How to manage continuous improvement in testing teams Using Community of Practice

QS-TAG Conference Report, Nuremberg

Alon Linetzki 1,102

I recently have spoken at the QS-TAG Conference 2016, in Nuremberg Germany, one of the most successful QA & testing conferences in Europe today.

One of the sessions in the conference, was held by Nadia Soledad, who presented a challenge that is very common for many companies and organizations. A lot of ‘problems’ are found, which are later on identified to be only symptoms, and which are hiding major root causes and underlying problems (under the iceberg). Nadia suggests we use the Communities of practice – an idea not so new (references from 2002 were presented) – to leverage knowledge sharing, debate, and transition of ideas and solutions with the larger group, across teams and distributed locations.

Substantial benefits, both to the individual and to the organization were shown, from improving CI, more ideas generating to resolve problems, to help with challenges, access to expertise, sense of belonging, and more.

The story that was shared, is on how Nadia and others implemented the CoP (Community of Practice) in a testing team, scattered and distributed. Beside an official role – CoP leader and vice leader (term committed = 2 years), there is a commitment by management, allowing the Community to meet for 2 hours a month, and another 2 hours if/when necessary per month (Btw, if a community involves 10 testers and more, that is a 40 hours commitment for management!)

Of course the guidelines are fuzzy, as many variations can be done for setting up and running such a community – small/big group, co-located/distributed, unrecognized/institutionalized, etc.

The topics and agenda for the community can be vast in scope, and does relate to the main challenges of the company and organization at that time, and the professionals who populate the community. For example, when you read the Spotify story, discussing Squads, and Tribes, there is also a discussion about Guilds. Such a Guild is the Community of Practice, which is also mentioned in other large scale agile approaches.

One conclusion is that measurements and metrics need to be recognized, identified, set up, and measured so we all know we have reached the desired outcome. Those are not as easy as they first look like. They might include an observation over the testing process and how it was improved, a look on hiring good testers and how they are integrated in the team, an annual survey to the testers to know how they felt participating in the community and more.

Especially, a dashboard was set up with measurements on: dedication, number of emerged and implemented improvements, growth in the knowledge base, and assistance of the community members (active, etc.). Graphs were shown to present progress on those measurements during the years 2011-2015, showing a huge increase in involvement and implementation of good idea suggestions.

The conclusion Nadia was showing, is that the iceberg of problems under the water, the underlying problems, are supported and strengthen now with community understanding, sharing of knowledge, and activities done – which benefits the company with reduced time and effort, a feeling of belonging (to employees), knowledge is there (documentation and lessons learned), new areas are researched and so professional knowledge grows.

The presentation finished with lessons learned: management is critical in CoP implementation, engaging active testers is key, involvement of testers increase if they see they can solve a problem for the project, and that both technical and managerial skills are needed to be community leader.

Collecting measurements in order to show progress and benefits of the CoP is still a challenge, as well as how to measure the use of knowledge generated in the Community and more.

My personal note:

The presentation showed a pragmatic experience of implementing Community of Practice, in parallel to showing the difficulties and challenges in the implementation, leaving us the participants, with the main observations and challenges yet to be achieved in the future.

It was always the case - and so not surprising - that a good mix of people, processes and knowledge, build up good projects! These are factors which can vary a lot and implementing CoP, is one of the useful ways to increase knowledge, support professional behavior and actions (processes) by the different teams, and clear out most of the misunderstanding that is a main factor in the underlying symptoms which mask problems.

Read my coming next post/article, on “Finding & fixing Problems, Not Symptoms”, on my website.

Going forward, I believe we should all share more, in the larger market community, how we implement CoPs, and improve the way we communicate knowledge internally in the organization, by using external  discussion in the market, using forums, discussion groups, and other means.

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