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Experience Building a QA Team in a Growing Organization

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Shifting the test team to the left brought the whole team closer together, enabled faster learning, and improved collaboration, claimed Neven Matas, QA team lead at Infinum. He spoke at TestCon Moscow 2019 where he shared the lessons learned from building a QA team in a growing organization.

One of the challenges Infinum had to deal with was adapting to a growing influx of projects, all of which had its own set of demands. The differences in team size, length, technologies, and architecture usually meant that they needed to approach each project from a different angle, all the while trying to welcome and mentor new people into the QA team, said Matas.

Being a software agency, client demands from project to project also tended to vary wildly. While some just needed routine exploratory testing from time to time, others wanted to invest in a full-on software testing experience, said Matas. This meant that on one project they might have to make brief inquiries into new features, and on others maintain extensive test documentation, automate test cases, and involve themselves into the project on all levels. "Any semblance of a silver bullet wasn’t in sight", said Matas.

The one thing all Infinum projects have in common is a perspective of shifting the test team to the left, involving testers (junior or senior) in all project-related matters with an emphasis on continuous participation as a key to good QA, said Matas.

Simply delivering compiled code at the end of an iteration to a person unaware of the thought process behind it usually kept them from doing an excellent job, argued Matas. He stated: "I firmly believe bugs can be avoided way before a single line of code is written." By intervening at an earlier point in the proceedings, they brought the team closer together, enabled faster learning, and more collaboration from the get-go.

Matas also mentioned that they started by putting much more effort into employing and mentoring more and more testers in an attempt to keep track of the growing number of developers that came with the company’s rapid expansion.

Matas presented his vision for success in building a good QA team, which is built around four key areas:

Context - Approaching each software project differently, by examining the risks, recognizing the key features and developing a tailor-made testing strategy that will eke out the highest testing ROI.

Variety - Employing people with various backgrounds that will help make the team heterogenous, bring valuable domain knowledge, and help grow the team in multiple directions.

Knowledge - Consistently working on developing their team members’ skills, not failing to recognize the fact that technical and people skills often bear equal importance.

Collaboration - No non-trivial software project can succeed in the long term without positive and powerful collaboration between team members. You should empower your employees to work with others, push for improvements, converse with clients, and leave the comfort zone often. If you do that well, you will never hear the dreaded "this is not my job" again.

InfoQ spoke with Neven Matas after his talk at TestCon Moscow 2019.

InfoQ: You mentioned in your talk that the attention of quality has shifted over time. Can you elaborate?

Neven Matas: In the beginning, not each project had a specialized tester to deal with the testing and quality workloads that were distributed amongst the team. With increasing complexity, we figured out that having a dedicated quality person on each project brought tangible benefits. Even though quality is always a team effort, this sort of dedication gave the QA team a chance to find novel ways of pushing projects closer and closer to perfection. No one knows the app as well as a software tester, since that person gets to live with it day in, day out on a level which is only really familiar to end users. Not only that, but those "big picture seers" can, in the end, become the "big picture influencers" if they pinpoint bottlenecks and find ways to fix problems in the entire software development process, not just the end product.

InfoQ: How do you support your team to keep improvement ongoing?

Matas: There are several things we implemented in our process that are helping us to become continuously self-improving:

  • Workshops - Each week the QA team holds a two-hour meeting where we come together as a team to share knowledge on either a theoretical or a practical topic. The workshops range from "how to be more assertive" to "writing assertions in unit test."
  • One-on-One meetings - Each week I, as a team lead, sit down with members of my team to go through issues each person might be having in their particular projects and ways of tackling them in the short term. We also discuss things they managed to do well in order to trickle down that knowledge to the entire team later on.
  • QA Buddy - We recognized the need for early feedback, so you get paired with a different person every couple of weeks. This means that you will jointly work on sharing experiences, examining each others’ test cases and approaches, and do some pair testing to help each other minimize the effects of tester’s fatigue.
  • Educational budget - Each team member gets a yearly educational budget which they can spend on workshops, online tutorials, software, conferences, books, etc. We also curate a small library of QA and software development books which is open to everyone.
  • Switching projects - A significant thing is "tester’s fatigue" - the phenomenon where you, as a tester, can no longer see the forest for the trees due to over-familiarity with the project. A welcome relief is switching projects for a while to gain a fresh perspective and reboot your testing senses.

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