What Makes a Great Test Manager?

For organizations that run and manage their own Alpha, Beta, and Field Tests, the Customer Validation Team plays a vital role in product development. As the liaison between testers and product teams, their recommendations enable the customer-driven decision-making that increases product success. This is especially true of the Test Manager, who handles this customer testing process and can make or break your project, saving or costing you large sums of money.

I came to Centercode over three years ago after spending nearly a decade in the Commercial Electrical industry. The technical, interpersonal, and project management skills I learned there made it easy to transition into a Test Manager position. I’ve since managed over 50 tests and worked with more than 15,000 testers across a wide variety of industries and product types.

Now, as the Director of Managed Services, I train and manage a skilled team of Test Managers who plan and execute hundreds of tests each year. If you’re interested in becoming a Test Manager, or looking to add a Test Manager to your team, I’ve put together a list of skills and qualifications we at Centercode have identified as key to success.

What kind of skills does a Test Manager need?

The Test Manager (also known as the Beta Program Manager, Beta Test Manager, or Beta Test Engineer) is responsible for achieving test objectives by capturing customer data and translating that data into insightful product recommendations. They’re a main part of connecting the product teams who develop new products to the testers validating them. It’s their responsibility to get a Beta product to the right audience, engage with them, and turn the resulting mass of feedback into accurate (and useful) product recommendations.

Test Managers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, including (but not limited to) QA, support, project management, and customer service – to name the most common. Because the role requires them to negotiate between multiple departments, experience with juggling the priorities and politics of multiple departments is handy. Test Managers have to make sure that as they plan and execute CV tests, their stakeholders are unified in their objectives and satisfied with the consistency and reliability of incoming feedback.

In fact, eliciting that consistent and reliable feedback from testers is a critical component of the role. A Customer Validation (CV) program is only as good as the recommendations it generates from tester feedback. Maintaining high tester participation requires you to be diligent and outgoing. You have to be willing to interact one-on-one with your testers, sometimes calling them on the phone to make sure they’re still engaged. You have to be patient and cooperative with many different personalities. This is where you can lean into previous experiences in customer service or customer support.

Where do you apply for Test Manager roles?

With 96% of companies running Beta Tests, many CV programs sit at the intersection of several different departments. According to our Industry Report, the execution for Alpha, Beta, and Field Tests predominantly lives with Product Management, Quality, and Engineering. Program names vary greatly as well; Customer Validation can be referred to as End User Validation, User Acceptance Testing, Customer Experience Trials, among many other names.

How much experience should a Test Manager have?

While it’s obviously desirable to have a previous record of managing some type of user tests or research, the majority of people coming into Customer Validation won’t have this exact experience. The demands on a Test Manager depend heavily on the industry and the needs of the company. The most valuable field of experience is from within product development. The better they understand how your organization creates products – and the markets those products are created for – the better equipped they are to bring in meaningful results.

For instance, in a high-dollar B2B software company, a Test Manager might have a small community that they work very closely with to test very specific updates or improvements. They’ll need to have in-depth product knowledge and will benefit from a background in managing customer relationships.

With a mid-market consumer product, on the other hand, the majority of your testers could be new each time. The Test Manager will still need to be familiar with the product, but the role may emphasize customer support and an understanding of how your audience interacts with your product. While nothing can replace the value of experience, the ability to adapt to the various roles a Test Manager plays goes a long way in this field.

Participating as a tester in an actual Beta Test can give you a deeper understanding of the tester-facing side of Test Management. Centercode’s “guided tour” approach to evaluating products gives insight into common issues and feedback you might expect to see with certain types of products. At Centercode, all of our employees participate in at least one test each year.

If you are considering a test management position and get an interview, be direct about your past results. Speak to participation rates, experiences test planning, and how you’ve contributed to product improvements and ROI. If you have limited or no experience managing tests, be candid, but emphasize your ability to organize, multi-task, and interface with customers. These are all invaluable to the role and what I look for in all candidates.

Technical certifications have the double benefit of both additional training and showing you’re in tune with product and market needs. Depending on your environment, certifications such as PMP/CAPM and Six-Sigma show expertise in required skills. All Test Managers at Centercode are required to pass the Customer Validation Certification, which demonstrates both a conceptual and practical understanding of the methodologies behind effective test and tester community management.

If you have experience with research or analysis, like working with users, looking at data, or building reports, emphasize your familiarity with this skillset. Mentioning these experiences alongside concrete results tells potential employers you have the project management and organizational skills necessary to keep their program in tip-top shape.

Here’s a checklist of experience and ideal qualifications I look for.

RECOMMENDED QUALIFICATIONS

    Experience

  • Minimum of 4 years relevant technical experience or a technical degree
    Technical background is useful as Test Managers often work close to development teams.
  • Field Service or Call Center experience preferred
    Field service or call center experience implies confident communication skills.
  • Product development experience
    Test Managers work regularly with products, so some experience on the product development side is obviously beneficial.
  • Skills

  • Strong project and time management skills
  • Excellent organizational skills, detail-oriented, with proven ability to track and support multiple projects at once
  • Works well with people, and has excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Proficient with technology in general and with a variety of mobile operating systems, connected devices, and computer hardware and software
  • Ability to grasp complex technologies easily and be able to learn new information quickly
  • Previous experience as a tester is helpful

Whether you’d like to learn more about the industry or you’re looking for ways to improve your current Customer Validation program, you can dive in with theBeta Testing best practices webinar!

How Centercode Manages Beta Tests

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