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Adapt Your QA Team for The New Normal

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A “new normal” is going to arise after COVID-19 – How to be ready to go again when the green flag drops?

Well, that escalated quickly. Just a couple of weeks ago we were still working like it was 2019, developing and testing and automating all that testing, just as we had for months and years before.

Then, all of a sudden, everything blew up with the coronavirus. It’s been a big surprise and a big change for many teams to go from in-house to remote work all of a sudden.

There are a lot of helpful, technical articles on this blog about how to perform certain tasks and specific tools to apply for automation of your test plans. TestProject.io is a great one of those tools. However, this article will be going in a different direction.

Here I’m going to share some guidance on how to think about what you’re doing now, and what you’ll need to do later, to adapt to the post-COVID-19 world. I’m breaking this down into three time frames: short-term (maybe only for the next few weeks or so while the dust is still in the air), medium-term (for the duration of the “shelter in place” instructions, forcing remote work), and long-term (once the new normal is established).

This article could become a valuable resource you’ll refer to often as you adapt to this whole new paradigm, figure out just where you’re going, and then take steps to get there. When the next crisis hits, then, you’ll be in a much better place to adapt, refine, and be ready to go.

Table of Contents

  1. Short-term: Figure Out How to Work Remotely and Manage Remotely
  2. Medium-term: Take advantage of downtime to upskill
  3. Long-term: Prepare for a “new normal”, however that looks
  4. Conclusion: Now is the time to look forward

Short-term: Figure Out How to Work Remotely and Manage Remotely

When the first news started emerging about lockdowns in China, most of us probably had the same reaction: “We don’t need to worry.” Look how that turned out.

Now we have to adapt to working remotely when many of us have never done that before. In order to efficiently work remotely, teams need three things.

1.   Focus on visibility and accountability without micromanaging

An absolutely essential step in creating effective teams is ensuring that people don’t get lost in the process. Sure, you can have Zoom calls so that the boss can check your screen and see you’re actually working, and you can have reports on the number of keystrokes per minute, but is that really developing an attitude of trust and professionalism? As testers, you’re less like a stop on the assembly line and more like a trusted authority on what needs to be done in order to ship a good product to customers.

If managers don’t recognize that distinction, they’ll soon find themselves out of employees as the good ones won’t want to work there any longer.

Now, more than ever, testers need to be empowered to do the right thing, for their own professional reputation and that of the company. Nobody is going to slack off during this time just because the boss isn’t watching. Everyone knows this is a critical time, and everyone realizes how important doing good work is.

Which means those testers need to have the tools (which are widely available) and the authority to be able to implement them effectively. That’s going to take a bit of change for some managers, who are used to managing by walking around. The next two points can help.

2.   Build reporting capability

Effective remote testing teams know how to quantify and report what they’re actually producing in their day: How long it takes to complete the requirements phase, how long does it actually take to develop initial code, the number of bugs testers are finding, the length of time it takes to correct those bugs, the pipeline for future enhancements and changes, and so on.

Many organizations, though, don’t have this reporting standardized. They rely on one-off emails or instant messages, and there is no comprehensive view of what has been done and what hasn’t.

In this time of uncertainty, it becomes necessary to create some more rigor and process around your reporting of what you’re doing, where you’re ahead or behind the plans, and what you need to do to catch up.

This will give your remote testing teams more clarity on what they are able to accomplish by working remotely. It will also give the managers and client relations the information they need to effectively keep business moving.

3.   Communicate, communicate, communicate

It’s absolutely vital that people know what’s going on: With the company, with clients, with the working environment, and with their co-workers. This is not the time to go hide in a shell or to just hope that people are talking.

Effective testing teams know that communication is critical: What’s working, what’s not, what big rocks are in the way and what needs to happen to get them out of the way. This is a bit different from your automated dashboard reporting, because it’s about the unknowns that you could never prepare for and which have only emerged now. As a result, you have to be able to be clear about what’s going on and how it’s impacting everything else.

 

Once you have clearly communicated your trust of your remote software testing team and given them the effective reporting tools they need in order to be productive, you’re in a good spot to be productive.

After that adjustment is complete and the dust has settled, you might encounter the next challenge. This is when perhaps some clients, themselves unsure of what’s coming next, may start holding off on work, pausing projects in flight, reducing the scope, or changing direction.

This may mean your company doesn’t have enough billable hours to fill the day. Does that lead immediately to laying off your testers? You shouldn’t have to, because there’s always value you can create from their time. Most specifically, by attacking some of that backlog you’ve been putting off for far too long.

 

Medium-term: Take Advantage of Downtime to Upskill

You may not have a client-facing project for a week or two. At this point, it’s tempting to worry and fear that there won’t be work again. But rest assured, even though we don’t know exactly how long this transition period is going to last, we know it’s not going to be the new normal.

People are going to go back outside again. They are going to go to bars and sporting events. They are going to go on vacation. They are going to buy insurance policies and new cars and adopt pets and write blogs. We’ll get back to doing what we were doing before, which means your business will get back to creating the software it was before. Sure, some things may change, but it’s not like software development is going to disappear completely.

We’ve come too far and become so familiar with software that we’ll never walk away from the convenience and accessibility they bring to our lives.

That means that your business will be needed again, and testers will be needed again, to make sure that whatever reaches the customer is top-notch. Thinking ahead, investing in using TestProject.io to host automated testing may get you ahead of the competition while they’re still picking up the pieces.

In the meantime, though, when you don’t have pressing customer deadlines, it’s a good opportunity to attack some of the backlog of internal projects that have slowly trickled down the priority list.

A time like this is a great opportunity to put test professionals to work on internal projects. It’s also a great time to add to skill sets by learning a new language or cross-training on other products your company offers.

You could even let them brainstorm and see what they come up with to fill the void. The point is, there are going to be opportunities to come out of this better than how you started. The ones who are successful in the “new normal” are going to be those companies and testers who figured out the time to sharpen the saw is right now.

Those who don’t, well, they’re going to be left behind.

 

Long-term: Prepare for a “new normal”, however that looks

After having had a taste of the flexibility, freedom, and productivity that testing teams are going to uncover during this time of working remotely, many are not going to want to go back.

There is probably going to be a portion of employers who just can’t get away from having everyone in view all the time. But the rest, those who recognize software testers and automation testers as professionals, will have learned how to manage remotely.

They will be equipped with reporting that shows how more effective they can be without distractions. They will understand that unleashing professionals to be effective takes trust, not micromanaging.

They will see the “new” world and they’ll want to take advantage of it.

Those who survive this crucible will work better, create better, and deliver better value to their clients.

For their part, software testers will become better able to quantify how productive they are, how they’ve added value to the development chain, and why working remotely makes sense for them. They will be able to demonstrate how much more satisfied and productive they are when they don’t have to sit in traffic for a couple of extra hours a day.

Some may still need that office environment, and we may see a realignment of some portions of the workforce.

But for the rest, they will understand how working remotely can be done well, they will be able to prove that it works for them, and they will seek out opportunities to do just that.

Conclusion: Now is the time to look forward

In a word, this is a pivotal moment for our society. We are being tested and refined, and the ones which come out on the other end better and stronger are going to be the ones winning the challenges in the years to come. They will create better software, test and refine it faster, and deploy it to customers with greater satisfaction.

This is your opportunity. The good thing is, everyone has been thrown into this all at the same time. It’s now up to you to figure out how to work remotely (by having trust and tools, by having effective reporting, and by communicating clearly).

Once you are set, it will be time to improve your position by adding skills and working on those elements that will differentiate you from your competition. Finally, in that “new normal” that is going to come post-COVID-19, the firms who trust their developers and testers will be leading the pack compared to those who still think they can do business the same way they did before all this went down.

Which are you going to be – the old way or the new way? Only one is going to win in the end. It’s up to you.

 

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About the author

Michael Fritzius

Founder of a boutique consultancy based in St. Louis, MO. Specializing in providing automation for people to help them recapture their most valuable resource: time. More info at: https://archdevops.com/

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