Building a testing community of practice

I’m a regular visitor to China where Quest has a large R&D facility in Zhuhai in the Guangdong province. My responsibility extends to a group of 50-60 testing-related people in that office and so there is always something new and interesting going on, whether I’m “on site” or working with the teams remotely.

Many of these testers were lucky enough last year to attend three days of training in their office with Rob Sabourin and his infectious enthusiasm immediately paid great dividends across the group. One of the excellent side-effects of bringing testers from different teams together for the training was their realization of the benefits of sharing knowledge between each other. The teams are all working in a Scrum style with testers embedded into teams and this had resulted in the common problem of a lack of knowledge sharing around testing practice.

Striking while that iron was hot, I decided to establish a Testing Guild, essentially a community of practice around testing for the people in this group. Thanks to great local management support, this initiative got going quickly and the Guild now meets every two weeks to discuss and share knowledge around testing. They are documenting their meetings and discussions so I get a feel for what’s going on – but the Testing Guild really belongs to them and they set the direction. I occasionally act as “guest speaker” and will of course participate when I’m in the office.

After the Testing Guild had been running for a few months (based on some initial ideas I had – inspired by the so-called Spotify Model – and local management input), I thought it would be wise to learn more about how others recommend building such communities of practice. For no other reason than it looked like exactly the kind of content I was after, I bought the succinct (70-page A5) Building Successful Communities of Practice book by Emily Webber, an Agile consultant and coach from the UK.

The reasons that Emily cites for having a community of practice closely match with my intentions, viz. sharing knowledge & building better practice, breaking down organisational silos, accelerating professional development across the organisation, happier & more motivated people, and hiring & building a better team. Obviously some of these reasons are longer-term benefits but I believe we’re already seeing some of these benefits in our Testing Guild.

She also covers the different stages of development of such a community, how to create the right environment for it and some different models of leadership. Emily discusses how to work out who belongs to the community – in our case, this was very straightforward and we decided that everyone with a testing-related role in our part of the organisation should be part of the Testing Guild.

She discusses becoming a community, getting value from it, using the community to identify skills gaps in its members, growing the community and making it self-sustaining. The idea of using the Testing Guild to identify skills gaps wasn’t something I’d thought about and this will be a useful takeaway from this book. Emily packs a fair bit of content into a small book and it’s good general advice about how to build a community of practice with some first person experience of how to make them successful. Most of the content helped reinforce that we’re basically on the right track with what we’re doing in the Testing Guild in Zhuhai.

I’m looking forward to my next trip to China soon to experience the Testing Guild firsthand and actively contribute to one of their sessions while I have the chance. It will be interesting to see how it develops and changes over time too, certainly worthy of a future blog post!

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