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Pairing: Virtual Team Testers

I don’t always have what I would call the luxury of working in the same physical location with other people. In fact, in the last few years I’ve worked more remotely than I have onsite. Not being able to see each other changes the dynamics, and I’ve had to make greater efforts to reach out to teammates and become a “real” person, even though some people I’ve worked with have never met me face to face. I’ve hired testers in different time zones and in different countries, so I’ve been through many virtual team relationships.

And while on the one hand, I’ve enjoyed the global experiences and learning bits about different cultures and meeting lots of different people, working together and attempting paired testing together calls for different strategies when we can’t physically sit together.

Being the lead tester and/or the hiring manager for testers working in a different location has meant learning ways to motivate people from a physical distance. Even though I feel an experienced tester shouldn’t need a pep talk to keep plodding through testing and finding issues, I know that as people, we all need a certain amount of motivation to keep us going. When I’m the lead or the hiring manager, I feel an increased sense of responsibility in helping other people feel excited and engaged in their work.

I look to my past and my favorite old boss named “Bob” for ideas on how to help bring out the best in people. Bob used to have a way of stopping by my desk and chatting to me, making the discoveries found by my testing efforts seem like the most intriguing work anyone could have in the company. By the time he’d wander away, I was just chomping at the bit to get going. To test to prove what worked, to test to find what didn’t work, and also to test to learn what was—good, bad, or otherwise—I felt that by testing a product thoroughly, I knew what a product did—never mind what it was supposed to do. For testers in a different location, it can take some effort to help build the excitement to go on, to attempt to build up the pure of a tester on the path of a bug hunt—to help inspire someone else for the thrill of the game as it were. That is one thing I look to bring my virtual testers. I want them to feel my interest and excitement about their work. I want them to feel that draw, that sounding call for the search to go on.

Sometimes I host a daily phone session that offers to keep in touch, help sort through priorities, or realign testing efforts as new information is discovered. Sometimes I’ve paired testing across the distance. If I can find a quiet location and put the phone on speaker, I try to work with the other person as though we’re in the same location. It takes more talking out loud to keep each other informed as we work together. I haven’t been able to slice the testing such that one person is driving the testing while the other person is the recorder; that role playing just doesn’t seem to translate as well over distance. I have used instant messenger and Skype to coordinate with remote team members, but usually those tools are used to muscle through a distinct problem versus a discovery test session.

Oftentimes the greatest advantages I’ve found of pairing together virtually has been having a cohesive sense of what testing remains and becoming more aligned on defect priority. Those two advantages alone are worth the effort of at least trying virtual test pairing.

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