August 4, 2007

The Disposable QA Manager

Over the last decade, I've been trying to track a lot of trends, both from personal experience and from information provided to me by other people in the industry. For the most part, the trends have been mixed.

On the downside, there is a lower ratio of full-time QA engineers per project to artists and programmers. The ratio of tester weeks to production weeks is also fairly low (1:12 to 1:25 depending on the company). On the upside, both of these ratios are starting to go up slowly for the first time in nearly six years.

However, there is one trend which I doubt can be easily reversed and at least over the last decade has remained fairly constant. The first QA manager in any studio/group has an 85% chance of being terminated or transferred within the first three years...and this isn't just in games.

The reasons are fairly straightforward. When internal test is first introduced to any organization, they are generally tasked with introducing not only the concept of testers to an unfamiliar staff, but all of the trappings associated with testers (more detailed checkin E-mails, test specs and approvals, bug databases and bug workflows, etc.). In short, they become a change agent.

Going off of the employee stages chart in the linked Wikipedia article, it takes eighteen months to three years to get a group of employees who are just getting introduced to QA processes up to the end of stage 2: anger and resistance. Because the degree of anger and resistance is generally proportional to the magnitude of the changes, this inevitably leads to a conflict or confrontation between the QA manager and the rest of the development team. Without significant buy-in from management and the testers, this often leads to the QA manager being gone within 18-36 months, either via transfer to another position/set of responsibilities or via termination.

If a second QA manager is brought in immediately that continues the same path as the original QA manager, the transition into stage 3 (acceptance and adaptation) becomes very smooth. Differences in approach or a delay in the reintroduction of QA processes can lead to a regression and additional delay to the end of stage 3.

What can you do to prepare for these problems and try to avoid the disposable QA manager problem?
  1. If you are planning on introducing internal QA for the first time, be prepared for at least three bumpy years.
  2. If you are part of a larger company, make sure that whoever you bring in would have a place to go besides your group.
  3. If you are part of a smaller company, try to hire your QA manager locally or find a quality-minded individual who is currently respected by your team to fill the position.
  4. Expect some friction and turnover...it's an unavoidable part of the process.
  5. Look for the warning signs of stage 2: increased rejection of QA initiatives, massively reduced approval of QA as a whole, depression and an air of futility coming from QA.
  6. Have upper management present a united front in support of the QA processes and initiatives, and specifically the QA manager.
  7. Have patience.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Well said. Well said indeed...