Reading the customer’s expectations

For me it is very important to know my customer, know the problems and challenges he has, and to speak with him on a level, where he realizes that I understand his problems and his point of view.

I’m working in the QA department for a small software company. And so far, QA had no contact to the customers. That might not be the problem, if you have an account manager who transports the information to QA. We have such project managers, but QA was not listening so far. There were written requirement documents against which will be checked and that’s it. Of course, there might be the problem that a project manager is not used to look at the customer through QA glasses. And if he doesn’t know that QA can be flexible, why would he even think of other ways to approach the customer.

I’m used to work and speak with my customers and get an idea of his expectations from QA point of view. So I’m glad to get more and more opportunities to partizipate in client meetings and having the chance to “read” our customers and their expectations. For my team this will result in changes to the test strategy and approaches. Thanks to the participation of the customer we can now facilitate user stories in our test cases and test sessions. On the other hand this improves the customers understanding of what we do in QA (what he gets for his money spend), and has a better feeling that his point of view is used when determining the quality of the product.

I would even go so far, that I say the customer will be willing to spend more money on QA, when he is able to participate in the whole QA process. Nobody is willing to spend a certain amount of money for the paragraph, that the product has been QAed by company standards. You are willing to spend a bit more money for a product if it has a certain certificate that signals a certain amount of trust, even if you have no idea what has to be done to get that certificate on the product. But you’re willing to spend more money, if you know what is done to determine the quality of the product and that this reflects your problems and challenges. Certified or not, this is even better.

If you have a product that is sold only to one or a couple of customers, take your time to analyze your customers expectations. Don’t try to use the same strategy for all customers. Like I read in a comment the other day. If the only tool you have is hammer, all things you see are nails. Try to fill your tool-box with different approaches, strategies and techniques to meet your customers expectations. This will also improve the approaches and strategies you take for the other customers.

Be curious about who your customer is, what problems he wants to solve with your solution and what is important to him.
Try to partizipate in demonstrations and discussions. Observe the situation, observe your customer when he looks at the screen. Where is his main focus? What details are important to him? If not already defined, try to find out what the problem really is, that he needs so get solved and how important that is to him. Try to read his gestures and mimic. You will learn many things about your customers.
And don’t underestimate bugs found in production. Don’t just try to reproduce them to know how to retest them after the fix. Try to understand what your customer has done, that you obviously didn’t do. Learn from that.

But now it is up to you to use this knowledge and adapt your strategy, approaches and techniques. Involve the customer in reviews, improve your reporting and like Michael Bolton and James Bach always say, tell your client a story about your testing. If the client finds himself represented in your story, he will buy it. If not, he will challenge you.

Please don’t hide in your QA offices, go out and experience the customer.

Thinking about a how to get a good regression test set

I used the phrase “regression testing” for about 10 years, never even thinking about the definition of the word regression. I just accepted the term as it was used commonly and frequently in our projects. This was before enjoing a webinar of EuroStar with Michael Bolton. One hour talking about the term regression and regression testing. This webinar changed my tester life.
One thing was, that I began to read blogs and articles about testing, the other thing was, I started to think about many of the terms I used in my daily life and if I used them wrong so far. I tried to challenge some of my colleagues with discussions about those terms that are used every day in our project. The outcome was, that they, too, had not spend much time thinking about those terms and accepting it, as it was.

Coming back to regression and regression testing. In both my old company and my new one regression is used as a synonym for regression testing. Because a common problem seems to be, that people don’t know what regression means. Maybe the reason is, that I am German and in German the word “Regression” is not present in the common vocabulary.

Regression: to regress originating from the latin word regressus, means to go back or as a noun a backward movement.

Wikipedia says under “Software Regression”:
A software regression is a software bug which makes a feature stop functioning as intended after a certain event (for example, a system upgrade, system patching or a change to daylight saving time).

So what is our intention, when we speak of regression testing? To check if the (hopefully) unchanged features are still working as intended.

Instead of looking for a definition of regression testing, I want to use the four different but intersecting concepts, that Michael Bolton offered in the aforementioned webinar:

  • Any test that we’ve performed before.
  • A set of automated checks, run periodically and repeatedly.
  • Testing that we perform after some change.
  • Testing to probe whether quality has got worse.

When different roles / stakeholders in a project speak about regression testing, which concept or which mixture of concepts do they mean? My tip, ask them. In long grown teams / projects it is interesting to see if all are on the same page or if the definitions vary. If they miss one of the concepts completeley, challenge them by asking about them.

What test cases will be used?
On the one hand we can use any test cases that we’ve performed before. Because their goals should be defined to check some features of the product at test, that we want to re-check. But be careful when reusing test cases that were originally written to test a new requirement / feature / change request. Those test cases might be going to deep into detail and be too time consuming.
If you don’t have a good selection of test cases that you can use for regression testing, what have you done until now? Now is the time to start creating a regression test set.
When automated tests are available, great. Just run them all if possible. In case the features are still working the same as in the last version, all tests have to get the same result as they did on the last run. And yes that means, that we also would expect failed tests to fail the same way. How would you react if a test that failed before is now passing, without knowing of a bug fix for that problem?

Do we have to change the test set every time?
That depends on the reason or event that triggers the execution of the test set. If you change a feature, the related regression test cases have to be reworked. If you prepare for a major release change, what has been changed? Are your test cases general enough to be executed on the new version? If you switch the platform like the web server or the operating system, I would go with the last test set.
In case the software changes, check if those changes affect your test set.

And what is a short regression (test) doing?
I think we all heard from our project managers and steakholders the term, let’s cover this with a short regression (test). And with short, they mean you don’t have much time and budget for this. I will show one of the many choices how to reduce your test set for a short regression test. If that fits to your project or if that fits every time, you have to decide yourself.

I am wondering lately, mostly now that I have to test again, how does a good regression test case look like?
Since it all comes down to money in the end, my main aspects would be these:

  • check at least all the box features
  • reasonable in execution time
  • easy to maintain

For me the answer to this question would be, the test case fits into the big picture of my regression test set strategy. To meet those properties above, I created a strategy to rework the regression test sets of my projects.

My regression test set strategy
Get a good visual of your product at test (use Mindmaps, Visio charts, whatever suits you best). You should find all of your features represented in this picture. Try to make a picture of the specification, as good as you can get with the design techniques at hand.

Create a set of test cases that represent all of your features, also involving roles, use cases and business processes of your customers. Use scenario testing techniques together with claim testing, to cover your complete list of features. Create positive checks of all your features. When performing this list of test cases you get a result if all features are still working. At least for the well-minded users. This test set is in my opinion the smallest test set you should perform, when speaking of regression testing (Short regression test set). If you have to make this even shorter, use risk analysis to skip the not so important functions. But please remember to report, that you skipped it.
Since maintainability and reusability of those test cases is important, keep them at a detail level that is sufficient enough for most testers to understand and high-level enough not to change it every time someone changed a configuration or translation. e.g. if your product or feature is well-documented on the GUI or more or less self-explaining, you can skip most of the details what to do in the test case. You can concentrate on the expectation and goal of the test case rather than on the test steps.

The context-driven part
Now that we have checked that all our features are still working, let’s hunt for some bugs. Nobody said, that you cannot look for new bugs, when performing regression tests.
Use your positive check scenarios and combine them with different assignments (e.g. James Whittaker speaks of tours) to explore and test those features (use function and domain testing techniques or whatever comes to your mind). Not every tester thinks the same, not every tester is capable of the same test techniques. And that’s ok. Because bugs aren’t all the same either. And when it comes down to testing and looking for bugs you should leave your team members a certain degree of freedom what to do to your system. Most testers get new ideas how to break a feature during test execution. And using variation in your techniques is a good way to find new bugs. And in case a tester has no idea, what harm to do next, she can still check old session protocols to get an inspiration.
Take a test case or a subset of test cases and create a variant of them concentrating on different testing techniques to test those features for bugs. When those test cases are performed, you can report, that a search for bugs with certain techniques in this area was performed. Like all test cases, it cannot say, we tested this feature completely and it is bug-free. So this statement is enough for me.
Since you are never finished testing, please don’t discuss if it wouldn’t be better to write down all negative tests performed for a certain feature to repeat them every time again, I disagree. The test case will be too long and unmaintainable in no time. And why should you find more bugs when repeating the same tests over and over again. You can give hints in the test charter what techniques you could use, but this should be the maximum to influence you or other testers. You should try to come up with new ideas every time. Try to learn new techniques and use them in those sessions. If you have a day of no inspiration, use old session protocols, talk with your team members or simply concentrate on positive tests. We all have those days sometimes.
If you have a special technique that you find often bugs with, feel free to use this technique in all of your test executions, mention them in the test charter, but don’t script them in detail. And if this technique really finds bugs always and everywhere, you should have a word with the development lead how to improve the skills of the development team to prevent those bugs in the near future.

Make a list of the last fixed bugs found in production. Retest those bug fixes again. It’s really bad to bring an already fixed bug back into production. Try to retest all of the bugs on your list. Sometimes the reoccurrence of a low priority bug is more noticeable, than a high priority bug in a constellation that happens only now and then, and only a few users would ever see.

So what do we have:

  • a big picture of the product
  • matching test cases for verifying the features
  • a strategy for negative testing (bug hunting)
  • a couple of bug fixes to retest

This should leave us with good input to report to stakeholders, a big picture to understand the software, a reasonably maintainable test set and an approach for bug hunting which challenges your team, the capability to find new bugs and a reduced risk of reoccurring bugs that were fixed lately.

I don’t know of this is the best solution for my projects, but I know that after some analysis it should be a better solution than the existing one. But it still has to prove this. I’m sure that this strategy is not reworked for the last time. There is a big part of context-driven testing, which is project-appropriate application of skill and judgment, as it is short and easily described on Cem Kaners blog. This also means, that this concept might only fit partially, or even not at all to your situation. Don’t forget to include the expectations of your stakeholders.
My original intention of this article is to get you think also about your usage of the words regression and regression testing and to give some hints how to improve a strategy every now and then, when the context changes or there might be other or newly learned things that might fit better. Maybe my improvement of my project’s test strategy helps you to come to a better strategy for your project.

Update (11.06.2013): I could have saved a lot of time thinking about regression testing and writing this blog post, if I simply came across Iain McCowatt’s blog earlier. He wrote a five part series about regression testing, that is going even deeper. A must-read if you haven’t already done so: Exploring Uncertainty
But at least I now know that I’m not the only one thinking that way.

Comments are welcome!

The value of the ISTQB certificates

I want to add something to the ongoing bash to hit on the ISTQB (Keith Klain’s petition and the “discussion” between Rex Black(RBCS), Keith Klein, James Bach and more on Twitter), that does not fit in the 140 characters of Twitter.

To start with, I have an ISEB foundation certificate from 2004, and the ISTQB Advanced Level Test Manager from 2005. As James Bach wrote a couple of month ago, it’s OK to be certified, if you don’t take it too serious. And that’s what is true for me.

Because I realized too late that only taking the course is teaching you nothing as a tester. But! There is a but. But you get an overview of a small portion what is out there in the world of testing. And from there you have to improve yourself and BE a good tester. So the certificate is just a piece of paper stating that you have taken the course and you were able to answer a couple of questions.
I have forgotten most of the stuff, because I was not able to use it all and frequently. And I did not take the initiative to learn on my own, starting with the sources provided in the course material.

Currently RBCS is promoting/congratulating a guy via Facebook and Twitter that he is now certified for the full advanced level. No offense to the guy, I don’t know you. But I know a couple of guys with full advanced level certification, because my former company had some locations were they pushed the people to take the courses, because the company was also certified training provider for ISTQB (cheap in-house training). The exam was the official one, so no bonus there, they earned their full advanced level, whatever it’s worth. But I worked with some of the guys, and I would not let them test notepad without intense monitoring.

To come to the end, I finally took the initiative to learn on my own, improve my skills and add to the community. But my certificates didn’t help with that.
It’s a shame that those certificates are important to find a job.

For those of you, who are still reading, I would assume you are keeping yourself up-to-date. No matter if you are certified or not.
We have to go out there and reach those who don’t participate in self-training, no matter if they are certified or not.

Patrick

Why I started this blog?

This is an easy question, but the answer is not short.

I recently read a tweet or short notice about what makes a good tester.

1. he smiles when working
2. he adds to the community

I can’t remeber the source. If anyone reads this and remembers, please tell me, I really want to give credit and state this correct.

Smiling is something that is hard to achieve at the moment, but this will come back some day, I’m sure.

So we still have the community. Since I changed companies by the end of last year, I have won a little bit of time every day in the commuter train. And I like to read all the blogs and articles, tweets and comments of the testing community.
My new job as a QA lead makes me think a lot about different aspects of testing, which is absolutley fantastic. I haven’t added much to my tester knowledge since my ISTQB Test Manager course late in 2005 and a two-day seminar from Hans Schäfer about risk-based test management in summer of 2006. I was working as a test manager from 2008 until end of last year. So I got mainly project management training. But my new job brings me back into the tester role. So I have to learn testing methods, techniques and all that stuff again. And I see now, that I haven’t learned much in my time as a tester from 2003 until 2007.

Reading / Learning / Thinking about all the testing stuff is great, and I enjoy it every day. And I want to give back to the community and share my testing experience with those who are willing to read it.

Plus, one benefit from writing about it is, that I rethink a topic more often and come to a better conclusion for myself.
For my new company I created a test strategy for the product I’m the responsible QA lead for. And I wrote over a period of two weeks on the set of slides while improving them bit by bit. I discussed it with my test manager and with a test specialist from another product/project and improved it further. But I was still missing the big questions, testing my strategy.
These questions finally came in the presentation. And I had a rather good answer for all of them, because I was prepared in every little bit of my strategy, why I want to do it this way, and why other ways are not as good. I’m really proud of this strategy. I flipped through the pages yesterday, about 2 months after the presentation and said, “yes, that’s still the right way”.

To summarize, why I started this blog. I want to add to the community, I want to have the chance to think more about certain topics by writing about them, and I want to discuss those topics with you. So please, use the comments to challenge my statements. I’m glad for every constructive feedback I can get.

Patrick