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I work in a small start up and have recently been made a Team Lead. I have some developers working for me; a product manager, a scrum master and a QA engineer. The job is largely going well but there have been a couple of issues with the QA engineer recently.

He leaves a lot of testing until the last minute - resulting in a deluge in bugs the day before a given piece of code is supposed to go live. Additionally, he is unfocused at work - often yawning, stretching, having to be prompted to attend each meeting, being unable to remember what he's working on and what he should be working on and he misses a lot of issues too, often giving code the OK when there are some problems with it that he should've caught.

Most frustratingly of all though is his communication. A conversation that in my opinion should take a few seconds can often end up lasting minutes, his thoughts are muddled and he often goes off on huge tangents, usually about technical details of the testing framework he's using. It takes me often considerable effort to try to understand what he's saying.

Given that I'm new to management of any sort, I expect this to be at least partly an issue with me. Regardless:

  • What actions should I take to get this employee to improve his performance?
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    This seems to be more of a rant against your QA Guy... What specifically are you having problems communicating with him? Have you considered putting him on a PIP ? Or is that your question what options do you have for professionally dealing with this behavior? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 7 '14 at 21:42
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    Agree with @Chad - does not sound like you're dealing with a communications problem, but a poor employee problem. The guy needs a good loud "wake up call" - figuratively and literally. :) – Vector Apr 7 '14 at 21:56
  • Hi John, welcome to the Workplace. I made a fairly significant edit to your question in order to make it a bit more clear what you are asking as well as improve some formatting. If this changes your question too much feel free to edit in order to make your original intent clear. – enderland Apr 7 '14 at 21:58
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    Regarding the communication issues, you might find this question useful. – enderland Apr 7 '14 at 21:59
  • Thanks for the comments. I'm going to make my expectations of him clear and then try to measure the gap between those and his performance. Thanks for the edit, straightened some things out as well as the link. I have spoken to him about what I'm seeing, and asked him to improve, but I don't think I've been specific enough about what I want to change and how I'm going to measure that. – John Apr 8 '14 at 13:44
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As a new leader you should not just start by just wading in with the club of accountability, just because you perceive he is not upto it.

Your are responsible for turning his performance around, that is your job as a leader.

You need to build a relationship and try and understand reasons behind those symptoms ?

  • It starts with empathy....

  • Is he just slack ? disengaged due to some personal reasons ? or not supported by the team (pretty often we see teams putting too much pressure on QA towards the end of a sprint or delivery cycle)

    -Engage with him in an informal setting and put your observations across (only as observations and not as points,yet).

    -Share with him what expectations do you have him from his role (do your home work and be absolutely clear with your expectations first)

  • Do you see the gap (between your expectations and his performance) ?

    -Make him see the gap , through examples, observations again in a private 1:1 setting.

    -Work with him to come up with a plan (specific, measurable goals) , and then continuously support him and work on his side (maybe have daily 5 minute catch ups with him to check how is he doing) to implement the plan

    If still , he does not improve then sure it is time to issue an "official" signal and putting him under performance management or whatever equivalent term is in your org before he gets fired.

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    Love the irony of your username with this one :) – Fiona - myaccessible.website Apr 8 '14 at 8:32
  • that how i started my career in testing, the mindset has changed but the user name persists ! :) – the_reluctant_tester Apr 8 '14 at 21:00
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What really helps, especially for a new manager, is to communicate openly with your direct reports. I have seen much improvement in my staff's performance when I started 1:1 meetings with each of my direct reports. Initially weekly, then bi-weekly and then monthly. I've also had all kinds of staff- the middle performers will improve a lot with a slight push, but the low performers, similar to the one that you mentioned, may eventually have to be disciplined. But don't take this step without discussing all your concern points with him. If you feel more comfortable, you may request help from HR, who can also be a witness in the this meeting.

  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? – gnat Apr 8 '14 at 15:03
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The QA guy reports to you. You have the prerogative as a manager to expect that his reporting is on point. No meandering. No tangents. Just straight, thorough answers.

You are going to have to train him to give you reports in the style you want them given. If he unfocused, ask him "what do you want to tell me?" and have him itemize what he has to tell you. If he starts meandering, cut him off and bring him back to the fork where he started meandering. Have him give you status reports regularly, several times during the day if necessary. Make your questions as repetitive as possible - you are making an effort to make your questions fair, straightforward and predictable because remember: you are training him to report to you. "What are you working on?" "When do you expect you will be done?" "Do you have any questions for me about what I want?" "Are you on track?" "What issues are causing you delay?" Again: the keywords you want to go by are "simple", "straightforward" and "predictable". Fairness to the staff starts with you and your expectations being predictable. You don't need long and extended answers but you have to have clear, actionable answers on which you can base your decisions.The most basic rule of management is that there should never be any surprise or miscommunication about what you want and expect. If he says he is going to do something, follow up on his promise to you as tightly as a flea hangs on to a dog. Don't let him get away with unkept promises. Or work that gets "done" at the last minute.

The QA guy has the power to make all of you look like chumps, simply by failing to do his job. Don't let him exercise that power.

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As a new manager, you've faced with the fact that you're dealing with human beings. They have quirks.

Given the description you're providing, seems like this guy would be out the door pretty quickly. You can probably sense, however, that it isn't that simple.

If he leaves a lot of testing to the last minute, what is he doing with the rest of his time?

If he's using a particular testing framework, see if you can get him to explain why he uses that one in particular. The point of that is to then figure out whether that's the one that should be used. It might be too complicated, or insufficient. It's quite possible that your QA person is having to spend a lot of time on things that don't need doing - better use of this or another framework might cut down on the load.

Is he in a better state of mind when he's been away from work for some time, such as long weekend? If so, the way his work is organized might be getting to him. He might also be running some kind of business 'on the side', resulting in his energy being depleted when he shows up for his day job.

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    Or maybe there are more serious issues here such as drug/alcohol abuse. – Andrew Russell Apr 8 '14 at 5:50
  • @AndrewRussell - that too. Essentially, something may be operating as a distraction, and it's up to the manager to see if that distraction can be remedied. – Meredith Poor Apr 8 '14 at 20:11

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