"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still"
You made the cardinal mistake of forcing ideas on people without selling them first.
This is typical of IT people who are so impressed by their own ideas, they forget that they have to sell them.
Let's break this down by what you said
I share friendly relationship with the founders and single digit employee IDs and have gained their trust over the past few years where I built a lot of their build and release tooling and basic unit test infra.
You've demonstrated your value to the owners.
In the past year we realized that the QA in our company was essentially working non stop and on Saturdays to get stuff done.
You've identified a problem GOOD THING
This was because they had neglected to automate a lot of stuff and don't have proper tooling.
You've assigned blame, BAD THING
This is the point where you started to go off the rails. Nobody neglects to automate anything. In all likelihood, they were drowning under the workload and didn't have the TIME. You see, you went in with the wrong attitude.
So one of the co-founders, with whom I share a very close and personal friendship, asked me to take the learnings and processes we had developed coming with developer unit test tooling and tools in general and take it to the QA team to ease their burden a little.
Reread that, and see what you did wrong
"Ease their burden" does not mean dictate how things have to be and ignore their management. Anyone who has been in the workforce for more than 10 minutes knows about at least one bad idea that was forced on them.
But the top level managers in QA are very very resistant to incorporating change and I have a hunch they have instructed the lower level managers to either do lip service and blow me off or push back hard against the suggestions I have.
What have you done to overcome their objections/fears?
Also, why are you assuming bad faith action. Again, you're going in as an enemy instead of a friend.
Once I noticed 6 QA Engineers manually testing 10000 test cases on a Saturday and I insisted they automate it using a test harness I had written and today that component of testing is running smooth. On Monday their manager was furious that he had to view a harness report file instead of a hand formatted excel sheet and asked them to revert to the old tests.
So, you swung your weight around, circumvented their manager entirely, and then demanded they do things your way The manager was rightfully peeved that you kept him out of the loop entirely. That's a huge insult to the man.
I explained the situation to the co-founder who basically said everyone has to do what I said and automation is the way to go.
**You have the power, but zero respect right now. That is not a position you want to be in, as you have realized.
My problem is now everyone in the QA team looks at me as some sort of rank-puller
I have a feeling they aren't doing what I said for the right reasons
They are not
I feel a little guilty forcing employees to do something they don't believe has a benefit.
Also how do I communicate the fact that the managers in the QA team are basically enforcing some bizarre practices without throwing them under the bus?
Start by eating a bit of crow. Go down and apologize to the people.
Tell them that you shouldn't have insisted, and that you certainly shouldn't have pulled rank over their manager. Before you proceed, you need to mend some fences here.
- Dramatize your ideas, sell them to the people who are going to implement them.
- Ask for feedback
- Be prepared for questions
- Have answers
- Ask the team for improvement ideas
- Engage the managers, get their input
- SELL THE BENEFITS
People HATE to be forced to change, and will push back HARD if you do.
Your basic strategy here should be to get to know the team, including the managers, and talk to them, ask them why they think their old way was better. See if you can get ideas from them. Make them PART of the process, that way you are seen as an ally instead of an invader. Ask them what would make their lives easier, and then present your ideas to them as the way to make things go more smoothly.
Remember, getting the process done is only half the job, the other half is getting them to embrace it.
As you were charged to to "take it to the QA team to ease their burden a little." You've taken it to the team, but you haven't eased their burdon.
If they insist that their old way is better, then do a side-by-side run and let people pick sides. the side that finishes first, gets lunch on you or something like that.
Don't make this hard for them, let them embrace it, and be a friend to them, not an enemy