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Making Remote Mob Testing Work

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Remote mob testing can be done successfully, but requires suitable communication technology, a moderator who keeps everyone on board, and you need to frequently change the driver between local team members and remotes.

Mira Kottmann, a technical test consultant at Bredex GmbH, will give a talk on remote mob testing at OOP 2020. This conference will be held in Munich, Germany, from February 3-7.

Kottmann will share her experience working in an agile team that needed to adjust how they were doing their mob testing sessions after two remote team members joined their team. The team had to find a way of handing over control to the remote team members, and they experimented with different technologies to find out what worked best for them. To enable remote people to participate in mob testing, they also needed to improve the communication facilities by adding speakers and a camera.

In her talk, Kottmann will discuss the challenges they faced and what they learned doing remote mob testing. One thing they learned was that to make it work, the remotes have to be more communicative than everyone else. At first, they often encountered the problem of the local team forgetting to invite the remotes to sessions or just forgetting to inform them about important things; out of sight, out of mind. This meant that it was very important for the remotes to ask for information and make the locals keep them in mind.

InfoQ interviewed Mira Kottmann about how they are doing remote mob testing, the challenges they faced and what they learned, and tips for doing remote mob testing.

InfoQ: What made you decide to try out remote mob testing?

Mira Kottmann: When I joined Bredex in early 2018 as a technical test consultant, I was confronted with a divided team, a poor communication culture, and poor software quality. The developers didn’t see themselves as being responsible for testing and quality. To bring testers and developers closer together, to communicate better and to improve the quality awareness of the developers, I proposed to try out regular mob testing sessions with the whole team. After we established these sessions, we gained two new remote team members. We decided to have them join the sessions to get them on-boarded quickly and lead them to the same quality awareness that we had gained.

Before the first session, we did not really think about possible problems concerning the remotes joining the sessions. We set up the session like any other call we would have had with e.g. the customer, but quickly realised that this did not work out well and that the whole team was on their way into the unknown.

Managing mob testing sessions with remotes was a new experience for every team member and we all were scared but also excited to try it out.

InfoQ: What challenges did you face in the first remote mob testing sessions? How did you deal with them?

Kottmann: The first problem we identified was that we didn’t have a common language everyone understood. One of the remotes only spoke Hungarian and German, while the other one only spoke Hungarian and English. And, of course, none of us spoke Hungarian. So we first tried to have the sessions in German and translate the important points into English, but that didn’t work out well. We realised quickly that we needed one common language, and we decided with the whole team that the non-German-speaking Hungarian would need to learn German (he’s doing very well, I might add). Unexpectedly, the other Hungarian colleague left the project this summer, which led us to one common language - English! The remote’s German is now so good that most of the time we can do a German/English mix, but the main language will remain English, at least for the remote sessions.

Another problem we were faced with was handing over control to the remotes. We had to try different technologies to find what worked best for us. First, we tried a Skype conference call, but after handing over control, the software was very slow and it became impossible to continue to work effectively. Next, we gave TeamViewer a try, but that also didn’t fit our needs. In Microsoft Teams we not only found a tool where the control-sharing works very well for us, but one we also can use for quick communication and file sharing.

Also, the sound quality wasn’t that good at the beginning, so we bought two speakers and we decided to have a camera so that the remotes could see us and we could see them as well, to gain a better team connection.

InfoQ: What technology do you use?

Kottmann: After researching a lot of technologies, we decided to use Microsoft Teams for those sessions. It lets you easily share the screen and hand over control. We are now working with two 4K cameras and a Jabra conference room speaker for all of our sessions.

InfoQ: How do you keep everybody involved during the mob testing?

Kottmann: In the beginning, I often brought cookies or chocolate to the sessions to get the team on board, but that didn’t work out with remotes. :D

Normally in these sessions, I act more like a moderator as opposed to a tester. During sessions I try to ask different developers directly for their ideas and thoughts, if I notice that one of them is no longer focused.

We additionally implemented the rule that we change the driver every five minutes in order to hold everyone’s attention. We initially tried 10 minutes, but that seemed too long for us. We use the open-source tool Mob Time to handle the timing and the order of assigning the driver role. Also, remote colleagues have to be the drivers.

InfoQ: What works and doesn’t work in remote mob testing?

Kottmann: Not having a common language certainly doesn’t work.

We tried to build a good relationship with all team members and this, of course, is easier when you can get together, for example for lunch. To get to know the remotes better, they have to communicate a lot with you.

Everything else worked for us after we learned how to deal with the remote situation.

InfoQ: What tips do you have for teams that want to do remote mob testing?

Kottmann: Research a suitable software tool for your sessions to hand over control easily, and acquire a good speaker. Also, a camera can be helpful for encouraging team connection.

It’s good to have a moderator for these sessions, whose only job is to observe the team’s behaviour and keep everyone on board.

Boost the communication skills of every team member, especially those who are working remotely, by asking a lot of questions, even ones that aren’t necessarily work-related.

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