The spread of communication in test teams has long been essential in the smooth functioning of the activity. This may be to distribute activities, test campaigns, troubleshooting, collating progress reports, latest known problems, etc, etc.
With the move towards increased use of social media there are many opportunities for improved effectiveness in the team structures and dynamics.
Information exchange via informal and more formal networks in test groups has always existed.
- Formal: Due to the project/team/unit organisation forming a semi-rigid reporting/information chain.
- Informal: For example whiteboards, emails and wiki pages.
With the increased use of social media there are many opportunities that test engineers (whether in teams, intra-team or management) can grasp to aid communication exchange.
Increased effectiveness will probably come from a hybrid use of the formal and informal channels.
In this team working context the social media could be wikis, webpages, some collaborative software, amongst others. Many of these have existed for some time but are quite often just used as a dumping ground for information - libraries, records, how-tos etc.
So, with all these different ways of communicating what do we do? Let's do a bit of blue-sky thinking...
A more fluid/dynamic team set-up? Something more evolutionary? This is an idea that will probably scare the socks off project managers used to more rigid team set-ups.
Suppose team A & B are working on two different areas. During the course of their execution they hit a problem (affecting both teams). Traditionally, there are several ways this can be approached - a sub-team (from both teams) is set-up to trouble-shoot, one team focusses on the problem whilst the other works around it or the troubleshooting is handed over to someone/team external to A or B.
Well, suppose the trouble-shooting group formed dynamically. This happens either via IM, wiki post, blog, email etc - certain team members (spanning the two teams) decide that the problem should be worked on jointly.
The idea here is that the network exists (the pool of test engineers) and forms a team dynamically (eg two people discover they're stopped by the same problem and join forces, even calling in external help) - this joining of forces aids the problem solving (in most cases)
This type of team dynamic probably needs to be ok'd/coordinated - but as the teams/network gets more and more used to it then the team formation should become more "natural" or "self-selecting".
This dynamism is meant to only create temporary teams for as long as they are needed!
Another example of dynamic team formation is a group forming from a given network to do some brainstorming on improving a process - the interested parties initiate the activity, setting up the group dynamically and kick-starting the work.
Tools for all of this - to help facilitate it?
I think some of best tools are the collaborative SW tools (project web pages with directive, status, discussion boards and team calendars), linked in with blogs (eg for thoughts/opinions on what went good/bad in a project), wikis & webpages (resources for how-tos) and email (ad-hoc questions/requests or inspiration).
When I say evolutionary I don't mean that the "weak" are left behind. This activity has to be inclusive - adoption and usage rates will always vary, and there is no place for exclusion.
What about fluid team structures dictated by the problems in front of them? This is about moving towards collective intelligence! More of that later.
Other benefits & problems with social media and team dynamics in a later post.