Continuous Customer Feedback

There are many ways for continuous customer feedback. In coding deliverables, you can demonstrate how the solution works so far and monitor the usage to get actual data on the end-user experience. It’s proven over and over again that faster feedback loops are essential to optimal deliverables – and to improve business performance. Go read Accelerate.. again! Here are some of my tricks for the non-coding deliverables as a staff-level testing consultant.

Provide Continuous Training

One task I have is to help others manage the testing activities. It’s usually people fresh out of Uni – as long as there is curiosity the rest can be learned. The way I usually do it is to have an intro session, break down the first few steps and then have recurring meetings to align and dig even further into the tasks. My outcome as a leader is to make them self-reliable in doing the tasks. The usual struggle is for me to sit on my hands and to pause more.

Simon Koerner suggests these five ways to lead when not in charge:

  • Be proactive
  • Motivate those around you
  • Look beyond your job role
  • Recognize others
  • Share your knowledge

Continuous Test Plan Alignment

I’m currently leading a testing activity to deliver some IT services to company A. There’s a huge contract that stipulates all the mechanics of delivering these services. And for each testing activity, there is a good old-fashioned test plan document that needs to be delivered and approved by company A. (sigh)

The old-fashioned way would be for me to prepare the document in detail and forward it formally. If you have to write too much down and debate the documents over and over – it might be an organizational maturity issue, but it’s most likely a people problem and a trust issue.

Recently I have started stating that the test plan will be presented continuously. At my weekly meetings with the Customer A test responsible persons I present the current draft of the document. This way they see it being developed step-by-step and we can align – and the approval will be a formality in the end. I prefer this way of working – but have also failed where the customer expected detailed hand-overs and I preferred to work entrepreneurially to set things in motion.

Limiting Contracts Replies to a Few Pages

When working with large IT services contracts it’s unfortunately customary that there are requirements for the content and headlines of test plans and other test documents. These content requirements are often straight out of old templates listing testing deliverables, testing types, and physical conditions for the testing activities. No test documents will be approved if there are sections missing, as the list items are contractual minimum requirements. No one wants to be non-compliant with a contract based on a missing headline in a document somewhere.

The contract authors and their lawyers would probably argue that it provides business value – at least in the sense of comparing competing companies submitting for the contract. That best-practice templates are market-leading. Yet, the case is over and over again that best practices will only give you standard solutions that are not tailored to you.

In the year 2022, it’s so awkward that you have to address physical rooms and equipment as a required element. Sure if it’s special in this case, by all means. But usually, it probably isn’t that important. Preferably we should make situational aware test plans – but if your content isn’t as innovative I recently wrote a reply in a big contract tender for customer B reply that solved this in a good way.

For the contract, customer B requested a maximum of 4 pages – where we had to elaborate on what we would advise the customer and our experience in doing so. See we don’t need 100 pages to convey a quality narrative. And based on our reply they could still evaluate and score us on how well we understood their situation.

Continuous customer feedback succeeds when we show that we understand the customer.

Taking My Own Medicine

Recently I had the chance to apply my own templates to myself and my active project – as I had to mentor a new test manager. I was challenged in explaining how I read the upcoming IT environment project. After looking into resources for new test leads, I realized I could take my own medicine.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com
Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

A year ago, I created a new test plan format – the Situational Aware Test Plan. While mind-maps and one-page test plan canvases exist, I wanted to elaborate using the evolution principles from Wardley mapping and stop writing test plan documents.

The table structure is there to provide guard rails for the elaboration. I will use the Darlings, Pets, Cattle, and GUID -mnemonic as headlines. Our strategic decisions emerge as we use the worksheet based on the current situation and state. The strategies will be the decisions to push a field in the grid to another state. 

Delivery and Situation

DarlingsPetsCattleGUID’s
New projectFixed date
Existing delivery speedScheduled
Quarterly
Test Environments, internalRepeatable
Test environments with integrationsCraftedSome existing know-how
Environment InfrastructureHosted data center practices
Test dataKnown but cumbersome

While this project introduces new test environments, there is an existing environment with a quarterly delivery pace. This is a classic example of the core chronic conflict of pursuing both: responding to the rapidly changing competitive landscape and providing stable, reliable, and secure services (DevOps handbook introduction xxv) as elaborated on Align your Test Strategy to your Business Strategy.

The test team allocated beside me and the new test lead is a new junior and senior tester. We are in the same team, and most are even in the same office. So collaboration will be collaborative and pervasive, with a focus on helping the new people grow.

The test team

DarlingsPetsCattleGUID’s
Test team collaborationGrowingPervasive
Test leadGrowing
MentoringEnabling
Domain know-howGetting there

Test tools and approach

DarlingsPetsCattleGUID’s
Test activityExplore integrationsConfirm internal requirements
Test casesExisting can be updated.
Test case reproCreate new repository

As mentioned in the blog post about visualization, we can now use the map to discuss why we need CT and ET for the project. Based on the project’s layout, I would advise having an expert exploration of the integrations and more standard scripts for the known construction of the internal environments.

#264 – Create Situational Aware Test Plans

From the endless discussions on the proper content and contexts of a test plan, it’s apparently still needed – but what goes in it? Let’s create situational aware test plans inspired by Wardley Mapping.

ISTQB template-based test plan documents are in my personal opinion no longer industry best practice. First of all it’s bloatware. While they intend to be a springboard into considering what is relevant we have ended up with 8 page templates – where every single of the 20 topics are required information. While it looks dazzling – it’s like frosting puffed with empty calories.

What most people delivering effectively software are using is 1) modern test automation and 2) modern test case management tools to lead and manage the test activities. And there is clear research on what 24 factors correlates to high-performing teams. It seems to me the templates have been frozen stale since 2012 – and are hindering us more than helping.

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Stop Writing Overdone Test Plans

While I have previously talked about writing down expectations and alignments – I would much prefer a more lean and up-to-date approach to test plan documents. Looking at what we know now, an separate test is more of a sign of missing trust between parties than a collaborative value add for the business needs.

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