The only successful way to build a solution is to understand the problem. To quote Albert Einstein, “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Recognizing problems you face, regardless of whether you are starting or already have a testing organization, will be key to improving your practice.
Let’s look at two phases: “Startup” and “Sharpening the Saw.” Stephen Covey described “Sharpening the Saw” as a means to preserve and enhance the greatest assets you have. He spoke of someone who was sawing wood and upon being told “you need to sharpen the saw,” they responded “I’m too busy sawing.” Sometimes we have to step back, examine the current situation and evaluate changes that are needed to perform better.
The following elements will be needed to ensure a successful startup of a TCoE. For each we will review the problem being solved:
Building the Team – it is critical that you are cognizant of the preparation of a testing team to build your organization. Skillsets are important, and many startup testing organizations are built from internal employees, pulling them from development teams, program management teams, and possibly even business user teams. Look for people who want to see change, improve the processes, learn new methodologies, and be part of a revolutionary organization.
Problem Solved: Many companies will start a team without various levels of test expertise involved. Ensuring a diverse knowledge of testing practice is healthy to the new organization.
Building the Process, Methodology, and Documentation – do you remember back in school when a teacher was unexpectedly out and a substitute was called in to teach the class without any materials, class plans or direction? Some were successful, but most were on their own to come up with how to operate for the day. Too many organizations will start testing without a predefined process, methodology, and documentation in place to standardize the organization and practices. Remember that the wheel was invented many years ago and that it does not need to be reinvented. Learn from other organizations, white papers, and documents that have already been created on Test Management and begin to build your methodology.
Problem Solved: It’s easy to get lost quickly without a map or GPS. The problem that many new testing organizations face today is kicking off the team without the methodology in place. Defining this early in the process is a key to success.
Measurement & Metrics – there is a saying “What Gets Measured Gets Done.” A strong measurement program with the key metrics that are required is instrumental in the success of a new TCoE team. Your goal in this area is to clearly define the core metrics that are critical to the organization and your customers. These will help show the value of the TCoE and the importance of continuous improvement as the team onboards new areas.
Problem Solved: Selling the value of a testing organization is often difficult. A strong measurement program and being able to show a reduction in Cost of Quality (CoQ) is critical to obtaining buy-in from the stakeholders.
Vendor Selection – most organizations building a startup TCoE are not staffed to support this model. This results in the review and hiring of a vendor to support the group. Be very serious about this critical selection process. A talented, supportive, thought leadership vendor will help your organization grow exponentially. One that is not meeting these criteria can result in no growth and, without stakeholder support, could result in the closedown of the organization.
Problem Solved: Vendors are a reflection of your organization. Their engagement with your organization and the stakeholders is critical to maintaining support for the group. Choose wisely.
Sell Your Product! – let’s face it. The customers and stakeholders of the TCoE are looking at you and saying “you want me to spend more time on the project testing?”, “you want me to implement more steps into my SDLC?”, “why do we have to pay for additional resources on this project to do the testing?”. The one and only way you can overcome this is to sell yourself. Don’t fall prey to the mistake of simply saying “this is the right thing to do”.
Instead, leverage your metrics and the value of the organization so that your stakeholders become your supporters to sell the group for you.
Problem Solved: It has been said that it takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to lose it. If you have support of the stakeholders, keep it. If you do not, then focus heavily on showing the value through metrics and reporting.
Sharpening the Saw
So, you have a TCoE. What can you do to be better? How can you improve? The following are some areas you can focus on:
Onboarding Strategy – for smaller organizations this may not be as critical, but for medium to large organizations, this is very important to the team’s success. Leverage a pilot group, build a lessons learned from the onboarding of the pilot group, and if needed, step back, reassess the processes, methodology, documentation, and metrics, before moving on to the next group. Instead of being swayed by the flashiness of the areas you support, focus more on evolving and improving the new processes..
Problem Solved: Many new testing organizations are overzealous and attempt to inject their group into every business area. A good onboarding strategy will ensure that you move at the appropriate speed while taking the time for lessons learned and modifying the methodologies and processes along the way.
Governance – I dream of someday driving on the Autobahns, the roads in Germany where there is no speed limit or regulations. It would be exciting to pick any speed and not worry whether there was a cop hiding in the bushes to chase you down and give you a speeding ticket. A successful TCoE cannot operate this way. To be truly successful, we must be aware of how well the teams are following the process and methodologies required by the testing organization. Focus on ensuring the accuracy and compliance of inputs to the testing organization, and constantly educating the stakeholders of the critical need for this process. The goal is to reduce the cost of bad quality and encourage preventive activities (reviews / audits) contributing to cost of good quality.
A successful standard governance process for the testing organization recognizes Quantitative Project management appropriately and benefits all groups within the company.
Problem Solved: Being a disciplined organization is not easy. Without a strong audit process to ensure required methodologies and practices are being adhered to, there is always the potential that eventually there will be no discipline at all. Having a strong governance process ensures there is no slip in the quality of the quality organization!
Integration with Other Teams – to be a successful TCoE there are many groups which can be integrated to assist the organization. Below are a few:
- Environments – a racecar driver has no value if they don’t have a car to drive. The same applies to testing organizations. The key to a successful test execution effort is to have the required environments, configured, and operable in time for the testing to begin.
- Test Data Management (TDM) – a successful test management process not only requires an operable, functioning, accurate environment, but demands critical test data to be efficient. More often than not, testing organizations depend on ad hoc data to be used for testing, for the development and testing teams to build their data ‘as needed’ when executing the testing efforts. A focus on building out a test data management strategy and roadmap, and a plan to maintain the data is critical.
- SCM and Release Management – one of the best integrations a testing organization can have is with the Software Configuration Management (SCM) and technical release management teams. It does not take long to realize whether an organization has strong or weak processes around SCM. The SCM processes ensure that the correct versions of the deliverables are delivered to the testing teams. The technical release management teams work with the environments, TDM, and SCM teams to ensure that as all of these come together, the testing teams have a reliable system to execute their testing.
Problem Solved: Many organizations will start with a focus on Test Management only. Without an integrated plan to involve Environments, TDM, SCM, and Release Management practices, it’s like trying to build a piece puzzle with dozens of pieces missing. You may be able to see the overall outcome, but it will always be incomplete.
Maintaining Relevance – we live in a world where technology and processes are becoming more efficient, faster, and more productive than ever before. To again quote Stephen Covey, he said “Nothing Fails Like Success”. The processes, principles, and methods that were successful yesterday will soon become irrelevant. While many best practices have stood the test of time, it is required for teams to constantly evolve competent testing methodologies with emerging technologies and the changing development lifecycles associated with them.
Problem Solved: Without a focus on maintaining relevance and constantly improving, the CoQ can, and likely will, increase as technologies continue to mature. Ensuring relevance in the organization can reduce costs and the speed to quality of the company deliverables.
While the action items of a startup TCoE may be different than a growing TCoE, the goals are always the same – to ensure the delivery to production is the highest quality possible and that the processes and methodologies in place to ensure this are continuously evaluated and modified as needed..
About the Author
Mike Lyles Mike Lyles is a Quality Engineering Program Manager with over 22+ years in IT: development, PMO, and Software Testing. His experience spans functional testing, test environments, software configuration management, test data management, performance testing, test automation, service virtualization, building testing organizations, defining processes and methodologies, and standing up measurement programs
Mike is an international/keynote speaker at multiple conferences, and is regularly published in testing publications and trade magazines. Mike’s passion to help others improve and grow in the field of testing, leadership, and management is his key motivation. You can learn more about Mike at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikewlyles, www.MikeWLyles.com or http://about.me/mikelyles
Mike’s comments, blogs, articles, and opinions are his own and not those of his employer.