It’s a bit of a clickbait title. Sorry about that.
Most of my work deals with distributed teams. The project team tends to be located in a central location (or at least in one or two buildings), while the testers tend to be located elsewhere: either as part of an offshore model, or simply located in the factories, warehouses, and offices of the client.
Managing a distributed team has it’s own challenges, and these are my top five tips for managing distributed teams in a test project:
1. Know Who Your Local Contacts Are
Everything runs smoother with a single point of contact in each location. It’s possible to manage the testing remotely using Skype, WebEx, or other mass-communication tools, but when your testers are also required in the factory or warehouse for their day jobs it can become difficult to get a mutually convenient time for everyone. A single point of contact to help you manage the testing locally, to identify super users and tester, and to distribute communications makes the process a lot easier.
Part of general project management is to know your stakeholders. If you’re sourcing testers from the super user community in your network, their managers also need to be involved in the process – both as an escalation point, and so they are aware of the time commitments required from their staff in your test activities.
2. Plan, Plan, Plan
If your distributed teams don’t know what the plan is and who needs to do what, there’s a danger that they will be recalled to other work and you will lose them. Not only that, but their managers will find it difficult to respond to your requests for people if they are not confident that there is sufficient work for them to do – they don’t want to lose their staff for weeks on end only to find that those staff are sitting around doing nothing.
Plan early to identify how many testers from which locations you need. This can be high-level to start with so that you get an idea of the number of people, their skillsets, and their locations, so that the local contacts and managers can start to fill the resource plan and backfill their own operations.
Once the testers are identified, involve them in the planning. Identify the tasks and activities they are responsible for, and what they will be working on in any downtime.
So you’ve got a local contact, some testers, and a plan. The next step is to communicate – from the high-level plan, to the detailed tasks and activities, to status reporting and team updates, make sure you have a communication plan in place. How are you communicating the tasks to them, and any updates on project progress? How are they reporting status updates and any blocking issues to you?
A semi-formal communication plan can be set up early in the project stage. If you know that you will be running onboarding or kick-off workshops, and will have daily standups over web conference calls, then get those dates and times into the calendars early. Use Sharepoint, shared network drives, or other common locations to store shared items such as your detailed plan and test approach documents. Consider using high-level plan summaries and 8-week lookaheads so that the big blocks of work are visible to everyone, and host regular web conferences to explain the test activities that are coming up.
4. Meet Face-to-Face
At least once as a minimum (and preferably more regularly) meet with your distributed team(s) face-to-face. It sets the tone as being more personal – it’s very easy to forget that you are dealing with real people when your contact with them is purely digital. Meet with them for onboarding/kick-off workshops, test approach workshops, or just go on a roadtrip to meet and greet and answer any questions they may have about the test process.
5. Use All Available Collaboration Tools and Software
As mentioned under Communication above, use all available collaboration tools and software that you have available.
Keep all your plans and common documentation in a shared accessible location. This may be Sharepoint, or a common network drive, or any other shared document storage location. Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Docs for those businesses that support them.
Use common areas for notation. A shared OneNote notebook, a local Wiki, Confluence.
Regular contact via Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, or other collaboration web conferencing. Use desktop sharing for presenting plans and approaches. Webcam is optional, but teleconferencing can be useful in larger groups and helps to maintain the personal touch.
Instant messaging for quicker details, emails for longer group conversations. But don’t forget that you can simply pick up the telephone!
There we have it, five quick tips for managing distributed test teams in your SAP implementation project.