QA and IM roles/responsibilities?
IM:-The organiser who works with the team and does not only delegate but also collaborates with the team to get the project activities done. The IM is partially/fully responsible for a lot of activities like, planning ,staffing, stakeholder management, reporting, release management, risk analysis to mention a few. This is more-or-less equivalent to the Scrum Master role in the Scrum terminology.
QA Lead:-The gate-keeper who keeps a check on all aspects of quality of the product in question. Some of the responsibilities of a lead QA includes-establishing QA best practices in the team, leading the test planning and strategy for the upcoming release and features, mentoring and inspiring the other QAs in the team, leading the deployments and releases..to mention a few.
Why do you need a blended QA/IM role?
In these changing times, I have observed that the clients, especially in smaller projects, wish to have lead members who can wear multiple hats (or play a blended role). This has resulted in an increase in participation from various roles to endorse this persona.
How do you get an opportunity for an IM role?
There are two possibilities here. Either, the role will find you in an existing project or you will find the role in a new one. Let’s look at the first one, which is what happened to me and to my knowledge is the preferable way to do so for entry level IMs..
I was working as the QA lead for more than a year in a project, so, naturally I had a good context about the project and domain. By then, I had also established a good rapport with the team, onshore partners and the clients. That is when I was offered the QA/IM role. I can’t stress enough that one should ensure one has done well in the current role and is ready to take up additional responsibility.
The second one, where people directly start with IM roles, mostly comes to those who have either already shadowed the role earlier or have been playing the role of an IM in earlier projects. Sole IM role mostly come into picture in big sized teams and are pretty well defined in terms of responsibilities. We will discuss more on this in the upcoming blogs.
Responsibilities of a QA/IM:
We will look at the detailed responsibilities of an IM role in the upcoming blog, but the figure below gives an overview about the daily division and scope of work for a QA/IM role, based on my experience:
How to balance out the QA/IM role?
Division of work: IM role comes with a set of predefined responsibilities. An IM is required to understand all the ceremonies in an agile team really well and make sure it’s implemented. Usually, I have observed that with variation in blended roles and varying team compositions, the list of activities assigned to an IM, BA and QA are different. Having said that, undoubtedly, no matter who is doing what, at the end of the day it’s the responsibility of an IM to make sure that the priority work items are called out, assigned and followed up till completion. Many times to help facilitate the responsibility and division of work, RACI(Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed)charts come in very handy. For example:
- Responsible: Who performs the task.
- Accountable: Ultimate ownership and decision making.
- Consulted: People to consult before making a decision.
- Informed: People to be kept informed.
Setting expectations : Now that a person is stepping into the shoes of a QA/IM role, it is quite possible that the QA work will overflow when the IM workload is heavy . Let’s say, during the start of a sprint, when the whole backlog needs grooming, the IM would need to pair with the BA for this planning activity. What happens to the QA activities then? Usually, in a medium sized team where there are two QAs, setting expectations with the other QA/developers that QA work would need extra support, helps. Similarly, during the end of an iteration when the deployment activities happen, expectation can be set with the BA to shoulder some of the ongoing IM responsibilities e.g…handling agile ceremonies and planning while the IM/QA can focus on the deployment activities.
Prioritising work: — Even though we have talked about division of responsibilities and setting expectations, there would be situations every now and then where there will be high priority activities from both the IM and QA side of work. There is no set rule for handling these kinds of situations except to prioritise the activity which requires more involvement and the one where you can add more value.
Enabling people which in turn will enable the whole team : — This is totally from my personal experience but enabling people by handing them new responsibilities help reduce the role specific dependencies on specific people in the team and in turn gives growth opportunities to others. Let’s take an example: after taking over the IM/QA role the lead QA can then handover some important QA activities to the other QA in the team which will in turn give them the opportunity to scale up and grow. This kind of cyclic growth opportunities in the team is one of reasons for the success behind blended roles in the team.
Being a QA/IM does not mean that you are no longer a QA: — This is one of the most important things to understand. IM is a role which is really important for a team but so is the QA role. Delivering bug free software is non-negotiable, we all know it. So, how do we strike a balance between the two roles? Does that mean that a QA de-priorities the IM activities all the time? I had the same questions when I took up the role initially. I already had a plate full of work as a QA lead when I thought about taking up the IM role as my stretch-goal. There were two things that helped solve this — As I mentioned earlier, prioritisation helps.For an example, if there is a prod defect that needs a hot-fix, IM will surely be involved in the deployment because that’s one of the core activities of a QA, making sure that the other priority activities in the IM bucket have other owners. Second thing that helps a lot is sharing context of the tasks and keeping yourself a bit redundant, so that, at any point in time if there are too many important things on the plate of the IM, there can be other people who can pitch in and help. So, yes, teamwork helps!!
From a 100% QA lead to 50% QA lead -how does this work? — The reality is that, no matter whether you take up the IM role or not, the scope of the work of a QA lead remains the same and also, the IM has set responsibilities which needs to be done otherwise the whole team suffers.Then how do they cope up given that they work the same hours. Again, there are a lot of different ways to answer this. As in my case, I took IM/QA as a stretch goal. Hence I did put some extra effort around this but what also helped was the fact that I handed over some of the responsibilities to the other QA/BA of my team which did not necessarily require my intervention(which we have discussed above in prioritisation and expectation setting). By role, the lead QA of the team is not only responsible for the quality of a story or a feature, they also add value by adding thoughts around the quality and innovation/delivery process of the team as well. This does require a lot of effort. When one becomes an IM in a shared role they say yes to extra responsibilities, never letting go off the core responsibilities!
I hope that this blog helps you understand the overview of the QA/IM role from the perspective of a tenured QA who tried it for the first time. Now that we have set foot in the IM world let’s try and explore the core IM(Iteration Manager) responsibilities in a little more details followed by the career options available for those who are really passionate about Iteration Management in the upcoming blogs.
Ending Note:Iteration Manager, as a role is continuously evolving and the more people from different roles endorse it, the more refined and value add it will have!!