Testing beim Flughafen Zürich
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Trivandrum – Wrocław – Bern: Three Countries – One Testing Team

  • Cléa Fierz

Two time zones, three countries, three native languages, none of which is English. How do you work in this sort of setup without misunderstanding each other or talking at cross purposes? In the interview below, our test manager, Romy Maurer-Wysseier, talks about the experiences, challenges and positive aspects of working together in an international testing team to prepare for the relaunch of the Zurich Airport platform. This was a project that brought together testers from the PITS IT services provider in India and testers from Unic in Poland and Switzerland.

Testers from Three Different Countries Meet

Romy, how does quality assurance work across different time zones?

Romy Maurer-Wysseier: The time difference between India and Switzerland is luckily ‘only’ 3.5 hours in the summer. In the winter, it’s 4.5 hours. When the team in India starts work at 9 am, it’s 5.30 am here or even 4.30 am. This means that when I start work shortly before 8 am, I am already inundated with questions. Sometimes I need other project members to help me answer these questions, which can lead to considerable delays in testing because not everyone always turns up bright and early in the morning (laughs).

It becomes a problem when something goes wrong with the deployment overnight. Then the testers in India cannot do anything for several hours until the developers on the project in Switzerland and Poland have been able to rectify the error. We have faced this same challenge on projects in the past. This is why the stability and quality of the nightly builds, deployments that take place automatically overnight, are so important to the success of testing in India.

How was the project team put together? Who was responsible for what?

It was an all-women team with employees from three countries.

Switzerland

  • Romy Maurer-Wysseier as test manager

Poland

  • Karolina Marczak as senior test engineer and test automiser
  • Klaudia Kaczmarekt as test engineer

PITS, India

  • Sreerekha Sreeragam as tester
  • Thara Nair as tester
Left in the picture, right next to Romy Maurer-Wysseier, you see Sreerekha and Thara.
Left in the picture, right next to Romy Maurer-Wysseier, you see Sreerekha and Thara.

I met Sreerekha and Thara in person when I visited Trivandrum in the spring of 2019. Thara, who is in charge of testing at PITS, had worked on Unic projects before, at the same time as Sreerekha. I was also involved in one of these projects when I was still working as a frontend engineer, and Sreerekha tested my work.

We work very closely with the testers in Poland, so it is essential that we see each other regularly. For the Zurich Airport relaunch, we had a large team of employees responsible for frontend, backend and testing in Wroclaw. We wanted to meet in person to make sure there was a real sense of team spirit. That is why the team from Poland visited us in Zurich once, and we travelled to Wroclaw from Switzerland twice as well. These visits are always extremely rewarding for everyone and give the project an extra boost!

When we started the airport project, I already knew who everybody was, but the team was put together slightly differently. That is why the first step was to gel as a team, which isn’t always easy when you’re so far away from each other.

I appreciate their work and wish I had support like that on other projects.

Telling Personal Stories Bonds People Together

How did you manage to come together as a team?

Visiting Trivandrum before the project began certainly helped kick-start a strong working relationship. I was able to get to know the people on the team and provide appropriate training. And, as I’ve already mentioned, both testers have worked for PITS and Unic for a long time. They know how our projects work.

It also helps that PITS employees are used to working for Swiss clients. This means they are familiar with some of our Swiss particularities (laughs). In other words:

  • They are extremely punctual.
  • They (usually) speak English clearly and slowly, because otherwise we haven’t the faintest chance of understanding their Indian English.
  • They are aware of the time difference and usually ‘only’ start work at 9 am their time so that we can work together for most of the working day.
  • They have no problem coordinating their work with other people involved in the project, such as project managers, backend developers, frontend developers or other testers.
  • By Indian standards, PITS has very loyal employees. It’s not unusual for people to work for PITS for more than five years. This shows how well PITS treats its employees. It also means that we are able to build stable teams with them.

How did you ensure the working relationship was a success?

Our weekly meeting played a key role in ensuring that we worked together effectively on the project and clicked on a personal level. To bridge the physical and cultural distance between us, we would spin a ‘wheel of fortunes’ at the end of every meeting. This would randomly pick one of the five employees from the testing team who would then tell us something about them that wasn’t work-related. As a result, we ended up getting to know each other very well indeed and were able to build a strong team spirit.

The wheel of fortune determines who may tell something personal about themselves at the end of the meeting.
The wheel of fortune determines who may tell something personal about themselves at the end of the meeting.
Being a part of the Airport-QA team was a great opportunity and we were very happy to work on a really amazing project with a diverse group of very passionate and skilled people.

Encounter on an Equal Footing

What cultural barriers did you have to overcome?

When you have five testers from three different countries, it is hardly surprising that you end up speaking and writing in English. However, English is a foreign language for all of us, which can quickly lead to misunderstandings. Despite this, when we were working on the airport project, we never had any communication issues. This might be because it was very much a partnership of equals.

On digital projects, Indian testers are frequently ‘only’ brought in to perform tests. They diligently execute prepared test cases and flag any deviations as errors. We worked very differently with PITS on the airport project. Thara and Sreerekha contributed to developing the test cases based on the specification. They were not afraid to pose critical questions. This was something I greatly appreciated and perhaps one of the reasons why I enjoyed working with them so much.

A different approach would not have worked anyway, as the specification on the agile airport project was much too dynamic for rigid test cases.

Development team's willingness to help us to sort out issues, was highly appreciated.

What Successful Testing is all about

The months preceding the airport platform’s go-live were impacted by the coronavirus crisis. Did the pandemic also leave its mark on the testing team?

We were lucky that PITS was able to get hold of laptops for many of its employees. This meant that Thara and Sreerekha could work from home and protect themselves from the virus. However, as the internet connection is worse at their homes than at the office, we were not able to use video chat during the meetings. As a result, we were unfortunately no longer able to ‘see’ each other. Luckily, this didn’t impact how well we worked together.

What was it like working together in everyday life? Is there anything that you look back on as being particularly positive?

We didn’t have a great deal of time to complete the project. That is why it was essential that we didn’t test some cases twice and forget about others. Every member of the team was responsible for her own area. Language was often the deciding factor when choosing who got which area, because we were testing based on the specification and not writing rigid test cases.

Together with my colleagues in Poland, I concentrated on the airport-specific backend functionalities. It was much easier for us to get in contact with developers in Switzerland and Poland and ask them questions about the specification in our native languages.

Sreerekha and Thara took on responsibility for testing the frontend and meticulously comparing it with the design, which they did with great élan. The extensive device and client-side testing they carried out was immensely valuable. Timelines are always very tight in the final stages of the projects, with so much testing to do on all devices. Thanks to our testers in India, we were able to do a lot of testing, all while sticking carefully to our quality assurance budget.

This issue is one that I find particularly difficult as a test manager. Of course, I want to find every last bug, no matter how small, which just isn’t possible. At the same time, we always have to keep to the agreed budget for quality assurance. There are clients who challenge these expenses because they can’t immediately see what the added value of testing is. Some then try to do the testing part themselves. This usually ends in stressful hotfixes and low customer satisfaction. This is why we are so thankful that a growing number of our clients understand our work and appreciate it. There’s much more to it than ‘just a little testing’.