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Quality at the Speed of Code: Maximizing Efficiency with an Agile Testing Methodology

Agile steps up and shakes everything up about software development projects. Here at Lighthouse Technologies, Agile earned its place at the forefront.

Where it all started

Over the last decade, Agile methodologies have truly become the gold standard for software development practices. However, if you’re still learning about Agile, begin with the four core principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto.

As you look around and start comparing, you’ll notice that the methodologies are all rooted in continuous improvement and adaptive planning, which both lead to early code delivery. The key to success here is the ability to change quickly and early in the process.

What Does it Mean to Test on an Agile Team?

Testing on an Agile team means you need to really be at the top of your QA game. That’s because the Agile methodology is an iterative approach (as mentioned above) where the requirements are defined and groomed (i.e., cleaned up and described in detail) just prior to the start of each Sprint (Note – for this discussion, let’s assume the Agile team is delivering in Sprints). QA should be involved in that grooming process so they have input, can ask questions, and the entire team gains clarity on how the system is supposed to function. Similar to waterfall, it is critical that the Business Analysts, Developers, and QA Testers review and groom the requirements together to remove the requirements ambiguity and other defects prior to the start of the Sprint. Once the Sprint commences, the developers will code and unit test to these requirements, and the QA professionals will build and execute the manual or automated tests based on these requirements.  

As Sprints are completed, the QA testers will begin to build up a regression test suite of all functionality. If you are doing test automation, it is easy to execute the full regression in each Sprint. However, if you are doing manual testing, it gets too labor and time-intensive to easily execute the full suite of regression tests. An approach to mitigate this risk is to schedule test-only Sprints every once in a while. We’ve seen it performed effectively when this test-only hardening Sprint is performed approximately every 6-8 Sprints.  

As you might imagine, managing regression testing is a challenge in Agile. On the flip side, there are some huge benefits as well.

Benefits

When it comes to software testing within the Agile methodology, the benefits speak for themselves.

1.      Time savings

Agile testing brings software testing to the forefront, performed simultaneously with development. This practice identifies and solves critical problems early, saving an incredible amount of time in the legendary cycle of testing, redeveloping, locating and repairing dependencies, and retesting. The test-driven approach with Agile testing focuses on producing a well-performing product. By inserting software testing as a part of development, unit testing executes more efficiently. Having test cases developed before programming begins accelerates the process.

Pro Tip: Your software testing team finds great value in your project’s user and business requirements. Not only are they used to develop test scripts, but they may also identify potential holes or risks associated with those requirements. Here at Lighthouse Technologies, we use the ScopeMaster requirements analysis tool which converts hours of analysis into as little as four seconds. 

2.      Superior collaboration and communication between teams

A key benefit of Agile with software testing is the heightened consistency of communication and collaboration between the testing and development teams. By working side-by-side, they quickly mitigate and resolve complex issues as soon as they are identified. Bringing the testing team together as part of the production process avoids a multitude of bugs by working alongside the production team.

3.      Sprints connect the software testing process to great results

One of the most significant changes with the induction of Agile is working in Sprints instead of the phases of Waterfall. These consistent Sprints provide a means of constant improvement with each Sprint. Each iteration includes planning, development of test cases, coding, and integration testing. As each iteration completes, the team lays the groundwork for the success of the next iteration. The risk of working code dependent on defective code becomes very rare as the code gets repaired in every sprint. This process ensures smooth performance in each iteration. Additionally, since testing occurs much earlier in every Sprint (i.e., much earlier than in waterfall), the developers quickly see common bugs and can adjust their development practices to avoid them in future Sprints. This provides a tremendous benefit to the overall system quality.

Pro tip: When working in the reduced time sequences of Agile Sprints, automation testing saves time and the need for redundant testing. Test automation accelerates the testing process to ensure better performance of the software without adding additional resources.

4.      Heightened customer satisfaction

User experience is the primary focus of any application. Ease of use is always considered the key to increasing conversion rates for consumer applications. Internal software upgrades enhance user productivity and efficiency. By performing internal testing and user testing at each Sprint, user experience issues are discovered very early and are avoided in future Sprints. The practices of Agile mean less time spent on production and faster time to market by focusing on the results and satisfied end-users. The overall benefit is increased revenue for the organization.

5.      Business and tech synchronicity

When business and tech teams are well synchronized, heightened understanding of the business perspective and less confusion are the benefits. The Agile methodology combines client-centric, business-centric, and user-centric goals. In doing so, DBA and production operations working together increase the overall credibility of the software product.

6.      Easier maintenance

The opportunities for failure with the entire team (instead of specific people) make maintenance much easier, especially when encountering a change. Agile breaks the rule of “too many fingers in the pot,” for it embraces the differing perspectives as a means to reduce the chances of problems in the coding or testing efforts.

Agile meets software testing

Some of the practices you’ll see with software testing in Agile environments are:

Behavior-driven development (BDD)

This methodology is perfect for those teams putting the user experience first with feature-focused software. The strategy that sets BDD apart from other Agile methods is through the use of automation strategies to drive a high level of efficiency.

Acceptance test-driven development (ATDD)

ATDD collects and uses input from customers to develop acceptance criteria. It starts with the customer to understand how the customer will use the product. It next transforms that criteria into tests (manual or automated) and produces code against those tests. With ATDD, the theory heightens importance on user perception over functionality to increase adoption. The goal is to minimize the need for feature redesigns.

Exploratory testing

At first glance, it comes off as chaotic. In exploratory testing, testers use their experience to find problem areas. Instead of following test steps, the testers use the software or may try to break it. Testers document defects, but at differing levels of detail, which labels this testing more chaotic. The idea is that without scripts, testers mimic user interaction with the software in real life.

Session-based testing

This testing method builds on exploratory testing with a heightened degree of structure. Session-based testing conducts testing during uninterrupted time-boxed sessions. The testing caps with a debriefing with the manager that covers the five PROOF points:

Past: What happened?

Results: What was achieved?

Obstacles: What got in the way?

Outlook: What still needs to be done?

Feelings: How does the tester feel about it?

Adaptability is key

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter what Agile methodology practices your organization uses. An outsourced testing team should be experienced and nimble enough to adapt to your successful practices without compromise. Lighthouse Technologies is that experienced partner. Contact us, and let’s explore if we can help your organization with our testing expertise.

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