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Managing a Test Team When You’re Not a Manager

by René Ceelen, on December 14, 2021


Whether defined by an organizational chart, earned through experience, or gained in the natural course of events, you may find yourself in a position in which you are leading a software testing team.

Adding even more complexity, your position could also be an informal one, with influence that goes beyond your actual job title.

Regardless, your organization and your team are looking to you for guidance, especially when the situation is stressful and the stakes are high.

In any of these situations, how can you be an effective team player and manage your software testing team, even when you aren’t a manager? Here are some tips and considerations to take your game beyond just the software testing basics.

Become an Informal Test Leader

When you think about the leaders you have admired in your career—no matter the industry or era—they probably possess common qualities. Whether you are purposefully exercising them or they are just a natural part of who you are, some of the qualities that make for a great informal software testing leader include:

  • Listening to your team’s input: Software development and testing is a team sport. Listening to different perspectives, mediating potential areas of disagreement, and setting a new course are all valuable skills.
  • Understanding your team’s strengths: Every member of your team brings unique perspectives and talents to the table. Encouraging your team members to use their strengths can not only help them achieve success, but also make the journey more rewarding.
  • Gaining support from decision makers: As with any endeavour, there will be bumps in the road. Knowing when and how to speak with your seniors in a calm, constructive, and professional manner will allow you to build trust from all sides.
  • Building a reputation of authority: You don’t need years of software testing experience under your belt to be a trusted voice. Navigating a meandering discussion to resolution, laying out effective testing plans, and not hesitating to step up when it counts will build your reputation as a leader.

Overcome the Risks of Informal Leadership 

Although stepping into an informal leadership role on your team can have many benefits, it also comes with challenges. For example, you may encounter:

  • A shifting of team dynamics: If a team has been leaderless or is used to performing their roles a certain way, there can be tension, confusion, and stress in the face of change. 
  • A feeling of “imposter syndrome”: Without a formal job title or years of experience under your belt, you may feel like this is a “sink-or-swim” moment. 
  • A sense of hesitation or disagreement from team members: When confronted with change, some people embrace it, and others resist it. Look out for signs of both so you can better navigate your new reality with an understanding of where each team member stands.

Make a Bigger Impact as an Informal Lead 

For each of these risks, lean on your essential skills—such as listening, adapting, and building consensus—to keep the team moving forward. 

You can also:

  • Seek regular feedback: Get holistic feedback about your performance from both junior and senior team members, as well as other teams that interact with yours. 
  • Have a positive mindset: Your team is likely looking to you for guidance on how to react to difficult situations. Make the extra effort to maintain a positive, constructive mindset, especially when tester feedback begins to roll in.
  • Spend time with your team: Taking the time to build rapport with your teammates throughout the project will pay off when tensions are high and timelines are crunched.
  • Encourage others to try new approaches: No software testing project is the same, but there are common lessons learned that you can share with others. Encourage others to share their lessons learned for everyone’s benefit.

Bringing It All Together

Just like your software testing skills, the qualities that make one a strong manager—whether formal or not—take time to grow, strengthen, and refine.

However, the fact that you are investing the time and energy into becoming a more well-rounded professional and a better testing manager demonstrates a great deal about your potential.

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