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Build your QA Department: Laying a Foundation

April 13, 2016

With 15 years of experience in the Information Technology field and 10 of those years focused on leadership, I’ve learned first hand the value of investing in people and setting them up for success. Before joining Mediacurrent, I started a QA department from scratch and grew it to its current size. Prior to that, I built an IT team. If you're an incoming leader, here's how to start building your own QA/IT department.

Mapping the Lay of the Land as an Incoming Leader

The reality of starting at a new company is that people don’t know you or how you operate, just as you don’t know the people, policies, or current processes of your new team. You’ll need time to decode the company culture.

How are you supposed to build a department without knowing any of this information?

As cliché as it sounds, your first impression is everything. One of the worst things you could possibly do if you’re trying to make a good first impression is to come in swinging and changing things right as you join. As I mentioned before, you don’t know the current processes, people, or how they work on a day to day basis. While you may think you are being proactive, somewhere along the line this type of behavior will leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth for your leadership style.

It is important to recognize yourself first as a servant leader. A servant leader is not there to bark orders of how things will be, but rather step back and get to know the team members themselves. You must gain a true understanding of where you can help improve things the most.

Communication and Answering “Why”

We all know how important communication is, but how can you utilize it most effectively to build your department? The answer is quite simple: talk to your team members, ask questions as you observe, and work within the current processes. By doing this you will answer the all important question of  “Why?” You can never truly make effective, meaningful changes that people will embrace without first understanding why things are the way they are.

Don’t be afraid to openly tell people your “Why” either. Taking the approach of information hoarding is detrimental to your department’s success. How are people supposed to buy into something if you keep your intentions solely to yourself? When you properly communicate why you are doing things and open yourself up to feedback, as change occurs you will find a natural trust and acceptance by your team.

Building a Road Map

Having a road map goes hand in hand with communication. If you spend your time pointing out everything wrong with the processes or team, you are not doing anything productive nor are you gaining traction with real change.

For every problem you bring to the table, you need to have at least a proposed answer with a plan of how to get there and discuss it with those who it affects the most. In doing so, you will find it is much easier to identify potential hazards or roadblocks, pivot, and adjust course.

Pace Yourself

Sometimes you can see there is a desperate need for a lot of change, but you have to take a step back. Through open communication along with gaining a lay of the land, identify the most important items and focus. I am not saying ignore any other problems that aren’t in your focus, but if you attempt to tackle too many items, something will slip through the cracks and you will wind up having 10 projects all at 30% completion.

It is important to maintain most of your focus on just a few items at a time. It greatly helps you to enact real change within its most critical timeframe.

We are also only human, and if you try and take the world on, you will quickly find yourself burnt out and losing that passion you had when you started. This isn’t fair to you, nor is it fair to the team/company counting on you.

In Closing

These are the basics of forging your own path as a QA/IT department leader. In part 2, I will begin diving into more in-depth ideas/procedures that you can use to gain the information you need. It will take dedication and discipline to make a change, but when you do, not only will you help your company grow, but you just might find yourself learning a thing or two in the process.

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