Software Testers are an ideal advocate for the user. Do you measure up?

Agile development may be designed to allow for frequent changes in direction, but it certainly still requires some thought and planning for software testing up front.  For end users’ input to be incorporated into the final design, it’s vital that software testers understand how customers truly use the application under test. This may include reading forums, social media posts, support center tickets, and other areas of potential intelligence to better understand any gaps in the intent of the application and its actual use.

The ideal tester is an advocate for the end user.

You can’t design or execute the right plans without understanding the delivered business value of the system. Testers need to have an insight into the end user’s expectations and needs from the get-go. Communication between the product managers at the business end, the engineers working on the code, and the testers enables you to score tests in terms of their risk and business impact to ensure the end user is always in mind

Breaking it down.

How do you know if you, as a tester, are truly being an advocate for the user? We can break it down into a trio of simple queries: why, what, and how.

“Why” is a higher level overview that really ties into the business side. It’s the big picture thinking that reveals why you’re building the software in the first place.  A common six sigma technique that is used to make sure that you are truly understanding the experienced business value of an application is the 5 why’s (http://www.isixsigma.com/dictionary/5-whys/ ).   “Digging” beyond the surface level will ensure that you are really getting to the root cause of user behavior.

“What” is really focused on the understanding that not every feature can or should be tested during a particular sprint, so we need to focus on choosing the best set of individual features or functions of the software to be tested. Using a shopping cart analogy for an ecommerce website, you might say that we must test that users are able to add items to their shopping cart, as without that feature, the customer will never be able to complete a purchase.  Other less critical features, such as saving a cart for later retrieval, may need to be omitted from the test plan due to certain factors like their lower business value or end user impact. “How” relates to the practical application of your testing.  Testers need to ensure that they are testing against the scenarios they see their software used for in the wild.  Elements like test data, hardware specifications, network connection type, etc. cannot be overlooked in hopes of creating an easier to manage testing process.

Constantly keeping these questions in mind will help testers assess the value and the cost of each test, and gain maximum value from the inputs to each test cycle. Software testers should always be evaluating their methods and processes and strive to never lose sight of the fact that testing plays a key role in the end user experience.

For more on this topic, check out the e-book “What You Need to Know about Software Testing in the Agile Era,” authors Vu Lam, Chief Product Strategy and Sellers Smith, Director Quality Assurance Agile Evangelist for Silverpop of Atlanta. Silverpop was recently acquired by IBM.

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