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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Building a Tester Community of Practice

I know, I know. It's been a while since my last blog post. But it's going to be a good one, promise, I've been saving up for it.

Last time we talked a little bit about the trouble we'd been having with our QA practice, as in, there wasn't one. We were missing the halcion days of having a Practice lead who did everything for us. In short, we were feeling sorry for ourselves.

Over the past 4 weeks, we've been trying something new and although it doesn't solve all the issues we raised during our marathon QA Retro-flective, it has gone a long way to making us feel like a community again.

It started with a Community of Practice for a Community of Practice (INCEPTION!).

You see, part of the problem with how we were doing things was this old idea of supporting each other. Now, we all like to support each other, but we were expecting that to extend to spending time every 2 weeks potentially doing something that was of zero interest to you. That's a hard ask for someone who's busy trying to get team work done. No one minded spending the time, they minded spending it doing something that wasn't for them.

Enter the Community of Practice.

We decided that no matter how we did it in the old way, someone was missing out. That wasn't necessarily the problem though, the problem was expectations. Expecting 30 testers to show up and getting 5 is disheartening. But what if you knew that it was going to be 5? And you were all passionate about your topic and ready to get talking? Or doing? That's a different feeling right?

You see, a community is based around a participation model.

Image result for community of practice model

  1. At the center you have your core members, they're the ones actively involved with the doing. They're organising talks and meetings, workshops, whatever is needed.
  2. Then you have the active members, these are your regulars, always willing and wanting to attend.
  3. Next are the occasionals, they drop in and out depending on a wide range of factors including interest.
  4. Then you have the peripherals, they're not really interested in participating but may pop in to see how it's going.

It's important to note that people move in and out of circles as time goes by. A Core member may need time off and turn into a active member. A Peripheral may become more engaged and move into the occasional. The point of a CoP is that everything is fine, anything goes as long as people are interested.

So our mini CoP group got together and discuss all of the above and how we would get others involved in this idea, what would failure look like? What would success look like? What did we want people to take away.
We arrived at the idea of a 4 week trial, every Friday we would put two hours aside to be used as people wanted. Three weeks were to be spent with trialing the actual community and the 4th would be for a review (at the pub) to discuss if we wanted to keep going.
We would keep a trello board and anyone would add ideas they wanted to talk about that week. Everyone would vote for topics they wanted to see and one person would act as champion of that topic and basically just organise everyone in that group. Without a champion, no matter how many people vote, a topic wouldn't go a head. A champion didn't need to organise a talk or slides or anything, they could just be a facilitator if they wanted. Talks lasted as long as the groups liked. The idea was that if something needed 5 minutes, that's what it would get. Other conversations may need the full 2 hours.

One topic only had 2 people, they went off and had a great time talking about it. Another had 13 people. The point was that everyone was going where they saw value.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty surprised by the response we got to this. It went really well. People loved it. We quickly saw the core and active members emerge and even the makings of an occassional. It was pretty awesome to watch people just put themselves forwards to be champions (that was honestly the biggest fear, we'd made a rule that those of us in the mini CoP wouldn't act as champions during the trial period).

We've now had our pub review and the consensus is a resounding "Keep Going!" So we're already setup to keep going next year after the break.

It's been wonderful to watch my fellow testers just pull themselves back together, and all it needed was a few people to get an idea going. It's been a tough year for us, but things are really starting to look up, and I'm glad we got to finish on such a high note.

Happy Holidays nerds!

P.S. I hope you've all gone to see Rogue One already. If you haven't, go, go now. Stop reading and go. Star Wars is more important.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I've been helping with a CoP for testing where I work, and can understand much of the pain you are going through.

    We have 1 hour set aside every 2 weeks, where the organizer spent the first three sessions establishing the expectations and rules, such as no such thing as a stupid question, no phones, be honest, and so forth.
    After that I began assisting in facilitating and then presenting our sessions, bringing our "core" membership to 2.
    We started on a high, and generally get about 50% of our testing team attending, although the majority are our in-sourced staff from India, whilst the permanent staff don't seem as keen on their own development.

    We use Confluence for our internal discussions, and have been asking the community to propose ideas. One thing that went well (though has been hard to maintain momentum on) was when we created working groups of what people either want to learn, or know well enough to teach others.
    We got the room to start naming business areas, methodologies, technologies and anything else they could think of. Then everyone put their name on a PostIt and put their name against it.
    Something like that might help with deciding future topics as well as the champions. If you have a bunch of people who want to learn to use Java and Selenium, they are all aware of each other and can start making it happen.

    Nice to hear of a testing CoP going well :)

    P.S Already seen Rogue One, and enjoyed seeing more of the Empire as they are what I enjoy the most in Star Wars ;)