Remote Product Development: Effective Testing and SQA from Afar

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This post was written in collaboration with SQA Engineer Marisa Campbell.

This article is part of a multi-part series on remote digital product development. As a fully-distributed organization since 2016, DockYard’s experienced teams of project managers, designers, and engineers have learned a lot about how to seamlessly collaborate across disciplines and time zones.

Testing and ensuring the quality of software and applications is a continuous process that requires constant communication between the Software Quality Assurance (SQA) Engineer and product development teams. For distributed product development teams, this can seem like an especially difficult task as cross-disciplinary communication must be built into processes.

Between myself and Marisa, we’ve supported remote testing and SQA for a couple of years and have each learned a variety of ways to stay in the loop and effectively test digital products.

Here are some helpful tips for remote testing and quality professionals to remain effective when working with distributed teams:

1. Attend all team meetings

Even if Testing and QA input is not needed in a meeting, it’s still extremely useful to your role to attend all design and development team meetings. It allows you greater insight into requirements and new features in the pipeline, and gives you that much-needed look into the clients’ needs and expectations. It is understood that there will be times for heads-down testing; however, knowing the big picture on software, web, and mobile projects is also key to good testing.

2. Use video chat as a tool for defect triage

In an office setting, an efficient Testing and QA team member would usually sit with an engineer to discuss a bug/defect that was found during testing. Working remotely doesn’t have to hinder that process. Setting up a video chat with screen share can work just the same as an in-person chat. Working remotely can tend to desensitize team members into relying heavily on emails and messaging. However, communication can always be misunderstood using these methods. Speaking directly through video will not only limit the opportunity for misunderstanding, but also speed up the process and create more efficient Testing and QA work.

3. Prepare to maneuver between different time zones

With remote development teams, it’s common for colleagues to be working in different time zones, which could become a potential disruption to workflows. Fortunately at DockYard, our workday is designed to provide overlapping schedules throughout the majority of the day, so we can maximize the time everyone can collaborate. In the event that this is not possible, it’s important to strategically schedule touch bases and handoffs to ensure work transitions are smooth and consistent. And, while it’s important to hit deadlines and share information in a timely manner, you also need to practice patience when it comes to response times. You can’t expect immediate responses from your colleagues on the East Coast at 5 p.m. on the West Coast.

4. Troubleshoot all client issues

Working remotely can sometimes hinder a QA professional’s ability to be involved in issues and problems that occur in a production environment, and which need to be remedied quickly. Sometimes designers, engineers, and project managers hurry to “put the fire out;” however, having a Testing and QA member as part of the fire squad is usually helpful to determine a blindspot in testing. So, be proactive. A good way to stay on top of those items would be to request to be included in the triage of production issues and troubleshoot them alongside engineers.

5. Understand testing device limitations

One of the many tasks QA is involved with is making sure testing is conducted on multiple mobile devices. When working remotely, this can present unique challenges as you may not have a plethora of physical devices at your disposal. Without access to a diverse set of physical devices, testers must lean on simulators to ensure coverage across the array of devices “in the wild.” The trouble is, simulators can sporadically give a false impression of what a physical device actually encounters. To get ahead of this, QA specialists must make the team aware of these potential inconsistencies at the start of each project. This will allow the client, managers, and other members of the development team to have a shared understanding of what devices are available and how the product will be tested.

6. Surf the messaging boards

Agency chatter serves as a good way to keep abreast of upcoming client work in the pipeline, shifting deadlines, and other issues for any team members. Specifically for a Testing and QA member, this firm chatter is helpful because sometimes bugs/defects are found by other team members. Also, a team member might have a question about how something works. The Testing and QA team could use this information to determine more blindspots in testing and quality control, or it could be useful training to develop a QA’s more in-depth knowledge of a system. Since working remotely usually involves the heavy use of some sort of messaging app and emails, surfing these team message boards and reading all emails from your team is a great way to still be involved in “office chatter.”

Throughout the product development process, rigorous quality assurance is critical to achieving a successful launch. By maintaining communication, using the right tools, and being proactive, remote SQA professionals can continue to test and retest products to ensure they work flawlessly when put into the hands of users.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering custom software, mobile, and web application development consulting. We provide exceptional professional services in strategy, user experience, design, and full stack engineering using Ember.js, React.js, Ruby, and Elixir. With a nationwide staff, we’ve got consultants in key markets across the United States, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Austin, New York, and Boston.