Creating a Community of Testers
A community is a group of people who share common goals and values. It could be defined by geography, or—as in a community of practice—by a shared interest in something the members do and a desire to learn more about it.
With the adoption of agile by so many organizations, development is often broken into self-organizing teams divided by product or feature. Each team is staffed by cross-functional members and is generally small in size. Teams focus on their area of the product exclusively, and they effectively become silos. How do you learn and grow in your career when you’re disconnected from your peers?
When I first started testing, I was the sole tester, and I found my community in an online forum and by joining a local meetup. My community existed outside my company. While we should probably never stop using these resources as a part of our connection to the broader community of testers, there is a difference between internal and external communities. Internal communities share a common domain language and a common set of challenges.
What would such an internal community look like? My company followed Spotify’s model of a guild, defined as “a group of people that want to share knowledge, tools, code, and practices.” A guild cuts across the organization, bringing together individuals with a common interest or role to work on common problems and to share learning.
For us, the idea to create a Quality Guild came from the director of quality engineering. This gave the effort immediate management support, which, while not essential to creating a community, helps in sustaining it. We decided invitations would be sent only to test leads in the beginning, and I was asked to facilitate the meetings. (In her book Building Successful Communities of Practice, Emily Webber says that in the early days of a community, the leader may be a single person. That person should be respected by the community they seek to lead. Over time, though, the leader or leaders should be appointed by the community itself and the community should take responsibility for that leadership.)
We run our meetings using a Lean Coffee, agenda-less format, which allows the members of the guild to drive the discussions. If there is a common problem, then a working group may be formed to address it so that those with a direct interest in the problem can work on the solution.
The key to a successful community of practice is not simply to copy what others have done, though. Each community needs to work together to figure out what works best for its members. Try an experiment, then review the results. Hold a retrospective and determine what worked and what didn’t. Form a new hypothesis and try something new.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like what a tester does when testing software? Try something, analyze the results, then try something else. Except now, you’re not alone—you belong to a community.