is a fools errand.

It ends up management and control, with a policing hat on that will usually lack team buy in.

Keep the QA hat as supportive not leadertive, even a servant manager style will run into issues if they are also the QA process person.

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… can a tester be impartial, and focus on business goals like a dev can? Well. I think the pain I have with the original question, is that if this happens, then all those higher up meetings that testers never ever get invited to, the team leaders meetings where the bosses who are too time-poor to attend standups call all the team leads together and ask for “solutions please”… those meetings will now have a tester present. So That’s a win.

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Welcome back to the MOT community @oconis . I’m 100% inspired and encouraged by your perspective there Ben. Many companies talk about being transformative, or open to change experiments, but few do get to walk the walk.

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Firstly, I don’t think a dev has impartiality on business decisions either. I do think that testers work from a position of negativity (tact being part of the job) that is unique to the role, though. Everyone focused on the goal while testers ensure we’re not lying to ourselves on the way.

I’m entirely in favour of a tester being present at such meetings. In fact I will get myself invited to them, or just turn up and wait to see if anyone has the confidence to throw me out. I’ll book meetings with people in their calendars then turn up and ask them about their profession and process. I consider it a tester’s responsibility to inform a business of how they can be most useful and what information they would benefit from, and to do what it takes to become someone with a useful perspective on the product. If the context defines the value of everything we do then we ought to investigate the context.

I think that a tester getting themselves in the right place to get information that will inform their testing is a separate matter to putting them in a place where they make business decisions that conflict with the ethics of their testing. I would argue that what a business does with the information I provide is not within the scope of what I do. I find the problems and I report the problems and I concentrate on doing that independent of the influence of the business role, decisions and politics. That allows me to be good at what I do and report effectively and honestly. It also takes up my whole day.

I can imagine a situation where I could lead a team as well as be a tester, but it would be in the sense of leading the stand ups, moderating a discussion, being in charge of the white board, and so on. I can’t do project management, for example, without compromising what I do. The temptation to invest in illusions and the responsibility to break them work against each other.

I do agree that testers should be seen as vital team members that are present at important meetings and inform design decisions, and this does not happen in the way that it really should. This is one reason that I think that bad testing has a lot to answer for.

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As usual Chris has broken the internet, in a good way. I’m buying the book when you do write it.

Hi all. Tester / QA as a team lead…

I have been fulfilling this role for the past 2 years. Not due to my QA skillset, but my leadership and management skillset.

You do NOT have to be in a specific role to be a team lead - however, that depends on the team. We are ‘Agile’ so the team is fairly self-managing. Where I have to ‘step in’ as a team lead is to ensure we make progress during the sprint. Everyone has an ‘opinion’ on the work and is able to ask questions - so I also facilitate that to get people involved.

Coaching and Mentoring is purely down to getting the individuals on the team to know what to ask, who to ask, and when whilst at the same time ensuring they are engaged and committed to their work - so here I act as a guide to get them to approach it themselves and take ownership.

Not blowing my own trumpet - but our team is currently doing very well, and I do think that is down to my approach to leadership. Most of all the team is happy, the PO is happy with the work output and things are working well!

You do not have to be a developer to lead a software development team, just someone who watches over everyone and everything, whilst also taking the decision to ‘nag’ and ‘push’ others at times :smile:

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If a developer can lead a team with testers and developers, why shouldn’t a tester be able to do the same thing?
As many have written it’s about your leader skills. Can you as a person, not a tester, manage a team? Be aware that you will probably not be able to do as much testing as before. Team lead is usually a full time job.

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Well i think, if the tester lead has good understanding of the system architecture, has knowledge of coding on same level as a developer, So with development, software architecture along with QA experience according to me makes that tester suitable for the dev team lead as working as a QA the lead has definitely has better knowledge on products, on how the customer thinks, and i think the end result will be more fruitful. But as a tester we all know the huge clash and misunderstanding between QA and dev. So, maybe if the clashes reduce maybe, it would be a great opportunity.

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Hi @jon_thompson,

I’ve led a team of developers. I was their team lead and worked with them on their official goal-setting and reviews. Plus all the usual people manager stuff. And I was also the only tester in the team. From what I remember — and I never asked them directly — they were mostly fine with it and so was I.

It took a bit of adjusting as I’d previously only managed teams of testers/QA people. I worried a bit that I couldn’t speak at their code language level and they’d struggle to get help from me. They just leaned on other seniors and I lent on other developer team leads to ensure they could support my team members with things I didn’t have experience with. I also relied heavily on coaching techniques to ask lots of questions to help my team members discover answers for themselves.

I was also in a good position to influence developer tests and we’d pair often to write integration tests together, directly in their IDE. I think me being their manager helped a bit as I think other testers in other teams (who weren’t team leaders) struggled a bit with that. Maybe it was a hierarchy thing.

There was one developer in my team who I often clashed with and while it never came up in conversation, I had a hunch it was because I was a tester. We managed to make the fractious work relationship work ok.