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Given that a lead (at least in my employer's view) would be a highly technically experienced person who also does administrative duties and a manager would be more experienced with management and less technically inclined, what are the pros and cons of each position?

One of the reasons I've seen for a manager is that having a manager handle group coordination doesn't take an experienced tester away from testing. Conversely, one of the arguments I've seen for a lead is that having a high level of testing experience allows a testing lead to judge resource allocation more accurately.

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Some extra background: this is in the context of "the person the team reports to" - a team of 6 people. Right now the test team is split between three different programming groups, with no-one handling testing coordination except on an ad-hoc basis, so important things aren't being done. That was from the last reorganization when the top management decided the testing team was too isolated. Before that we had a lead and a structure that strongly discouraged testers working directly with developers. –  Kate Paulk Jun 21 '11 at 15:44

6 Answers 6

I think your question assumes the positions are mutually exclusive, but I've worked places where we had a per-project lead and a cross-project manager.

I think the tradeoffs are the same as between a dev manager and a dev lead. You need leaders in a team for mentoring, more difficult work, and technical direction. Somewhere in the organization you need a manager who deals with compensation, budget, hiring, promotions, annual reviews, and so on. And someone needs to help out with dispute resolution and coordination across teams -- that might be a lead or a manager.

There's also the player/coach model, where the leader is a manager who also participates in testing work.

Most likely, your company will try different models at different times, depending on the staffing situation, the individual personalities, and whether the number of previous reorgs is divisible by two.

I suggest you try something, watch how it works, and iterate from there.

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I like this overview, it matches what I have seen and instituted in a few different environments. –  MichaelF Jun 21 '11 at 13:46
    
This is a good overview - in my position the two are mutually exclusive because there is "discussion" over whether the person the testing team reports to is a manager or a lead. Right now the testing team isn't a team at all. We're six people dispersed in and reporting to development teams - I like the co-location, but there are many areas where testing needs to be separately coordinated. –  Kate Paulk Jun 21 '11 at 15:47
    
It is very nice to know what the true goal is for lead and manager. With my 4 years of experience I always thought that their job was to get reports, drive fear and fire people. –  Mugen Jun 21 '11 at 17:41
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It is easy to be cynical about leadership positions in a company; from the outside their contributions may seem less valuable and less skillful than our own. Those of us with technical backgrounds are trained in (and perhaps gravitate to) controlling things through logical reasoning. Successful teams and businesses are made up of people, each talented and flawed, and each ultimately out of anyone's control. That so many lead poorly is not surprising; it is not about logic and control, and it is at least as difficult as a technical job. –  user246 Jun 21 '11 at 20:36

My personal experience is that a manager as you describe it is often not a good person to actually take the lead of a test team. They do not know enough and are (certainly less experienced ones) to easily convinced by nice powerpoints and smooth talkers instead of sound technical statements. This becomes very important at the point where you have to decide on deliverables. When will a product be tested? Which quality can we guarantee? Do we have the resources? To really decide about this, even with correct input from real testers, you do need the appropriate technical experience. Therefore, while I think having a "manager" (fitting your description) in a team is important for certain tasks (see below), I do not think they should be the highest lead or at least not the only highest lead in a test team.

Now my other experience with a manager (that actually fits your "lead" description) is also not completely positive. These persons do very well on a technical level, they know what is feasible, which methodologies are good for your test, what is important, how much time something requires and so on. This makes creating testplans, stabilising a product, running regression and so on much more realistic. The problem I see however is that many people on this level tend to neglect the non-technical stuff, like really managing your people, coaching in personal development, long-term view of the department structure and so on.

So in conclusion, the perfect team lead would have both competences, but these people are rare (you need the skills AND the experience to do both well). I think more realistic is to have a more matrix-like structure where you have a technical lead that vertically leads a specific team and has the last word concerning e.g. test plans. But you also have a "soft" manager that horizontally does e.g. people management, possibly over several teams (e.g. test & development).

of course: my 2 cents, this is no exact science ;)

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As there are many responses that present the perspective on the role of a lead vs. a manager, I am editing my answer to, hopefully, better answer your question

Pros and cons of direct reporting:

Direct report to manager is beneficial when
.. a manager is considerably involved in the project, is aware of requirements, due dates and can be a part of team meetings, let's say 3 days a week, can meet with individual members at least once in two weeks to guide them and get feedback. In short, if a manager can lead the team, it eliminates the requirement of an additional individual from budget perspective. From team member's perspective, their manager is directly aware of their performances and is in a better situation to review them.

Direct report to a lead is beneficial when
1. the manager is managing multiple projects and lot of people. This is when manager needs a lead to lead an individual project
2. Also, if a manager is not technically so sound, he/she will need a person who can take the responsibility of the project's technical wing, and lead the team.

Previous Response

A lead is someone who is technically sound, and has the ability to understand the product from technical and business perspective and is able to 'lead' the team by setting up goals and guiding the team members in their tasks.

A manager is one who manages the team which may include all of the above plus the HR related stuff i.e. reviews, promotions, granting days off, etc. A manager may not necessarily have in depth knowledge of each project if he/she is managing multiple projects. There may be one manager managing a QA, product and a development team, but leads are specific to one team.

I do not see the necessity to have a manager for each group (QA, dev, product, etc.) unless it is a large group.

Also, you can say that manager count will depend more on the number of people in the unit (let's say technology), and the lead count will depend more the number of teams.

Another major difference is that a manager can lead a team, but a lead does not have the power to perform the HR-related tasks.

P.S.: My answer is mainly based on my experience in the technology teams.

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From what I see around me leads tend to lead smaller groups, and managers to manage bigger groups- away from low level technology and hand-on work.

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Based on my experience

  • Lead role typically does not involve people management. This is technically inclined, planning, execution of project.

  • Manager role typically involve people management, monitoring project execution and costs, minimal hands on.

Few Questions to look at

  • Manager should be able to guide, mentor the team, understand the technical landscape. Manager who typically acts as 'Mail Manager'- Forwarding reports, tracking status would find it tough estimating/troubleshooting technical challenges during project execution. As long as manager is techinically passionate, able to jump into the issue, troubleshoot and fix the issue. This should help the team to pass thru challenges.

  • This question also depends on maturity of the team. In a team comprised of junior testers you would need a lead to ramp up the team with adequate skills

  • If you have a mature team which can execute based on high level guidance without much micro management, manager might be a good option

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I feel that either a manager or a lead should be there to regulate work NOT BOTH.

A Lead typically allocates work to the team, reviews progress and reports on the status to the stakeholders. He does not do much work and as a consequence may not possess good enough technical skills to guide the team when they are stuck with technical issues. Exceptions are there. If the team lead is sound technically as well, which is rare I would recommend having both lead and manager. In majority of the cases, the manager and the lead have the same roles and responsibilities.

The manager unlike a team lead has powers to promote based on performance. But again the performance feedback is collected from the Team Lead. I see that there is a lot of redundancy in the roles and responsibilities of the two. If an employee takes part in several initiatives apart from his own regular work, in most cases the managers tend to recognize it. The Lead is more concerned about the team's core task and does not look at the overall achievements of the team. Since there are redundancies in the roles and the managers are capable of doing a lot more than a lead, I recommend having a manager. To reiterate, there are exceptions and if the Lead is an expert technically we could have both.

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I strongly disagree to the description of a lead. Why would you have a lead who cannot actually help the team when it is stuck? Why would the team have a lead that is technically not as or more capable than the rest of the team? Also that you mention that "the lead does not look at the overall achievements of the team" - the points here kind of list the qualities of a bad lead! –  Suchit Parikh Jun 20 '11 at 21:17
    
What I meant was when the team lead is engaged in status reporting and allocation of tasks he does not have enough time to be hands-on and thus may not be able to gather technical experience/expertise. There might be exceptions. And usually the managers identify organization-wide initiatives and nominate team members for those. As a consequence, the team reports on initiatives outside the team's core tasks to Manager and thereby he has a better sense of overall accomplishments of the team –  Aruna Jun 20 '11 at 21:25
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It seems to me that the precise roles of a manager vs a lead would have some overlap, although a lead would typically be primarily technical and not have hire/fire responsibilities or salaray decisions. I'm interested in pros and cons for directly reporting to one or the other. –  Kate Paulk Jun 21 '11 at 15:49

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