Confusing Simplicity with Usability when selecting a Test Management Tool

November 11, 2011

A lot of companies that are evaluating test management tools say the tool must be easy to use. A reasonable request. It’s what’s behind this request that is interesting. In many cases it is the fact that the tool needs to be used by people that are not software testers. The reason for this? Companies supplement their QA team with people from the business or their QA team is comprised completely of people that come from the business. In a few cases companies opt not to take on testers with formal QA experience but decide to use people who know the business inside out as testers. Usually in this case the team have little or no experience of using test management tools or defect tracking tools. Hence the request to have a simple tool to use.

This is not a criticism of using people from the business who have no experience of using such applications. It’s more that the people driving the project hope to maximize productivity by giving the users a tool that they can become productive with quickly. This aim should be approached with caution though. There is a trade off here. Many simple to use test management tools are easy to use for a reason. They lack the features and capabilities that enable a team to manage and track the process effectively.

For example if you don’t need the complexity that’s usually associated with traceability between requirements, defects and testcases then that’s fine. If you need to know that a certain requirement has been tested fully and is covered by x and y testcases then you have to accept some complexity in the tool. That complexity is there because the process is complex.

That complexity will take time for a team with little experience to pick up. It’s getting the balance right between your requirements for your tool (e.g. we need requirements to testcase traceability) and accepting that these needs are likely to result in a steeper learning curve for your team. Don’t delude yourself though. Do you need your test management tool to deliver certain complex features? Well don’t assume that your business team will learn the tool in one 30 minute play around session. Your team may well need training.

This is the crux of the point. Many popular test management tools aren’t complex just for the sake of it (although it could be argued that some vendors throw so many features in to help sell the product that they are complex just for the sake of it). Many applications are complex because they are helping you track a process which is complex.

You may be looking to track which testcase covers which requirement, which release the check is run against and in turn which defects are raised. This sounds simple in principal. Once you have 5 business people running a couple of hundred tests a day against several different builds of the software over the course of a few weeks….. well we all know that tracking this gets complicated very quickly. This is why test management tools were invented in the first place.

In conclusion simplicity should not be confused with usability. As Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Some of the complexity you find in test management tools is there for a reason. It’s there because you need to track information relating to your process that is inherently complex. Make sure when you are looking at test management tools you are focusing on usability and not simplicity.