I have lost count of the number of times my project testing phase has been squeezed. When you are up against a deadline, your carefully planned 3-rounds of testing with time for bug fixes and validation suddenly slide out the door.
And yet, no one wants to put out a product that hasn’t been robustly tested. That’s just asking for trouble from the customer. I know iterative methods allow for rounds of improvements, but they should be functional, incremental improvements, not fixing bugs you let slip through because the testing wasn’t good, or long, enough. That’s my view, anyway.
It is tricky to schedule time for testing, because you don’t know what you’ll find. Perhaps the solution is so brilliantly coded that nothing buggy will be found. (Ha!) I think this is where some of the pressure comes from: sometimes managers disconnected from the process of creating something new feel that as each component of the software works fine, together the whole will work just perfectly. “If the build has been good enough, there won’t be much to fix.” If only.
Testing goes beyond simply making sure the code is good enough. We test the processes, integration, training materials, communication approach and more. Here are 5 quick tips that I’ve picked up over the years for testing. Perhaps they will be helpful to you too.
1. Keep notes
I know, keeping a note of exactly what you pressed and what happened is boring. Users don’t always understand the rationale of following the script and noting down what happened. Detailed notes help other people replicate the error so they can see it, understand it and fix it.
Get into the habit of documenting everything. You’ll be grateful later.
2. Try to break it
This is the part of testing I enjoy the most! And it kind of contradicts with following the script – except you should have test scripts for trying to break the product too.
Encourage testers to do things in the wrong order, use the product incorrectly and see what happens. You need to make sure it is adequately developed to deal with those use cases ‘in the wild’ as well as for the users who have read the instruction manual!
3. Test with real users
Talking of users reading the instruction manual, ideally testing should be done with the involvement of users. I have been on projects where testing has been done by a professional test team, in our test lab. That was great. The level of detail and accuracy and information provided was awesome and elevated our confidence in the product. Testers are brilliant.
But you should also involve some end users. They may find the test process regimented and a bit difficult to get on with, but a little training should help with that. That community will provide a different insight into how the product works and can give you feedback on usability and process that a testing professional might not know, not being an expert in their job function with the wider business context around that.
4. Test what you can’t see
A lot of testing in my experience has been around what buttons do on the screen, functionality, do you get the data you expect. But when working with professional testers (as opposed to subject matter experts and team members we’ve drafted in to help check the software meets their requirements) they have always focused on what you can’t see as well.
Those are the non-functional requirements. Does it meet the company security guidelines? Is it fast? Can we back it up and do those back ups work? You should have non-functional requirements in the product spec or as use cases, so make sure the testing doesn’t overlook those.
5. Plan the testing
Finally, and I know it sounds obvious, but all of those things above should be in a test plan. Sometimes the test team has written this on my projects, sometimes I’ve had to write it (and probably didn’t do that great a job). But whatever you do, to whatever level of quality, the important thing is that a test plan exists so you have some idea of what is expected, who is going to do it, what you are looking for and how the test results will be fed back to the people who can make the improvements.
Make sure a test plan is included in your overall project plan, and if you aren’t sure how to put one together, get some support from people who have done it before.
I’m not a tester, so I’m sure there is more to it than what I’ve written above from the point of view of a project manager. What would you add? Leave a comment below to tell me!
Did you get any gadgets for Christmas? And are you still using them now? Gadgets like tablets and smartphones and the apps that go with them can help you work more efficiently.
You might have noticed the increasing trend towards Bring Your Own Device, and your company might already have policies in place about allowing you to access work data like information about your project on your personal devices. This trend shows no sign of stopping and this year we’ll probably see more and more companies adopt security policies that let employees use their own smartphones for work purposes. It helps them keep costs down but it does increase the admin and management and open up risks for sharing confidential data so if you are going to BYOD, make sure you do it within the official guidelines of your company – if in doubt, talk to your IT team about what you need to do to secure your device.
So, enough about policies and security, on to the apps. Well, actually I’m not going to focus on specific apps that will help you manage your projects because what’s available changes all the time. Instead, here are some things to look out for when you select what apps you want on your device for work:
1. Apps that allow access to your project management online tool
Many project management tools that are available as hosted solutions now come with mobile interfaces for Android and iOS that enable you to use them on your tablets and smartphones. This is a good place to start because if you already use an online project management tool the chances are you’ll want to access it on the go.
Check the company’s website to see if they offer a mobile app version of their product and then download it to your device. You’ll probably need to use the same login and password to access the site and then you should be able to see all your project management data from your phone. Some apps have limited functionality or views, so check out what you can see and do before you expect to need to use it while travelling so you aren’t surprised!
2. Apps that integrate with your online project management tool
Another place to look for apps is those that integrate with your online project management software. Again, check the website or blog from the company that provides your software as it is there that you’ll be most likely to find information about what social networks or apps have full integration with their products.
The most useful integrations will be things you already use regularly or could make use of, such as Google Docs or email tools but it could also be useful to look at what you could do differently and how you could update your plan. For example, some tools allow integration with social networks like Twitter and Yammer and these can be used to provide real time status updates for your project – useful if your project team want to update their progress on the go.
3. Apps that help you work
You can also download standalone apps that help you work more productively. Many are free but there are some you’ll have to pay for if you think you’ll get the value from them. My current favourites are Pages (the word processing app for my iPad) and Dragon, which is a voice recognition tool that means I can dictate text and don’t need to use the keyboard to record my thoughts. It only works when I have an internet connection, but I can cope with that.
There are so many tools available to you for tracking time, managing meetings, storing tasks and so on – you’ll have to try a few to see what works for you but try to mirror how you work offline so the change to your working practice isn’t too big and is sustainable. Otherwise you’ll find that the app creates more work for you and really doesn’t boost your productivity.
4. Apps that help you keep in touch with project teams
Finally, look for apps that will help you keep in touch with your project team members. Things like Skype fall into this category, along with other apps that allow you to do instant messaging, set up group chats or collaborate somehow. This normally only work if the other team members have the same apps on their devices, so you’ll need to collectively agree what to use and how to use it, otherwise you won’t get any value from it!
What if team members don’t have a gadget with apps on? Don’t let them feel left out. You’ll have to build other communication channels into your project or take the discussion off your device completely so that you can successfully integrate everyone in the team.
When you search for apps, look for ones that are up to date and with good user reviews. Don’t be afraid to stop using it if it doesn’t work for you or your team. And of course, use your gadgets considerately, following good gadget etiquette when at work!
What are your favourite apps at the moment? Let us know in the comments.
This video looks at the impacts of the recession on budgets and covers the benefits of home working as well as the green elements of saving money. There's a white paper here (.pdf) with more information.