Successful Test Management

March 21st, 2012 by Bill Echlin
Successful test management is about improving processes, technology and teams. However, if you don’t keep your eye on the end goal it’s easy to spend time and effort improving these areas yet see little difference in the quality of products you’re working on. And that’s the key. Any improvement efforts need to be targeted towards delivering an improvement in the quality of the products you are testing. Too many projects fail to deliver those improvements because they lose sight of this. The following 7 rules will help you focus on delivering a successful test management solution.
Rule 1: Focus on the Product Quality Goal
This is all ultimately about improving product quality. It’s not about technology. Improving tracking, reporting and productivity are all important but they’re not the main reasons we should be looking to implement a test management solution. If we see this as an opportunity to improve quality this enables QA teams to look for solutions that help us find more defects and find them earlier. If we look at this as an opportunity to improve tracking, productivity etc we may well achieve this but we may well miss the key point which is that we’re looking to improve the quality of the products we’re working on. Keep this at the front of your mind whilst you’re working to improve processes. If you do you’re far more likely to implement the right solutions in the manner that best works for your team.
Rule 2: Executive Involvement
Executives tend not to find software testing very exciting. They see it as a necessary evil. It gobbles up resources and money. And at the end doesn’t deliver a tangible product that can generate revenue. Only those executives that have been bitten by a poor product release (usually associated with negative press for your company) seem to truly grasp the importance of our role in the product development process. Yet the executives are usually the ones that will be authorising any significant changes to your processes and sanctioning the purchase of any tools. Executives also have a big influence on the empowerment of the QA team in improving their processes. Just two or three knock backs from a couple of executives can result in a QA team giving up on any future desire to improve and enhance their working practices.
Rule 3: Understand your Business
Many teams expect to implement a successful test management process without even understanding their business processes. We execute tests. That’s our business process. How difficult can it be to find a system that helps support that? It’s never that simple in real life. Over years the QA team will have developed processes (formal or informal) for interacting with developers, customers, end users, technical authors, etc. All of these interactions require some degree of process. If you don’t understand these processes how can you expect to implement a test management solution that will support them?
Rule 4: Look for the Benefits
Many QA teams select a solution based on the features it provides rather than the benefits it will deliver. Defining your business processes is important. So is understanding what benefits your improvements will deliver. You could be implementing a system that provides traceability between tests executed and requirements. However, this is only going to be a benefit if you have good requirement definition in the first place.
Rule 5: Support
You are not going to implement a solution successfully if your staff can’t support it. You should consider selecting a solution based on a technology platform that your IT department is familiar with. If the solution you want doesn’t fit with your technology platform then consider going with a SaaS solution. Next ensure that you have QA staff who know the system inside out. You’ll need staff that can support others in the team when it’s needed. Blind testers following blind testers is not a good situation. Successful test management is about having people in your team that understand why and how to use the solutions you implement.
Rule 6: Little Steps
Don’t go for the big bang implementation approach. Deploy your test management system as a series of small projects. Implementing change, especially in a test team, is difficult. It takes time for QA engineers to adjust, to learn and for them to appreciate the benefits. Smaller projects also increase the chances of success because your team can see the incremental improvements and start to feel the benefits sooner. These little successes build momentum. Momentum builds enthusiasm. Once you’ve got momentum and enthusiasm you’ve got a powerful combination for improving your QA processes.
Rule 7: Evaluation
Commitment is key. Success comes with improvements over the long term. Having a group of people that are responsible for a successful test management setup is essential. This group should be responsible for collating feedback, evaluating and maintaining the system. They should engender a belief that the system needs continuous adjustment and improvement. Not just a set it up and leave it for the next 10 years (before you have another mad spurt of effort to improve things).
Teams that implement successful test management systems know that it’s all about improving the quality of the solutions that you are testing. That means focusing your processes, your technology and your testers on the goal of improving the quality. Some get caught up in implementing the latest sparkly technology. This is usually in an attempt to just improve process, moral or some other relevant part of the system. It’s less likely to succeed. Successful test management is all about keeping the ultimate goal at the front of your mind.

Successful test management is about improving processes, technology and teams. However, if you don’t keep your eye on the end goal it’s easy to spend time and effort improving these areas yet see little difference in the quality of products you’re working on. And that’s the key. Any improvement efforts need to be targeted towards delivering an improvement in the quality of the products you are testing. Too many projects fail to deliver those improvements because they lose sight of this. The following 7 rules will help you focus on delivering a successful test management solution.

Rule 1: Focus on the Product Quality Goal

This is all ultimately about improving product quality. It’s not about technology. Improving tracking, reporting and productivity are all important but they’re not the main reasons we should be looking to implement a test management solution. If we see this as an opportunity to improve quality this enables QA teams to look for solutions that help us find more defects and find them earlier. If we look at this as an opportunity to improve tracking, productivity etc we may well achieve this but we may well miss the key point. Which is that we’re looking to improve the quality of the products we’re working on. Keep this at the front of your mind whilst you’re working to improve processes. If you do you’re far more likely to implement the right solutions in the manner that best works for your team.

Rule 2: Executive Involvement

Executives tend not to find software testing very exciting. They see it as a necessary evil. It gobbles up resources and money. And at the end doesn’t deliver a tangible product that can generate revenue. Only those executives that have been bitten by a poor product release (usually associated with negative press for your company) seem to truly grasp the importance of our role in the product development process. Yet the executives are usually the ones that will be authorising any significant changes to your processes and sanctioning the purchase of any tools. Executives also have a big influence on the empowerment of the QA team in improving their processes. Just two or three knock backs from a couple of executives can result in a QA team giving up on any future desire to improve and enhance their working practices.

Rule 3: Understand your Business

Many teams expect to implement a successful test management process without even understanding their business processes. We execute tests. That’s our business process. How difficult can it be to find a system that helps support that? It’s never that simple in real life. Over years the QA team will have developed processes (formal or informal) for interacting with developers, customers, end users, technical authors, etc. All of these interactions require some degree of process. If you don’t understand these processes how can you expect to implement a test management solution that will support them?

Rule 4: Look for the Benefits

Many QA teams select a solution based on the features it provides rather than the benefits it will deliver. Defining your business processes is important. So is understanding what benefits your improvements will deliver. You could be implementing a system that provides traceability between tests executed and requirements. This is only going to be a benefit if you have good requirements definition in the first place.

Rule 5: Support

You are not going to implement a solution successfully if your staff can’t support it. You should consider selecting a solution based on a technology platform that your IT department is familiar with. If the solution you want doesn’t fit with your technology platform then consider going with a SaaS solution. Next ensure that you have QA staff who know the system inside out. You’ll need staff that can support others in the team when it’s needed. Blind testers following blind testers is not a good situation. Successful test management is about having people in your team that understand why and how to use the solutions you implement.

Rule 6: Little Steps

Don’t go for the big bang implementation approach. Deploy your test management system as a series of small projects. Implementing change, especially in a test team, is difficult. It takes time for QA engineers to adjust, to learn and for them to appreciate the benefits. Smaller projects also increase the chances of success because your team can see the incremental improvements and start to feel the benefits sooner. These little successes build momentum. Momentum builds enthusiasm. Once you’ve got momentum and enthusiasm you’ve got a powerful combination for improving your QA processes.

Rule 7: Evaluation

Commitment is key. Success comes with improvements over the long term. Having a group of people that are responsible for a successful test management setup is essential. This group should be responsible for collating feedback, evaluating and maintaining the system. They should engender a belief that the system needs continuous adjustment and improvement. Not just a set it up and leave it for the next 10 years approach (before you have another mad spurt of effort to improve things).

Teams that implement successful test management systems know that it’s all about improving the quality of the software that you are testing. That means focusing your processes, your technology and your testers on the goal of improving that quality. Some get caught up in implementing the latest sparkly technology. This is usually in an attempt to just improve process, moral or some other relevant part of the system. It’s less likely to succeed. Successful test management is all about keeping the ultimate goal at the front of your mind.

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