BusinessInspirationTesting

What can business leaders learn from the software testing process in times of change?

As the leader of a software testing team, I am highly aware of the common factors which play a part in lowering the quality of a digital product, and have always adhered to the rule that, as a team, we are not just looking for bugs, but also searching for the reasons for why they occurred.

At the start of the current pandemic, it struck me how this process could also be applied to our general working lives at the moment. I wanted to share some of these thoughts with you, as I think that testing can actually teach business leaders a lot when it comes to business continuity in times of change.

Testing on production / Load testing

Healthcare services across the world are currently undergoing a very serious stress test. Hospitals are running out of beds and in many countries, governments have ordered the building of new ‘outpost’ hospitals in stadiums and conference centres. Medical staff are being called back from retirement, non-essential operations for conditions other than COVID-19 are being delayed, and a multitude of other emergency measures are taking place in cities all over the globe.

So what can we take away from this?

We all know how significant the consequences can be if a vital system fails. Unfortunately, we are not always able to test our system for such situations, but wherever we can, we must remember to do so. This is especially true when it comes to systems that carry a high risk. If full load testing is not possible, we can properly plan and perform simulations on a much smaller scale.

We should also remember that testing on production is always the most accurate because we have real users and real data and the most accurate feedback possible.

We should also remember that testing on production is always the most accurate because we have real users and real data and the most accurate feedback possible. However, remember that this comes with a high risk which can be mitigated by preventing issues on production. If you would like to read more about this topic, you can do so here.

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Quality over quantity

This is a common mantra, which most of us have been taught at school, and which has stayed with us throughout our working lives. It’s perhaps not a universal truth, but one which has many applications.

In the current situation, most office meetings are held remotely. As colleagues are unable to see each other face to face in real life, video conferencing is an important substitute. How many times, during these conversations have we had a team-member’s microphone start breaking up, someone’s camera failing, or somebody else being cut off the call completely?

Of course, the main culprit in most of these cases is poor internet connection, but if you give this more thought, most people have connectivity of a few hundred Mbps, which is more than you need in order to participate in video conferencing. So what’s the real problem? Quality. Even if you have a 300Mbps connectivity, but the quality is low, your online experience will be poor. Reasons for this range from having an inadequate router, through to a local overloading of the network.

So what can we take away from this?

If you care about the quality of your product or application consider slightly decreasing the amount of features and invest time in testing and bug fixing.

If you care about the quality of your product or application consider slightly decreasing the amount of features and invest time in testing and bug fixing. It sounds obvious, but getting your core product working efficiently and correctly, and therefore providing an excellent user experience, is paramount, particularly in the current times which competition for customers is rising. Additional features can always be added at a later stage.

A shifting work-life balance

We all know what an important subject this is at the present time, and many articles have been written about it already. An employee who is working significant overtime and is frequently pressured to deliver more than they would normally be expected to, will not be efficient and their work will leave a lot to be desired. A good work-life balance maintains good mental health, aids creativity and efficiency. It also protects us from burnout, which is unfortunately relatively common in the field of IT.

At the present time, providing an effective separation between life and work is a major issue, particularly for working parents who have been asked to look after their children at the same time as continuing their employment. Many people feel guilty about taking any form of a break throughout the day, and feel that they later need to make up this time. This thinking is linked to the ‘cheater syndrome.’

So what can we take away from this?

Often a weakness in one part will lead to inefficiencies in the entire system.

An efficient system is the sum of its parts, and in testing, we look at each of these individually, before checking how they interact with each other. Often a weakness in one part will lead to inefficiencies in the entire system. Your staff of course form these ‘parts’ which is why it is so important to look out for each of them individually. We all know how important mental health is – let’s shine a light on it and put processes in place to support staff in getting their work-life balance right.

Limited resources

Resource constraints are a common topic, but the current situation has brought concerns about resources to a whole new level. Perhaps the only exception here is fuel, for which demand has decreased of course with people travelling less. But, a good example is shared devices such as test phones or tablets. These are normally needed for a few hours a week and so used by many people in many projects – at present of course, this is not possible. Electronic devices such as office laptops and webcams are another example. The demand for these products jumped so rapidly that there are problems with availability and prices have soared. The cost of a webcam that I was planning to buy increased by 250% within the space of a few weeks, and even at that price, it is rarely available in stores.

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So what can we take away from this?

Often you just can’t add more resources (more time or more people) to your project. Try to use what you have in the most efficient way. For a start, check that you have the people with the right skills doing the right tasks – effective task-deployment can go a very long way and you’d be surprised how many business leaders don’t get this right. Performing a skills audit might be a good idea now, particularly if you’ve never conducted one before.

The general importance of testing

Testing provides us with information – not only about bugs, but about the overall state of an application, about usability, about risks, about performance and many more.

There are many discussions about how the current pandemic will play out, what will happen next and what we should do to ensure safety while slowly returning to our previous way of life. People argue a lot about how accurate the predictions are and how much incomplete data affects model accuracy. Many experts believe that the answer lies in ‘testing, testing, testing’ which is of course very sensible. Testing provides us with information – not only about bugs, but about the overall state of an application, about usability, about risks, about performance and many more. Very similar rules apply in epidemiological planning.

So what can we take away from this?

Proper testing in IT projects will provide you all required information – and this applies to a whole range of business contexts. Quite simply, with more data, you can make better decisions, so spend some time now on testing – be it remote user-testing or testing the performance of your product. I guarantee that you’ll be grateful to yourself later for having done so.

Conclusion

It would be fair to say that COVID-19 has caused widespread uncertainty, as we all find ourselves in a situation we’ve never encountered before. Many employers have had to make sudden and drastic changes to their operations in order to ensure business continuity. But now might be the right time to take stock of the situation and use the data that you have to evaluate what has worked thus far, and which processes should be honed. And always remember that people are your greatest asset – looking after them in the right way will ultimately not just benefit them, but also your business.

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