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Building a Testing Community of Practice

Building a Testing Community of Practice

I remember the day a fellow QA Analyst said to me, “The way the organization is going to be transformed is through the QA CoP”. A testing community of practice (CoP) is necessary because it recognizes that the best people to change a company are the people doing the work. I’ve lived this truth being the vice president of the quality assurance CoP for 3 years.

Having a testing community proves to be important and has real benefits for the testers and the organization. So for software testing professionals looking to kick start a community of practice in their workplace, here are 5 steps to institute and organize a testing/QA community of practice in your organization ✅

Table of Contents

  1. Step 1: Get the Buy-In from Management
  2. Step 2: Establish the Structure
  3. Step 3: Create a Space Where Members Can “Think Together”
  4. Step 4: Foster Growth & Change
  5. Step 5: The Community Has to Continue to Build Itself
  6. Conclusion

Step 1: Get the Buy-In from Management

One of the major first steps to start is getting the buy-in of management and team leads. Senior management must be willing to believe in the vision and objectives of the community. To gain this, you should construct a charter to highlight the terms of community and the value it will bring to everyone.

From the QA team to the leaders, then to the clients, and to the organization as a whole. It is also important to get support from the top level so that the QA professionals can be assigned the time and space within their daily job to explore, improve and innovate 💡

Management plays a pivotal role in investing and helping the CoP reach its maximum potential.

Step 2: Establish the Structure

When organizing the CoP model in your organization, there are a few things to consider when setting it up. Here is what you need to do:

  • Carefully outline the mission and vision that it will stand on.
  • Design the testing CoP logo that will best represent the team.
  • Establish a reasonable frequency of CoP sessions. Given that software testing can be hectic at times, can your organization afford to facilitate sessions every week?
  • Have clear agreements and expectations from community members.
  • Vote and appoint the executives that will lead the community and have community members support them. Typically the community will need at least a leader (or community manager) and a vice leader. Depending on your CoP structure, there are other support roles you might want to include, such as a public relationship officer (PRO) and a treasurer if dues are collected to financially aid the activities.
  • Establish the forum and quorum. Will the format be face-to-face sessions or remotely given the virtual world that we are in? It may be a hybrid model between the two. The quorum provides or stipulates the required number of members that should be present for hosting sessions. If the majority of QAs are tied up in work commitments, will the sessions still be kept with two persons?
  • Having an official community launch to start off on the right foot.

Step 3: Create a Space Where Members Can “Think Together”

People learn better when they learn together, so the testing community of practice should be the means by which this collective learning is encouraged. In light of this, it is important to foster a culture where QAs can bring their testing ideas, opinions, and perspectives to the fore, that will not only benefit them but the organization.

The community should be used as a means to identify skills gaps in the QA analyst team and work on that. For instance, if the team needs more knowledge and practice in performance testing, sessions can be used to conduct the right training and workshops 🔨

Another major function of the test community is to identify improvement areas for the organization’s QA process. I remember two of the major activities we did in my former QA CoP were to standardize the test process and environments and to improve our quality metrics so it can better monitor and measure testing activities.

The article “Community of Practice, a Summary for Leaders highlights that the CoP can act as the first line of defense for the workplace by transforming weaknesses into strengths.

In light of this, you can leverage the CoP to solve complex problems in the software testing field. One such example is using the sessions to brainstorm how a QA team can transition from manual testing into automation, and to structure themselves for it.

To get the most out of the CoP, based on my experience it is best to curate the sessions around an organizing framework. This means that CoP should facilitate a combination of the four concept approaches so that the testing community, and by extension the workplace, can get the most benefits.

I have added a fifth approach based on experience that really adds to the creativity of the community. This way too, it keeps the CoP fresh and exciting for everyone to get a chance to present or participate in. Here are the 5 categories of concept that the CoP should facilitate:

  • Problem solving: The sessions will help the community focus on solutions to problems within testing or challenges that they encounter within their jobs. 
  • Knowledge creation & sharing: The main function of a QA CoP is to share knowledge learning sessions should be facilitated. This is where content relating to how-to and tutorials comes into play.
  • Best practices: A key element for the testing community is to allow testers to discuss and develop best practices in software testing. Usually coming out of this are documentation like toolkits, test suites, reports, and checklists for repeatability and posterity.
  • Innovation: The testing field is ever-changing with new software testing trends for achieving things. The CoP should be the safe space at work that encourages these new ideas among the community.
  • Fun: I added this category because the testing community must be fun.  It is just as important to have as much fun as it is to learn and share. One of the most exciting things I have encountered in my years of CoP was a “QA Hunt”. This really is a time-bound event that involves teams completing a combination of activities around testing such as test cases creations, problem-solving, automating a feature, etc. 

Step 4: Foster Growth & Change

Over the years I have observed the testing CoP to be a space to help QAs grow professionally 📈 From learning testing principles/ methodologies and understanding different test approaches, to softer skills like developing leadership skills and empowering the team.

I can attest to the fact that the CoP really helped me sharpen my leadership skills and groomed me into being a mentor. It is important that the community inspires growth in each of the members at the individual level. 

Organization-wide, it should help the software testing unit improve by implementing best practices. Some examples are implementing better ways to do test planning, creating test cases and optimizing quality metrics, and even how to execute test automation. This in turn should improve the workplace by being more efficient.

Step 5: The Community Has to Continue to Build Itself

As the community matures over time, its members will be responsible for shaping and sustaining it. The member must be willing and open to participating and contributing as building any community takes a great team effort to work – teamwork makes the dream work! 💪

It is expected that everyone will engage in the activities and ideas while networking with each other. From time to time, it may be best to network with people outside of the immediate practice or unit.

I remember having “inter-CoP” sessions where we worked with other communities of practice within the organization. For example, we hosted an exploratory testing workshop for the testers but also invited the developers as they could benefit from exploratory tests.

Going beyond that, we should also work with other QA professionals outside the workplace. There was this one time we had Julia Pottinger come to our CoP and speak about unlocking the tester’s mindset. This session brought a fresh outside perspective on how to expand in the software testing space.

The test community is a big space globally, so we can always leverage the experience of other professionals to grow our community or even other test communities online like the TestProject Community, Ministry of Testing, The Test Tribe, and so many more.

Additionally, when it comes to expanding the test community, recognizing the efforts and contributions of community members play a significant role. To do this, you could implement a reward and recognition program within the CoP to highlight QAs on a monthly basis.

Everybody loves a good Amazon gift card and this would be where the dues come into play.  Doing something like this will bring visibility into the work of the individuals, and could potentially aid in appraisals of work performance, promotions, and other career growth opportunities.

Another big way to improve the community is by getting its feedback. One way we gathered it was by having annual retrospectives using an online tool to see what the community enjoyed the most, what improvements can be made, and what other ideas we can include for the upcoming year.

Conclusion

A testing community of practice can provide real benefits for the QA professionals, the unit, and the organization itself. If you want to implement such community in your workplace, you should seek support from management, establish the structure of the community, and then ensure that the community is a safe space for collective wisdom, growth and change.

Ultimately, the last step is a continuous process which is to ensure that the community continues to build itself and its members 🙏

Tamoya Beckford

About the author

Tamoya Beckford

Tamoya Beckford is a Senior Quality Assurance Analyst with more than five years of experience in software quality assurance. As a Senior she enjoys:

• Revising and improving the QA process and standards
• Coaching and mentoring other Quality Assurance Analysts
• Leading the test efforts for her portfolio team
• Being a champion for knowledge sharing and growth

Tamoya resides in Kingston, Jamaica and enjoys crafting, travelling and exploring new places and cultures.

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