How to create testing communities of practice
As individuals we all want to belong to something bigger. Communities over time have been used to bring people together to advocate and support each other in order to overcome any threats. As human beings we all long for that sense of belonging, and this is what connects us to every relationship that we develop with others.
Personally, I’ve always loved being a part of something bigger, when I was younger I was into football, I’d played in teams to a high standard until University. I enjoyed the sport, but also the camaraderie that came from being in a football team. While I was at University, which in itself is one big community, I played American Football, and found a similar sense of community there. Post university I longed for that sense of community, I was no longer playing much sport, and it wasn’t until I found my profession in Software Testing that I found something similar.
When I’m talking about Software Testing Communities, I’m not only talking externally but also internally wherever you may work.
Here are some tips that will help you start a successful community to add value to all avid testers.
Why are communities of practice important?
- It’s a great ‘place’ for people to get together to learn from one another, share knowledge and experiences, and develop ideas.
- It’s a shortcut to problem-solving; chances are someone else in the community has had a similar challenge to yours, and solved it.
- It’s especially important now, when most people are working remotely, to have a collaboration platform and interact with other people.
- Share articles, blog posts and podcasts and build a knowledge-base for the community that others can benefit from.
- It’s not easy to assess the relative levels of experience and expertise of large groups of test engineers, so collaborating with people at similar proficiency levels is beneficial to the group as a whole. No-one gets left behind or feels out of their depth.
How does one person (or group) go about starting a community of practice?
- Decide on the overarching theme of the community. What is its purpose?
- Find similar-minded people who share that purpose.
- Refine the purpose over the time so that it stays relevant to everyone who’s part of the community;
- Community members come and go, so it’s important to keep adapting the community to its current members.
- Decide upfront how often the community ‘gets together’, or whether it will be a loose affiliation with members connecting with each other independently.
What are some of the elements that make communities of practice successful?
- It’s important to make communities inclusive, syncing times for everyone to attend community events.
- It’s also important to have variety in the types of community events; if every get-together follows the same format people will quickly get bored, feel left out and leave, so keep it fresh and give everyone a chance to present or participate in some way.
- It’s critical to get outside buy-in, not just from testers. We sometimes forget that testing is part of a much broader business structure, interfacing with engineers, dev-ops, business analysts, senior managers and so on, so it’s important to get buy-in for the community from everyone, not just testers.
- As mentioned earlier, keep the purpose of the community evolving.
- Encourage the sharing mentality. Everyone has a story to tell, so sharing your experience often helps other members solve their own challenges.
What are some of the challenges of running a community of practice, and how do you overcome them?
- In the past, communications were an issue, with different people using different platforms to communicate. The global pandemic has actually changed this dynamic, in a good way, with many companies standardising on platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to communicate both internally and externally.
- Finding time was also an issue, but again, with many people working from home or keeping in touch with colleagues online, finding time to collaborate has become easier, not harder.
- Events that used to take place at out-of-office hours are now taking place during the day, and even after hours – instead of sitting in traffic people are collaborating with their communities.
What are the benefits to you for Communities? What have you learnt? What communities are you involved in?
Let us know by reaching out to Gareth at firstname.lastname@example.org