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Break the innovation barrier with test

Posted: 02 Jul 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:test tools for product innovation? automated test process? test automation approach?

Ryan: As vendors offer tools and technologies that accelerate and enhance testing, equipment manufacturers will be positioned to shatter the innovation barrier.

Constant product innovation has driven a thriving equipment manufacturing industry over the last two decades. Innovation's enabler has been a steady stream of tools and technologies that help software developers work faster and smarter. Developers have clearly benefited from productivity-enhancing tools and technologies. Testers now need 21st-century tools to stay in parity. Without such solutions, test becomes a barrier to innovation.

Today's testers need new tools to empower them in three ways. First, tools for earlier defect detection will reduce costs and prevent product delays. Second, automating the test process will save time and increase coverage. Third, facilitating communication among developers, testers and the automation teams can save more time.

Finding bugs when the equipment is already in the field is very costly. It increases the time needed to resolve the problem and erodes consumer confidence. In general, the later in the product release cycle a bug is detected, the higher the remediation costs. The value of early defect detection is early defect correction. There are available test automation tools that enable QA to detect defects early on, easily reproduce the defect and use that same mechanism to ensure that the defect is fixed.

Automation tools
The value of automating certain aspects of tests is well-accepted in the equipment industry, and many manufacturers have begun developing their own automation tools. But tool development is not a core competency of QA groups. Homegrown solutions tend to be time-consuming, difficult to use and error-prone, discouraging their use. And executives dislike the time and effort that the team spends on building and maintaining in-house automation tools.

Testers need automation tools that make their jobs easier and faster. There are well-executed tools that will save testers' time, especially for repetitive, mundane tasks for which a human tester does not add value.

New breeds of automation tools also increase test coverage. Types of coverage that are feasible with automation, but not with manual testing, include testing the boundary conditions for a feature by testing overall possible combinations; stressing a system by repeating a test or set of tests many times; and loading a system by performing numerous, similar tests at the same time.

When is it best to add automation in the product development cycle? The conventional wisdom has been to wait to perform any testingmanual or automateduntil the rate of change slows. But today, product changes occur throughout development and can continue well into the QA cycle. An organization that waits to introduce automation until the rate of change slows cannot start until the product nears release. By then, the benefits of automation are nominal.

Effective communication
In the typical workflow, developers, testers and customers communicate using documents in various formats. Developers struggle to understand obscure bug reports submitted by testers, often finding that test cases do not properly document the state of the device and the steps required to surface the bug. Testers often don't understand the vague feature definitions from developers. The automation team cannot understand or reproduce test plans written by feature testers and sometimes cannot even understand each others' scripts. Often, nobody can understand defect reports from the field. The problem is exacerbated when global product team members speak different languages.

New test automation products can create documented and automated test cases. This simple difference creates a breakthrough for testing. It enables QA groups to detect errors earlier in the product introduction life cycle, increase coverage and clearly communicate the bugs to developers, so they can replicate and fix them more rapidly.

New test automation approaches will also solve the communication challenges that have plagued testers, developers and automation teams. Today's test automation solutions enable more effective and efficient communication among testers and developers by using the test case itself as the communication vehicle. The tester can provide a failed test case that developers can run themselves, eliminating ambiguity.

As vendors offer tools and technologies that accelerate and enhance testing, equipment manufacturers will be positioned to break the innovation barrier.

- Tom Ryan
President and CEO, The Fanfare Group Inc.

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