When author Zane Roett began a new Senior Manager test role in a new organization in 2019, he found that it became an important task to create and lead the development of a software test engineering professional community of practice (TCoP).
As a software testing professional for nearly twenty-five years in various roles through to senior management, I am inclined to be of a critical mind around what sometimes appears to be less important tasks—especially those that at first appear to reduce the effort that could otherwise be put into other seemingly more productive tasks, such as the leading of testing, management, and the generally positive progress activities associated with the delivery of testing and quality assurance projects and deliverables.
A Difficult Task?
At first view the task was rather a conundrum. How could disparate teams of testers be brought together to help achieve the aim of creating a new testing professional community of practice in the most effective way possible? Many testers in the organization are MTS (managed testing service) contractors with a much smaller group of permanent testing staff—around 80 percent MTS and 20 percent permanent staff.
The Desire to Engage Between Testing Teams?
We have significant evidence that most of the testing staff want to engage with the wider group of testing teams. When reviewing the plans for the Testing Community of Practice (TCoP) with various testing teams and managers, it was found to be a very positive proposition with around 75 percent of the interviewee group expressing clear enthusiasm for the idea.
Of course, for some testers the only important task is to progress with their latest assigned testing tasks, especially as this is what they are very specifically paid to do as contractors. The permanent tester staff generally have a wider public service remit to the organization, and this could more positively impact their view of needing to engage with the TCoP. We will of course begin to look at how the contractor testers can be better engaged and most effectively involved in the TCoP.
What Are the Key Criteria for Developing the TCoP?
It is well known that testers should be sharing their knowledge, skills, and good practice on a regular basis. The TCoP should be ideal for this. It would be just as important for it to be used to highlight examples of bad practices and experiences, while trying to help others avoid such pitfalls and potential failures.
We need to ensure that all testers are encouraged to share knowledge, skills, and good practice and to try and encourage others to try new approaches that may help improve testing overall. This also leads to the many variants of testing process improvement (TPI) methodologies that can be utilized, of which we should not delve into too much in case of opening such a Pandora's box of TPI. TPI methodology for measuring potential change and improvement to testing processes could prove to
be valuable in terms of measuring the potential benefits of the TCoP over time.
TCoP Development Activities
There are a core set of activities for developing the software test engineering community of practice:
Creation of an Online Professional Group
The creation of an online organizational professional testing group needs to ensure that we have all the correct personnel detailed as to who should be a part of the professional tester TCoP and making sure that we have asked the right personnel to join. It could be argued that in today's multi-functional Agile software development teams, the professional group should include all of the product owners, UX specialists, developers, business analysts, and technical architects.
Such a forum could also potentially help with cross-fertilization of new testing and quality assurance ideas and practices across whole development teams and projects. On a monthly basis it would also be expected to have TCoP member forum meetings on specialist testing subject presentations, walkthroughs, and demos.
The TCoP could also be utilized as a forum for even wider engagement and sharing with numerous other professions’ CoP groups that exist across the wider organization:
- This is probably most applicable to large organizations.
- This could also help to build bridges through a common purpose of quality assurance and related quality goals.
- With the creation of new formal and informal connections at every level of analyst through to management across teams and departments, the benefits should become apparent over time.
Education and Training
To include the sharing of informal and formal testing and related training knowledge:
- Allowing all personnel to build a common knowledge around the best training and certifications, plus discussions around future developments in testing and technical courses related to the general requirements of quality digital services development.
- The sharing of personal learning history and future learning plans.
- The sharing of good formal training courses and learning experiences.
- The sharing of useful online tutorials and training, which is especially good if free and effective.
- The general sharing of knowledge around the many varieties of online and offline resources that may be of benefit to new and experienced testers alike.
Good Practice Testing Processes and Improvement
Knowledge sharing across testing and QA teams:
- What testing practices worked well in certain circumstances and for certain types of digital services development projects but maybe not on others—and why not? Also, how have "lessons learned" sessions and Agile Retrospectives been effective in supporting our projects in terms of reinforcing good practices and reusable methodology for testing projects.
- Do we all consistently practice similar good practices? If not, why? What barriers might there be. Where would we want to look at this from a context-driven testing approach rather than testing standardization?
- Are we all looking for ways to improve our testing practices but without continually trying to reinvent the wheel?
- What might or could work better in the future?
- Understanding that testing improvement usually requires good change management and adoption processes within teams and departments with the fostering of a positive attitude toward change and the Agile mindset
- What are the potential risks of such change? The sharing of similar experiences is very important.
Roles and Responsibilities
Some things to consider about roles and responsibilities include:
- Educating ourselves around the different tester roles
- Is there a need for a greater focus on skills and training?
- Do teams lack expertise across non-functional testing, such as security, performance, accessibility, etc.. How could the TCoP help improve that situation?
- How do the TCoP members share their knowledge with groups of non-testers and sometimes non-technical stakeholders?
- How can we build a recognizable brand as highly valued colleagues and ambassadors of quality but not quality gatekeepers?
Testing Presentations and Social Interactions
- How can we best present and deliver testing knowledge to a variety of audiences?
- What benefits can software testing and quality assurance provide to everyone, and how can we ensure that its value is recognized at all levels of the organization?
- Test group social interaction and humor—using the MS Teams group and forums as a social interaction and team building forum
Focusing on these key areas should make the TCoP very worthwhile and useful for all. The benefits of such an important organizational professional group should greatly outweigh any costs of the time and energy in pursuing the plans for its development.
I would very much like to link up and collaborate with other managers who are experienced in progressing a similar community of practice—especially in a larger organization. Please share your experiences and recommendations for hopefully creating solid foundations for the group's continuing success into the future.