Q

Managing a software testing team while cultivating talent

How do you manage a testing team and foster skills at the same time? Expert Karen N. Johnson offers practical tips for juggling these responsibilities.

How can I manage a test team effectively and enhance my team's testing skills at the same time?

The size of your team and the experience level of each person on your team are two considerable influences in how you manage your team. Without knowing either of these factors or the environment you're working in, let me offer several ideas.

I'd begin with each person individually. I often build a custom learning plan for people I hire (or inherit). I ask each person to help clarify what they know in several areas such as: database models, SQL, test automation, types of testing such as functional, performance, and installation, the subject domain we're working in whether it's banking software, contact management or another field. I work with each person individually as much as I feasibly can and help each person grow their knowledge in these areas -- or other areas that maybe more applicable based on their background and the environment we're working in. Together, we'll look for project work where they can apply knowledge as soon as possible. Let me back up and add that ongoing knowledge and the pursuit of learning isn't a surprise for anyone since it's a factor in my hiring and a spirit I look for in people.

In terms of building a team's testing skills there are more options. If more than one person is trying to acquire the same or similar knowledge you can establish a buddy system between the two people. An effective pairing will often be two experienced people trying to expand in a new area as opposed to two entry level people who might both be struggling in many areas. Paired testing sessions are an option with a more senior tester working with a less experienced tester.

We can learn from every person we meet. If you build a learning list together with the team, you should look to different people on your team to lead. The point is the team is part of building the list. Perhaps your lead automation tester can lead brown bag lunches or offer learning sessions where manual testers listen in on the automation planning sessions. Unless you have a team of completely inexperienced testers, you should not have to lead all the knowledge exchange sessions but you will have to start the exchange and provide an environment (time, space and attitude) where knowledge and skills are shared. I've hosted internal book clubs where we read testing books together and then talk about books but I've found more immediate project work with relevant small bits to read more effective. Experiment with your team since each team has its own unique dynamic.

Software testing resources:
Skills for entry-level software testers

Software tester skills and qualities

Managing the Testing Process -- Chapter 2, The Test Plan

In terms of management, your knowledge exchange program provides leadership opportunities for people. Beyond project work, you'll be able to see how your team members work together or perhaps, don't work together. I'd be looking for energy levels, willingness and commitment to learning. The sessions you host will give you another opportunity to observe the group and each individual.

Since I don't think any of us are ever done learning, you can also demonstrate to the team what you're learning and how you go about pursuing more skills or background. Someone on your team might have more experience in an area and this could be a great way for you to learn and someone else to teach. Knowledge exchange is about exchanging and I think if you hold the title of manager or lead, but demonstrate that you're still learning and you're open to someone else teaching you, then you're fostering a true exchange.

This was first published in June 2007

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