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Test Manager Skills: The Importance of Leadership

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

At some point in our careers many of us are given the title of Manager – Test Manager, but does that make us capable of managing a test team? A title is one thing, but good management and leadership does not come with the title. We need other tools in our toolbox to be able to cope. Some find this to be a daunting task. To others it comes naturally. This blog post will explore my thoughts and ideas on the management and leadership side of Test Management, and draw from my own personal experiences throughout my career.

 

Many Danish companies translate Test Manager into Test Leader – but can we lead? First I think we need to explore the differences between management and leadership. Being an old Army man I find that there is a huge difference. In the Army we loved leaders. We were loyal to them, and would follow them to hell and back if need be. We despised managers – They were not trust worthy and following them in combat would most likely lead to casualties. But what is the difference? In my world a leader focuses on the people under his command and does what he/she can within the constraints that are placed upon him from higher echelons. He is always in front, and constantly keeping an eye on his men trying to motivate them to do their best. He is a source of great inspiration. A manager leads his men from the rear and does this by building a plan, organizing the team and coordinating activities. It is of course important to have a plan and follow it, but doing so requires us to keep an eye on the testers and exercise leadership. It requires leadership when time is limited and you have to motivate people to go the extra mile. So the two can coexist and I feel that it is important that they do. But what illusions of management do we Test Managers walk around and think about?

 

We are first and foremost brought up to be managers. We create a Test Plan, we organize the test team, we execute the plan and coordinate activities. Status is given to higher management echelons. But does it not require leadership skills to organize the team and keep them motivated throughout test execution? I think it does but for a novice in test management it might not be a focus point. Just have a look at the latest ISTQB syllabus. Only seven pages are allotted to Test team composition and what motivates a tester. That is not a lot for a subject matter that actually is very important. I have seen many examples of how people have been awarded the title of Test Manager, and not thinking about the responsibilities that come with it.

Leader First

In my career I have observed that the best Test Managers – those that I aspire to become – are all leaders. They understand that leadership characteristics are important for test execution. One thing that I also have noticed is that they are also the Test Managers that can cope with complex projects and understand the various management levels. Much of it also comes down to experience, but I feel that the all possess the “leadership gene”.
I have also seen other Test Managers that have never understood the difference between management and leadership. They try to execute testing as managers – and fail. They have no real control over the testers and have no idea how keep them motivated.

Why does it succeed for some but not for others? I feel that some of us are born with leadership qualities. Of course there are some people that with the right training that can become leaders and even good ones. But there are others that should never try. I saw plenty of those when I trained to become a Sergeant in the Army. Another point is that more emphasis should be put on the leadership side of Test management. People should be better prepared that becoming a Test Manager will require you to lead and manage a team and an important part of having “team ownership” is to be able to motivate, focus on the people and make the necessary changes that are required to keep a high performance team. ISTQB focuses on the Test Management as a discipline, so I do not feel that the responsibility for preparing us as leaders lies there. I think we should initially ask ourselves – Am I prepared to be responsible for other people? Can I support them in tough times? Can I motivate them when they are down or when I need them to go the extra mile? If not maybe this job is not for you. Wait a year or two and then ask yourself again. If the answer is still no then maybe Test Management is not for you.

Test Manager > Line Manager

I have been a Test Manager for the last six years but over the last two years a lot has changed in my career. A year ago I was promoted to become a team lead. That means that I am now basically a Line Manager. This has been a goal of mine for a while, so it was nice to finally achieve it. However I can feel that I had not fully thought it through. I did not ask myself the questions listed above – I just jumped into it. Being a Line Manager is great when everybody is happy and content; however it is not an easy job when your employees are dissatisfied. Here I can feel my short comings as a leader – at least a leader in the civilian world. It came more naturally to me to motivate soldiers. We soldiers are simple folk – civilians are complex individuals, so I am still learning. It is important to recognise that it is not easy to be a leader. Remember to ask for help when help is warranted. In my case I have a great tutor in my boss. I can always go to him for guidance and he is very supportive of me in my new role. To better myself as a leader I have been on a number of courses and this is where we might get the help that I feel is missing when we become Test Managers. A test Manager should go on a Introduction to leadership course. The introductory course I took was a real eye opener, and made me look at my team in a new way. This in the end resulted in replacements in the team and a new way of handling testers/employees. My team has now evolved into a coherent team where all the members support each other and in the end fulfil the testing needs of the projects they are involved in. But that is probably a whole new blog post.

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3 comments to Test Manager Skills: The Importance of Leadership

  1. Bhargav says:

    I loved reading this… it is very nicely written and you have been able to convert all the thoughts into it…
    i am also working a a Team Lead but i act as both Team lead and Team Manager.

  2. Amudha says:

    Good and simple article…. 🙂 you have conveyed so much in this small article – your thought, action, opinion, way to achieve it, supporting, analyse and understand, who we in professional world, realise and plans to try….

    Appreciate for sharing….

  3. Graeme says:

    Nice article Martin. I agree in many aspects, that a manager could make a lousy leader and vice versa. A lot of of what you say also depends a lot on the make up and personalities within your team. You could have team members that thrive better under being managed, the job would get done and they’d probably burn out in a few years, unhappy. I recently heard a manager say about a company, “This is a business not a family!”. I favour the leadership side big time, after all, we are human beings, it builds relationships, trust and integrity within a team. In my experience, with leadership, the staff turnaround is way less, that to me seems far more beneficial to a company 😉 In many ways I believe the titles “Manager/Leader” places certain expectations on the individual for which we actually may not be suited.

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