Having worked in the services side of the IT industry all through my career in the last 11 years, I have always been under an impression that a sense of empowerment is sometimes lacking only amongst the services vendors especially when they work from remote locations. While I understand that this problem exists amongst product teams as well when they are not co-located, it was an eye opener for me to learn that the magnitude of this problem is quite considerable, especially when teams work in an agile and dynamic environment.
I was at a Software Testing and Quality Assurance conference recently, where I was presenting on effective test data design. Conference attendees usually sign up to come meet presenters 1:1 and one such person who met me was a quality leader in a leading insurance solutions company. He talked to me about the challenges he faces with remote test teams (full time teams that are part of the organization) working in an Agile mode to discuss potential areas of improvement. One clear take away from this discussion was the need to empower the test teams to help them succeed in the Agile world. Here are a few important things we discussed which I thought would be worth sharing with you all. While I share these points primarily from a test team standpoint since my discussion with this person was for a test effort uplift, the same points can be leveraged across other engineering disciplines as well.
1. Representation in daily scrum meetings: Obviously, we all understand that one very important aspect of agile development is team collaboration and transparent communication. That said, just attending a scrum meeting is not going to suffice. Active representation as opposed to just passive attendance is very important. Very soon, into our discussion we were able to identify this as a major area of improvement, where the test team was merely attending the scrum calls from remote locations and not actively participating in the discussions and representing their status. Such communication is important not just to report their status and be heard but also to feel empowered that they have built the right connections that they can leverage along the development lifecycle.
2. It is ok to say “No”: I have often seen this to be an issue especially in services vendors, where people think it is incorrect to say “no” due to which they accept workload more than they can handle leading to prioritization and work quality issues. It was a learning for me, that even amongst employees who work for the same organization as full timers, this problem can exist especially when people work remotely. We discussed the adverse impact this problem can create and that this needs to be fixed right away, through ongoing conversations with the team.
3. Visibility in Sprint retrospective meetings and quarterly executive meetings: Besides ongoing involvement in Scrum and project execution, we discussed the importance of the test team, especially the remote teams being made more visible amongst the rest of the product team especially senior management. This can be achieved through representation in monthly Sprint retrospective meetings and specifically planned product or even test team only review meetings with senior and executive management. In such meetings, besides ongoing progress, it is important to discuss test team’s overall health, product quality and health at a high level, any tools and frameworks developed internally that need to be demonstrated, any tester/team collaboration efforts with end users that need to be recognized, defect metrics including acknowledging any outstanding defects etc. Such meetings go a long way in motivating the test team, giving them their much-deserved recognition, identifying any areas where they need additional support (e.g. extra resources needed), and promoting an overall sense of empowerment.
4. Periodic Quality Milestones: Often times, it is very easy for teams to get into the grind of daily project execution. In the longer run this may translate to a lost big or holistic picture of the product and end users, lack of maintenance of engineering artifacts, no time for ongoing learning and training, lack of encouragement and time for out-of-box thinking to promote newer ideas and implementation techniques. While I understand, the market forces are very dynamic and call for back-to-back project releases, the value of such quality milestones cannot be under-estimated. In one of my large client assignments that ran over several years, this was an exercise we did regularly, once every quarter or so, where we set aside a one week quality milestone for tasks such as: test maintenance, any new technical and soft training sessions, any demos/new studies/R&D to be conducted etc. The benefits were bountiful and again besides core tangible returns that we reaped we were also able to re-energize the teams and promote great collaboration amongst them.
In the current day IT industry, most companies understand the importance of ongoing collaboration amongst team members especially in global delivery models. There are several programs including cross team visits, virtual meetings, leveraging communication technologies etc. that are used to bridge the gap. While it is heartening to see that everyone understands the importance of communication, the miss is often times around ensuring that communication is effective in achieving the end goal. Try out some of these techniques outlined above and I am sure you will see positive results in your engineering process. I would also be happy to hear from you if you have any additional insights to offer!