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Communication Skills for Testers

Formally, communication is defined as “Imparting or exchanging information or news”. Most testers think the scope of communication is limited to handing in an accurate status update or reporting a bug correctly, but communication is a lot broader than this! This session is all about communication and how to leverage them as part of your work as a Tester.

What is Communication?

Every communication event is defined by the following components:

  • The Goal
  • The Players
  • Sender
  • Receiver/s
  • The Channel
  • Encoding - Medium - Decoding
  • The Message

People tend to see mostly one case of communication which is very simple, clear, and straightforward. In other cases, communication can be very messy when one person is trying to broadcast to many people. Those cases are accompanied by background noises, competition for the attention of the receivers, other communication events at the same time, and so on. In order to make communication more efficient, we have to take actions that will make it less messy like Communication Alignment.

What is Communication Alignment?

Communication Alignment means putting in order everything you try to do in your communication. We will have to focus on our GOAL and ask ourselves three important questions that will help us align our communication:

  1. What do we want to Achieve?
  2. Who is Sending and Receiving the message?
  3. What Channel should we use?

For example, if what you are trying to achieve is fixing a certain bug, there is more than one way to do that. You can either send a formal email to the developers and the management asking them to fix this bug or ask a colleague to knock on the developers' office door and ask them directly to fix this bug. With both options, you can achieve the same goal but using different receivers and channels.

Typical Testing Communication

These are the main typical communication subjects generally in use within testing teams:

As testers, we don’t understand the GOALS we can achieve with the correct Testing Communication. Testers tend to limit testing communication to update “everyone” on the status of the testing when they could be achieving a lot more. Those goals will help both the testers to feel better about their contribution to the organization and provide more value to the company. Communication is the most important tool of the Tester!

4 Levels of Testing Communication

  1. Over the Wall Communication - The most common way of communication in testing. The objective of this communication is to help stakeholders with their tactical decisions. Characterized by one-way communication like “Fire & Forget”, dry and fact-based, and “one size fits all” templates. Most of the time we don’t provide any new information and it mostly enrages more than it helps. Examples of Over the Wall Communication can be Bug Reports of Testing Results.
  2. Learning Communication - Helps to understand better of the AUT and to increase awareness of testing in other teams. This is mainly an inbound communication channel that focuses on concrete and simple information about products and risks and introduces some stakeholders to the testing process. This is a great first step to getting information from additional stakeholders but most of the time it misses the chance to get these stakeholders more involved in the testing process. Sessions with other testing teams or 1-on-1 meetings with Developers or product teams can be good examples of this level of communication.
  3. Investigative Communication - intended to get more complex information on the AUT and understand what information is needed by stakeholders that can be provided by testing. This is a two-way communication channel with more questions than information. It also provides additional testing ideas, not necessarily related to functionality. The investigation communication provides valuable information on non-functional stuff from Real Life Users, awakens interest from additional stakeholders in the testing process, and generates noise from the outside. For instance, meeting with support to analyze tickets or sessions with higher management.
  4. Constructive Communication - The goals of this level of communication is to get and share information and involvement with internal stakeholders, generate recognition of the value of testing, and get first-hand information from users. Constructive Communication is a two-way communication involving both internal and external players, requires advanced skills in communication and group management, and eventually increases involvement in the testing process. This communication requires tons of preparation and execution and has a long-range gain and short-range investment.

Communication and Career Path

The experience a tester has in software testing affects the level of communication in testing. The more experienced the testers make them feel most comfortable using Constructive Communication. In addition, as the level of communication in testing increased the perception of added value by the testing team increased as well. The testers that communicate in the higher levels of testing communication are more appreciated by their teams and peers.

Summary

  • Communication is a complex mechanism
  • There are many goals testers don’t even try to achieve via correct communication use
  • There are a number of levels of communication you can use (smartly!) to advance your goals
  • The better you use your communication skills, the higher the perception of the value you will bring to your teams
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