Building a Test Centre of Excellence: Experiences, Insights and Failures

As organizations mature in their Testing Processes, the perennial quest to achieve ultimate excellence has led them towards attempts to establish the “Test Centre of Excellence” better known as TCoE. Many such initiatives have been plagued with issues ranging from partial implementations to complete abandonment midway. Additionally, most TCoE initiatives find heavy resistance and inertia within teams as it is perceived as a threat to their independence and way of doing things.

At the heart of some of these issues lies poor alignment to business goals, poor ROI analysis prior to investing, poor communication and incorrect choice of models to centralize amongst many others. Drawing from their experience of consulting with organizations on TCoE initiatives and building one for their own, Krishna and Mukesh have written a whitepaper to share insights, experiences and lessons learnt from both successes and failures.

Download the whitepaper to learn how to go about creating your own TCoE while overcoming the common and not so common challenges you will face along the way. Draw on their experience to troubleshoot some of your unique problems.


Communication- A Key Skill to Excel at Testing

Enabling better communication is not a onetime activity. It requires continuous effort across the company. Good internal and external communication is extremely important to a business’s success. In order to work together effectively, there must be clear and coherent communication among all the departments.

Here are a few scenarios wherein communication gaps may arise and lead to poor quality:

1. Continuously Changing Requirements:
At times, requirement changes are implemented directly without updating the specification document. In such cases, there is a chance that the changed requirements remain untested or are tested incorrectly.
Any change in the requirements should be communicated correctly to all stake holders and it is necessary to update the specification document on a timely basis.

2. Configurations:
Lack of clarity from the stakeholders on the configurations to be tested can lead to wasted effort and extra work. Configuration testing can be expensive and time consuming. Investment in hardware and software is required to test the different permutations and combinations. There is also the cost of test execution, test reporting and managing the infrastructure.
Increasing communication between development, QA and stakeholders can help deal with these challenges.

3. Team Size:
When team sizes are large, some members of the team may miss changes in requirements or may not be communicated updates on activities in the project. This could lead to severe problems in the project or project failure.  Each team member should be abreast of the activities in the project through a log or through other means.

4. Changes in  Application Behavior not Communicated:
Continuous changes in the application behavior may lead to requirements being tested incorrectly.  All the functionality implemented in the application should be frozen while testing. If any changes are made to the functionality, they should be communicated to the testing team on a timely basis.

5. Unclear Requirements:
Complex requirements that contain insufficient data may be difficult to understand and therefore, may lead to improper testing. The functional/technical specification documents should be clear and easy to understand; they should contain a glossary, screenshots and examples wherever necessary.

The path to project success is through ensuring that small communication problems are eliminated completely before they build up, so that the message is delivered correctly and completely. Instead of discovering problems, we should figure out how to stop them from appearing in the first place.

Poonam Rathi | Test Consultant | Zen Test Labs

Using Mind Maps in Testing

Mind maps are an excellent tool and can be used in a variety of testing activities like requirements analysis, test design, test planning, session reports, measuring test coverage etc. Testing relies heavily on communicating stories about what should be tested, how it should be tested, what are the risky areas and so on. Making this process visual can help testing teams articulate their thoughts & ideas better. Drawing mind maps also makes generating new ideas much easier.

Take a look at the simple “Replace” dialogue box below

Dialogue Box

We can easily create a mind map for testing this functionality using the following steps:

  1. Draw the main theme in the centre.
  2. Draw the module name/features of the application branching out from the main theme.
  3. Draw the sub module/feature branching out from each module/feature.
  4. Add colors to your mind map to make it easier for your brain to group things together.
  5. Write test cases for each feature and sub feature.
  6. Include only testable items in your mind map
  7. Try not to use full sentences in your mind map

Mind Map 1

Some examples for creating exclusive mind maps or creating branches in existing mind maps are:

  • Mind maps for field level validation of all fields on the screen
  • Identify fields that are common to all screens and create a ‘Common Fields’ mind map. Eg. Date Field- this field is the same in all screens
  • Mind maps that include business rules
  • Mind maps for events like Mouse Over, Click etc
  • Mind maps based on Screen Names
  • Mind maps based on Functionality

An example Mind Map for validating a subscription form

Subscription Form Mind Map

Ideas for using mind maps in testing:

  • Mind Map Jamming: All the testing team members read /analyze a particular requirement/feature and create a mind map for it together.
  • Using Mind Maps for Defect/ Execution Summary: Create a mind map of test cases. After execution, you can mark (tick or cross) the mind map as per the Actual Result, thus using it to provide Defect/Execution Summary.
  •  Smoke/Sanity Testing: Create a mind map for all the flows that are to be Smoke tested or Sanity tested.
  • Scope: Create a mind map to show what is in Scope and what is not in Scope.

You can use mind maps anywhere and everywhere! Mind maps exist to make your life easy, so if a mind map is getting too big or complicated try splitting it.  The great thing about mind maps is that all test cases are visible in one view; you don’t need to scroll up and down. This also makes it simpler to add new points whenever you want. Mind maps provide more coverage and the likelihood of missing important points is lesser. You cannot use long detailed sentences in mind maps. Using one word per line improves clarity and understanding. It makes recollection easier. Using single keywords will make your mind maps more powerful and flexible.

 Mindmap testing-final

Mind mapping skills improve over time and with practice your mind maps will become more extensive & wide-ranging. Although, mind maps help you simplify information and make it easily understandable, you must not forget that they are ultimately models and therefore, they may leave out important aspects. So make sure that you question what might be missing from the map and add those things. This is quite simple as all you have to do is add another node to the map!

Satish Tilokchandani | Lead Consultant | Zen Test Labs

Pressure to Release and the Impact on Testing

The pressure to release new products to a consumer with the appetite of a blue whale has led to an unprecedented situation. Companies are being pushed to embrace iterative and incremental development methodologies in a bid to keep users happy. Add what is now commonly known as the Google effect “I want it now and I want it free” and you have a disaster of epic proportions in the making.

I’d like to draw a parallel from the aircraft manufacturer industry.Airbus and Boeing have been in a battle for over 20 years now. This battle reached a crescendo in 2005 with the launch of the world’s largest passenger aircraft; i.e., the Airbus 380 releasing an extremely high pressure situation on Boeing to launch a new aircraft.Boeing worked on trying to get a better aeroplane that could beat the A380. Boeing finally delivered on its promise in 2007 with the launch of its own 787 Dreamliner. Unfortunately, Boeing has been plagued with a host of issues on the 787s including electrical fires on board mid-air, leading to the grounding of the entire fleet. Fortunately, there have been no fatal accidents to date.

Why do I state this example in a software testing blog?

The aircraft industry is a cutting edge world with great emphasis on passenger safety, deep rigor in testing all equipment thoroughly before allowing actual passengers to fly. I am very confident that Boeing would have followed a meticulous protocol to test this aircraft but somewhere the pressure to release has led to errors creeping in the process. Boeing’s issues reinforces the fact that we live in a world where the pressure to release can get to the best of us.Now this is an industry where testing is not taken lightly and this happened. Over the years, the kind of trade-offs I have seen software companies make I am surprised most of them have lasted this long 🙂

Given all these factors, we all acknowledge and accept that we cannot possibly test every point in a system to find defects. Thus one of the ways that has evolved of late is to run a “Risk based testing” program that protects you from critical failure in projects

Most customers I interact with end up using models that work on probabilities, impact, time and cost. One recommendation we end up making to most of them is to use statistical models to do this analysis. Do not rely only on past data, experience, user feelings, etc. Put it in a statistical model and see what the scenarios that come out are. Map these to your past data, experience, high failure areas, criticality to business, user feeling, etc. and add/ edit/ delete based on that. What you will end up with is a decent test plan that covers your risk sufficiently. It is critical that you revisit this periodically to adjust your plan on defects you are finding.

Ultimately, the decision to release a product is one driven by business needs. However, shipping a product that is not tested properly may not be that great an idea as a small number of people can make a lot of noise about problems-even those problems that are not so serious. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in now! As for Boeing, there is always the next battle to win in a duopoly .

Hari Raghunathan | AVP | Zen Test Labs