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8 ways to transform your testing center of excellence

Michael W. Cooper Head of Quality Engineering, Transamerica
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Sometimes a popular organizational approach that delivered efficiency improvements a few years ago starts to hit its effectiveness plateau. Testing centers of excellence (TCoE) are prime example of this. TCoEs still ensure consistent application quality, but those traditional testing factories are beginning to give way to more flexible models. 

Is your testing center ready? The 2016-17 World Quality Report finds that while a year ago 60% of respondents agreed that the optimal model for their testing center was a captive factory functioning in a build-operate-transfer mode, the majority of this year’s IT executives state their preference for quick and nimble solutions. They're putting crowdsourcing and managed quality assurance (QA) services ahead of traditional TCoE models, and emphasizing the importance of agility and responsiveness to change.

When I moved from leading large testing teams to advisory and consulting work a few years ago, traditional TCoEs were still on the rise. Organizations had embraced a standardized approach to quality that was largely based on templates, extensive documentation, strict processes, release dates, and approval cycles.

Today, many of my clients are proactively streamlining their development and testing processes in order to optimize application delivery. After observing dozens of companies across many industries, I discovered these eight recommendations for how your organization's TCoE can add value in this time of rapid change. 

1. Connect application quality to customer value

Rather than focusing solely on QA, many new TCoEs take a holistic view of the application, contributing to quality throughout the application lifecycle. Testers in a modern TCoE must develop a much closer understanding of the application as a whole, and be able to connect features and functions to customer value.

Adopting this new way of thinking requires a culture shift that can take time to implement, but with delivery cycles shrinking, and agile ways of development replacing traditional waterfall-based practices, TCoE testers need to change their focus from simply validating quality to building quality into every aspect of application cycle.

2. Become part of the agile and DevOps culture

When T-Mobile made the decision to transition from waterfall to agile development, it was my job, as head of quality, to create and implement a strategy for how to transform our TCoE to fit into this new model.

First, we had to invest in training to help members of the testing team understand different elements of agile, and learn new techniques to accommodate a two-week sprint cadence.  Eventually, we transformed our TCoE into the central command point that coordinated the activities of many scrum teams, evangelized agile-based testing practices, and maintained detailed analytics of all aspects of application quality for both agile and waterfall projects. 

3. Centers for frameworks, not templates

Every TCoE begins with good intentions, but then slowly slide into mediocrity. They become burdened with processes and templates, rather than acting as an agent of progress and efficiency.

When I worked on a testing project at a major hospital system, I noticed that they had set up their TCoE as a shared service, but just a handful of business units used it. When I looked closer, I found that the TCoE employed about a dozen people whose primary function was to pass around templates. It was a testing center of excellence in name only, without any accountability for application quality and no ability to create and share best practices, tools or value-added services.

My testing engagement included transforming the TCoE from an organization that pushed paperwork and templates to a thriving hub for sharing information, tools and frameworks. After that, it rapidly gained acceptance throughout the organization.

4. Automate as much as possible

Test automation is a key element in reducing time to market, but most organizations still think of it strictly in terms of regression testing. Your transformed TCoE should promote automation for other aspects of quality too, including:

  • Provisioning of test environments,
  • The process of generating, gathering or masking/scrubbing test data,
  • The creation of reports and dashboards,
  • Test scheduling and execution


5. Discard all standardization... save one area

TCoEs traditionally pushed aggressively for standardized testing tools. Unfortunately, pressing teams to use tools that didn't come naturally was marginally successful at best. And in today’s world of testing tools that are tailor-made for specific technologies, it is no longer practical to standardize, even within one business unit.

However, there’s still a need for one specific area that can benefit from standardization: test management. The need to maintain a single source of truth has not gone away with the advancement of agile and DevOps. When one agile team is using Jira while another keeps its tests in HPE ALM or QASysmphony qTest, your ability to synch the information with a central hub (such as a Tasktop, OpsHub) will provide you with the visibility you need into the entire testing process, and will simplify reporting and accountability for overall application quality.

6. Develop a community of practice, shared services and knowledge

New TCoEs  take quality to the next level by centralizing, coordinating and automating aspects and functions that can benefit the entire organization. A shared bank of mobile devices and platforms, best practices on continuous integration, service virtualization tools, in-sprint automation techniques—these are just a few examples of how a TCoE can transform itself from a rigid enforcer of rules to a dynamic knowledge center.

7. Promote open, organic communication and sharing

When I worked at Fair Isaac, and the data analytics company embraced test automation and "shift left," there was confusion as to how it could best leverage and reuse test automation components within different teams.

So we created a virtual roundtable, and met each week. There we presented what worked for each team, and shared our lessons learned from each project. Everyone was invited to ask questions, give feedback, and post their own functional test libraries, frameworks, and how-to videos in a shared workspace.

Storage is cheap, and collaboration platforms like Skype and Google Hangouts let people connect from anywhere, so why not make your TCoE into a virtual center of shared knowledge, with on-demand knowledge sharing videos and collaborative discussion threads?

8. Develop new skills: both soft and technical

In my recent blog, “The 7 soft skills every QA tester needs”, I talked about the importance of soft skills such as communication and listening. But it's also important to keep your TCoE technical skill set abreast of new technologies. New development models highlight the demand for software development engineer in test (SDET) skills. And while nothing can replace a good tester’s intuition and attention to detail, every testing center that hopes to remain relevant in this market needs to invest in training and hiring of testers so that they have a solid understating of modern technology and development concepts, as well as specialized testing disciplines and techniques, such as performance and security testing.

These are my eight ideas, but I'm sure you have plenty more. How do you think the traditional TCoE model should evolve? What has your organization done to adapt?

Image source: Flickr

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