When you need to expand your QA team

Any QA team manager will tell you: building a great QA team is not simple. Fortunately, there is a way to do it and to do it in such a way that it doesn’t break along the way.

Any QA team manager will tell you: building a great QA team is not simple. Fortunately, there is a way to do it and to do it in such a way that it doesn’t break along the way.

A big part of this is hiring people at the right time and expanding your QA team only when the moment is perfect. If you move too soon, you’ll end up with a bloated budget, while waiting too long could lead to a severe bottleneck in productivity and the inability of your current team to hit its goals and KPIs.

Start With the People You Have

Of course, let’s start with the caveat that hiring a person is a big deal, even if you’re a company with tens of thousands of employees. Not everyone is able to hire someone at a moment’s notice, some people don’t have the budget, and some people want to move slowly. Each of these are valid reasons.

But, if you’re in a situation where you need the additional boost of productivity, what are you to do? Well, there are a few approaches that may work.

1. Grow Their Skillset

One way to not have to grow your team is to invest in the people you have. It sounds simple, but it works. There are a few areas you can invest in, but one of the most valuable in the long run is to give them the skills they need to automate their work.

Not only will this make them more efficient, but it will also have a permanent effect on the way your team works. In addition, there’s the bonus that investing in people’s skills will increase the chance that they stick with your team and company in the long run. People like to work with places that want to help them grow and which provide meaningful work that engages them and pushes their boundaries out further.

2. See If You Can Refocus Their Abilities

You can mix and match the team you have to see if there are different ways to get people to be more efficient. For example, let’s say that there are three key skills you have on your team: automation, organization, and documentation (of course, there are others, but this is just a hypothetical example). Now, with a team of three QA engineers, you may have each person working on each of these in equal measure. What you can try, though, is to see if different people are skilled in different areas, change their areas of responsibility, and focus on specialization. By paying attention to what people seem to be best at and focusing their time and tasks on that skill you can be a witness to a major boost in productivity.

3. Look for Other Teams to Pitch In

It’s not an ideal option, but the truth is that there are some people outside of the QA team that may be able to pitch in and help move things along. These may be engineers, customer support representatives, operations managers, or other individuals who can jump in to provide extra leverage.

There are three ways you could do this. The first is to plug people in to do manual tests using detailed documentation. One note is that this requires a good deal of documentation for people to follow along with. The second option is to plug people in who can help to automate your work, typically coming from the engineering team. Finally, the third option is to plug people in to help document your processes, a skill which typically overlaps with an operations team.

These approaches are not guaranteed to boost your team’s productivity, but depending on the type of QA work you’re focusing on at the moment, you can see some unexpected gains.

When You Should Expand

Expansion is hard, so make sure that when you start you’re doing it at the right time. Here are the most common scenarios you’ll encounter that require expanding your team.

1. If You Lack Technical Expertise

Technical expertise is one of the hardest things to introduce to a team that doesn’t have it. Not that the expertise is impossible to gain, but there is typically a steep learning curve if you want to start training from scratch.

Because of that, technical expertise is a key ingredient that you should bring on if it’s noticeably lacking, since it can be a big stimulant for the productivity of your team. If you bring on one skilled QA engineer who has a wealth of experience with automation, that can lead to an automation boom, as the workflows and tests you’ve manually implemented can be supercharged within a matter of weeks.

2. When You Can’t Automate Your Way to Efficiency Any Longer

Conversely, if you do have automation at your fingertips but it seems to have reached its useful limits, then you may want to consider adding to your headcount. If there are some tests that need to be done manually, then even if you’d prefer automation you’re eventually going to hit a point where you need additional hands working on the problem.

Now, this doesn’t mean full-time people (although it could), but you could use third-party QA testing services like Rainforest or UserTesting to help test your software, without the need to hire people.

It won’t be perfect, since you won’t have complete control over the outcome of QA tests and it can be costly if overused, but it can help with temporary surges in QA testing needs

3. When Someone Recently Left

This may seem obvious, but if someone just left your QA team you’re probably going to want to bring in a replacement. It’s not necessarily an expansion as much as it’s a rebalancing of a team that shrunk, but it will require you to go through the hiring process.

Now, one opportunity you have here is that when you activate the hiring and recruiting process — which we all know is very time consuming — you may want to consider hiring more than one person. Even if only one person left the team or company, if you know that you have buy-in for hiring someone and you’ve already got a stack of resumes to sift through, there’s a good chance you could bring two people in to replace that one person who left

The Elephant In the Room: Budgeting

Now, as you’ve been reading it’s highly likely that you’ve been thinking about how you’d justify the cost of hiring someone, even if you knew you needed to hire someone. Of course, we can’t convince the people who hold your budget strings on your behalf.

One case you can make is based on the advice we gave above about using your existing team before trying to hire. If you can prove that you’ve done everything you can to get the most out of your current team and you’re still overwhelmed, it can be easier to convince managers to loosen the purse strings and bring on an additional person.

A Word of Caution

The last thing we’ll say is that you should be careful when hiring someone or expanding your team. It can be tempting to quickly find relief from your headcount constraints by hiring the first person who seems remotely qualified.

But, our advice is to hire slow and well, rather than fast and sloppy.

It’s a much more difficult situation to deal with someone who isn’t a good fit for your team or for the QA role that you’re filling than it is to wait another month and find that perfect hire.