Quality Automation Services Does .. Un-conference

David Clarke

Last week I was exposed to a few firsts at Mozilla.  One being my workmates, and one being the Uncon.  The Un-conference style conference.  The latter is up for discussion right now, the former being  not as interesting to a larger technical community.   So given that we have embarked on this conference style I want to expose what we were trying to solve over the course of the work wee.

  •  Team Identity
  • Communication
  • RoadMap
  • Team Cohesiveness
  • Process Management

At this point I suppose I should go into the Unconference mantra, and what it helped solve… A great resource I found was Unconference Net.  This site goes into detail about the different formats available, and how to host an unconference session. Great information for those embarking on this style of hosting a conference.

I was a bit apprehensive going into a work week with so little decided ahead of time, and such a broad agenda.  As a relative newbie to this style it was a bit difficult letting go off the need to feel organized, and in control of the plan.  The concept of going into any conference or meeting with no concept of the outcome is a bit frightening. But the real magic in this process was in understanding the human ability to self organize, plan and cooperate in a way that is cooperative and mutually beneficial for the team.  (U.S government not included in this assessment).

Getting to the point, I will skip to Day-one of the conference.  On the first Day of our uncon the illustrious Matt Brandt was the facilitator for the QA Automation work week.
The team wrote free form write questions down on post-it notes of things we would like to solve, and post them on the planning board.  The next effort was around agreeing on a common set of  topics and grouping those post-it notes, not a small feet when you have 8 people in the room, each writing 5-10, sometimes 15 post it notes, but one that was critical in illuminating a common set of pain points in the team, and structuring the conversation for the rest of the week.  In short order we had a calendar up, with one hour sessions, with 4 sessions per day.  Great making progress!

The next four days were spent communicating, a few heated discussions, but no communication break downs.  But it was a truly trans-formative process for the team in that we were in control of our own destiny.  Every day we ended up going way over our allotted time slots, which was ok as we were all engaged and all learning.

Another important piece of our uncon was that there wasn’t undue pressure to come up with action items.  This made sure we didn’t come up with action items that were not helpful, or forced by a lack of  star-dot-star.


The process was focused around communicating around a topic, with the hope to coalesce around key concepts. Once the latter happened, the action items jump off the page.  Assuming you have a high energy team the task items themselves shouldn’t be your biggest concern.  It is expected that the team itself organizes, wants to succeed, and will synthesize the information into a work flow that makes sense, cherry picking the easiest tasks, and focusing on the most pressing concerns of the group.  (Wow.. expect great things.)

So with less than 24 hours back, we have our own irc channel #automation, e-mail.  We have a team meeting, mailing list / new “member” documentation all in the works, a backlog of items in pivotal tracker.  Now don’t get me wrong there is still several more pieces of information to add, there is progress being made, and the team is organizing around those tasks.  Does it turn into a sustainable process improvement.. who knows, but all signs so far point to the uncon as being successful, and something I would recommend for other QA teams as a way to step back, organize and re-engage.

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