Coming up at Test Bash Manchester Online 2020:
“How to coach subject matter experts to do testing”
Included in Ministry of Testing Pro subscription, at £24.99 pr. month.
Previously scheduled for Test Bash Brighton – full text here.
It’s important to find time to log off – completely. I used to say it’s been a good vacation, if you forgot your company password. But these days it takes a bit more to wind down.
Have days where you forget what week day it is – and what time it is exactly. Right out there past the trees is a wonderful beach. Read fiction books and comics, explore the area, go swimming even if it’s a bit cold. And follow my rule of summer: have an ice cream a day
TLDR: For RPA tools to succeed for automation you need to add engineering practices.
BTW: All automation projects require good software engineering practices.
Yes, you can use RPA tools to do test automation. And yes, you can have business persons designing the flows. BUT in order to succeed you need to apply some software engineering practices.
Robot Process Automation (RPA) tools like tools like LeapWork , Blue Prism and UiPath can be used to build business automation – it’s their core job. It’s the enterprise version of the Apple iOS shortcuts, “If This, Then That” or home automation. And they can be used for test automation – in some contexts.
The RPA tools are interesting because they seem to have a low barrier of entry. Some let you design the flows and robots visually, others using flowcharts. Either way it’s a low-code way of developing solutions. It seems compelling to let business end users prepare the flows and bots, it’s all plug & play.
Until the RPA robots design is only kept in the head of one person or until the flows/bots is a mess of interdependencies and cross links, that somehow the business still relies heavily on. And you have yet again created a spaghetti solution to add to the pile…
The bigger the visual flowcharts in your RPA designer the more the project is a coding project. And you need to apply software development practices like version control, BDD style documentation and designing solutions loosely coupled and highly cohesive.
Sometimes you can teach the people the details, sometimes you can have a guide (tool smith) to enable them – sometimes it’s best to let the engineers tackle the automation. That depends on your gameplay and map of the world. What end users are good at is intrinsic domain knowledge the novel and the uncharted – not coding nor town planning.
The terms loosely coupled and highly cohesive is from the world of Computer Science, and most examples are around coding in object oriented languages like Java. In java, and in the flowcharts and visual scripts of RPA tools, you can group things into reusable “building bricks” or functions or sub flows. The Computer Science word for this is encapsulation.
It turns out it’s important how you group the bricks, and what the inputs and outputs are. Vladimir Khorikov summarizes with the following (my emphasis):
Without good engineering practices any automation initiative is, at best, just a smartass expensive one trick pony.
.. with only 5 songs and a book. Which ones and how they tie into the topics of leadership, biases and figuring out your learning pathway. Listen here:
This is an analogy blog post – consider it an experiment, not a wholesome truth, but rather a model. And a model is always false, but sometimes useful.
This blogpost is also coming from a community outreach from the Bloggers Club on the Ministry of Testing. There are regular challenges that aim to share community thoughts. This month, the challenge is to share the personal perspective about “Testing is like…”
The analogy is inspired by Heathers post about her new vacuum robot below. If you want to consider how to test a robot vacuum, go see the club post: How to Test a Robot Vacuum?
[Image of “Floor-a” with permission from Heather]
We often discuss where the “testing people” fit into the organisation – are they part of a delivery team or an enablement team independently of the delivery teams? The Team Topologies model enables a discussion about this challenge and a guidance on what goes where and why.
I can see the benefits of having a central Test Center of all the testing people – and, on the other hand, having them spread out in the delivery units. I work in an IT services company, sometimes a project does not require full-time test attention. So we work on a range of customers, at the same time. On the other hand, sometimes projects lasts for years and years – and the testing people become dedicated towards a specific company IT stack and delivery team.
Notice that I use the term “testing people” to cover testing specialists, test analysts, automation specialists, test engineers and test managers like myself. Besides the moniker “testers” in the blog title, I try to avoid calling us “testers”. First of all, “testing people” do more than testing and secondly other people do testing too.
The Test Center I’m in is an organisational unit of “test consultants” of various of the mentioned roles working for various of projects. But considering the “whole team approach to quality“, the Test Center unit sounds a bit .. off. Would it be better to assign everyone to a delivery unit? – What would be the reasoning behind what goes where where and why?
I have found the Team Topologies model, which identifies these teams:
The model identifies three modes of interaction during the flow of change:
Based on this model the dedicated testing staff should be part of the stream-aligned delivery unit. While everyone working ideally to enable the team – testing coaches etc – should be part of an enablement team, aka. a center/unit/group/staff team for enablement (Accelerate the Achievement of Shippable Quality). I read into it, that the enablement team’s primary focus would be to build self-reliance in the team and get out of dodge. A key principle in Modern Testing.
How “testing people” could fit into the other two teams (Subsystem & Platform), I would have to consider a bit more. The testing activity is in both, and the Enablement team also facilitate (testing) into those two team modes/units. So perhaps it’s not that different. What do you think?
The findings of the model also aligns with the “Product Team” and “Competence Team” of this article (in Danish): Hvilke karakteristika og udfordringer har dit team?
Reality, though, is a bit more complex. Even the Team Topology Model – is just a model, and wrong a some point. It is though still useful in enabling a discussion on where the testing people fit it, and why.
The testing activity has been under change for long. And it’s clear that the testing activity has shifted. Even the test managers have to re-calibrate – as other roles will be doing the test management activity. Be prepared, as someone else will do your testing job. Work on building self-reliance in others and be prepared to hand-over what you can do.
There is more to testing than testing specialists punching test cases. The testing activity as such, has shifted (both left and right), and testing is being done by more roles than “testing people”. Depending on the context, the explicit testing activity is done by a mix of developers, testing specialists, end users and others.
I often find myself as the only testing person on the project. The testing activity is done by automation specialists and end users in one project, and by technical operations staff and end users in another. In these projects either the technology or the business knowledge is paramount, and not so much exploration, flaws and edge cases for specialized testers to explore.me, 2020. YMMV
Similarly for the test managers – there’s a trend/shift, that sometimes the test management activity is shifting away from the test managers. Even to me – even if I’m sometimes more an a “project manager of the testing activity“, a “Test coach” or similar. The trend is already there – coined sometimes as “whole team approach to quality“. Yes, most of the test management activity can be done by scrum masters, Release Train Engineers and even project managers ….
Recently I was asked to assist a large transition project for a holding company with many brands. Each brand had their own applications and technology stack, but the holding company had decided to move the hosting. So the holding company’s Project Management Office (PMO) was put in charge of facilitating the brand’s testing activities – an activity they had never considered nor done before. My role would only be to provide guidance, not do the actual facilitation.
Which got me thinking….
And after some deep thinking. – I do have the privilege to be able to adapt. I don’t need to hoard knowledge or make power moves (anymore) or worry about health-coverage or any of the lower Maslow pyramid terms (anymore).
It’s very natural for me to hand over project approaches to my co-workers. I’m often on the “blue team” to outline the strategy, My best field of work is to bring clarity and consistency, not scalability or repeatability to the practise.
I naturally hand over learning anyways, so why not re-calibrate when the thing I do has reached a stage, where it’s repeatable. And then focus on building the skills in others, work myself out of the test management role as we know it.
And don’t worry that someone else will eventually do my (testing and test management) job. The first step is to acknowledge the trend/pattern, second to redefine and bring clarity! Let’s explore and see what we find!
You, yourself, is responsible for getting the training, learning and knowledge you need. Don’t wait for your boss – be proactive, it drives your success. Here are some places to start:
Meetup’s are happening online now, which removes one primary barrier to attending great talks. Similarly conferences go online, some with a fee, some for free – some even in multiple time zones. Lastly online training sites are abundant with relevant information for the challenges you have. Yes – also for you!
Just this week, April 2020, I’m attending:
With plenty of talks about risk based testing, test management in the light of automated deliveries, BDD etc. With live slack groups the experience is almost as the physical conferences :). Next up in may is the Online Test Conf, Spring 2020 with topics for everyone in convenient global time slots.
When your boss says there’s no budget for attending conferences in person this year (again!), there are other ways to attend – physically. You could try to submit a talk and get accepted, but the barrier is quite high. A great way is simply to reach out and volunteer to help the program committee. If you can time it, with regards to the budget year, ask you boss based on the conference program aligned with your company strategy. At least what the boss should do is to allow it to be company time – else take the time off. …
If you are hungry to learn
What I see in the global testing community is that Scandinavians are complacently waiting for the company to pay time, money and effort to their learning, while people in emergent economies (Hi Sfax and Argentina) are eager to learn and on the forefront of the trends of the trade. They are driving the change of a positive inclusive community.
And for you!
if you still work in silos, your success – will be lessMike Lyles, Smart Bear connect 2020
In classic test techniques and test approaches the test activity is a scarce ressource. Due to time and money constraints a risk-based priority was always required to make ends meet. We now have the tools and approaches for a better Return of Investment on the testing activity, and it’s all about running more tests, more frequent and sooner.
You never have time to test everything. So in the context of classic test techniques and testing types (I’m looking at you, old fart) you had to prioritize and combine tests to make more with what you had.
An analogy to testing everthing, is to count all possible decimal numbers. There is always one more, decimal position around the corner. For each number, I can select any amount of new numbers around it. As with tests, I can select any amount of new .. variations.. of the test (browser, time, user, preconditions…). It’s hard to count something that spills into one another, as two tests can cover much the same, but still be two different things in the end.
The classic techniques above are filtering techniques to first reduce the infinite space of possible tests into something distinct (a “test case”) – where every test is seperated from one another (countable). A “rock” in Aarons analogy. Secondly to filter it into something finite. so that it can be completed and answer “when are we done testing“.
The above filtering is is under the pretext that every value/test counted has a high price. Similarly that every test has a high cost to prepare and run. Average cost to write a formal test case could easily be 3 hours, and 1 hour to run / perform for at tester – and the perhaps with a 50% rerun/defect rate. So with 100 test cases a simple cost model would be at least: 450 hours, or 3 hours pr. test including 50% rerun.
No wonder management want to reduce this, and race the cost to the lowest denominator. Also considering that this only covers – at best – all the tests once, and half the tests twice. Is that a sufficient safetynet to go live on?
Current tools and test approaches turns the approach around, and focusses on making testing faster, frequent and cheaper (pr. test). The practises are so prevalent and well-described, that it really is already should be considered general development best practise. (G x P). Consider:
Now every project will have it’s own ratio of automation, but for this simple model, let’s assume 75% can be automated/tools-supported to such a degree that running them is approximately costless. Ie. it runs as a part of the continous testing, a CI/CD pipeline with no hands or eyeballs on it.
Preparing tests still takes time, let’s assume the same 3 hours. So the 25 tests with no automation still needs 112,5 hours – but the automation, as running is zero only accounts for the 225 hours of preparation. Just this simple model of testing costs, reduces the cost for testing with 25% (from 450 to 337) – including reruning 50% of the tests once.
The modern approach is to make the tests plentifull and comoditice it, rather than make it scarce. (See also “Theory of Constraints” wrt bottlenecks). With the added benefits of CI/CD and whole team approach to quality – the research of Accelerate confirms the correlation to clear business benefits.
Since running the automated tests are cheap, we can run them “on demand”. Let’s run 25% daily – is this a regression test? Perhaps, it doesn’t really matter. Assuming we run 25% random tests a day for two weeks, aka 250 tests, we have increased the count of test runs, and the number of times each test has run. With this approach our test preparation effort of 225 hours above is now utilized for 250 runs… or under 1 hour/cost pr. run.
The whole idea is to (re)imagine the testing effort as fast and repeated sampling among all possible values, done multiple times. The more the tests are run the better – and the better ROI for testing. .. and if you dare an even better performance by the organization.
If the testing activity can be integrated into the coding activity, who tests if there is no code involved? Does there have to be code in order for there to be a test activity – and when does the scale tip for testing to happen?
There is a new type of business applications emerging – the “Low Code / No Code” products. The WordPress platform like this one I’m writing from now could be one example. AirTable could be another example of a higher order solution, that enables some user to quickly and without code organize and automate information. What we see in the testing tools space with Cypress and Mabl, is similarly a trend, where the test cases and scripts are directly linked to the end-2-end business purpose, not the underlying technologies. Low Code tools has emerged as yet another type of “customization” and “configuration” business solution.
The trend is clear and has been on the horizon for a while.
Low-Code/No-Code will disrupt this entire pattern, as enterprises realize they can be even more successful with their digital transformations if they do away with hand-coding altogether, adopting Low-Code/No-Code across their organizations instead. “No-Code is here, and it doesn’t care about making your IT organization more efficient,” explains E. Scott Menter, Chief Strategy Officer at BP Logix. “Its only purpose is to turn your business into a digitally integrated, audit-defying, silo-resistant object of their customers’ desire.”The Low-Code/No-Code Movement: More Disruptive Than You Realize
If a consultant can automate her unique process into a tool in hours, she can solve customer’s problem faster and show the value of her efforts. If a small business owner can build an app for his needs, he can increase business efficiency with automation and save valuable time to expand his business.No-code Revolution. Why Now?
To me there is a direct correlation between amounts of code required and business needs and end user visibility. The less “scripting” a business end user needs to do and “scripting languages” to understand the better. Airtable, as mentioned above, wins over spreadsheets in the end.
Similarly the faster cycles and feedback of Low Code tools is more attractive to the business than having “code high” teams develop applications. The “slow and high” code projects are never realized.
One way to see this trends, is that while “Robot Framework” and other web-based open source “RPA like” frameworks exist, the emerging approach for testing standard software solutions trends towards Low Code:
Perhaps RPA tools and similar Low-Code tools can be compared to the macros of If This Then That, where you can automate tedious repetitive tasks – also among your business tools. But even with low-code tools the complexity of the scripts can make it a mess, and the visual scripts needing coding practices.
Similarly, the need for explicit testing of the business functionality emerges at some point in the evolution of the “low code” solutions. Every solution moves from Experiment to emerging practice and end as a standard/best-practice. The explicit testing need emerges along the way but becomes less visible on the left-side products/commodities.
Yet to me – testing happens everywhere. Testing is key to the experiments of the pioneer, testing is key for the settler bundling solutions and testing is key for the town planner to secure stable operations.
Be aware that while testing is happening, it is not necessary by the tester. Don’t hawk the testing activity, let the experts play their part , have testers for the remaining exploration and have tools for the rest. The trend of less testers and more testing is still active and testing is shifting to the future even faster these days. A test happens every time a person doing something thinks and ask questions like: let me try this, could you test this, what happens if?