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4 ways testers can adapt to the speed of business today

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Mush Honda Vice President of Testing, KMS Technology

In  software development, delivery speed is the name of the game. Regardless of business sector or B2B/B2C focus, companies are experiencing global competition in application development and delivery. Meanwhile, with the increased number of options in the marketplace, users expect an excellent experience from your application or site. If you can't meet expectations, they’ll find it elsewhere.

A company’s ability to be highly responsive to (if not proactive about) customer needs is also valuable for adoption and branding. Established companies understand that delivering high quality in their products and services is core to brand value. 

This state of affairs isn’t always easy for testers. True, the emphasis on quality has made testers more germane than ever in software and IT organizations, but moving to a faster pace of work can be unsettling when your job is all about assessing the perceived quality of the software. Testers like to be cautious—and check everything twice. 

Testers help build confidence in the quality of an application, and this perception of quality is what typically drives user adoption. If two applications have more or less the same functionality, but one is faster and more reliable and has a better UI and design, you can guess which one will be more popular.

To thrive in this new world, testers must learn to prioritize and focus on the most important needs of the team’s delivery goals, rather than testing every last mouse click. Testers need to quickly incorporate feedback from multiple places and work well with stakeholders across the development organization and the business. Efficiency is imperative, and that means increasing the use of tools whenever possible.

Here is a framework to develop a world-class testing organization that can keep up with the rapid pace of business.

1. Understand business goals

While this may sound obvious, testers haven’t always had to think about the bigger picture. With more competition from everywhere, everyone on the development team should have a solid understanding of customer needs, business goals such as driving new revenue or growing customer loyalty, and how the competition stacks up for the solution in development.

2. Define a testing strategy

This exercise begins with understanding the business goals as they relate to the product or project and, at a more granular level, the goals for each sprint. The testing strategy should include a description of the overall project, priorities for testing mapped out into phases, timelines, testing approach, tools and methods to use, and how progress will be measured.

3. Develop a risk management plan

What will happen if you don't achieve those business goals? For instance, the business stakeholder might say the app needs to go live in four months with a new set of functionality, but is that an arbitrary goal or one that is embedded in an actual customer commitment? What will the financial impact be if the deadline slips? Which enhancements are critical and which are nice to have, from the end user's perspective? Once those particulars are documented (or discussed), the testing team can create the appropriate plan, prioritize, and determine what resources are needed to execute it.

4. Resources

Testing teams with mandates to move faster will need support in the form of new tools, training, and even new hires. Software that testers (as well as others) may use include DevOps and CI/CD tools, application lifecycle management tools, reporting and analytics, user interface and API testing tools, systems for recording and logging manual testing, tools for usability feedback, and more.

This can get overwhelming for startups and other organizations that don’t have the budget to purchase new software. Fortunately, there are many credible open-source tools that might fit the bill. This is also why development teams must understand what customers really want. Armed with that knowledge, they can prioritize which features must be perfect, and which areas of the application could meet a lower bar for quality. 

Words of caution

Testers are well-equipped to make all the changes required for the faster pace of modern software development. This shift has been under way for a few years, and many testers are embracing the change and the elevation of their role on engineering and IT teams. However, as testing relies on more automated tools, here are a few things you should consider:

  • Avoid tools mania. Testers, like many technical people, love to try out the newest toys, but it’s important to justify a tool’s adoption before acquiring it. With many tools there’s just too much noise and complexity, and that counteracts any speed and efficiency gains that automation supplies.
  • Automation tools do not replace testing. It’s not necessary or helpful to automate every testing task. Testers should view automation tools as enablers, not a replacement for the function. Automation is wonderful for reducing effort and giving testers time to work on value-added activities that can boost the overall user experience and usefulness of an application. Be sure to baseline test objectives before recommending an automation solution.
  • Institute process around automation. Ensure that you have defined a proper process in sharing the artifacts that your automation tools produce. Artifacts such as scripts must be versioned with proper comments and stored in a central repository instead of on individuals’ machines. Defining and enforcing good development practices, such as a check-in/check-out process, scripting style guides, and object organization with automation ensures a higher return on effort in the long run. In a few years this point may be moot. But there are still many testers with a waterfall mindset coming into new roles who may struggle in the transition. Testers once lived simply in the silo of sluggish procedures. They knew exactly when they would be called upon to do and how they would complete a task.

The quest for quality continues

Now, though, testers must put on their business assurance hats and work side-by-side with developers, operations managers and others early in the process. They must learn new ways to test, such as with behavior-driven and test-driven development. They need to get more technical, given the push toward test automation.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the tester’s quest for quality in software. Great testers will add the most value when they can be proactive about alerting others to brewing problems before they present themselves to the user.

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