Five ways to run a remote software testing team

    Tina Vo

    A passionate QA with extensive experience in the field of Software Testing, certified with MBA, ECBA and Scrum Master. Love to share knowledge and discuss Software Testing.

    Published on

    February 4, 2022
    Five ways to run a remote software testing team

    In an effort to combat the spread of viruses and maintain productivity, many companies have imposed a new normal in which their employees must shift to working from home from traditional office settings. With remote working now more common than ever, the task of managing a remote team has become an essential skill, including QA teams. In this blog post, we'll give you 5 ways to make sure your remote software testing team is running efficiently and continues to deliver high-quality products.

    1. Align team expectations

    Whether you are running an onsite or remote team, it’s important that you should set clear goals for each individual. As a manager, you need to make sure your direct reports understand what they need to accomplish, whether it’s a testing status of features they are in charge of, the implementation of a list of test cases, or when their deliverables need to be completed.

    Remote work forces you to take a different approach than in an office setting because there’s no face-to-face interaction. You can’t just drop by someone’s desk to have a quick discussion as you normally would in an office. You also become easily unaware of what’s going on with your team, whether they have personal matters or any roadblock at work. Consequently, you should be proactive about following up with your subordinates to make sure they are still on track and aligned with the goals. You’ll also need to provide in-time support when they need it.

    1a. Conduct regular one-on-one meetings

    Try to utilize all the tools you have to understand the big picture of your team without checking in every hour. One-on-one meetings are one of the great tools to reiterate expectations and uncover any potential issues. Because your team members are individual contributors, they often see the only problems within the tasks assigned to them. They don’t have an overview of the entire team’s activities, and it’s hard for them to point out any potential risks or interdependencies between components, which could be huge blockers later. Therefore, asking the right questions will help you get insights into where your team members are and if they are making good progress or not.

    1b. Defining the right testing metrics

    Another powerful means to help you stay on top of the team’s goals is testing metrics. Defining the right metrics will help you as a manager to get useful insights if your team is moving forward in the right direction or not. Regardless of their locations, your team’s outcomes should move the bar up to the point you want in a timely manner. It means that if the metrics are not trending as you planned, there is something wrong and you should be able to dig into the details and identify where the problems are and address them proactively.

    This is an example of a testing metric. This is used to show the progress of creating test cases. Your QA team can then keep track of the workflow.

    A chart displaying total test cases vs test Priority and test Type

    1c. Have regular team meetings

    Finally, although in the Agile process (e.g. Scrum), each QA/tester is distributed to a small development team, a QA team meeting is essential to synchronize the testing progress and share knowledge with each other so that everyone is aware of what others are doing and they can help each other when someone needs help or is not available.

    2. Communication

    Everyone may still remember having in-person interactions with each other on-premise before the pandemic hit and forced us to confine ourselves in homes. Yes, those quick chats in the morning and unscheduled catch-ups at a colleague’s cubicle. All of these in-person contacts outweigh virtual ones when compared. However, when testers are remote, communicating across your testing team during the day should be maintained. Remote interaction does not come naturally as face-to-face communication. Therefore, there should be some rules or guidelines to define clear communication in a remote QA setup, such as:

    • Chat tools: besides primary means of communication such as email, common online chat tools like Slack or Skype can be an option to facilitate good conversation internally. You can use these tools to provide updates, ask questions, clarify ideas or simply give a heads-up to coworkers.
    • Communicating availability: working from home means that people have extra things to take care of besides work. From family matters, running errands, to simply walking with their pets, people can work on their own schedule as long as they follow the rule to update status when they are away from the keyboard.
    • Flexible working schedule ≠ chaos: aside from respecting everyone’s working hours, the team should agree on “core working hours” when everyone can be online and available to answer questions, provide feedback or make quick decisions.
    • Be brief and have an agenda: virtual meetings should be brief and concentrated with a concise agenda and a time constraint to avoid any unnecessary distractions that can easily get people out of track.

    3. Collaboration

    Working on a QA team that is spread all over the world can be a challenge in terms of distributing the workload evenly among each team member. How many test cases should be run? Which areas are overlapped to run twice?  What information is missing input or instruction from the developer team?  It is crucial to provide testing instructions that are compact and have no misinterpretation.

    One factor that commonly affects remote teams is the time zone difference. The team should figure out an optimal time frame when everyone is available to run some collaborative testing such as real-time interaction testing, regression testing or hotfixes. To avoid any chaos or frustration, when each member is delegated tasks, they should receive a package of well-structured clear instruction and all the relevant information. KPI and metrics also should be established from the beginning to promote transparency and a bias-free environment.

    4. Documentation

    Imagine that if there is no documentation in place, people will need to spend time on unnecessary back and forth communication until they receive enough information to complete a task. Missing documentation means that any changes that happen will not be recorded, and as a result, it leaves more room for opacity and repeated conversation.

    To ensure the QA team works effectively no matter in the office or from the comfort of their own homes, all necessary information that testers will use on a daily basis needs to be written down and easy to access. For example, from accessing testing resources to following the bug report process, everything should be in place as well-established documentation.

    Unlike working on-site, remote teams are more likely to spend time reading documents and asking questions via online chat tools or virtual meetings to clarify any concerns. This is one of the pros of remote work. People have time to gradually digest and understand all information before jumping into the current workstream of the team. This is even more essential for when a new person joins the team and has to learn the entire QA process.

    The team should also have the same understanding of how often and who is responsible for maintaining documentation. Well-maintained documentation is a powerful tool to promote transparency between team members and get everyone on the same page.

    5. Maintain a company culture that promotes creativity

    There is no doubt that culture significantly impacts employees' performance and motivation. Regardless of remote or onsite settings, culture is one of the main reasons people choose to work for an organization. It’s also crucial to maintain a culture for a remote testing team mainly because interactions between employees only take place virtually. Consequently, people will surely experience changes in how they communicate with each other, be it for work or non-work topics.

    A combination between remote work plus on-premise is also a popular option for many, but working remotely every day for a long time could be a big challenge. Some people have to share a workspace with family members or deal with personal stuff, making it difficult to focus and maintain productivity. This means that a manager or lead should create the best culture for their team. A great way of doing this would be by making sure everyone feels like they belong in something meaningful and encouraging them to produce high-quality work every day.

    Here are some company cultures one should promote to keep their team motivated:

    • Job ownership and Trust. Autonomy leads to happy employees. When people have the freedom and flexibility to do what they want, when they want in their own way with no micromanagement, they are more likely to deliver on time with quality. This culture also motivates individuals when they make meaningful impacts on the company goals.

      For instance, in most organizations, QA leads or managers will define the testing strategy and assign QAs to execute it. Why should we let individual QA own the testing strategy and trust that they can do it? Giving feedback and providing support are essential to managing a team. It might be difficult for those who haven't done it before, but it’s an opportunity for them to grow and do something that has a bigger impact.
    • Learning and Sharing. People are also motivated by learning and growth. If you have different roles in the testing team, each role can share what they are doing and their responsibilities with others. For example, a manual tester has a unique way to catch edge cases, and it’s beneficial if they can share some tips to QA Engineers to write better automated tests. Similarly, a QA Engineer can share some basic technical concepts to help manual testers understand how tests are run within minutes and reduce manual efforts.

      Job shadowing is another activity to promote a cross-department learning culture. For example, it’s easy for a tester to jump into the customer support role to answer customers’ inquiries because testers have an excellent understanding of the product’s behaviors. However, they need someone who specializes in support to walk them through the process and answer the questions professionally.
    • Feedback and Recognition. As mentioned above, people are inspired when they make a meaningful impact on company goals and are recognized by others. A shout-out or giving positive feedback in one-on-one meetings or retrospective meetings are effective ways to award team members’ contributions.
    • Remember to have fun. Hold remote team events. This could include team building online games, virtual lunches, internal hackathons (bug hunter, solve testing problems), and other formalized informal communication.

    How we at Bird run our remote QA team

    In order to deliver the best product to our users, we believe it is important to have a close working relationship between QA and development teams. Our existing remote working culture helps to maintain QA activities operating effectively. It comes with both opportunities and challenges but with the following guidelines, our workflow runs smoothly on a ongoing basis:

    • Establish a robust testing process
      We built a quality culture that everyone is responsible for. QA only plays a quality assistant role in every single activity in the product development cycle and performs the final check before release.
    • Synchronized working schedule
      Like other remote organizations, our team is spread all over the world. We don’t have a traditional 9-5 routine and everyone works according to their own schedule. To work synchronously, we define the core working hours when everyone is accessible online to make quick decisions and meetings. Besides, we also take advantage of the time zone differentiation by aligning testing activities with the development process. For example, developers can finish their coding at the end of the day and handoff to QA whose time zone is a few hours behind. All testing will be done within QA’s working time to get all issues ready for the developer to tackle the next morning.    
    • Frequent communication
      It is important to keep everyone in the loop via different channels such as email, chat tools or issue tracking tools. When there is any blocker issue, we proactively jump in a quick call to discuss, debug and find the root cause together. Any update will be informed to the team for transparency and reference in the future.
    • Use Bird to fix bugs faster
      We love our product, and we believe that Bird is the best tool for our QA team and everyone in the company when it comes to reporting any issues during testing. We use Bird on a daily basis to not only step into users’ shoes but to also help our developers quickly receive all necessary information without the back and forth. As a result, bugs are quickly and effectively resolved. It also frees up the QA team’s time for other tasks.
    • Remote team activities
      We usually hold important meetings to discuss ongoing QA activities, product plannings or demos. We make an effort to keep it short and effective without taking too much time from actual work.

    How you can better manage your remote QA team using Bird

    Bug reports are a crucial part of the testing process. Therefore, it is important to make them accessible for everyone in the development team to view, debug and follow the bug life cycle.

    If you’d like to centralize all testing data in one place, a tool like Bird Eats Bug (or Bird, for short) can help ease this burden. With its cloud-based bug reporting tool, Bird captures all necessary information that developers need like technical logs and system info. Bird also enables mic and camera recording to easily describe issues and save time writing down bug descriptions or reproduction steps.

    Bird helps everyone in the team to easily access bug reports, view technical data, set status labels, discuss via comments, or upload issues to common bug tracking tools like Jira or GitHub. Bird also supports real-time notifications so that teams can get informed of any new activity via email notification or Slack integration.

    Data-rich bug reports loved by everyone

    Get visual proof, steps to reproduce and technical logs with one click

    Make bug reporting 50% faster and 100% less painful

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