It is often said that the test leader is the “spider in the web.” A test leader’s daily work is not just about having a good knowledge of planning, preparation and execution of tests.

In their daily work, a test leader typically communicates with many different types of people, groups and roles, and they are all at different levels of knowledge with regard to testing. In addition to a strong knowledge of testing, test processes and all that implies, the test leader needs to be a good leader and have communication skills to be able to get the most out of relations with various stakeholders. Stakeholders can be anything from colleagues with advanced IT skills to colleagues with deep business knowledge.

The task sounds almost overwhelming, so do you have to be some kind of Superman to be a good test manager? The answer is no, but it is good to reflect a little about how you as a test leader should be prepared to handle different types of people, groups and roles.

Being a leader and building team spirit
It is important that a test leader is able to gain and inspire confidence as a leader first and foremost. A good way to start a dialogue is to invite others to participate often, so that they will not feel like ignored cogs in a great big machine. A good leader lets the group members step forward.

Creating a strong team spirit is also of great importance. It is common that the people you lead are in different phases of their personal development. Some will be very experienced and therefore need not be managed as much as those who are new to their role. The better you know both the people you lead and yourself as a leader, the easier it is to act and lead. A skilled and experienced leader does not need to prove anything to himself or to others.

Lastly, do not underestimate the power of fun and enjoyment. True, we’re all here to work, but we don’t have to be dismal about it. If all your colleagues think the workplace is a good, fun place to be in, the team spirit will become better.

(BONUS: Here’s how ReQtest motivates testers)

Dealing with conflict
Different opinions will always occur when people are working together. It is important that the leader takes control of the situation before it escalates.

If you notice that things are not right in your work group, act as soon as possible. It is much easier to handle grievances and conflicts before the dissatisfaction becomes a problem. If you are able to gain trust and confidence from your employees, there’s a greater chance they’ll turn to you when things are not right. If you are not able to inspire trust and confidence, chances are you will be ignored and problems will fester until they become truly monumental issues.

Dealing with different professional roles
As a test leader you will communicate with many roles, and everyone you meet will have diverse levels of testing knowledge, from fairly intimate to complete novice. It is important that you understand the person’s understanding of testing so that you have the right expectations.

Here are some common roles that you will frequently come into contact with:
• Project Managers and Product Owners
• Testers
• Developers
• Development Managers
• Business Specialists
• Clients
• Requirements Analysts
• Scrum masters
• Operational staff

It is important to realize that each profession contributes to the whole with their knowledge. The professional IT technician or developer often has deep knowledge that makes it possible to realize the system requirements. It is important to show respect and use the person’s knowledge without ending up at too low a level of detail. Some developers/engineers tend to be very technical and detailed. You may need to work to get the person to see the big picture.

Project managers can range from the thoughtful to the ones forging ahead without much planning. You may need to give your support to an unstructured project manager, for example, by helping with project planning from a test point of view. Sometimes, the project manager will have a good knowledge of testing and values the test leader’s job. In cases like this, of course, the dialogue between the project manager and test leader should work well, and it will be easier to work towards higher quality.

Sometimes you can encounter a project manager who is too focused on project milestones. You may then be perceived as a troublemaker, especially when you present the test report containing all the defects you found. This often makes it impossible to perform all necessary tests. This in turn leads to poor quality of the delivered software. This is not an easy situation, because you are more or less in the hands of project manager. You have to be educational and explain the importance of testing, and you have to point out that the project ultimately will benefit from well-conducted tests.

Many business experts still believe that they just set the requirements and the project will be delivered. In between, they believe they do not need to get involved. This often depends on a lack of competence but also on time constraints, perhaps because management does not take into account that business experts must participate in the project on top of performing their regular duties.

You might have to market the need for testing early in the project. Explain that well-documented requirements that are reviewed early on by all involved, ranging from developers to testers, is a prerequisite for successful development.

It is also important to explain that it is much cheaper to correct deficiencies the earlier they are found. One should also point out that it is important that business experts are involved in testing during development.

You can learn more by reading our related articles on the subject, including these:
Improved test design results in lower costs
Be more exploratory with pair testing
How Agile has developed the tester’s role

Ulf Eriksson is one of the founders of ReQtest, an online bug-tracking software hand-built and developed in Sweden. The author of a number of white papers and articles (mostly on the world of software testing), Ulf is also slaving over a book, which will be a compendium of his experiences in the industry.