February 15, 2017

How to Build a High Performance QA Team

Easy to ask, harder to answer. Everybody has a different opinion and their own way of doing things… you could be asking people how to make perfect scrambled eggs!

But when managed well, the diversity improving the overall performance and the differences working for each other and not against.

This is basically true for every team on the globe which should perform high creativity required tasks. IT (including design and testing) is definitely one of these.

Let’s see what these “ingredients” are:

Team members

When a team is chosen – whatever its size – look for the small talents from whose individual ability the whole group can benefit.

The shortcut king

All of us has probably seen this guy who is changing the style of a text in word with keyboard combinations only. Crazy!

Don’t you want to work with someone who knows all the feature of tools? I know I do.

The scripting machine

He is the one who is “over scripting”. If a few files needed to copy to the server, he writes a batch file. If an excel sheet has to be updated, he writes a macro.

Sometimes he chooses the more time-consuming way but how many times a smart script saved a project?

How many times a few lines in Python rescued you from hours of boring and uninspiring labour?

The doubter

The one who is picking a quarrel on every word of your sentence and checking it on Wikipedia. They could be the most annoying ones but the task is to find every bug in software…Why not?

One thing sure he will squeeze the writer of the specification till perfect-ness.

By the way perfect-ness…

The immaculate

Unfortunately, 90% of the cases your work is judged by how it looks not by how it works.

It doesn’t mean you should do fancy but crappie job, no, you just need an immaculate who leaves no mistake in the documentation.

Maybe slower than the average but the most trusted. The work of the immaculate is always perfect.

The freshman/kiddo

Can you remember the time when you just joined to your first working place?

Motivation is 1 mile high, you are the one who will change the world, motivated, willing to learn and your mind is not “infected” by testing conventions.

The veteran

He was there when Neumann put down the basic of computer science.

He’s seen everything, with routine that you can’t imagine. Downside is that you can’t really change or form him, but you can’t have it both ways.

The dozer/excavator

When you put your headphones on with your favorite music and just doing doing and doing… You already have the solution just needed to done without any further added creativity.

That’s the phase when a real excavator comes alive.

A high creativity required task is not his comfort zone but the excellent monotony tolerance, hardworking and deadline respecting are.

The junior boss – a.k.a. the unofficial sub team leader

The team leader is sometimes overloaded or on vacation (mostly with the worst timing) or just someone is needed to lead a smaller campaign parallel. The small boss will be there to save the team. Someone who has the same skills like a team leader but accepted by the team not because of the title but his aptitude.

The ‘real’ boss – a.k.a. the team leader

A good leader is always there but not checking continuously your screen. Supporting but not demanding. Can cheer the team during hard times and praise after the goals are achieved. He has to be opened for the new ideas but turn down the bad ones without crashing the proactivity. Complex and difficult role.

We will see it in more detail in the following chapters but before the entity above him:

The big boss – a.k.a. the manager

He is not strictly the part of the team but you can have the most productive team with the best leader on the globe if the management absolutely inappropriate. A demanding, ruling, depressing management can destroy everything.

The management has to provide the ideal environment, no doubt.

The above examples are highly stereotypical and in real life – sadly – you never have the chance to pick a team 100% how you have planned. Don’t worry, nobody is irreplaceable and one person has several nice virtues that from that you can forge the best performing QA team ever.

Forging the team

“The 60% of my most valuable resources leaves at 17:00 and I have nothing else but praying to see them again on the next day morning”

– words of a successful CEO.

That’s true, the most valuable resource is the human being.

You have to esteem and with small tricks you can reach the full commitment.

Team Building

I’m always surprised that after two colleagues got to know each other how smooth and easy the communication will be.

I think nobody is needed to be explained the difference between “John, do you have any idea how to solve …” and “Hi John, I’m Bill, I hope it’s not a bad timing and not disturbing you in anything hence it was never my intention to butting into your work. I’m wondering that you might sacrifice a little bit of your time and …” -Ohhh, Come on! Straight to the point guys!

Everybody is different someone is more unsociable and distant, building relationship is a long process but can be speed up.

Maybe it’s a bit extreme to say but nothing is forging two persons better than the common “drug use”.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about heroin distribution every morning in the office. By “drug” here I mean coffee, alcohol, sport, food anything that people can share and do together.

The best thing you could do is grab your team and go out for a beer. Or two. Or just a team dinner. Boundaries will evaporate.

Once, when I was at a completely new workplace on the third day the whole team went out to a nearby pub after work. I got to know everybody in a few hours.

The unnecessary rounds and sentences suddenly disappeared. Interesting, isn’t it?

Defining the scope

As an employee, it’s extremely difficult to perform if the expectations are not defined – or even worse – changing all the time. If you want the best performance everybody’s role and scope has to be clarified.

Don’t over define! Just the basics, leave some space where the personality and the creativity of the individual can be shown. Deliverables, configuration management, responsibilities, deadlines, tools etc.

Be true to your word! If one day you say left and on the next right, slowly you’ll find yourself all alone in the office…


People can change. Not fundamentally but we can evolve and emphasize our strength and work on the weakness. We have an idea about ourselves but it’s not objective. That’s why everybody needs the feedback.

In a regular basis, you have to hold a 15-20 minutes session individually with every member of the team talking through the performance of the past few months. Prepare for these meetings never sit in without knowing what to tell. Work out together a common scoring system which gives comparable metrics that helps in the follow up of the progress.

But maybe the most important thing is the subjective part of the evaluation talking about the feelings and what you see. The hardest part is talking about the negative things but you always have to tell them.

You have to give the chance for everybody to improve.If you don’t tell the weaknesses how can you expect the change on them?

One of the most well-known method for the negative feedback is the sandwich method. You put the negatives between the positives.

Start with some positive then you come up with the negative and close it in the end with positive. It’s worked for me so far but some people oppose this technique. I prefer it because both of you can leave the meeting room with a good taste preserving the motivation.

We talked a lot about the negative things but don’t forget the positive feedback!

Maybe even more important. Fortifying the strengths gives extra self-confidence, people needs to know what was done well so they can feel that they are valuable.

Just don’t forget 3 important things about the feedback meetings:

  1. It’s a two-directional conversation, give the opportunity of telling ANYTHING to you. Very useful.
  2. Discreteness.
  3. What happens is the meeting room stays in the meeting room. It’s only belongs to him any you. No one else’s business.
  4. Don’t wait till the meeting with the feedback, it’s just a summary. Give positive feedback every day. A “Nice job!”, “Good idea!” “Brilliant solution” costs nothing!

Never ever give negative feedback or disparage in front of the others. It’s just humiliating and ruins the moral.


I’m not a process addict. I hate when I’m forced into a narrow tunnel during the work. It just kills creativity and all the fun.

Due to my experience, more process definition and checklist = more mistake. I can’t explain it and it’s against common sense… It just does happen…

But something is needed. Not a Bible, not written into stone, just a guide. Something people can use to drive them and to show the correct direction.

  • How you start the campaign
  • What are the important milestones
  • What is the sequence of the tasks
  • Form of the documentation
  • The “musts”

And so on…

Establish a guide that can be called process but not a narrow tunnel where people get drown.


After the establishment of the basis now you have to manage everyday life that includes a lot of things.

Managing people

What I have learned during the years if you treat people like adults they will act like adults, if you treat them like children don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a kindergarten.

To act like a functioning group, you have to build up trust. It takes a little bit of time but really worth it and you have to start at the very first moment.

I was witness when in India (at the site of an unnamed European multinational company) the management introduced fingerprint checking docking system at the entrance of every floor and not because of security reasons just to record the arrival and departure time of the employees… Beside all the legal questions if you show that much trust towards the employees what would you expect in return?

At some cultures, it’s a huge issue that it’s culturally not accepted/allowed to say “NO” to a superior. Worst that can happen if someone knows that he won’t be able to finish the given task on time because of any reason but fear to tell it. The result of keeping the management in dark is nightmare. If someone can’t talk frankly it’s also the fault of the listener.

So don’t cut off anybody’s finger just because of honesty!

Another frequently returning problem is sickness. Surprising, but people are not robots get sick sometimes. If you see that someone is sick, make a favor to everybody and send him home. NO point in making him suffering, no productivity, gets better later and at least infects everybody else…

Support them, don’t put them under unnecessary pressure. The role of the team leader is to prevent the team from the pressure coming from up.


I personally don’t believe in planned meetings. Ineffective to have many scheduled meetings after each other. No sense to make 10 people take part on an oxygen less, soul killing 90 minutes boring nonsense. If you have to talk about something walk to the desk of the one and tell/ask it.

You have two options:

  1. Schedule a meeting for another day.
  2. You walk to Jerry with the problem, (yeah, he is interrupted but because you already have a nice environment everybody is patient with each other). After 5 minutes of talking you can see that Bill is also needed 15 minutes of talking with Bill. With the conclusion of the problem, the solution is explained to Judith who gives the final “Yes” and in less than an hour you have the decision.

Yes, I know, it’s not always that simple – especially if not everybody is located in the same office – but try to keep it simple. Organize the location of the team that they sit next to each other and after just a spin with the chair you can start the “meeting”.

On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to start the day/week with a short discussion with the team so everybody is aware of what the others are working on. Good technique to keep these short if you are standing during the meeting. Gives a bit pressure that you don’t want to stand forever there.

Session closure “lesson learnt meeting” does have sense. You can improve your production and helps to prevent from making the same mistakes again.


Keeping the deadlines are always a difficult question.

Finding the ideal spot on the (in)famous Project Management Triangle – the triangle of scope (features and quality), time and cost – is a topic of hundreds of articles on thousands of pages.

The best you can do is to start from the estimation of the workload.

I’m not following the classical estimation where you start from the number of new, modified and regression tests and then you multiply it with some magic number (number of tests per day). Even for the same software every campaign is different, use your intuition and the so-called FIA (Finger In the Air) Estimation.

I always do this with the team. I ask them about their time need to a part of the job and we discuss it together for the given task. Together it’s easier to see the difficulties, where we can save time and the commitment with a together discussed deadline is much bigger than when you just throw there “You have 5 days to finish”.

After I have the sum of all the task I give my own “spice” like reserved time for unseen problems, some people often under or overestimate, etc. You will find your own spice when you get to know the team and the project better.

You can also check planning techniques here.

Closing remarks

The one who told you that building up a good team is easy was a liar.

Within the limitation of this article we could see that it’s a really complex role and requires continuous attention. But it’s fun and superb when you can see success of you work. Worth it!

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