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Building an effective QA team from scratch

QA team
Building a quality assurance (QA) team from the ground up can be a daunting task, but it's an essential part of creating great products and delivering value to customers. Here we'll explore the key factors to consider when constructing an effective QA team right from the start.

Define the QA Role and Responsibilities

The first step is clearly defining what the role of QA is in your organization. Some key responsibilities may include:
  • Developing and executing exploratory and automated tests to identify software defects
  • Creating and maintaining comprehensive test plans and test cases
  • Performing regression testing when new features are added or bugs are fixed
  • Collaborating with developers and product managers to understand requirements
  • Reporting on product quality metrics like defects found and fixed
  • Providing feedback to improve development processes

Take the time to delineate the scope of QA work and expectations. This will help guide hiring and set priorities as you build out the team.

Determine the Required QA Skills and Expertise

Once the role is clearly defined, identify the essential skills and expertise your QA team members will need to be successful.
For all QA roles, core skills like analytical thinking, attention to detail, communication, and organization are key. Beyond that, consider:
  • Technical skills like SQL, scripting, understanding of APIs/microservices
  • Coding skills to automate tests and understand the codebase
  • Knowledge of QA methodologies like black box, white box, and gray box testing
  • Familiarity with test management tools like JIRA, TestRail, Selenium
  • Understanding of industry regulations and standards as applicable
  • Domain expertise in the field/product areas to be tested

Document these skill sets so you can evaluate candidates effectively and develop training plans. Prioritize must-have versus nice-to-have skills given your budget and time constraints.

Determine the Optimal QA Team Structure

Figure out the best structure and size for your QA team based on your business needs. Here are some factors to consider:
  • Embedded vs. dedicated QA - Should QA staff be embedded with engineering teams or centralized as a dedicated QA org?
  • Team size - How many QA roles do you need to adequately test your software? Factor in release frequency, test environments, scope of testing.
  • Hierarchy - Will you have QA leads, managers, directors etc. to establish reporting structures?
  • Specialization - Do you need dedicated expertise in areas like automation, performance testing, or accessibility?
There are pros and cons to different structures. For example, embedded QA can improve collaboration and visibility but dedicated QA provides more independence. Analyze your situation and resources to determine the optimal configuration.

Source the Right QA Talent

Once you understand the skills you need and team structure, it's time to source the best talent. Here are some tips for hiring strong QA candidates:
  • Develop a screening process - Create a consistent process to vet resumes, conduct phone screens, interview. Develop QA-specific screening questions to assess skills.
  • Write clear job descriptions - Outline must-have skills, day-to-day responsibilities, and technology used. This will help attract qualified candidates.
  • Offer competitive pay - Research and offer competitive salaries and benefits to attract top talent. Don't underpay QA roles.
  • Interview thoroughly - Involve multiple team members, ask both technical and situational questions, and give candidates a chance to demonstrate skills.
  • Check references - Speak to previous managers of candidates to confirm strengths and weaknesses.

It's better to keep looking rather than settle for mediocre hires that could create issues down the line.

Onboard and Train the QA Team

Once your team is hired, you need to effectively onboard them and ramp them up.
  • Create onboarding resources - Develop checklists, training plans, documentation and tools to smoothly onboard new hires.
  • Train on processes - Review your team's agile/development processes, QA methodologies, and tools. Outline expectations.
  • Train on technology - If needed, train new hires on the programming languages, frameworks, environments used to build your software.
  • Assign mentors - Pair new team members with more experienced staff to provide guidance and support.
  • Start small - Have new QAs focus on a limited scope and ramp up responsibilities over time.

Continuous training and growth opportunities will also help retain top QA talent. Maintain a culture of learning.

Equip the QA Team for Success

For your team to operate optimally, they need to be equipped with the proper tools and environment.
  • Provide test environments - Sandboxed dev, test, and staging environments that mirror production are essential for rigorous QA.
  • Supply test data - QA needs sufficient test data sets that are scrubbed of sensitive information.
  • Set up QA hardware/devices - Equip QAs with the devices, browsers, machines they need to replicate end user environments.
  • Select test tools - Research tools for test case management, automation, defect tracking, monitoring and make these available.
  • Enable access and visibility - Provide access to code, designs, roadmaps. Enable visibility into sprints, launches.

Properly equipping QA and integrating them into the broader team will maximize their impact.

Define Success Metrics for QA

To track your progress in building an effective QA team, define success metrics aligned to business goals and monitor them. Examples include:
  • Defect escape rate into production
  • Number of critical/high severity defects found in prod
  • Test coverage for new features
  • Test automation coverage
  • Time to fix QA-discovered defects
  • QA cycle time for test planning, execution, reporting
  • QA cost savings from automating repetitive tests

Continuously optimizing these metrics demonstrates the value of QA and helps identify areas for improvement.

Foster Collaboration Between QA and Development

The relationship between QA and development teams can greatly influence product quality. Foster collaboration through:
  • Involving QA in requirements gathering to improve test planning
  • Enabling QA participation in design reviews to catch issues early
  • Promoting information sharing about defects found and fixes implemented
  • Creating a blameless culture focused on shared product quality goals
  • Social events/activities to build rapport between teams

Breaking down silos leads to a shared sense of ownership in delivering a great product experience.
Building a stellar QA team requires careful planning, hiring, development, and collaboration. But the investment in time and resources pays immense dividends when it comes to reducing software defects, improving customer satisfaction, and enabling faster delivery of high quality products and updates. With the strategies outlined here, technology leaders can establish an effective product testing capability from the ground up.