Is a test manager still needed in Agile development?

This is the translation of my article for Polteq in TestnetNieuws 2012-2.

Within Agile the responsibilities shift more to the executing teams. For instance the planning and estimation of the work that used to be done by management, now lies completely within the teams. So is there enough work left to justify the function test manager? To be able to judge this we need to do a couple of things. First determine what a test manager did and which parts of his work will stay within Agile. Next is to determine if new responsibilities and tasks arise fir the test managers.

Who does what?Who does what?

The first tasks that come in mind when I think of the traditional test manager are:

  • Create and update test plans;
  • Set the test policy;
  • Initiate and execute product risk analysis;
  • Estimate the work;
  • Create planning;
  • Report on risks, progress and quality;
  • Manage the test team;
  • Manage the test project.

Mostly organizing tasks dealing with testing. When we start working Agile, many of these task will be picked up by the Agile teams. These teams will have the responsibility to estimate and plan the work that is provided to them. A clear indication the the work of the test manager will be less… Whenever the Agile teams execute their planning sessions they need to think about risks, because these risks will influence the amount of work. Therefore the product risk analysis will be split up into smaller parts and will be executed every iteration by the teams.

Next the test plans, test policy and reporting. One of the Agile principles states: “Working software over comprehensive documentation”. So we need to find out how much of the plans and reports is still valid in Agile and how we can minimize this. Test plans cannot become comprehensive documentation! These plans usually leave little room for flexibility and flexibility is just what the Agile teams need. They need to be able to adjust their plans every iteration to fit their needs. The policy will be dealt with later on in this article.

Reporting is also placed in the Agile teams. The teams report on their status every day at the daily stand-up; everyone talks about what they will do and which impediments they have. The burn-down chart – a graph to show how many work is still left in the current sprint – should also be part of the stand-up. It helps to track the progress and well functioning teams will adjust their plannings according to the information of the burn-down chart.

The Agile test manager

The Agile test manager will focus more on people management and therefore has the responsibility to pick the right people for the different teams. The test manager needs to make sure that they hire people fit for Agile, testers have the opportunity to attend essential courses and that sufficient growth possibilities are present within the organization. Beware that not every good (or even excellent) tester is fit for Agile!

Test manager juggleManaging the test team has become more complex. At first we had a test team that worked together, but the testers are now divided over different teams. In stead of keeping one plate in the air, a multitude of plates should be kept in the air. It is reasonable to assume that this aspect of test management takes more time than before.

Another important aspect is facilitating knowledge sharing. Of course the knowledge should be shared within the Agile team to enable good and efficient work of the team. But when there are multiple teams, these teams can also learn a lot from each other. The test manager should have a test meeting once every couple of weeks to let the testers of the different teams learn from each other. In this way the teams can benefit from problems and best practices from other teams.

Thinking about risks within the team is very important, but this should also be done at higher levels within the organization. During creation of the product backlog and the release planning (cross-iteration activities), the test manager should make sure that a risk analysis is performed. The impact of different backlog items on each other should become clear. Some items are prerequisite for others and should be planned like that. In projects with multiple teams it often occurs that multiple teams effect the same parts of the system, this risk needs to be addressed during release planning and the sprint planning sessions. In short, we need a helicopter view on the project with a focus on quality and risks.

The business needs a view on product quality. With Agile testing we do not need to reinvent the wheel, a structured testing approach still offers insight into quality. The Agile test manager needs to create a generic test approach that deals with several subjects. Think of how to register defects, dealing with non-functionals and how to do end-to-end testing. The amount of freedom that the teams get to fill in how they deal with these topics depends on a number of factors like risks, the maturity of testing, the maturity of the team, etc. The approach should offer space for the teams to make their own decisions.


Small project with only one or two teams don’t need a full-time test management job, one of the more experienced testers in the teams will be able to fill the role of test manager. Organizations with large and/or a lot of projects have enough room for a full Agile test manager function. So the role of a test manager will not disappear!

The focus of test management is more on people management. Next to that on facilitating and controlling the quality of testing. We need generic guidelines to manage the testing within the organization and the test manager needs to supply these. These guidelines should not limit the freedom of the Agile teams too much.

Thinking about risks still is important. This should not only be done within the Agile teams, but also cross-iteration and even cross-project. The test manager can offer the helicopter view and look at risks on several levels. It’s very important to realize the risks with multiple parallel Agile teams.

So: Yes, in the Agile world we need test management!

Agile and test planning

Plan firstAgile is often used in combination with scrum, thus resulting in multidisciplinary teams and short release cycles. If we take these two points as a given, how do we adopt our test planning to be able to keep working? First I’ll describe a way to work, then I’ll give some pointers to take into account during the sprint planning.


When detailing the product backlog items, make sure the whole team has the same understanding of it. After the first detailing, developers can start creating and product owner, tester and analyst/designer can go over the specifics of the detailing. Then designer and tester can start making their corresponding designs. When done creating the specifications designer and tester review each other’s work to see if they described the same system. Any open questions after this reviewing should be resolved with the product owner.


Start executing test scripts as soon as possible. Share testing knowledge with the developers, so that they benefit from this knowledge when creating the unit tests. Make sure you stay informed about what is delivered to the test environment and then prioritize your test cases according to what was in the last delivery. Usually when the pressure on test execution starts to build, the analysts/designers in your team will be less busy. They can help you execute the script you already designed. When developers have time left, ask them to automate the tests you want to run in continuous integration or regression.


Bugs can be solved quicker and with less documentation than in non-agile projects. Discuss bugs you find within your team. In this way all members learn about the bugs found and help each other to find solutions. If the bugs get fixed directly after you find them, it might not be necessary to document them. This results in less time tracking bugs.

Sprint planning

With the sprint planning, keep in mind that you need time for specifying, executing, automating and retesting. To fit everything in the small amount of time, use specification techniques which result in a small number of test cases with high coverage. Make sure that developers also incorporate time for unit testing and for fixing bugs. In the case you will not do the automation yourself, make sure that the responsible person (sometimes the developers) will plan this time.

Experience learns that setting some milestones for a sprint, e.g. first delivery start or code freeze, help the team to finish the sprint successfully.