Testers and Product Owners in Agile Teams

When a software development team switches its approach to an Agile framework like Scrum, the place of software testing changes. In his book Scrum Product Ownership, Robert Galen describes the new role of software testers in Agile teams and their relationships with the product owners.

agile testers at work

It’s often the case that traditional testers struggle in their role transformation from Waterfall to agile methods. In traditional teams their role is very much at the end of the pipeline. Sure, they have some early planning and preparation to do but, in the end, developers throw software “over the wall” to them for testing. Typically, the development team is over schedule and there is always compression of testing plans and time. There is usually little cross-team collaboration and often they are blamed for overall application quality, even though they play only a part in that regard.$

In agile teams, the dynamic fundamentally changes. Instead of being at the end, testers need to move to the beginning of the process. They actually become your partner in defining and refining user stories. Not only in crafting the story definitions, but where testers can really shine, is in the areas of well-formed and comprehensive acceptance tests.

Their primary and up-front role becomes, more or less, a Business Analyst on where they serve as a liaison between you and the development team; refining stories and ensuring their quality execution. They should be partners with development, often pairing with them, to assure that feature development is clear and aligned with the customers’ needs.

Another part of their role transformation surrounds that of a quality advocate or the “Voice of Quality”. Many traditional testers are placed in the role of “gatekeeper”, ensuring that quality goals are held within the release. However, they are rarely afforded the responsibility or time to do this effectively. In agile teams, there is a holistic focus on quality, yet the team can lack some of the core experience to achieve their goals. Good testers can really help their teams here as well by keeping their focus on up-front quality versus attempts to test it in.

In essence, agile testers move from the end of the development pipeline to become the upfront Quality Champions within their agile teams. Their final focus is on relentless test automation. Not by doing it themselves, but by influencing their entire team (and you as the Product Owner) to invest in test automation.

Source: Essential Scrum: Scrum Product Ownership (2nd edition), Robert Galen, 236 pages, ISBN 978-0-9885026-2-8