Hackernoon logo8 Lessons Learned Managing Remote QA Teams in Times of Lockdown by@solvdinc

8 Lessons Learned Managing Remote QA Teams in Times of Lockdown

Solvd, Inc Hacker Noon profile picture

@solvdincSolvd, Inc

Solvd is a software development company focused on quality assurance and tailoring web solutions.

Managing virtual quality assurance teams is never a piece of cake. Art Prishchepov has first-hand experience to share with tech managers at all levels. 

As a Global Operations Manager and Co-Founder at Solvd, Inc, he has been building distributed software engineering teams in the United States, Europe, and Latin America during the challenging times of lockdown.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a lot of isolation and remote work. While many introverts might enjoy remote working, the "new normal" affects, in many cases, project deadlines, team velocity, and final budgeting. 

You need to master a range of QA soft skills and hard skills if you wish to manage remote engineering entities without compromising quality and work efficiency.

Remote QA teams are so hard to manage, aren’t they?

Don't get scared: it is not quite true. It might be tricky in some aspects to build a virtual QA team, but if you handle it properly, you will raise overall productivity.

In the context of lockdown, QA departments may face issues they don't usually have to deal with in normal life. Uncertainty is among them. Remote teams communicate via messaging and chatting, excluding in-person meetings, and the lack of face-to-face communication might pose extra challenges. 

So let's learn how to overcome hurdles on your way to effective team management.

1. Plan starting points in detail

Keep in mind: your remote QA team has no chance to discuss project objectives and different visions in spontaneous face-to-face talks. 

Competent engineers gathered in a single location quickly detect unclear visions, modify poorly defined priorities, and identify ways to solve current tasks. But that is not your case.

To handle chaos in a virtual team, a QA team leader needs more time for preparative activities. A leader should forge a clear and concise testing plan that a remote team will use to start an iteration and compare actual results against planned objectives.

"At Solvd, we have faced the challenges of team procrastination many times. Take, for example, a large-scale project in the field of telecom. When a project involves 3-month release cycles, deliverables are intangible," says Prishchepov. "Besides, the team had engineers scattered across the U.S., Portugal, Argentina, and Bulgaria. And when it came to discussing tasks and objectives, the lack of clarity was our major challenge. 

Despite all our efforts to align proper time tracking, reporting, and tactical management during online meetings, we were far from what one would consider a high-performance team. After several failed releases and changes within our team, the same issues didn't stop.

At the same time, our local team at headquarters was excelling in performance. And we focused on offshore team managers. We provided them with additional business info and a set of milestones and suggested practical solutions to resolve management issues. The results were overwhelming: we noticed a reduction in costs almost immediately." 

In remote QA teams, a leader's role is crucial. Ask yourself four questions:

  • What are the tangible milestone?
  • What could happen if a team failed to achieve them?
  • How does each member interpret the milestones and team goals?
  • Do individual goals match team goals?

The answers will give you more confidence as a leader.

2. Become a pro in logging and screen recording

Master cutting, highlighting, parallel logging, and other skills useful for team collaboration. For example, when a tester can't go to a developer's desk and help reproduce an issue, this issue will get closed as non-repro. When working remotely, attach a video for hard-to-repro cases and session logs to communicate with the developer effectively. They will understand the root cause clearly and resolve a ticket.

For automated testing, you may need tools with good reporting capabilities. Such are video sessions, interactive reproduction options, step-by-step logs, screenshots, and auto-logging into a bug tracking system. 

Here you can learn about top automation tools to use that could greatly facilitate the work of QA engineers and software developers.

3.  Define roles and distribute tasks clearly

Duplicated work is a plague for QA engineers. Remote team members step on their colleagues' toes much more often than when in an office. A task remains incomplete if everyone in a team thinks this task is on someone else's plate. 

Communication gaps and lack of awareness may trigger conflicts and foster a stressful working environment. 

How to avoid a duplication problem? Discuss responsibilities with each member of your team and make sure everyone treats individual tasks as a part of the bigger picture. 

Use the following points to make sure you are on the right track:

  • What responsibilities fall on each team member
  • What tasks come first, and what comes next 
  • What you need to avoid blocking the work of the entire team
  • What roles you can simplify or replace

"I was reviewing CVs of my team members when I noticed that one of my QA engineers had previous white-box testing experience. There was neither an opportunity nor budget to write white-box tests. But it was a chance for the rest of the team to benefit from his expertise. 

We started off with a new concept: change impact analysis. Since we had a white-box testing expert among us, we decided to delve into the project architecture, implementation, ways classes are organized, and methods used. We focused on the correlation between app functionality perspective and test cases used to verify a specific behavior of an app. Also, we mapped our functional cases needed for application structure. That allowed us to identify parts of the application for which regression testing is mandatory when some code parts are changed. 

As a result, our QA team leader understood the most acute needs and clearly instructed each team member. We cut off 20 percent of tasks as soon as we realized it was the amount of duplicated work.”

4. Set up virtual rooms for discussions

Gather a remote team to discuss releases, hotfixes, take part in hackathons, urgent product requests, and more. 

For remote QA engineers, having a virtual room up and running all the time is invaluable. Team members may visit a shared Zoom space and work together to discuss issues on the fly. You don't have to use it for every conversation, but in cases when urgent meetings are needed, it will be a great way out.

5. Maximize the value of individual environments

Balancing work and life is paramount for whatever remote work scenario. That is the way towards drastically increased productivity.

You might notice your employees get distracted more often, working from home. But they also enjoy the advantage of a quiet environment at different times of the day. 

Focus on drawing up a schedule that will maximize the productivity of each engineer. If your team members reside in different time zones, make the most out of it. 24/5 QA is a luxury to have: you can set up non-stop testing activities, improving the KPIs of the entire team.

Boosting individual productivity within a virtual team is your top priority as a QA team leader. Consider key aspects of efficient remote working:

  • How many hours a day each team member works
  • Best time for Zoom meetings: when and why
  • How you handle communication when a project is underway and at the release point

How you resolve issues

"One day, I was running a meeting where we discussed current project changes and milestones. It was early morning in San Francisco, but it was getting well into the evening in Stockholm. When our meeting was halfway through, Swedish team members started to leave. I asked if we could have another 30 minutes of their time to finish the conversation. "Excuse me, I need to go. I've planned to cut the lawn at 7," responded one of them.

"I let him go, but that shocked me. I tried to look at things from his perspective and realized this project would be a challenge.

Later, that Swedish engineer was one of the most productive ones with whom I've ever worked. So, I learned how work-life balance impacts productivity.”

6. Create a shared pool of mobile devices in the cloud

Get rid of tons of devices at your table. 

You need to run tests on multiple platforms, but your team, scattered across different locations, requires too many devices. Public device cloud providers, such as Firebase, Zebrunner, Browserstack, Saucelabs, AWS, and Perfecto Mobile, may be extremely helpful, despite their limitations.  

You may also employ private cloud solutions that might fit your needs perfectly. Such are SIGOS, mCloud, or Selenium Box. Those solutions may provide your team with the needed testing infrastructure, accessible from any location.

7. Eliminate a ready-for-testing queue on time 

Use a separate column for your task board (JIRA or any other tool) to set notifications.

As a rule of thumb, remote QA engineers should carefully monitor the tickets ready for verification and bug regression. Staying remote, they cannot shout to teammates, “Test it now.” When a new ticket arrives, it is essential to check to whom this ticket is assigned. Make sure you have zero tickets in the queue by the end of the workday to streamline all your QA processes within a release cycle.

8. Distribute case areas in your test management

In-office QA engineers may discuss input in spontaneous conversation, pick a test suit, and jump on a group of tests. Things are different for remote teams. 

For simple testing processes, organize the test suites in your test management system by functional chunks and select assignees for each area before running any tests. 

Seems obvious, right? But after one run is over, shuffle the areas between the testing teams and devices for the next execution run. By doing so, you will have a fresh pair of eyes looking through tests. That is a good practice for teams working remotely.

And a final thing to say... 

Remote working was a privilege not so long ago. That time has passed, and remote work has become a "new normal." Many IT organizations were well prepared for that, and others were not. 

Wherever your organization may fall on the spectrum of preparation, try out some of the tips described in this article and share your feedback.


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