September 21, 2015

Agile Management of Work and People for Test Managers

(And Testers Aspiring To Become Managers)

The changing role of test managers today

The agile transformation has ripped apart the organisation as we knew it and changed into a totally different animal.

Well, not quite…

In my experience, many teams are still struggling to adapt to agile principles in their work and waterfall-type habits have proven difficult to let go in certain cases. People in managerial roles, in particular, often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

Test managers traditionally occupy a position that most radical advocates of agile label as obsolete, even though common sense leads us to believe that they are the ones best-suited to help their team transition to agile.

In this article, I share some personal observations about the role of test managers today and how they use their skills and experience to manage work and people in the agile age.

Managing the self-organising team

People management is critical to every aspect contributing to a team’s success at work.

The term self-organising has been bandied around often in relation to the way agile teams work and this has lead many people to believe—erroneously, might I add—that a rudderless, leader-less team is the new norm in the modern workplace.

Contrary to what some might say, I think that the manager’s role hasn’t been phased out, it has simply evolved.

In fact, it has become more necessary than ever before to have a firm grasp on the timeless managerial principles that enable a team to function as a coherent, though nowadays more fluid, unit.

It’s the manager’s responsibility to refine his or her capabilities and adapt them to the agile way. I believe that this involves mainly re-defining the meaning of leadership in the team, in such a way that the concept become more process-oriented rather than person-oriented.

Skills, experience, and…

Besides skills and experience there’s a third thing all good managers share, and that’s the tools at their disposal.

While the first two qualities take a lot of time and effort to build and acquire, you can have the best tools at your fingertips in just a few clicks—and for free too!

ReQtest is a premier software testing and requirements management tool used by organisations around the world, from startups to multinationals. It comes with everything a manager needs to work agile and keep better track of the projects and people who depend on their guidance.

(No credit cards. No obligation. No hassle.)

Sharing the leadership position in the organisation

Managers can lead people, but not all leaders are meant to be managers. In fact, the two roles require different mindsets and corresponding set of skills.

In true agile fashion, where collaboration reigns supreme, cross-pollination of both roles gives rise to a hybrid manager, one who guides team members towards the overarching vision and empowers them to develop the capacity to reach it by facilitating communication and collaboration between them.

This is certainly an exciting development, but also a challenging one to put into practice.

Besides the technical supervision that they’re used to giving, managers are now called upon to offer conflict resolution and helping team members remove any roadblocks that inhibit them from achieving their full potential.

As you can probably tell, this approach gives more autonomy to individual team members. Some people may argue that this is a “watered-down” version of management, but I prefer to think of it as a situations where managers are helping people manage themselves.

Working with the self-directed tester

Helping people managing themselves becomes a primary concern for the process-oriented, agile manager. It isn’t all about ego anymore, it’s about execution.

The new breed of agile managers encourage self-directedness in the people they work with. It’s a topsy-turvy scenario where the lower the dependency on the manager, the smoother (and hence more agile) the organisation is.

It isn’t such a newfangled concept either. Consider this famous quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, circa 6th or 5th century BCE:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

This quote encapsulates nicely the approach that a agile manager should take.


  1. Test managers must use their skills and experience to manage work and people in the agile age
  2. People management is critical and the rise of self-organising teams has simply evolved the way it is done
  3. Besides giving them technical supervision, managers should also facilitate communication and collaboration between team members
  4. It isn’t all about ego anymore, it’s about execution. Not WHO does what, but HOW it’s being done
  5. ReQtest is a software testing and requirements management tool used by managers to keep track of the projects and people in an agile environment

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