Rewarding your QA team
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
In most companies the standard route through QA is as follows:
Contact/Temporary Tester – Full Time Tester – QA Lead – QA Manager
There are of course exceptions to this rule, but at the moment this is widely accepted as the traditional set up. Testers initially come in on a temporary contact during the high requirements stage of a project, and can be put onto full time contacts if they prove they have the required skill set. From here, those who remain within the department can move to QA Lead and eventually QA Manager – job done. However, I believe there is ways to encourage those testers willing to carve out a career within QA and reward them throughout their employment period.
As a tester becomes more confident in his/her abilities, and familiar with the requirements of their company, they will no doubt become more confident in certain areas of the testing process. This could be anything from a strong understanding of audio testing, right through to website or usability testing. Through this increased knowledge and ability to test and understand these areas in depth, these testers essentially become the department “go to guys”, a repository of knowledge within the team. These testers are therefore now able to pass this knowledge on, improving the understanding of those around them and increasing the ‘value’ of a test team.
A further advantage of a specialized tester is their relationship and communication flow between the development team. A tester with sound understanding of audio will be able to communicate with an audio department on a higher level than a tester with below-average knowledge, therefore creating a good communication flow between QA and other departments. Again, this tester can help those within the team to improve upon their knowledge and in turn improve the overall department understanding of a game area, and their communication also.
Finally, while I have spoken about rewarding those interested in obtaining a career within QA, this can also be used to ensure those looking to move to other departments are also kept motivated. By encouraging the tester to focus on their chosen area, and begin communication with their desired department, the employee may become more motivated and as such have a continued positive impact on the QA department goals.
Of course there are negatives to a specialized tester, while many companies will be able to have one tester focus solely on one area, not all studios will, and as such it is important those testers still focus on other areas of the product. Furthermore a tester with poor communication skills and an inability to pass on his knowledge will be a poor resource to the department.
Additional Promotion Opportunities:
As mentioned above, there is a standardised progression path through the QA profession. I was very lucky to work for a company who had an extra ‘Tier’ of QA management and I was given the title of ‘Senior QA Tester’, a position between QA Lead and standard tester. In this role I did a lot of the tasks a QA Lead would do, while also still getting time to actually test the game and its surrounding requirements (website, accounts and billing, etc etc). Now this role didn’t actually pay me much more than the testers below me, but it gave me direct contact with production and higher management, and also increased my responsibility tenfold. As such I was able to remove some of the responsibility from the QA Leads above me, and have a much more personal interaction with the testers below me.
Senior QA positions can be a fantastic role for both tester and department. It provides a more likely level of career advancement for testers, and also gives further insight to the QA manager if a tester is truly ready for an eventual QA Lead role. Furthermore by having a position between tester and QA Lead I found that interaction with testers and management was simply easier; I had a strong hands-on understanding of the product and as such was able to respond to testers requests or concerns quickly, this understanding also made it easier for me to speak to executives within the company, giving them clear feedback on the state of the game from the perspective of a QA tester.
Department wise this role allows the important tasks to be spread out and not all lumped on one poor lead, allowing a calm QA team to simply get on with what they do best – breaking shit.
Another role, for those companies unwilling or unable to add another tier of management, is the role of ‘QA Buddy’. I firmly believe that the best way to learn the processes of a QA department is on the job training and benchmarking, basically get stuck in and be partnered with an experienced QA tester, one already familiar with the product and company. Why shouldn’t a department have an expert in training new testers? By giving someone the responsibility of training new members of the team you are basically telling them ‘You’re a good tester and we want these new guys to mimic you’, there is no better praise. Testers are giving the respect and responsibility to train those new to the role, allowed to add depth and experience to their CV, and QA teams are improved by new starts getting expert knowledge and advice from the word go.
I’ve said it already, but once more, not all those who enter QA plan to stay there. As such managers need to balance the career ambitions of these testers with their productivity within a QA environment. Following on from the earlier theme, a good way to do this is to get them talking and interacting with the department and professionals they want to work with.
The QA team are able to see a product come together, watching game play elements collide with audio and character animations, as such a good tester should be able to step back and see the completed product, able to gauge if something will fit into the game or if it will look out of place.
As such, if deadlines permit, QA testers could be placed into other departments on a sort of ‘work experience’ role. Allowing them to interact with the department they are aiming to work in, and also giving both the tester and department valuable insight into what the other does.
While allowing testers to have Split Roles has its advantages, there are disadvantages the QA Lead/Manager must manage as well. Testers may become disillusioned with their time in QA after working in their desired department, as such their attitude, work ethic and results may be impacted.
It is often the case within QA that there will be numerous talented and hard working individuals who deserve recognition of some sorts, but only one potential job opening. When this occurs it is important to look at other methods of rewarding those going above and beyond. Ensuring the hard working testers are appropriately recognised will ensure their positive influence within the department continues, furthermore, this may rub off on the rest of the team, increasing the department productivity levels.