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How to prepare for a QA Lead role

Sep 8, 2018 · 6 min read
A Lego knight standing against a massive shoe

This article is the first part out of five of a story of joining a startup as a QA Lead.

I’ve recently joined a startup as a QA Lead and I want to share with you how to prepare for that role.

First of all, why preparation is so important? I’ve learned it the hard way and let me tell you what happened.

The opportunity for taking over my current QA Lead role first arose in October last year. I deferred the response, in effect missing that chance — like any other at that time. Why? Simply because I didn’t feel prepared.

However, one day around that time, I learned Seneca’s definition of luck and it stuck in my mind:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

— Seneca

Ever since I’m about to look for a new opportunity, this sentence always reminds me of the importance of preparation.

And when you think of this — it makes sense. The more you’re prepared, the more you increase your chances to get lucky. But there’s the other side too: the lack of preparation leads to missed opportunities.

I realised that was what I needed to focus on. So when the same opportunity appeared four months later, I was feeling confident enough to pick it up thanks to the solid preparation I had done before. This time I felt I was lucky.

How to prepare for a QA Lead role

Now, I want to share with you 6 practical pieces of advice that will help you get ready for a leadership role. It’s set in the QA Lead context but it could be applied to other cases as well.

Here we go.

1. Imagine yourself in the role

It’s the first point and the most important one. No matter how cheesy it sounds, it is crucial to start with the simplest but the most powerful thing you can possibly do — visualising yourself in that role.

Why? It’s well said that winners first win in their head before they win on the field. There’s no exception from this rule if it comes to taking over a leadership role.

Answer these two questions:

  1. Why do I want to take over this role?
  2. How can I be the best at it?

For me, the main driver behind taking over the QA Lead role was to do things my way. To take the full ownership of setting up a QA process across the whole company. And build my own team in the future.

So, what drives you?

2. List out possible scenarios

The other crucial part of your vision is listing out the possible scenarios of your role. List out a few of them and find a plan for each one.

For example, I listed three where I imagined myself in:

  1. An early-stage startup focused on releasing its own product with no or very vague testing process.
  2. A rapidly growing startup with its own product already released, some testing process in place and possibly a couple of QA engineers.
  3. A well-established company with broad product range, advanced development and testing processes and a QA team already in place.

Even though it sounded abstract to think of taking over a big team at that point of time, I still tried to imagine and write down what my role would look like and what actions I would take in each case.

So when the real opportunity arose, I was thankful for these notes because it was much easier to speak about the potential challenges that may pop up as the company scales. I was more confident during the interview process because — again — I felt prepared.

3. Face your fears

When you go through each scenario, you may naturally have some questions or concerns.

So focus on what you’re unsure about, what risks you can already see and what fears you have. One of them could be that you haven’t done it before. Another one that you haven’t worked in a company at this stage yet. Or you haven’t led people yet.

That’s alright. There are ways to deal with it.

Most importantly, you need to accept them as they are. To do that, you have to understand them by clearly naming and describing in detail. When you do this, you’ll already start creating some ideas on how to mitigate them.

My recommendation is to write everything down. It will not only help you literally face what you’re fighting against but also prepare you to have an open conversation about the role. For example, during the interview.

This is exactly what I did and, frankly, it massively helped me during the recruitment process. I was completely honest about my fears related to the role and I could already provide ideas on how I would mitigate them.

4. Learn from others

You’re not alone. So many people have gone through it in the past. So it’s a great idea to see how others have performed at a QA Lead before.

So reach out for that knowledge. Look around — why not talk to your current manager about how he became one? Or ask on QA communities on platforms such as Reddit?

Another great way is to reflect and analyse how the QA process looked like in your previous workplaces. I’m sure you can easily identify what worked well and what could have been improved.

In my case, ever since I got interested in a leadership role, I started observing how my manager and other team leaders were doing their job. I asked some of them and was referenced an amazing article about the 90-days plan of turning engineers into managers which I strongly recommend to you as well.

5. Put your knowledge together

When you’re about to become a QA Lead, you better refresh what you know about software testing. Sometimes even the key aspects are forgotten if you don’t use them on a daily basis.

A great way to do this is to put all your knowledge together. It’s good to start with the definitions that you truly believe in. The lessons learned are a powerful source of knowledge, too. After all, it’s easy to forget what happened in the past and what you learned from that.

So you need to store it, ideally in one place that you can access easily. It can be a physical notebook or some notes app syncing with the cloud.

If it comes to me, I prefer storing all my QA-related knowledge in Apple’s Notes app which makes it ultra-easy to access or update anywhere I am. Nowadays, Notion is getting popular, too.

6. Research your future team

When you join a new company, you need to know what they do, what their values are and what’s their mission.

But do you know what the team is like?

You need to do your homework here, too. Look up the people you’re going to work with. Look up your future manager and the company’s leadership team. LinkedIn is a good place to start. Maybe you can even find their blogs?

What’s important here is to get familiar with the people you’re going to work with. Try to memorise their faces and names. Learn what they’ve worked on before.

Once you join, this research will immensely help you make relationships much easier, which — in the QA world — is extremely important. But that you’ll find out in the next parts of the series.

So, that’s it.

I hope by now you understand how you can prepare for a QA Lead role and why it’s so important.

I wish you all the best of luck!

And in the next part of the series, I’ll tell you about the 3 key takeaways from the first day as a QA Lead that I wish I knew before.

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Dawid Dylowicz

Founder of More Than Testing