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4 tips for agile testing in a waterfall world

Kat Rocha Senior QA Engineer, National Research Center for College and University Admissions

Agile is awesome and has been around for years now, so every organization must be doing it, right? Actually, no, not in my experience. As an agile tester, you need to have strategies for dealing with semi-agile and waterfall development environments.

Begin with the understanding that agile is not about Scrum or Kanban processes in and of themselves; it is a set of values. Even in a non-agile environment, you can apply agile values to daily work.

Beyond that, when working in an organization that is undergoing an agile transformation, you as an agile practitioner can introduce specific best practices to help the agile transformation go more smoothly.

Finally, when you're working in a truly waterfall environment, adapt your process with an understanding that groups will be resistant to Scrum processes for the sake of Scrum. Instead, bring the advantages of agile to the team by making agile values relevant to the team. 

Think about the principles of agile and how to achieve them within current organizational processes, or how you might tweak current processes to meet those principles.

Here are four tips garnered from what I've found to be successful when adapting agile principles to waterfall environments.

1. Oversight of the feature list

Test engineers take on a gatekeeper function, since there is typically no Scrum master in a waterfall environment. Because features tend to be defined at a high level at the beginning of a project, there's a tendency to add or remove certain features from a release.

But in a waterfall environment, this is not always communicated well to the test organization. So as a test engineer you must be vigilant and keep in constant communication with product owners and the development organization.

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2. Backlog or specification grooming 

Backlog grooming is one Scrum process that you can safely bring into a waterfall organization. This process may be seen more as a way of expanding features from a high-level specification, rather than traditional agile backlog grooming, but the principle remains the same. This is an opportunity to come together with development and product management to more robustly define features and set acceptance criteria.

3. Resist advance work

One of the major advantages of agile/Scrum is the ability to respond to change. If the test organization is used to writing large, expansive test plans far in advance of receiving features, this can become a wasted effort for any features that end up being changed or removed. For test planning, a high-level scope document may be sufficient while not requiring a heavy investment of time.

4. Write test cases as if you are in an agile sprint

This goes with the resistance to advance work and being able to respond to changes as they are happening. Instead of investing heavily in advance test planning and test case writing, test engineers can benefit from working as if they were in a sprint with developers and writing test cases as each feature is being developed.

In this way, there will, hopefully, be a minimal number of changes required to test cases, and even less work that gets thrown away when a feature is abandoned.

[ Also see: Managing agile and waterfall together ]

Agile values depend on your unique situation

Every organization ends up implementing development and testing processes differently. However, by using the guiding principles of agile, even organizations that are still using waterfall methods can benefit from agile values if you apply them in the ways described above.

Transformations are a process

Transforming a waterfall organization into an agile one doesn't happen overnight. Training helps, and mentorship can improve the experience for those new to agile and Scrum.

Experienced practitioners can also influence new processes by bringing in their best practices from previous experiences. For example, at one company where I worked as it went through an agile transformation, I collaborated extensively with developers on how to break down features into the smallest possible testable story.

Another example would be to plan the delivery dates of your stories such that stories are delivered to test throughout the sprint.

Want to know more on bringing agile to a waterfall organization? Come to my STAREAST conference session, where I'll offer more tips from my own experience. The conference runs April 28 to May 3. TechBeacon readers can save $200 on registration fees by using promo code SECM. Can’t make it? Register for STAREAST Virtual for free to stream select presentations.

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