Test Improvement is choosing

For me personally, one of the most difficult things in life is choosing. Especially because I don’t know what would have happened if I had chosen differently… And in the back of my mind, that “what if” game is constantly played. 

keep-calm-and-choose-wisely-33So my expert advice in test improvement is to choose wisely and consider several (all?) options. Don’t make choosing an everlasting process, just make sure you choose what helps. To be able to choose, knowledge about and experience with several approaches and models is necessary. Try to find a way that enables you to compare them and find the combination that suits the context and the purpose.

What usually helps is looking at aspects like:

  • Testing only?
    Is the scope of the model testing-only or does it consider a broader area?
  • Training?
    Is training available to ensure that everyone involved has the opportunity to learn about it.
  • Staged or continuous?
    Is the model prescribing a standard sequence of improvements in (big) steps or does it give free choice in the sequence of improvements in (small) steps.
  • SPI related?
    Is the approach or model linked to a Software (Process) Improvement model or approach that is already used within the organization or linked to a SPI approach that would help to improve more than just testing.
  • Scalability?
    Can you apply it to help a single project? A team? A department? A complete organization?
  • Are improvement suggestions “included”?
    Some models and approaches focus on finding the current status of testing and the required status; several include concrete improvement actions and highlight enablers
  • Required budget / investment?
    How much time/effort is required for preparation, execution and implementation of the implementation. What is the claim on the organization? Especially since you take into account that Business as Usual will always need to continu. And that the required budget needs to be available; in other words, your approach has to be fit for budget as well.
  • Top down? Bottom up? A mix?
  • Alignment with current test and development approaches, e.g. waterfall, iterative, incremental, Agile, Scrum, DevOps.
  • Culture
    Align your improvement approach with the culture of the organization and its peopke; although this is not typically something that is defined in a SMART way, this is key to success.
  • People
    Do the people in the organization like the improvement approach and are they willing to change in line with it. Again not typically something that can be defined in a SMART manner…

When I choose based on these – or similar – aspects, I tend to organize a walkthrough of my approach with experienced fellow testers. For me, it softens the “what if” voice in the back of my head.

Peer review gone wrong

Thank you Cyanide & Happiness!

The models and approaches to choose from are plentiful, probably worth (yet) another blog post.

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Back to test improvement – for now

Last week I organized a meeting with several colleagues who have, just like me, several years of experience in the improvement field. I’ll try to cover the topics we discussed in a number of posts, this is the first. The meeting turned into a great discussion about test improvement and we discovered – despite working in the same industry – so many different stories to tell. Any situation is different, isn’t it?

One tool to rule

Which underlines the most important lesson to learn in successful improvement: there is no such thing as “one tool to rule them all”, sometimes not even within one organization or department.

This is the what differentiates a manager from a leader: a manager sticks to his model of choice and tries to fit the context in his model; a leader uses what is “fit for context and purpose”. And in many cases, that’s more than one model or no model at all.

So, if you really want to improve, one of the things you have to keep in mind is that you need to focus on improving and not on the model you want to use.

The characteristics of each test improvement model define its added value and its limitations. And that is why the foundation for succes needs to be laid at the start of any improvement initiative: what model(s), if any, will you use?

To be able to decide, you’re first step needs to be defining the objectives of your initiative:

  • Reduce time
  • Save cost
  • Improve the quality of the delivered product
  • Improve the quality of the test process
  • Improve the skills & knowledge of the team
  • ……

On target

Scope comes second:

  • what area will you consider
  • what is the size of the group to consider
  • is only testing considered or do you include other disciplines like development and operations as well

Third is taking into account the resources that are available for the initiative:

  • Budget
  • Time
  • Skills
  • ……

Culture of the organization is fourth: are they open to change, eager to improve. Context is fifth: what approaches and tooling are already being used. And sixth is your best guess of the current maturity: the more mature an organization is, the easier it is to implement improvements and ensure that current “good” practices remain in place.

In other words, current & future test improvement has to be:

Current and future TI

The next step is to come up with an approach that suits all of the above. Worth another post, I guess.

Why improvement usually fails…

If you want to improve you have to invest time and money. What usually happens, is that you look for what everyone at that moment considers to be the right thing to do. So you tend to adopt the test approach, including tools and templates, that is “hot”.

Head in HandsLet’s say, you decide to implement risk based testing. You learn how to translate business risks into an appropriate test approach, including techniques, and create a beautiful plan and strategy.  And then? Your (pilot) project starts and fails…
Why, you wonder. You applied everything you learned, went to conferences, listened to the gurus, read the books, hired expensive consultants, …

As a test consultant I had the privilege to work in different organisations and projects and discovered a trend in “failures” and “successes”.  It boils down to one common denominator: did you or didn’t you involve the people who do the “real thing” in the test process? Yes, the ones that do the actual work a.k.a. the testers.  Somehow, they do not get involved in the early stages of test improvement.

We tend to start with test management, make the test organisation more professional, develop a test strategy, follow a lifecycle (plan, prepare and execute), use the right tools, select adequate test design techniques … According to the book! Don’t we make the same mistake at the start of a project? Forget to involve those same testers in the early stages?  When we define a test strategy and write a test plan, we talk to the business, the developers, all of our stakeholders, …

Don’t forget: the testers are the most important part of your test process and improvements, they have to learn to apply the new methods, tools and templates. In fact, they are the ones that have to change the most!

27-teamworkI found out the hard way that a few days training – even from the guys that wrote the book – is not enough for that senior business tester that has been there for over 10 years and knows the system inside out… And what about the “fire fighters” that have become heroes because they find, fix and retest defects quickly? They will not be convinced, they won ’t even attend!

So it’s all about people and how you involve them.  Take into account the capabilities and potential of your test engineers. Listen to what they have to say.  On the short term, you might end up at a maturity level you do not like. Or your approach is not exactly what you want it to be. But you know what, if you help them manage the transition, they will reward you with the highest level possible in the shortest possible time.  You will become truly successful.

It’s not your test management approach that decides how successful you are, your test engineers make it or break it. TMap? ISTQB? RST? As long as your people are able and capable to apply it in their day to day work.

Triggers for Improvement? Opposites attract!

The result of the poll I held amongst fellow testers and on this blog, is in line with my expectations: most test improvement initiatives start when quality issues occur. So in that sense, management treats testing like any other discipline: why invest in change or improvements when there is no (obvious) reason for it.

In my experience, motivated testers continuously look for ways to change and improve themselves and the way they work. And they are not afraid to look for help. They’re active on the internet, participate in Special Interest Groups, and meet with each other quite frequently. That’s why most improvement initiatives start at the operational level: the testers want to improve.

The first hurdle is to convince management that it is worthwhile to invest in change and improvement, a.k.a. business case. Unfortunately, currently the focus is on numbers: what are the benefits (in Euro’s please)? what are the costs? And by the way, we want Return on Investment within 6 months. Again, management treats testing like anything else: most companies  only start a project if it is beneficial within 6 months.

Quality versus Time versus Costs
Testers focus on qualitative benefits:
– the right test at the right moment;
– deliver what was promised;
– the right coverage at the right spot.

Management on quantitative benefits:
– reduced time-to-market;
– deliver what is necessary;
– increased productivity.


Funny thing is that also in this situation opposites attract: management will never get what they want without achieving what testers strive for; testers will never be able to reach their goals without meeting management needs. I’ll even go one step further: by helping management to achieve its goals, testers will achieve their own goals as well. Without the right test with the right coverage at the right moment at the right spot, reduced time-to-market and increased productivity is impossible. The only thing we can and have to discuss is scope: deliver what is promised or deliver what is necessary?

What would trigger you to perform a Test Process Improvement assessment?

Triggered by a discussion with some colleagues, I decided to add a poll to this blog.

 

 

Hope you share your opinion with the rest of us!

Assessments by external consultants have major benefits too!

Although I personally believe that doing it yourself is one of the best ways to successfully improve, in-house assessments have severe drawbacks as well.

SEPNumber one: you are part of the team that is being assessed and are therefore biased. No matter how rational and objective you try to be. During one of my assignments, I came across an effect called “Somebody Else’s Problem (SEP)”. I think this describes best what the consequences of being biased can be. Maybe we even use a so called SEP-field generator to help overlook issues within our own approach and team.

Number two: your coworkers are hesitant to share their weak spots with you because they fear you might use anything they say against them in the next project. As a consequence you will not find the root cause of recurring issues or the real issues preventing things to improve.

Number three: experienced consultants have performed assessments many times before, understand the assessment models, and are efficient in surveying organizations. Because of their independence, they can dare to ask questions about “everything you’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.”

Number four: external consultants bring a wealth of experience form other organizations. They have helped other organizations improve their testing and usually have access to several good practices that might help you make that next step. I’ve also learned that as an external consultant it’s easier to point out that certain existing habits should change.

Number five: when you’re leading an improvement initiative yourself, you might overdo it and strive to become the best in test. But your companies focus is on delivering the right product and/or service to your customers. Which implies that being efficient in testing might be enough. External consultants can help you decide what level is enough based on their experience at similar organizations.

Number six: even if you’re a craftsman, well-trained, experienced and knowledgeable, it is always good to have someone else come in and discuss with you what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

CloutNumber seven: your findings and recommendations, no matter how well reasoned and well-presented they are, do not have the “clout” that an outside assessor brings. This is a strange phenomenon that I’ve encountered quite often: an in-house group has performed an assessment and has made recommendations to management that are simply ignored. Later, when we are asked as external consultant to perform an assessment, we make in essence the same recommendations, management responds positively to our report, and the recommendations are implemented.

The hints, tips and tricks I listed in my previous blog also apply to anyone performing an assessment. One additional, crucial tip when using an external assessment team. Make sure that you do not focus on knowledge of and experience with process improvement models, but please check if the assessment team incorporates a wealth of experience in testing at any level.

In-house assessments have major benefits!

Digging through my personal archive, I found “Is There an Assessment in the House? Diagnosing Test Process Ailments in House”, an article Better Software published in December 2006. Re-reading the article, I decided it contained tips about performing an in-house assessment that are still very true.

Better Software - December 2006Performing an assessment in house is a less expensive initiative than hiring outside consultants. Maybe not as inexpensive as the Low Budget approach I described in my previous post, but still. And it has other substantial benefits. An in-house assessment team knows the organization, its people, its processes, and its habits in substantially more detail than an “outsider” could learn during the relatively short assessment period. And the process improvement suggestions might be more realistic, better tuned to the situation, and more achievable.

Here are some – slightly updated – tips for leading a successful in house assessment:

  • Define why you are performing the assessment and what you hope to accomplish.
  • Choose a test process assessment model that suits you and your organization. Use it to make sure your assessment is objective and your conclusions are legitimate.
  • Create questionnaires to ensure that you cover all major topics when talking to people.
  • Familiarize yourself with all parts of the organization and how it actually tests software. Look for discrepancies between process information – the way they claim to do things – and project information – what they really do.
  • Make sure you choose a representative sample of people to talk to. It’s easier to sit down with friends, coworkers, and people nearby, but they may not be the best sources of information.
  • Don’t just talk to testers. Testing is part of software development, decisions made by any discipline significantly impact testers. So be sure to include people from these areas.
  • If you organize a group interview, make sure they are peers. Otherwise, you’re bound to get “right” answer – what the manager wants said – instead of the truth.
  • Arrange to meet in their offices. People feel more comfortable on their home turf and may be more open to your questions.
  • Be an effective listener. You may be more of an expert in an area than the person you are talking to, but don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t fill in the blanks or use your words rather than theirs. It’s crucial not to interpret – just listen, learn, and record.
  • Ask what problems exist in the software testing process and how they think those problems could be solved. You will discover a wealth of information.
  • Keep confidences. You may hear some interesting things during your interviews. Don’t attach names to negative comments. Remember, you are trying to gather information, not set people up for punishment later.
  • Take detailed notes even if you’re getting the answers you expected. You won’t be able to remember all the details later, and your notes will be vital.
  • Don’t become enamored with certain people. They may be handsome or beautiful or powerful or famous or charismatic, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.
  • Work with a partner. While you are asking the questions, he records the answers. After a while, switch roles. I’ve always found my partner notices things I miss and asks questions I tend to forget.
  • Stop regularly to evaluate what you’ve learned and what is still unknown. Use that knowledge to guide your next interviews.
  • Present your findings to all who contributed to the assessment.
  • Tell the truth. As testers, the only lasting power we have is our integrity. Don’t do anything to damage yours.

If you ensure that you’re not biased and you make everyone share their weak spots, you’ll achieve wonderful things through an in-house assessment.