Growing A Culture of Quality

Long ago was a time where testing was purely seen as an activity by a siloed team who executed 1000’s of tests towards the end of a project. In the modern world, this is still a very real situation in some areas, but on the whole, testing as a collaborative, continuous activity is much more the norm.

But getting to that stage is not easy, for some reason, there has historically been a stigma attached to testing as a lesser activity that slows the release of a project down, and changing this mindset is a huge obstacle to get over.

In places where testing is perceived in a negative light, it is possible to move forward, but it will take hard work and use of the power of persuasion while coaching and building collaborative best practices which a whole range of tech teams can buy into. 

Improving the Perception of Testing Across the Business

When thinking about the need to move the view of testing forward, it’s really important that a number of steps are considered to help make it a success.

  1. Define your End Goal

The most important decision to make when changing the perception is deciding what the goal is that you are aiming for. Is it just a more positive perception of what the Test teams do? Or is it a collaborative approach to testing where everyone is able to get involved when needed? Whatever the decision is, cementing this and having this to work towards is crucial.

  1. Communicate what Testers Do

There may be common misconceptions about what Testers or QA do, what they are responsible for, and what motivates them. These may come out in conversations, but in worse situations, assumptions will be made that Testers don’t need to be involved and therefore decisions are made without any testing input.

My personal way to deal with this is to face this head-on, any opportunity I get to talk about testing, I will. Within two months of joining my current role, I was presenting at an internal meeting to the whole technology department about “Growing a Culture of Quality” which involved talking about:

  • The common misconceptions of testing
  • What testers actually do
  • Showing where Testers could work collaboratively with other teams to improve quality
  • Highlighting the concepts of Testability and Continuous testing throughout a project
  • Inviting the wider business to join some lunch sessions with TestSphere

This set the groundwork for moving the team forward and eradicating any possible misconceptions of what testers do.

  1. Spend Time-Sharing Best Practices

TestSphere cards are a great activity to get conversations about testing going. I used these both internally within the Test team and also with the wider business to get folks talking about testing activities and start to suggest ways in which activities can be incorporated.

By making yourself approachable and available for discussions, you will find that those chats over coffee become working meetings where suddenly “can you show me how we could test this more?” or “how can I create a set of tests which I can re-use?” become questions you will hear from non-testers who want to improve the quality of their work.

If you’re in a place where you have collaborative teams who work with you on the testing activities, embrace this but also look for the ways in which the communications could improve, and with that, the testing activities could become even more effective.

Finding opportunities to share knowledge is a huge passion of mine, I firmly believe if I can help improve just one person’s testing ability, I have done well.

I’ve run interactive workshops on identifying tests, where I’ve looked at heuristics, using TestSphere and other ways, rather than just the ISTQB defined techniques. Broadening the thought process has inevitably improved the testing quality. Running the same workshops with the wider business will help embed the knowledge wider and testers may find opportunities to help testing activities in teams where they weren’t aware they were even needed.

  1. Share, Share, Share

Find ways to share blogs, webinars, conference talks, and more with the test teams and the wider business. Build a passion for quality within the team and this will expand organically across the organization. Not every tester is active or even aware of the online community of testers, none of my current team had heard of the Ministry of Testing or the Test Automation University until I signposted them to them, now people are attending events, webinars, and taking courses when they have the opportunities.

I’m sure it gets annoying for some, but I’ve blogged several times internally on the company-wide blog about testing and can also be seen occasionally wearing MoT or other testing t-shirts around which always guarantee questions from curious folk and yes, you guessed it, another chance to share even the smallest amount of knowledge.

  1. Define New Processes and Prove the worth of Testing

Spend time learning the way things are done currently and understand why. Once you have that grounding, you can then explore options to embed new processes that may bring testing activities earlier or make quality part of discussions from the beginning.

One success I’ve had here is incorporating a Testability Assessment of the product requirements before it is “finalized”. This is again a chance for an open discussion with the test team and the wider business stakeholders to understand what is testable from the requirements and what needs more work to be refined and articulated better. This has enabled the team to understand more of the system earlier, ask probing questions that help to design a better system and be able to write more effective tests.

Another area of suggested improvement would be to look at measurable results which show the dial is moving in the right direction, this may be different for the context and organization you are in, but the important step is again to communicate the purpose of the metrics and how they are generated widely before first use so that everyone is on the same page with what it shows. This means the reporting can be more succinct as there won’t be the need to explain what it means each time.

It All Comes Down to Communication

Ultimately, as with most things in our world, communication is the foundation of all things great! A huge part of our role as Testing professionals is communicating effectively. This comes in many forms, but making our world accessible to all is imperative in creating a shared and collaborative culture of Quality throughout an organization. Yes there will be difficult conversations along the way and some will take longer to come round than others, but stay close to the goal you defined at the start, understand whether you are moving closer to it, and enable yourselves to course-correct if needed.

The Model

I defined a model to pull together this process, here it is, I will then talk through the component parts and how it all plugs together:

So what is this Quality Narrative thing?

I first came across the term “Quality Narrative”, when reading the Leading Quality book. Effectively, the Quality Narrative is how quality is perceived within your organization. Some of the following questions may help you understand

  • How important is a quality seen when releasing a product? Is it given the right focus? Or Is it an after-thought?
  • Who ‘own’ quality? Is it collaborative accountability or does the wider business deem it the responsibility of the test team?
  • What is the perceived role of the test team? Do you even have a separate test team or do you work more collaboratively?
  • Is the test team engaged early in the process?
  • How is testing done?
  • What Value does the testing provide?
  • What is the business’ view of risk?
  • Does Quality mean more than just testing?

Understanding the answers to these questions for the current state will give you a fair assessment of the importance of Quality and testing within the organization. The next step would be to then define what you would like the Quality Narrative to be going forward. Once you have the As-Is and To-be states, it will give you the vision to share and build out the journey to get closer to the ultimate state of Quality being an important consideration in every release.

So you have the vision… what next?

As a leader, you may have driven the definition of this vision, but it should have been a collaborative exercise (with others within the test team and wider delivery teams at least) in defining the direction and getting buy-in at a high level that it is acceptable. Once it’s defined, the next phase is to start engaging the immediate test team, so they can all be advocates for it. Use every opportunity to get them on board with it, give them time to digest it, ask questions, and build enthusiasm for working towards the end goal.

One way to do this will be to get the fire lit on their passion for quality. Get an internal community of practice going if there isn’t already one, get passionate speakers to come in and share their ideas and give the team the chance to innovate and change the way they are doing testing too. If they see that their voice is important and you as a leader will listen to them, it will encourage them to stand up when needed, to voice their thoughts.

As small improvements are made to the way testing is done/measured/perceived, celebrate these successes, no matter the size. Seeing that any improvement makes a difference, will help the team feel like what they are doing is worthwhile.

So you have the team on board, now to share wider…

Now you have a passionate, engaged team who are all willing to make a difference and move the business forward, the next stage is to find the opportunities to raise the awareness of Quality around the business. Use different forums internally to share new processes such as metrics that are now being used or a new test strategy that focuses on the vision. Maybe there is an internal blog platform? Are there internal all-hands or departmental meetings that would be good opportunities to discuss such topics and how it could impact those teams? Discussing the test strategy with the customer support teams by framing it around reduced call volumes, would help them buy into the vision in a way that it can help them. By finding ways to discuss quality, it will help get you and your team involved in earlier discussions when projects are initiated. Therefore meaning that what “Good Quality” looks like for a particular project can be defined.

It may also be the opportunity to coach the business to test better themselves too, whether it be asking questions from a quality perspective or for teams which may be working on hot-fixing production or developing internal tools, but don’t have their own test resources, providing support and helping them learn to test effectively, will improve those relationships too.

Sharing is one thing, but can you find Advocates?

When sharing with the business, you may find there are a small group of people who really get it and want to find out more or find out how they can help. This happened to me and this was the time I started getting the TestSphere cards out and invited them to discussions with the test team on all things testing. I’d start getting comments like “I didn’t realize you Testers knew so much!”

Having these voices in wider teams adds clout to the message. Especially when they are the ones to discuss it with their teams. I had advocates who would be discussing the updated test strategy or the risk-based testing metrics which we had devised and shared with the wider teams to show what we would be reporting on going forward. I actually walked in on a debate in the canteen, with no-one from the QA team involved, but they were discussing how much more confident they felt about the actual quality of the release with the metric I had devised and rolled out. It certainly gave the “warm fuzzys” that we were making a difference.

Improve the Quality Processes and Shout About it!

While also building relationships with the business, it’s important that they are seeing the value and improvements that you are doing. Of course, alongside the daily expectation of proving the quality of the software through testing, there will be improvements and discussions going on to try and raise the bar and give better indicators of the quality of the software.

As mentioned earlier, this may be working closely with the Customer Support teams to assess call volumes and working on correlating specific customer issues with some additional testing which could be done to find these issues earlier. It may be looking at an approach to Testability which means the system is assessed as testable based on requirements/architecture before any code is developed which should mean the systems are of a better quality and fewer defects found later on. There could be a new approach to automation, maybe it’s been seen as a cost before that wasn’t worthwhile, but by showing the ROI and the feedback cycle reduction, it could be something that can enable earlier releases.

Whatever the initiatives end up being, it’s important to be transparent now that you have built the relationships with the wider business. They should be able to see what you’re doing and collectively reap the rewards of better quality systems.

Reflect, Rinse, and Repeat…

This will be a constantly evolving process, a culture is never complete. Enabling it to grow will be important but it will require regular reflection on what could be done to improve and also assess where it isn’t working as well. Maybe there are pockets of the business that don’t see the value, so how could we speak their language and help them buy into it.

Reflecting and re-aligning the vision if necessary will be imperative to ensure it continues to be embedded as a culture. If you stick to your original focus and don’t flex when you need to, you won’t end up with a collaborative culture.

In bigger organizations, where there are engineering groups everywhere, it will be important to use shared communities of practice to build knowledge and share good practices. It will be important to set achievable goals like improving the view of Quality across your engineering group first including all stakeholders outside of engineering. But don’t try to boil the ocean, use regular reflection and feedback to know when to push yourself further or when to focus on honing what you have already achieved.

Written by Simon Prior, Test Manager at EasyJet. 

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