Is there a place for a centralized test team in large Agile organizations?
Agile folks may get mad with me over my answer. Most of Agile folks I know would say, flat out, “No.”
For me, the question kind of revolves around the purpose of a centralized test team. Is this an organizational structure to coach/mentor testers and help them improve their craft? If so, I suspect that would be interesting. The opportunity then is to have a development coach (or manager or whatever) working with the testers and acting as counselors for them to help with their career goals. This way, the manager looking after their improvement would not be overly influenced by the awareness of other project/problem/dynamic stuff going on. They could act dispassionately because their role would be to help the tester, not the other member of the group.
However, if this centralized test team was a pool of specialists who could be of service to various Agile teams, then perhaps this could also work. People with specific skills who are capable of supporting others are a great asset to be able to call on. Some people may find this tempting. I would caution that this has the potential to lead to all the testers being “specialists” – when they are really generalists or otherwise not significantly different than other testers.
If a group of testers whose work is dictated not by the needs and mission of the project (Agile) team, but by a presence outside of the project team, I wonder how effective that approach can be. Simply put, no two people work, think or act the same way. If the project team has a certain mix of personalities that can work well together, I am not certain how well it would work to have a group of people who are essential to the success of a project work essentially outside of that project.
I’ve seen a “virtual team” work in some instances. However, these all demonstrated a series of challenges that made long term viability of such a solution all but impossible. These were all short-term, immediate need projects where the individuals were briefly seconded to the project team from their “normal” team. These were also not Agile teams in any sense of the term.
Most of the successful Agile teams I have been on or observed had everyone involved committed to the work the team was doing, first and foremost. I am not certain that members of a centralized test team in otherwise Agile enterprises would be able to get the same level of commitment. Are they serving the project team, or the test group? Are they serving one master or two? Finally, I’m also not certain if such an arrangement is an Agile function, or something that looks like Agile, and really is something else.
This was first published in August 2012