Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lessons Learned Implementing DBVTE

"DBVTE" is an acronym I'd made up about 2 minutes ago when I decided to blog this. It stands for Daily Build Verification Test Executions.

The Background:

My current project has gained much notoriety among testing team for the poor quality builds delivered for testing. Early in the project iterations, the issue was there was no testing build at all. Later on after much delay the daily build process was finally got booted up. But then it came up with its on set of issues. Lack of a coherent integration test ensured the daily builds never work as a single unit. It'd be a miracle if build picked on any particular day will be of minimum quality for testers to start the tests. The situation demanded a consistent way of delivering testable builds on a periodic basis.

The Approach:

The way to go here was for the functional testing team to take-up the integration testing activity. We'd started with documenting the bare minimum use case & scenarios of the product in sufficient detail that a novice computer user could read the document and execute those scenarios. These were written mostly from a GUI perspective like "Step 7. click OK button", "Step 11. Right Click, select Edit From Menu", "Step 23. Verify Graph". These are also called smoke tests or sanity tests.

The important activity here was to identify a dedicated machine for the integration testing purpose. Its very important to have a consistent, reproducible and stable environment for the integration testing machine.

Now that the nightly builds were getting build, we'd developed a series of simple windows batch scripts. The purpose of these scripts were to download the build files ( java jar files, codes developed in SAS scripts, configuration files...) from build machine. The scripts did administrative activities such as stopping the application services, restarting services etc as well lay down the build files like the installer would have performed. The purpose of the script was to eliminate human error in the installation process and to save the time in the install process. A typical install process of the application we test will require 3 hours of install & configuration time. The automated install scripts does this in 10 minutes flat!.

We'd chosen the "SAFS" as our automation tool for automating the smoke tests. Although its not mandatory to automate your smoke tests, we'd taken the approach to automate primarily to ease the drudgery of executing the tests by a human tester. SAFS is an excellent tool and it very neatly took care of incremental changes to the application. Moreover SAFS is developed and supported within our company.

The Process:

Now that we've had the tools in place, its time to work on the process around it. The most important part of any process is to get the buy in from the stakeholders. The good part about it was the development and project mangers were already aware of the problem with integration. Just that they never had given enough thoughts about how to tackle the problem. Our case is that we've the tools in place for integration tests. A quick demo of the automated install scripts and the automated smoke test was a very well accepted. Now was the case to present the case for the process and the development teams commitment for the process.

The process was simple; testing team will download daily builds from the build machine, execute the automated scripts and send in the results of executions to the entire team. In case of defects, encountered in the automated scripts, these will be logged and will be part of the execution results. The development team on its part, should fix the defects immediately or back out the changes in the next build.

The Lessons:
  1. Developing Automation scripts of any GUI tests is hard. We were baffled bySAFS automation tool limitations for which workaround were found. Our GUI was developed on Eclipse framework and support for it was limited in SAFS.
  2. Development of Automation scripts for GUI is incremental. Develop scripts with smaller features, test, stabilize and then operationally.
  3. Concentrate on the breadth of the functionality, not the on the depth while developing the smoke tests. Check all basic features of the application rather than the complex features.
  4. Automate the install and configuration process of daily builds. This will avoid human error in the installation as well as speedup the installation process.
  5. Start with a clean machine for installing the first build on the integration machine. In case of windows, format and reinstall the OS. On Unix, this process is expensive.
  6. Cherish your process. Follow your integration process religiously and advocate it within your entire team.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Search Power @ Google Reader

This is one feature everyone using Google Reader all longed for from Google. Its come pretty late as a feature at GoogleReader. Finally Yes, its here and makes life easier searching for blog posts.
I'd read this list "How to Get Things Done - Colin Powell Version" and wanted to share it in my Shared Items. All it took me is a few seconds search on Colin Powell and ther it was.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's your Top Five?

I've found the 'Top Five" approach in defect disposition quite effective. Here's how its done.

Q) What's the "Top Five" approach?

A) Simple, create a the list of top five defects you'd need urgent fixes for.

Q) Is it different from Test Holdup Defects?

A) Well, to some degree it is and to some degree it is not. Holdup defects are the ones where your testing activity is held up. This needs urgent fix, so naturally the holdup defects should be part of your top five defect list. However you should have defects that aren't holding up your testing.

Q) Why only five defects in the list?
A) From our experience we've found that anything more than 5 defects in your top five list becomes unmanageable for development and test leads and thereby this list loses it effectiveness. The idea is to have only so much defects in the list that the test and development leads can memorize.

Q) How to manage this list?
A) You'd require a solid development team backing for this approach. Speak with your development lead and manager before you embark upon this step. Ask for the commitment from their team that the defects in the TopFive will get their utmost attention and will be dispositioned fast.

Q) Are there tools to manage the list?
A) Reports from your defect system should be sufficient. If your defect system supports tagging of defects, this is the best way of doing it. Tag your TopFive defects and create a report. Simple excel sheet or an email message with predetermined format will also work.

Q) What types of defects should not be in this list?
A) Defects that you know will take longer time to get dispositioned should not be in this list. We've defined a 'longer time' as over two weeks. Since you know these defects will take longer, do not keep these defects in this list as these will take up a permanent slot in your Top Five defect list.

Q) What type of projects are TopFive list effective?
A) Typically medium to large project with current open defect count of over 150 defect count. For smaller projects, may not require the overhead of maintaing this list.

Q) When do you create a TopFive list?
A) We typically create a list of 5 or less defects every week ( say monday) and communicate this to list to the development manager.

Q) What's the turnaround time for TopFive defects?
A) Typically, we've found to have one week time for these defects. i.e. When you enter a defect in this list it takes typically one week to get fixed.

Q) What's the followup process?
A) Typically we do a status check with development manager every 3 to 4 day and disucss the list in our weekly meetings.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Looking at afterthoughts

With customer reported defects in their inbox, tester have this sense of "if only we could have done this too", "why did we miss that?", "i though we'd tested that". Its a mad scramble to find an explanation when things get uglyOften at the release time, the opposite is true. The feeling is "I know i did;nt get to that, but it not important", "I know its not tested to my satisfaction, but its too late to holdup a release now, should have raised this earlier", "the test data is not comprehensive, customer data may uncover more issues"Looking at hind-side, the the emotive and tense aspects are overlooked. With the count down to release time ticking, the challenge is to get the risks covered. Testers often overlook minor aspects of the product Being in the lowest end of the "software food chain", its the testing time that most of the other entities in the food chain eatup. Again and again, we hear this around our cubicles and meeting room, "its taking more than expected to complete this feature, but its critical". The routine activity done under these circumstances are "lets take up few more days", and the "few more days" come at the cost of testing time. Of course the delay in project is not affordable since we cant miss the market!.In these days of agile & iterative development, a lot is being discussed about the importance of testing early and getting testers involved early in the development process. Better said than done? May be, maybe not!
The projects I've worked on have for past few years have a structure with a development manager looking at development activities, a test manager on the testing activities and a project manager managing the project timelines and external liason required by the project. The project manger often holds the key for success of the project and the effective delivery of the project depends on the effectiveness of the project manager. Project manager do not have anyone reporting to him/her. This person's primary responsibility is to maintain the timelimes, make sure everyone in the project adheres to the timelines, look out for possible risks and escalate issues. Often with the prior experience in development teams, the project managers unfortunately champions the cause of development team often at the expense of testing team. The schedules prepared by project manager puts overlay emphesis on development delivery and ignores the fact that testing resources can be optimally in an iterative developmment mode. The schedule prepared by the project manager turns out to be a waterfall method that leaves little time for the testing team.
Of course there are project managers who considers themselves as the independent authority and creates the project plan with optimal utilization of all the resources in the project. A project manager stern on the timelines are the ones with successful project delivery.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Due share for Test Management?

Over the past several months I've been keeping myself updated with blog activities on software testing. Yahoo group on software testing has also been very interesting read.
Overall, majority of the blogs discuss about the testing processes & techniques, what I'd term as the "last mile" in the software testing. Certainly this is the most important aspect of our software testing field.
Very few blogs I've been reading discuss about the "mangement" aspects of software testing. Aspects in testing such as "negotiation", "risk management", "analysis what'if scenarios", "work allocation" "work allocation" generally have very few post in the blog world, at least the one I keep track of regularly.
In general these areas comes under project management and several blogs discuss software project management. There are areas where software development project management differs from the management of testing projects. For example, there is negotiation for time and budget on both development and testing projects, however testing team generally find themselves between "hard place and a rock" in negotiation situations. Testing risks generally get better attention from higher management than risks from development team. Development teams have proven estimation techniques, testing team generally estimates on their prior experiences.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Testing for performance

Ben Simo's post on performance testing is an interesting read. These lessons learned more or less maps to my limited experience of testing application for an often overlooked aspect of functional testers.

This subject is sub categorized into various sections such as performance, scalability, load, volume testing. For the matter of simplicity I'll refer these here under the general term performance testing.

Performance is the last thing that appears in many of the requirements document I've come across. One reason for this could be that requirements are created by business analyst or product managers with limited exposure to the software development process. For them, performance is not a requirement, its "implied that the system works to the satisfaction of the end users". For the end user a non performing system is a defective system. While developing a "custom-made solution" for "a specific client" also known as consulting implementations, performance requirement can be defined specifically and these are part of the service level agreements. Here the number of users, data volume, hardware specifications are know before the system is developed. Its often difficult to specify performance requirement when it comes to development of "generic solution" that can be configured in complex ways on multiple operating platforms and implemented at clients ranging from big corporates to small and medium enterprises.
I've seen mixed reaction from developers on the performance requirement. Developers fall into many categories based on their interpretation of the "implicit" requirement. Some ignore requirement and assume their design takes care of performance. Some make implicit assumptions on the performance requirement. "My assumption is on a typical setup about 100,000 records gets uploaded to the transaction_history table by the nightly process", "I feel there may be about 10 users requesting a customer record search". Few others ask the business analyst/Product manager about the performance expectations, they may or many not get the answers they are looking for. With the inputs they get, they design the system to take care of the worst case scenario. Others realize their design design may not scale to the performance expectations but time pressures makes him to attend to more important tasks. There are of course developers who go to great lengths to ensure there code is meets any performance goals.

Testers have their own view of performance. Unless there is a mandate on performance to be tested, testers have these low in their priority. The testers asked to test for performance is functional testers with limited experience with testing for performance. In the iterative development cycles, performance can be tested only after the last iteration is delivered for testing. This leaves very less time to test for performance. Creation of sample data for performance is also a difficult proposition. Functional testers create their own data for the specific scenario or may use a 'limited' set of client data that may be easier to detect functional data integrity issues.

Performance testing needs to be considered as a specialized area of testing and not to be mixed with the area of functional testing. This again depends on the budget of the project. The 'low end' performance tests can be done by testers huddles in a single room banging away on the system with the intend that something may go wrong. This type of testing, very labor intensive may detect many of the concurrency issues. Unless there's development support for this type of effort, the defects detected as a result of this effort are marked as non-reproducible.
A cost conscious project can choose from a wide range of open source tools available for performance testing.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why do we test?

This post is not by any chance a comprehensive look on the reasons why software needs to be tested. I'm discussing here two reasons why software needs to be tested. These may not be the only reasons software testing is required, there are endless reasons. However these two reasons very clearly shows the way in which testers and developers view software testing.

"To prove the software works". No prizes in guessing where this reason comes from. This blog post has its roots from an email from somewhere up in the management chain asking me to do something that was quite unassuming. "Rajesh, Can you test feature so-and-so just completed by developer John Doe. We'd like to take stock of how much of the features are complete". Reading between the lines, its obvious what management wants me to do. Prove to them that the developer had done with his code and checked them into the version control system. "To prove the software works" is something that developer of the feature has to do themselves. Unit-Test!!!. And the management has to as "John Doe, Can you show us the unit-test results?"

Given the background of the situation, I'd mentioned to the management, we do not have a build to test yet. The build scripts are broken. We will not be able to replicate the customer environment. To this the management's reply "oh, just do this in the developer setup, we just want to know if the feature is complete".

The second reason for testing "To find defects in the software so that your customers do not to find them". ( I'm mentioning this as second, not the the point of view of important, but as the second point discussed here ) Again, no guesses for who's the proponent for this view point. For the testing group, the imperative mandate is to find defects and absolute NOT to prove the software works. This mandate is something that needs to be reiterated to every tester everyday however experienced they are.
The summary is Testers test "To find defects in the software so that your customers do not to find them" Developers test "To prove the software works". The success of any software project where the management bets their money on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Gutless Estimating" - Excerpts from "The Mythical Man-Month"

The following is a excerpt from the classic book "The Mythical Man-Month".
Read on the following paragraph carefully. Sit back, close your eyes and think for the next 2 minutes. Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. the "father of the IBM System/360," has written these lines 20 years ago. So little has changed over these 20 years...

Gutless Estimating

Observe that for the programmer, as for the chef, the urgency of the patron may govern the scheduled completion of the task, but it cannot govern the actual completion. An omelette, promised in two minutes, may appear to be progressing nicely. But when it has not set in two minutes, the customer has two choices—wait or eat it raw. Software customers have had the same choices.

The cook has another choice; he can turn up the heat. The result is often an omelette nothing can save—burned in one part, raw in another.

Now I do not think software managers have less inherent courage and firmness than chefs, nor than other engineering managers. But false scheduling to match the patron's desired date is much more common in our discipline than elsewhere in engineering. It is very difficult to make a vigorous, plausible, and job-risking defense of an estimate that is derived by no quantitative method, supported by little data, and certified chiefly by the hunches of the managers.

Clearly two solutions are needed. We need to develop and publicize productivity figures, bug-incidence figures, estimating rules, and so on. The whole profession can only profit from sharing such data.

Until estimating is on a sounder basis, individual managers will need to stiffen their backbones and defend their estimates with the assurance that their poor hunches are better than wish-derived estimates.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

An universal format for resume

My most of the latter half of last week went into scanning resumes for a test automation position. HR in its part had dumped into a MS Outlook folder, quite a few resumes from internet job postings and candidates applied for the job posting on our company website. Given the enormous amount of work it takes to scan through the resumes for the right set of skill set and experience, I'm wondering if its high time the software industry propose an universal format for resumes.

Automated tools could scan the machine readable formats and save the drudgery of reading through pages text to get simple information like years of experience and skill set. This had prompted me to looked into wikipedia for a definition of resume. One format that had caught my attention was the hResume . Any new initiative requires big names to support it. Its time for the big companies to support a common initiative. The smaller one will follow suit.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Two Blogger bugs

After having started blogging, I've started looking at everyday things more critically. I noticed two things with that caught my attention.

I have this habit of creating a blog post and saving it as draft. After many a iterations of writing and rewriting, I finally publish the post. Often times the gap between creating the post for the first time and publishing it takes several days. I have several draft post that I work on at any given point in time.

I created a post on February 26th, finally published this post on march 4th. The published date on my blog still lists as february 26th instead of march 4th.
The other bug related to my blog title, I'll still drafting.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bug tracking system as risk management tool

As testing organizations within a company mature, the most noteworthy process and tool that stands out is the bug tracking tool. It’s only next to the project plan in reporting the "project health". Often times the bug tracking tool is used beyond its intended use of tracking bugs. In this post, (and few of the subsequent posts) I intend to describe few of these "out of the box" usages of the bug tracking system that I've seen being used in companies I've worked for. There was an incident few years ago in my company that resulted in using the defect tracking system for tracking ‘testing Risk’. This was a new release of one of key solutions for one of our banking clients. The developers had deferred many of the significant defects to later releases because of “time pressures”. Obviously there was resistance from the testers, but as always, developers could get their way out. Once the product went to the customer, these defects turned into “significant errors and show stoppers” and these issues escalated to the highest level.
The key lesson learned from this fiasco was the testing risks often go unnoticed without an escalation mechanism beyond the project manager. The proposed solution for this problem was to track the testing risk through the bug tracking system. Proximity of the bug tracking system to the testers and developers , the "reporting features" provided by the tool as well as its inherent feature to "track" ( from opening to closure ) resulted in the bug tracking system to be the first choice.
This is how the process is followed in our organization. Every project will have a defect component for “testing risk” created in the bug tracking system. Any bug logged against this component is treated as a testing risk.
Senior management monitors this “testing risk” component on a periodic basis. The most significant benefit we’ve achieved by following this process is to bring in an early warning system into the project.
My testing risks include “Late delivery of a feature “xxxx” leaves testing group little time to test it” , “Installer of the product do not work!” , “Performance tests on the product may be inadequate” and the list goes on…

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The very first post

It’s been about two months now since I’ve been a following blogs very closely. My interest in blogs really developed until I came across two things. One is Google reader. Until google reader, I had not really come across any RSS aggregator that neatly classifies and displays the blogs you follow. Of course there are lots of other aggregator on the web, but nothing that does it as neatly as Google reader. And of course, google is the once place on the web you visit the most.
I’ve never had the though of having a blog of my own until I came across this inspiring post from Pradeep Soundrarajan. There are 4 type of blog enthusiasts. One who reads blogs but never owns one nor do not comments on others blogs, the “passive ones”. Second who reads and comments on others blogs but never own one. Third, the ones who reads others blogs, comments on others blogs and owns a blog. Over the past several months I’ve graduated to be on the third level. Of course there’s a fourth type of bloggers, who apart being a blogger of type three, receives several comments from other blog readers and are in the blogrolls of several bloggers.
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The Elusive Bug by Rajesh Kazhankodath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 India License.