This is a translation of the original blog post that I wrote with Diana Kruse, Natalie Volk and Torsten Mangner. While writing this blog once more just in another language, I took the liberty of adding some personal notes here and there in italic font.
In every development team at otto.de there is at least one tester / test manager / QA… or however you would call the person, who is shaping the mindset for quality.
Until recently, “test manager” was the dominating description at Otto – a very rigid and bureaucratic term. Although the intention was good to emphasize that we do not only execute tests, but we also manage them! Meanwhile, even managing tests is only a very small part of the value we deliver.
In a bigger workshop Finn and Natalie, two of our “test managers” picked up on this contradiction and worked things out. We were sure that it would not be sufficient to write “agile” in front of test manager. Hence, we developed a new understanding of our role that looks and feels like this:
We are the teams’ Quality Coaches
We support the teams to understand “quality” as a collective responsibility. We achieve this by working intensively with all roles of the team rather than talk about generic concepts. We establish knowledge and practical approaches regarding the topic of quality.
We See Through the Entire Story Live Cycle
Together with the team we take care that our high standards of quality are regarded long before the development of our product starts: We suggest alternative solutions during the conception of the story and indicate potential risks. We avoid edge-case problems later on by thinking about them while writing the story. We pair with developers, so that we know that the right things are tested in the right place. Thus, we have more time to talks to our stakeholders and users during the review. With the right monitoring and alerting we are able to observe our software in production.
We Drive Continuous Delivery / Continuous Deployment
One central goal is to deploy software to the production environment as risk free as possible. Therefore we try to change as little of our codebase as possible and roll out every single commit automatically. We are using feature toggles, to switch on new functionality independent of these deployments. This has two major advantages: we can roll out our software to customers (almost) at the speed of light and get fast feedback for new developed features.
We are Balancing the Test Methods of the Testing Pyramid
We know how to test what on which level of the testing pyramid. We use this concept to create a lot of fast unit tests, a moderate number of integration tests and as few end-to-end tests as possible. This does not only speed up our pipelines but it makes our tests more stable, more reliable and easier to maintain.
Additionally, in our tool box we can find all kinds of tests (acceptance tests, feature tests, exploratory tests), methods (eg. test first, BDD) and frameworks (like Selenium or RSpec). We know how to use those tests, methods and frameworks on all levels of the testing pyramid.
(as a side note: this indeed implies to run eg. Selenium tests on a unit test level if applicable)
We Help the Team to Choose the Right Methods for a High Quality Product
Being specialists, we know all (dis) advantages of different methods and can help the team to benefit from the advantages. We learned that pairing will enable knowledge transfer, communication, faster delivery and higher quality. Besides pairing, test driven development is one of the key factors to create a high quality product from the beginning.
Flexible software can only emerge from flexible structures. This is why we are not dogmatic about processes and methods but decide together with the team what mix of processes we really need to get our job done.
We are Active in Pairing
We do not only encourage our developers to pair, we also have fun pairing ourselves. In tThis way we can point to problems even while the code is being written. To avoid finding all edge cases only during development we also like to pair and communicate with Business Analysts, UX-Designers and Product Owners. Together with the operations people we will monitor our software in production environment.
The pairing with different people and different roles allows us to further develop our technical as well as domain knowledge.
We Represent Different Perspectives
By taking on different positions we prevent unidirectional discussions. We try to avoid typical biases by challenging assumptions about processes, methods, features and architectures. This enables us – from time to time – to show a different solution or an alternative way to solve a given problem. It helps us to reduce systematic errors, money pits and to objectively evaluate risks while developing our software.
We are Communication Acrobats
We are the information hub for all kinds of things inside and outside the teams. We make special, constructive use of the grapevine, a phenomenon that practically occurs in every company with more that 7 people.
We are enablers for communication. This may be the communication of a pair of developers, between many or all team members or between teams throughout the organization. By facilitating this coordination we can reduce obscurities about features or integrations of systems and hence get our software into a deliverable state faster.
After developing this role, we engaged more and more of our “agile test managers” with this concept. They were so enthusiastic about it, that they wanted to apply for the job once more right away. The only thing missing was a good name: As in every cross functional team we have different specialists and one of those people is the driving force for high quality we found the perfect name: the Quality Specialist.
(Side note: the German term for “quality assurance” (QA) is “QualitätsSicherung” (QS). Using the same abbreviation made it even easier to adopt the new term.)
Quality Specialist is a very well fitting name for this stretched role. Although we are broad generalists, our core value lies in shaping a quality mindset and a culture of quality in a team.
Those were the first steps on a very exciting journey. The next thing to do is talking with other roles in order to find out how this new comprehension of the role changes our daily work. Furthermore, almost no one fulfills this role description today. Thus, we need to grow, level up and reflect on our development. The most fun part is that we can learn a million things in different domains from different people.