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Experience Reports

Collaborative reflections

Earlier this year I wrote about my changing role and push to help improve working practices and support my teams in testing.

In terms of my role, it is certainly coming together. Over the past few weeks I’ve been getting involved more and more with teams and helping teams reflect on quality. My big win is that my email signature is updated to state “Senior Test Engineer” (although my mug says “QA Lead”, which confused me a little).

What I wanted to delve into in this post was that reflection.

One initiative that I’ve started driving is regular bug RCA sessions.

I’ve found these to be interesting sessions and generally I’ve been pleased at how people have been open and honest. This is an essential requirement for teams to learn, develop and improve. Whilst my nature says “oh its all the teams doing this”, I think I deserve a wee bit of credit for setting the tone.

Before we got started and at the start of the session I like to stress that it isn’t about blame. It is a collaborative effort to ship a bug. Similarly mistakes will happen, which is why we have processes and practices in place to help us catch and rectify things. If one person is truly to blame, we have bigger problems.

I’ve also been attending, and on occasion facilitating retrospectives.

In both my retros and RCAs one thing I’ve done is play on (and exaggerate) my inexperience in the team’s working practices and software. Being a “question asker” is a valuable quality of a tester and I’ve been experimenting with this. I quite like “tell it to me like I’m an idiot” or “assume I know nothing” (perhaps a Jon Snow costume could enhance this?). The goal here is to get people talking and explaining. It also means that I can ask “so do you all do X testing?” then “Ah okay, you mind me asking why not?” and finally “how can I help?”.

Basically if I have a suspicion, I’ll ask a bunch of questions “to help me get up to speed” and hopefully surface that without being direct (and potentially causing conflict). I’ll also repeat what people have said back to the group to reinforce and also help confirm that understanding. It’s especially useful to move a discussion forward.

I’ve been learning about coaching Vs teaching, especially through talks from the likes of Vernon Richards and Stu Day. I feel like this has helped me act not just as a facilitator but a bit of a coach in this role, but I realise that I still have a tendency to lead with some of my questions to get people talking on what I want, not necessarily where they might have headed naturally.

Finally the other thing I’ve been doing is remotely joining and listening in to meetings whilst I work. Teams can ask my opinion if they want, otherwise I’ll be learning how they work, picking up on things then trying to feed that back when relevant, whether that is between teams or within the team itself.

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