The Tester-to-Developer Ratio is a Dead End in Agile

Paul Carvalho is dedicated to helping development teams deliver high levels of quality with confidence. He inspires collaborative, agile, test-infected teams with a holistic approach to quality. Paul launched the company, Quality Driven Inc, to bring his quality development experience and knowledge to individuals and organizations through consulting, training, coaching, writing and speaking internationally. Paul is passionate about understanding human ecosystems for delivering great products that satisfy and delight customers, which he finds to be a natural fit with the agile community. Connect with him through Quality-Driven.com and say hello on Twitter @can_test.

A question that I often hear from companies starting an agile transition is: “What is the ideal tester-to-developer ratio for the development team?” On the surface, this might sound like a perfectly reasonable question—one that should be easy for an experienced practitioner to answer. However, when you look deeper into the question, you will see that it has layers of underlying assumptions—including ones about corporate culture, politics and the likely skills of their own staff.

Let’s examine the question from different perspectives to see how we might answer it when we find ourselves in a similar situation. I like using the “5 Whys” as a guide to help me understand a topic, so think of each level here as a response to a “Why?” question.

Level 1: On the Surface—Planning Context
The initial response to “Why do you need this ratio?” is likely that the client wants to know how many people they need to staff a “successful” development team. Unfortunately, development team makeups are like fingerprints—no two are the same. Team structures differ depending upon the nature of the software/solution, industry, regulatory requirements, safety concerns, purpose, intended lifetime and many other factors.

For instance, in some life-critical industries (e.g., healthcare, emergency operations),…

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