Creating a Testing Community of Practice

We Learn, We Share, We Grow

That is the motto of the Testing Community of Practice (CoP) where I work, and words I am keen to work with.

Our CoP is relatively new to us, only being created towards the end of last year, and before it started I had never heard of it, and is likely whomever reads this is in the same situation. The idea behind it is you get a group of people (the Community) who all do a certain activity (Practitioners), to allow them to share ideas, knowledge and experience. The critical part of this is that it’s main members must be those who are actually involved with whatever the CoP was created on, not simply those who wish to know more but don’t participate themselves.

Our CoP was founded by a colleague of mine (who, since joining 3 1/2 years ago has gone from analyst, to lead and now interim manager, a very driven individual indeed), to help collate all of the knowledge and experiences spread across the testing team, as well as those outside our team who have testing experience, including our developers, UAT analysts and business analysts.

To start with we had several sessions where everyone invited decided what we wanted the CoP to be. Our short and long term goals, our expectations, even our motto above.
From there we started working out topics to discuss, starting off with demonstrations on tools and techniques we are still naive on as an organisation, such as Selenium and JMeter.

Initially the colleague who helped to create the CoP was the only one hosting the sessions, but began asking for volunteers to help host sessions, or event present topics within them, which I volunteered. Since then I’ve hosted a discussion on “Should testers learn to code?” (which created a mixed but interesting response), presented what I learned from the Ministry of testing webinar “Driving change”, but the one which stood out the most for me was when we created our working groups.

The idea behind the working groups was to switch from Push training, where people are told what they will learn and when, to Pull training, where they ask the person with the knowledge to share with them that knowledge at a time that works for both people. To help work out who either knows something they can share, or want to learn something, we devoted a session to establishing the groups and it’s members.
In a room with the tables forming a circle, I stood in the gap in the middle so that no-one could stand at the back of the room from me, slowly turning as I talked. I got everyone to name anything they either know or wish to learn and then have someone put it on a PostIt on a wall, along with some I had started in advance. When everyone agreed on the subjects, I then got everyone to write their name and place it against everything they either were willing to share knowledge on, or would like to learn. As a result, everyone knew who either had knowledge they could try to get out of them, or knowledge they felt they missed and would like to gain.

In addition to the CoP sessions, which are only an hour every fortnight, we created an internal Confluence site to hold all of the information people have shared, as well as blogs, Meetups, conferences, as well as random documents, mind maps and anything else anyone in the community feels is of benefit.

Whilst it will take some time to show the true value of the CoP, for me it was the catalyst to push myself more. This blog wouldn’t exist without it. I wouldn’t be buying books on testing, going to Meetups and TestBash, reading blogs or chatting with others on Slack, if the CoP didn’t exist.

So if you are thinking about starting one, or wondering if you should be involved with one, I would recommend it where you can. It can allow you to learn from others, or you may be able to share your own experiences with testers who haven’t been through what you have and would gladly learn from you. If it fails, so long as you know why, you can always try again.

After all, if you waited for all the lights to turn green on the road to work, you would never leave your house. But all those little increments eventually get you to your destination.

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4 thoughts on “Creating a Testing Community of Practice

  1. I found this article really useful. I have recently moved companies from where we did actively have a test community. We were fortunate to all be based in the same building.

    I have worked in testing now for 12 years across Waterfall for 9 years and Agile for the past 3 years.

    I am in the process of trying to set up a Testing Community with my new company. I believe some of the challenges i will face is firstly we are based across 3 sites. London, Leicester and Sophia. We do have conference facilities which I will trial and see how this works.
    Secondly we have a combination of Waterfall and Agile teams based in Leicester. The Waterfall teams are not really encouraged to participate with such activities. I have thought initially I will keep these sessions to between 15-30 minutes to try not to pull on their time too much.

    My first session will be an intro session explaining the benefits of us all coming together as a community.

    Would you have any suggestions as to how to engage people across different methodologies and different locations?

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wanda,

      I’m glad you found the article useful. It feels like more organizations are willing to give communities of practice a go, so it’s great that you had one at your previous company and being able to get one started at your current company.

      Getting people to buy into can be difficult, whether they are working agile, waterfall, or something else entirely. I found people would say the timing clashed for them, or that they were too involved with the work they were on, or simply never gave an excuse and just simply didn’t want to go.

      The key to encouraging the waterfall teams will be focusing on the key influencers within those teams. Every team (hopefully!) has someone who is more willing to try new things, or is a natural leader and without forcing it on others, by them trying it and talking about it, it will get those who are more reluctant to give it a go.

      In terms of different locations I can’t offer any personal experience as I am at a single site, so it hasn’t really happened. Whilst we do have a sub-team elsewhere in the city, they don’t get involved with other events either so I know it isn’t solely due to them not being invested into the community of practice.

      Depending on the size of teams in each location, could you perhaps have each one with their own community of practice, encourage them to put what they have discussed on a shared worksite such as Confluence, so even if they can’t physically be there they can see what has been said, and offer comments or suggestions.

      Regarding being 15-30 minutes long, I have found we generally use the whole hour, so you may find that time is quite short, especially with your introductory sessions helping setup your community of practice.

      I hope it all works out well for you, and I would love to hear how it foes for you 🙂

      Like

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