Testing in an agile environment
A significant number of companies have recently followed the trend and shifted their development from a waterfall model to agile methodologies - most often Scrum or Kanban. In this article we won't be evaluating ifthis decision is actually good or whether something else might be better. There are plenty of articles and videos on this topic, but I'd like to point out to one interesting recording of a meeting of testers from Prague. In this meeting an imaginary duel of both approaches took place and even our Marcel Veselka from Tesena took up a jersey for the team waterfall.
Tesena has been providing testing services for many years, and during this time I have experienced many projects with alot of different approaches to testing in an agile world. I am more than happy to share them with you in the following lines. In general I could divide my experiences into 3 distinct parts which I will gradually describe in the following chapters. These are the personnel approach, the technological approach and the planning approach. In this article, we will also focus on:
A few words in general about agile development
Before we discuss the 3 points mentioned in the introduction in detail, I would like to mention the basic principles of agile development, specifically the Agile Manifesto.
- The software is delivered frequently and continuously
- Changes that will help the customer are welcomed
- Working software is more important than extensive documentation
- The basic unit is self-organized teams made up of motivated members
- Attention is paid to technical sophistication and good design at the beginning of the process
- Cooperation of development and business side throughout the whole development process
A list of clearly defined roles is defined in the agile SCRUM methodology. In short, they can be described as follows:
- Product Owner who owns the developed product. This role clearly defines the vision, priorities, order of tasks and business logic for the project. He or she is responsible for the product backlog and regularly updates priorities or removes tasks.
- Scrum Master eliminates problems, alleviates conflicts, motivates developers and ensures that they have peace of mind at work. This role also monitors compliance with the development process and its necessary changes. It also helps to maintain the flow in task management tools (eg. JIRA). Collaborates with the Product Owner to define the formal side of new tasks so that they contain all the necessities.
- Development team (QA, UI, Devs) performs individual tasks and develops the product. They commit to delivering certain tasks in a given sprint. The team should optimally have up to 10 members. For larger teams, division into smaller units is recommended. In an ideal world, the composition of a team can vary depending on the nature of the tasks that are planned for the next sprints.
- Project Manager: Sells / presents team results onwards. Coordinates the work of multiple Product Owners.
These roles are formed by a self-organizing team (sometimes known as a "company within a company") that develops a product in short periods of time. These are typically two-week sprints. During the sprint, there are certain meetings which are called ceremonies in the agile world. You've probably already heard of them. These are:
- Daily status (sometimes called the stand-up)
- It is attended by the development team, Scrum Master and optionally the product owner.
- It is usually in the morning before everyone starts working.
- It should not take more than 15 minutes, depending on the size of the team.
- Each team member should tell the others what he or she was working on the day before. What he or she will be doing today and whether s/he expects to finish it. Last but not least, if s/he faces any obstacles and, if so, who can help him or her.
- In projects a variant where everyone is standing is often chosen. For example, at the TV in the office, where the task board of the sprint is displayed. In contrast to comfortable sitting in meeting rooms, this at least forces the team not to talk for too long. In some projects they go to extremes and a person who speaks, for example, also performs various exercises at the same time.
- Some companies introduce only these morning statuses and consider it a sign of agile development.
- Grooming (in free translation "flea control"; sometimes called refinement)
- It is attended by the Product Owner and the development team.
- It does not have a fixed place within the sprint, this meeting is usually created when there are enough new tasks to evaluate.
- The length of a meeting is directly proportional to the number and size of tasks. It usually takes 1-3 hours.
- The complexity of selected tasks from the backlog is evaluated (ideally a complete set).
- The product owner first introduces the whole task and describes in detail what he expects as the results. If it is not already done, acceptance criteria and other information will be added to the task.
- The development team discusses this to reveal possible complications, the necessary cooperation of other teams or the need to intervene in other systems.
- Finally, the difficulty of the task is evaluated. Here it depends on how the team sets it up, some teams use man days (MDs), others story points (1, 2,3, 5, 8, 13 ...) or t-shirt sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL).
- The whole team is present, including the Scrum Master who should moderate this meeting, which is especially important.
- It typically takes place on the last day of the sprint, or at the beginning of the next sprint.
- It typically takes 1-2 hours depending on the size of the team.
- Each participant will evaluate what the team as a whole succeeded at or failed and what they would like to improve.
- All these ideas are glued / written on whiteboard (or if part of the team is on home office, in an electronic version).
- Subsequently, everyone gets 3 points and scores which idea they consider the most important or the most severe.
- Subsequently, the whole team discusses the ideas that received the most points.
- The result should be some kind of solution or a list of tasks that are assigned to specific people.
- In the next Retrospective, the fulfillment of these tasks is evaluated.
- The retrospective should be as constructive as possible and aim at improving the team as a whole.
- Participation of the Product Owner isn't mandatory.
- It takes place at the end of the sprint, often on the last day, and is directly linked to the retrospective in one session.
- The development team selects tasks from the sorted and evaluated backlog, which it commits to deliver in the next sprint.
- The time plan calculation includes vacations, holidays, etc. and is mostly based on the previous sprints' average speed (which may be called velocity).
- Tasks are selected from the backlog from top to bottom, the order is determined by the Product Owner and thus reflects what he requires to be delivered.
- The meeting also closes the current sprint. Unfinished tasks fall into the next sprint and the team completes them with new tasks.
- When everything is ready beforehand, this meeting does not have to exceed half an hour.
- It also includes defining the goals of the next sprint.
- These goals are then always refreshed at daily status meetings and the team reminds itself whether it is able to meet the goals.
- Sprint review (sometimes also known as the demo)
- In addition to the whole team, everyone to whom the team has added some change requests or new functions should participate (stakeholders).
- The meeting is usually at the end of the sprint.
- The team decides whether the members will take turns in the presentation, or everything will be presented by only one person.
- The team only presents things that it has managed to complete / close. It is advisable for the team to meet briefly before the meeting and define what will be presented.
- Internal tasks are not presented, such as refactoring, work on technical debt, etc.
- It should always be mentioned which function was developed / fixed, why it was done in the first place and what its benefit is.
- If possible, it is recommended to upload the presentation and then archive it.
- At the end of the meeting, there should be room for stakeholder questions.
What has agile development brought for testing?
Previously, development took place differently than is common today. First of all, the release took place only a few times a year. All phases were timed so from the beginning the assignment was used to create an analysis of the entire solution, including all the impacts. Documentation began to be prepared and at the same time the test team was putting together test cases. It wasn't until the developers were completing the application that all testers began testing and reporting bugs. Individual roles were represented here as teams of people which means that for example, testing was always performed by more people at the same time. They had a test manager who managed them, divided the work and communicated with other teams.
With the transition to agile development, everything has changed. The time from assignment to release of the finished function has been shortened by an order of magnitude. There are deployments to production several times a week in small parts and it is impossible to wait for a week of regression manual testing. This results in a greater effort to automate some of the tests and ideally to include them in the continuous integration / continuous deployment (CI / CD) processes. Importantly, dedicated teams of developers, testers and analysts have ceased to exist. Separate teams (companies in the company) were formed, which typically have 3-6 developers, one analyst and one to two testers. The teams take responsibility for their parts of the application, and not as before, for a specific phase of development. Extensive documentation and analysis has been abandoned. The product owner comes up with an idea of what function he would like to have in the application. The analyst identifies possible impacts on other applications or functions and also necessary data fields that are sent to the backend, or other information needed for the development. In Grooming, all this is already known and it is part of the ticket in which the task is already present. Developers add their information to the task, and the tester must know as much as possible about what he needs in order to test it as best s/he can. The tasks themselves should not be larger in scope than work for a single sprint. In case the work needed is more laborious it is important to divide the task into smaller sections. It is also recommended to divide the whole task (or story) into tasks containing small separate subtasks.
Problem No. 1 - Planning
As already mentioned, it was necessary to think about all phases during planning andgrooming, and testing was always a part of the workload of the task.The tester had to actively ask during grooming to find out possible future complications, which would for example make it impossible to complete all the functionality during the sprint. On projects, it proved very useful for us to add test subtasks to the main task, e.g., for preparation of test data /users, preparation of TC's, repair of automated tests and then the manual verification itself. Part of it could be to prepared in advance and at the time developers handed the task to testing, part of the process was already ready.
During the planning itself, there was a problem with determining the difficulty of the task, e.g. how to score it. On some projects, testing was estimated separately and then added to the estimation from the developers, or both numbers were shared. But for me, the approach when I evaluated it together with the developers worked best.I imagined the task comprehensively: over time we also created sample stories for 1, 2, 3, 5… points. The tester was then able to determine the difficulty similarly to the developer. Only if I knew that the testing would involve a lot of work would we as a team increase the final number, for example from 5 to 8 to reflect the complexity of testing. On some projects a parallel sprint and backlog for testing was introduced, but this usually didn't work out well, because the whole process was made very confusing.
Problem No. 2 - Team composition
In an agile world, there are smaller self-organizing teams. Related to this is the fact that a small number of developers usually have one tester. There is no large team of testers led by a test manager to collaborate on tasks. The first thing that strikes everyone is certainly less options for substitutability. Mostly it's an analyst or one of the developers. Therefore, it is necessary for the tester to maintain quality documentation and, for example an overview of test data that other team members can use in his/her absence. The whole team should regularly review this data and procedures for application testing.
If the tester is alone in the team in this way,s/he must be the one who should pass on the basic ideas about testing within the team. It is also necessary to set processes during the sprint so as to avoid overloading the tester, for example at the end of the sprint. This can be achieved by dividing larger tasks into smaller separate units, where the tester can handle them gradually. If it is appropriate to add an automated test to a new function, its implementation can be postponed to the beginning of the next sprint, when there is room for this as there is likely then to be less work for testing in general.
If it is known in advance that the tester will be absent for 2-3 weeks, it pays off to sort it out beforehand in the planning, so that the tasks in the sprint take into account the reduced testing capability in a way that developers are able to handle it between themselves. A checklist of cases can be added to the task that the tester recommends to go through so that nothing is omitted.
Problem No.3 - Technical approaches
So now we consider a situation where developers help with writing the automated tests. The tester, however, is still the person who should check their results, typically the results of the nightly run. In case of errors, analyze what happened and whether the tests need to be fixed or a new bug reported. The first problem is where the tests run. In most cases this is done in Jenkins (or another CI/CD tool), which is a separate instance purely for running tests and has the necessary libraries installed on its nodes. Of course, the tester is used to checking the reports, but for developers it can be just another system to go to and have access to. The solution here is to incorporate the running of tests in the same place where applications are built or deployed to the test environment. Deploying of a new version can then start the test automatically. Or we can separate our set of smoke tests from our tests, which will take a short period of time and include their start of a run directly into the deployment pipeline.
As well as the way the tests are run, the format of the result is no less important. Automation tools usually offer their own way of representing the result of the run. However, such a format does not always have to be suitable and it is necessary to think about how to bring the results as close as possible to other team members to get an immediate overview of what is happening and what stopped working. I recently published an article on this topic.
The agile approach in SW development did not only mean accelerating the development itself, but also the overall testing changed. Small changes in the application are tested, but at the same time it is necessary to test regressively that the change didn't cause an error in another part of application. For this reason, more emphasis is placed on automation and CI/CD. The differences in the team between developers and testers are shrinking. Everyone still has their own scope, but the new approach also allows for mutual cooperation, revision and assistance. For the tester, this means the need to adapt to the team, because s/he is usually alone in the team for testing. He or she will then often focus on selecting tools that are also suitable to the developers.
So far we have dealt with all these challenges in all of our projects in Tesena. If you would like to know more, or you have some more detailed questions, please feel free to let us know, and we will be delighted to discuss them over a warm cup of coffee.
Author: Tomáš Hák
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