Testing times

May 2015

Hand holding stopwatchWith the increased cost and complexity of modern IT estates, effective testing plays an ever increasing role in a successful project launch. With this in mind, Will Killin MBCS, ARM Ltd's IT Test Manager, explains how to add value during testing times.

The mindset and behaviours of project test teams can greatly influence a project outcome, and with some nurturing your test team can evolve from a necessary cost centre to an enabler of high-quality service. Without a strong sense of direction, however, or the opportunity to demonstrate the value they are capable of providing, test teams will struggle to change perceptions.

A negative perception of test team performance can lead to slower delivery, increased cost or delivering the bare minimum. This kind of reputation will continue to drag down a test team’s productivity and perceived value long after a project ends. But this need not be the case.

Supporting your test team to shift their focus from solely finding defects to predicting quality in your projects will make a real difference to how the team is valued. Making that change isn’t about a new technique or methodology, but about developing a mature, experienced team that is trusted to positively influence the delivery of a project.

From our work across a range of clients, we’ve identified five key mindset and behavioural changes to help your test team become a key enabler of project success.

  1. Focus on why a change is being made to keep end users at the forefront of everyone’s mind when designing tests. Adopting a user’s perspective creates fewer, more valuable tests that verify a larger business benefit, rather than endless technical or functional scripting.

    These low-quality tests often arise when scripting is based on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the changes being implemented. For example, ‘can a customer search for, and find, products that are currently on sale?’ is a simpler, clearer and more meaningful test case than one that searches for every discount range or every product.

    Most of all, it enables your testers to implicitly look at the human elements of business and user engagement that are difficult to script for and shouldn’t be left until a dedicated usability phase.
  2. Inform business and change owners in terms that are real to them to allow for greater accuracy in predicting meaningful quality. Metrics that tell stakeholders how a change will impact them will give them the confidence to make an educated decision about go-live.

    For example, telling a product owner that nine out of 12 e-commerce tests have been completed with one open defect is far less valuable than being able to tell them that ‘customers are able to search for products, add them to their baskets and complete their purchase with all major credit card types - except where the customer has added a discount voucher code’.
  3. Embed the test team throughout the project lifecycle to help everyone in the team to continuously improve delivery and quality for each other and at all stages of the project lifecycle. The test team will then be able to support every member of the project, helping them to create a product that meets the needs of those it is being produced for, with each of the deliverable items ultimately working towards the business and operational benefits of the project as a whole.

    There is a positive multiplier effect when testing helps others in the project. For instance, a tester partnering with and coaching your business analysts during the design phase can prevent them from misrepresenting a requirement that is then further misinterpreted by your developers down the line. Before you know it, you could be reworking months of effort to solve something a trained tester would easily spot, and at a significantly lower cost.
  4. Tailor and adapt test validation and verification techniques to ensure a light touch, but thorough, approach. This is a critical balance that test teams need to manage effectively to avoid being seen as an expensive or bureaucratic mechanism that gets in the way. It is the test team’s responsibility to understand their stakeholder’s appetite for risk and to use an appropriate amount of effort to deliver a level of quality that meets the agreed needs of the business.

    To do this, test teams need to know what their remit is, what good looks like for the business and feel able to speak up if things aren’t right or create an unacceptable risk. Combined with communicating in ways that are meaningful, test teams can accurately describe the level of risk faced by varying approaches and reach a consensus on approach and risk amongst all levels of stakeholders.
  5. Empower your test team to act as the business’ quality assurance partner by being engaged, honest, open and upfront. This is probably the most meaningful thing a test team can do for a project as it makes the most effective use of your test team’s abilities and frees other groups within a project to focus on theirs.

    Sometimes this will mean they will have to say no, recommend that you abandon a work stream and go back to the drawing board. Listen, understand why they’re making that recommendation and don’t dismiss the rationale because you think they are being pessimistic or that it will cost too much - they’re probably right and are just trying to limit any more exposure in the long term.

    Heeding their advice and stopping doesn’t mean failure, but not allowing your testers to fulfil their potential and to deliver without allowing them to add value does. Ultimately, not using your resources to their full potential is how projects fail.

    When considering the right approach to testing, there is a large variance in the mindset and capabilities that test teams can demonstrate. Adopting the ‘how can I break this code?’ mentality adds limited business value, whereas actively seeking to introduce quality at all stages of project delivery is much more beneficial.

    Test teams who demonstrate the five qualities outlined above are the equivalent of artisans and scientists, but they can’t reach that stage of maturity if not supported by senior management.

    Educating your test team on the business benefits you’re looking to achieve will allow them to communicate meaningfully and support the business in a way that allows them to reach their full potential and deliver value in your eyes and their own. 

Image: iStock/120798518

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