Implementing Mentorship in a QA Team Best Practices and Common Mistakes
Best practices Management Agile
6 mins read
November 9, 2022

Implementing mentorship in a QA team: best practices and common mistakes

Mentorship in testing is a tricky subject. Much like in software development, the most valuable experience comes from doing things and making mistakes, not reading about them. What you shouldn’t do is make mistakes when setting up a mentorship programme. Read the article to learn and avoid some common pitfalls.

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Kirill Chabanov

Best practices of implementing mentorship in QA team

Match the right people

As an employee, there is a bit of common wisdom to how you pick a mentor. Such a person should not be too junior, because they will not be able to help you much with hard skills. A mentor should not be too senior either, because they would not be able to relate to the challenges of a fresh specialist.

As an employer, this wisdom applies to mentorship in QA as well. You need to pick someone who has both spent enough time at your company and has a proven software testing record. Someone recently promoted to a senior specialist is a good start. They have relevant experience in doing things the company’s way but should also have the time for mentorship.

Focus on long-term

Do not confuse mentorship with onboarding covering management of testing processes. One’s QA mentor should not just provide advice on immediate problems and dwell on the procedures of the company. The goal here is to elevate a recent hire as a specialist, and that takes some planning. 

It may be hard to break out of the project’s constraints, so giving somewhat unrelated reading materials is a good way to help a new specialist grow. You may also get forward-thinking here by letting the mentored person learn about the QA challenges and procedures they will encounter later in the project. Cookie-cutter responses here and now don’t get you far.

Get hands-on

Software developers use code reviews and pair programming sessions to elevate their colleagues. A testing mentor should look to do the same (minus the accommodation for manual testing). One such session can do more good than 6 hours of exchanging Teams messages.

Sometimes, a learning session is a good middle ground. While I always advocate for letting people roll with the testing punches, it’s a good idea to help your colleagues be prepared. Group and one-on-one sessions are not also good learning opportunities but a place to ask questions and, let’s be honest, share some early grievances for a productive outcome (or stress relief).

Speaking of practical sessions, it could be useful to show people around the tools that your team uses. There is usually more nuance and tricks that make it to general documentation. We do that ourselves when hiring new people to work on our QA testing tool aqua.

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Mistakes to avoid when implementing mentorship in a testing team

Assigning a mentor short-sightedly

So, you’ve found the right person for a new employee. They are a recently promoted senior tester. They communicate well. They are a leader in the making. There is just one problem: they are taking a three-week vacation really soon. Do you pick someone else instead? No: a few weeks without a mentor is better than years of career affected by a less suitable mentor.

On a similar note, don’t look at mere formalities when picking a mentor. Give it at least a few days to see who the new employee is getting a good personal connection with. Consider the potential mentor’s career development plan. Are they looking to eventually transition into a management job? Do they plan to stick around at your company for long? Answers to these questions are just as important as the mentor’s skills.

Lacking a plan

Much like any process that requires improvisation, mentorship can degrade if you are missing a plan that you improve from. Mentorship is most effective when you define goals and plan outcomes. Using such a framework also makes mentorship rewarding for the employee, as they see their progress every month or even faster than that. 

Not securing upper management’s commitment

Make no mistake (you’re in QA after all): mentorship will pull time away from other tasks. Your team will be getting slightly behind if you maintain the same workload. Make sure to communicate that to the upper management before you start the mentorship program or add a new person to it. Otherwise, you’re looking at subpar mentorship and/or rushed tasks at work.

Benefits of mentorship in QA

Just to reaffirm that this is worth the hassle, here are the advantages of mentorship in QA: 

  • Smooth integration of new employees into the team
  • Sense of belonging
  • Increased professional growth
  • Improved output that requires less input from senior testers
  • New perspective on seemingly mundane things for the mentor
  • Additional company loyalty

Conclusion

QA mentorship is extremely beneficial for both the new employee and the company. Yes, it takes some preparation on your side and some accommodation from stakeholders to give you the required time. The benefits, however, amplify beyond a single person assigned to one project.

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