Test planning, so you want more time!

If you’ve been involved in test planning you’ve no doubt encountered the questions, “Can you do it in less time?, What if you did test like this, is there a quicker way? what if we get some of the business to do all the testing for you?”

There are more questions like these as well, they all tell us something about the questioner, about how they are thinking, what matters to them, and they give you options to talk to them about. Testing can normally be done quicker, it’s just a question of do you want the risk that is associated with doing so?

So we are near the end of a change of software in part of the warehouse, there’s loads of config, some development, and a tonne of business understanding to gain. This is the second time we’ve tried this, the first time the business wasn’t at all happy with the config, so it was back to the drawing board for the project team. So now we are near the end and there won’t be a third chance so it has to go in, and be right. I haven’t been on this project, as you may have read in other posts my focus has been on the ERP we are putting in. However they are near the end and are worried it’s not going to happen, so I’ve been moved back to this one and basically asked to make the testing fit in the short time that is left. It’s all driven by the overall project budget, basically getting more money is going to be hard, so I have to look at what’s left and work out what not to do.

It’s all about risk here, the work is largely split into to pieces, the interface work, moving data via a bus between the new system and existing systems, and the new warehouse system itself. The interfaces have to work, but we control most of how the data arrives, so we can do a reasonable job on that without having to do to deep a piece of testing, and the warehouse system has had people all over it for months, there are in fact a group currently signing off business processes and user stories against what the set up in the system is, so they will have a good chance of seeing if the basic flows don’t work. So my sales pitch is more focus on the interfaces, less on the new piece. The focus of testing on the new warehouse piece would be the edge cases that the team signing off the basic flows are unlikely to go near.

Yes the state of what’s going on is far from ideal, but it rarely is, so we work with what we have, I’m often reminded of the scene in 13th warrior where they are on the boat and the northmen are laughing at the storm, show no fear, laugh at danger. There’s no point bemoaning the state it’s all in, get on and do what you can, make it work as best you can with the time and resources you have, flag risks if they are too much for the business to bare they will say. Your job is to let them know what these are and do the best you can to help get the project past the go live.



Understanding risk from the perspective of stakeholders

A key part of getting software signed off is having the key stakeholders happy that it does or is what they wanted. So how do you make sure you address this in your testing?

There are a few different approaches that you can take to gain an understanding of the risks from the perspective of a stakeholder, at there core though there are a few skills which you need to use regardless of if you interview, produce an information gathering form, or run a brainstorming session, to name a few ways.

What you are trying to do is gain an understanding of their real needs, and the stakeholders may not understand what these are in the early stages of a project, or at least in any great detail. You need to draw these out of them with the use of open questions that lead them to think about the details that you need to understand. You have to do this without imposing your concerns on the conversation. Yes, it needs to be a conversation, it’s not a question and answer session, you have to build rapport and trust with them so that over time they will volunteer this information to you as they are beginning to trust your judgement and that you will take what they say seriously.

You need to set the initial conversation up wisely. You have to give the stakeholder plenty of warning about what you want to do, and what you want to get out of the conversation so that they can prepare. You’ll also need to prepare, make sure you can provide answers to any questions they are likely to ask that you have accurate information about, however, you have to be able to say, ” I don’t know that yet” or, “let me look into that”. nothing will damage the relationship you are trying to build faster than guessing at answers and getting it wrong.

It’s okay to go off script, when it is done for good reason, to gain greater understanding, try to bring it back on track at the appropriate time, when you have explored the topic you were discussing before you or they have started to ramble or moved too far from what you wished to talk about.

You’ll need to practice active listening, being flexible about your questions and asking questions to draw out more details, these are not easy skills and deserve a post in their own right, so I won’t go into them in detail hear. I’ll just say you need to be paying close attention to what you are being told so that you can ask the right questions, at the right time to draw greater detail out, all while writing down the important pieces of information.

you can also make great use of silent pauses to draw further details from them, people will naturally want to fill gaps in conversation, and you can use them when you think someone is holding back. Just don’t go overboard, it’s not an interrogation. You have to practice the suspension of the ego, as these conversations are not about what you think, they are about what the key stakeholders think. You have to cultivate your curiosity about what other think, this will help you forget about your opinions on the matter as you seek a greater understanding of the thoughts of others.

You have to practice the suspension of the ego, as these conversations are not about what you think, they are about what the key stakeholders think. You have to cultivate your curiosity about what other think, this will help you forget about your opinions on the matter as you seek a greater understanding of the thoughts of others.

And remember this is an ongoing conversation, you should get back in touch with these people on a regular basis, even if it’s just to let them know you are still actively using the information they have provided as a form of measure against the quality of what you are looking at. If you maintain good rapport with them, they will more naturally include you in conversations about what their concerns are, and if you have done it well they may even come straight to you when they have concerns or questions.


Let me know your experiences of build an ongoing relationship with key stakeholders, and how you went about it.