Healthy baby at birth!

A large India Development Center (IDC) of a major consumer electronics& peripherals delivers 3-4 releases of their product every year. They had “birthing” problems – early stage defects were bogging them down. The root cause was identified as ineffective development testing. The team was mature, had good practices and were focused on “unit testing”. The big question that nobody wanted to ask was “what in the name of God is an Unit?”. This resulted in everyone in both early and late stage doing similar tests with poor results.

Applying STEM, we clearly identified the expectations of code from development and listed the types of defects that should not seep from development. Having setup clear cleanliness criteria, we had gotten around the “notion of unit”, and setup a goal focused development test practice. The test cases increased many-fold (this did not increase effort/time) and fault traceability made them purposeful.

The code coverage jumped from 65% to 90% with the remaining 10% identified as exception handling code that were hand-assessed. Now all early stage code were ‘completely assessed’. The RESULT – Defect escapes to QA team dropped by 30-40% and the specialist QA team could focus on their job and releases were made on time.

From premature babies needing incubators, we had transformed the organization to deliver bonny babies!

Quality injection – Scientific validation of requirements

Validating early stage pre-code artifacts like requirement document is challenging. This is typically done by rigorous inspection and requires deep domain knowledge. One of our Japanese customer threw a challenge – “How can you use HBT/STEM to scientifically validate requirements without knowing the domain deeply?” .

The core aspect of HBT is to hypothesize potential defect types that prove that they do not exist. These are identified by keeping in mind the end users and the technology used to construct the system. So how do you apply this to validate a pre-code artifact?

We commenced by identifying the various stakeholders for requirement document and then identified key cleanliness attributes. These cleanliness attributes if met would imply that the requirements was indeed clean. We were excited by this. We then moved and identified potential defect types that would impede these cleanliness attributes/criteria.

Lo behold, the problem was cracked and we then identified the various types and the corresponding evaluation scenarios for validating the requirements/ architecture document. We came up with THIRTY+ defect types that required about 10+ types tests conducted over TEN quality levels with a total of SIXTY FIVE major requirement evaluation scenarios to validate a requirement.

What we came up is not yet-another-inspection-process that is dependent on domain knowledge, but a simple & scientific approach consisting a set of requirement evaluation scenarios that could be applied with low domain skill to ensure that the requirement/architecture can indeed be validated rapidly and effectively. These ensure that the requirement document is useful to the various stakeholders over the software life cycle and does indeed satisfy the intended application/product attributes.

It was more than just validation. It was ensuring nation’s pride.

A large petroleum major was rolling out a specialized solution to ensure that fleet tracking solution to ensure zero pilferage during transport. The solution consisted of a plethora of technologies (GPS, GSM, Web, Mapping) and our role was to ensure that the final solution is indeed risk-free for deployment.

With the launch date in the next few weeks, we got cracking on applying HBT to extract the cleanliness criteria from the business and technical specifications outlined in the tender document.The cleanliness criteria consisted of multiple aspects- deployment environment correctness, cleanliness of software, clean working of hardware/software interfaces and finally the ability to support a large load, volume with real-time performance.

We identified the potential types of defects that spanned the entire spectrum of hardware and software. The first step was to understand system development process and identify senior consultants visited the vendor’s facility to assess the people and processes used to develop the system. This provided a clear picture of what to expect and the work that lay ahead of us.

Post our understanding of the development system, we developed a scientific strategy and the evaluation scenarios. A variety of tests were identified – individual feature validation, simulating various business use-cases, understanding load limitations and performance evaluation of the system.

Now we were ready to validate the final system in the data center. The first cut of the solution was used to develop a set of automated scripts for large scale load/stress/performance testing. The system was populated with large data representing a real life system. Vehicles were fitted with the vehicle mounted unit. We were ready to roll now.

The various vehicles were set in motion in various terrains, at various speeds and mapping of the fleet on the India map was validated. We simulated large number of vehicles with data arriving from the simulators at a high rate to ensure that performance was indeed real-time.

In addition, the deployment environment was validated, configurations checked, legality of the software verified. We also verified that the solution integrates with customer’s SAP database as well.

Bugs popped up and were fixed. We recommended changes in the system capacity, pushed the vendor to close all the critical, high and medium priority defects before providing a qualitative feedback on the solution and the potential risks. Once satisfied our customer’s investment was safe, we gave a go-ahead to rollout the solution.

Low cost automation challenge

A New Zealand based customer in the heath care domain embarked on a journey of migrating their Delphi-based products to Microsoft technologies. The products use specialized GUI controls that are not recognized by the typically popular tools. The company was keen to embark on automation right from the early stage of migration. And the budget to develop automation was tight.

We conducted Proof-Of-Concept (POC) to identify the tool that would support automation for both Delphi and VB.Net. We discovered that most popular tools were indeed not compatible with the developed product. The POC concluded that Test Complete did support both Delphi and VB.Net with a few constraints. It was very cost effective however but not user friendly. We convinced the management of our decision. The project started off with us identifying test cases which could be automated. Seven modules were automated and demonstrated.

We developed reusable Keyword Driven Framework for the client. Both individual test case execution and batch run was possible just by choosing the test cases. STAG provided detailed demo of the framework to the in-house QA team.

However some of the test cases chosen for automation were not complete. We validated the test cases, made the necessary changes and then initiated the scripting. The automation work was divided between the STAG and customers team. As we automated the test cases, we guided and trained the customer’s team to automate.

The result – By automating 326 test scenarios, the testing time was cut down from 80 hours to 12 hours! We saved the customer significant money spent on the tool, but more by enabling them to release the product to market ahead of schedule!

Delivering peace of mind- Assessing release worthiness

The product helps to detect different types of telecom fraud, be it in wireless or wire line networks. It also helps to detect fraud in roaming, pre-paid and post-paid environments and tailor-made for GSM/CDMA/Fixed/GPRS network. The product team comprised of strong development team ably supported by an in-house QA team. The product was developed using J2EE technologies and had undergone multiple versions of build – currently in version 6.0 – with wide installation base in Asian/US market. The company had an ambitious plan to expand the product reach and move into a new market – European market. The product went through multiple feature upgrade/modifications to meet the needs of the new market. Though the product was tested diligently by the in-house QA team, the management was skeptical about the release worthiness of the product. They preferred to have an independent third party product assessment to enhance their delivery confidence before the formal product launch.

STAG singularly focused to ensure the defect escapes are minimized. Hence a three-pronged approach was adopted to determine the breadth and depth of testing required –

  • Identify what poses high business risks? What has been de-risked already? What remains as risk that is to be assessed?
  • How well has the “net” been cast to uncover defects in the lifecycle? Are the methods to uncover defects expansive/complete?
  • Are the test cases (i.e. those inputs that have the ‘power’ to detect anomalies) good?  Do the already existing test cases and therefore the tests conducted have the power to uncover high-risk business issues?

Fixing the high impact defects improved the stability of the product– which otherwise could have led to USD 250K support cost in the initial months. The release worthiness certificate lowered the business risk for the customer and newly gained delivery confidence by the customer management powered their successful product launch and on time to market.

We demystified the automation puzzle. Relentless validation tamed!

A large global provider of BI solutions has a product suite that runs on five platforms supporting thirteen languages with each platform suite requiring multiple machines to deliver the BI solution. The entire multi-platform suite is released on single CD multiple times a year.

The problem that stumped them was “how to automate the final-install validation of multi-platform distributed product”. They had automated the testing of the individual components using SilkTest, but they were challenged with “how to unify this and run off a central console on various platforms at the same time”.

Considering each platform-combination took about a day, this required approximate two months of final installation build validation, and by the time they were done with this release, the next release was waiting! This was a relentless exercise, consuming significant QA bandwidth and time, and did not allow the team to do things more interesting or important.

The senior Management wanted single-push-button automation -identify what platform combination to schedule next, allocate machine automatically from the server farm, install and configure automatically, fire the appropriate Silk scripts and monitor progress to significantly reduce time and cost by lowering QA bandwidth involved in this effort. After deep analysis, in-house QA team decided this was a fairly complex automation puzzle and required a specialist! This is when where we were brought in.

After an intense deep-dive lasting about four weeks, we came up with a custom master-slave based test infrastructure architecture that allowed a central console to schedule various jobs onto the slaves, utilizing a custom developed control & monitoring protocol. The solution was built using Java-Swing, Perl, Expect and adapters to handle Silk scripts. Some parts of the solution where on Windows platform while some on UNIX. This custom infrastructure allowed for scheduling parallel test runs, automatic allocation of machines from a server farm, installing appropriate components on appropriate machines, configuring them and finally monitoring the progress of validation through a web console.

This test infrastructure enabled a significant reduction of the multi-platform configuration validation. The effort reduced from eight weeks to three weeks. We enjoyed this work simply because it was indeed a boutique work fraught with quite a few challenges. We believe that this was possible because we analyzed the challenging problem from wearing a development hat and not the functional test automation hat.

“The quality race” – STEM wins

A large German major with a mature QA practice is seeking new ways to improve its test practice. It all starts with a talk delivered at this company on “The Science & Engineering of Effective Testing” to its senior management staff and test practitioners in the company. We are amazed at the interest in this topic (75+ people attend the talk) and the enthusiastic response – we are deeply humbled.

A few weeks after this, the management decides to experiment with STEM-based approach to testing. They identify about twenty five people (a small subset of their QA team) to be trained on the new way of testing. We are delighted and conduct a 5-day workshop with intense application orientation, to enable them to understand STEM. The company then decides to conduct a bold experiment- a pilot to evaluate STEM powered approach to testing vis-a-vis their way of testing. They identify a product that is in use for a few years with consumers across the world. They decide to have two five-member identical teams consisting of similar mix of experience levels of people, each given a timeframe of one month to evaluate the new release of this product. These two teams are kept apart to ensure a controlled experiment and the countdown starts. We wait with bated breath…

The month is slow for us, but it flies for the two teams. Enormous data has been generated and the management analyses them thoroughly to spot the winner. A month later we are called by the senior management. We are sweating, have we won? A few minutes later, it is clear that STEM is a winner. The STEM powered team has designed 3x test cases compared to the non-STEM team and uncovered 2x number of defects! The icing on the cake is that the couple of defects uncovered by the STEM powered team are “residual defects” i.e. they have been latent in the product for over a year (Remember Minesweeper game on Windows) and one of them corrupts the entire data in the database. Now the discussion steers to effort/time analysis – Does application of STEM require more effort/time? The team has conclusive evidence that it is not significant, implying STEM has enabled them to think better, not work longer or more.

What enabled the STEM powered team to win the “Race of quality” ? The answers are given by the team itself, and we are delighted, as we have believed in them, and have seen results when we implement them. The top three reasons are: (1) The notion of Potential Defect Types (PDT) is powerful as it forces the team to hypothesize what can go wrong and enable them to setup a purposeful quality goal (2) PDT forces a thorough understanding of the customer expectations and the intended behavior of the product (3) PDT ensures that test design creates adequate test cases, thus eliminating defect escapes and paving the way for robust software.

The STAG team is delighted as their customer acknowledges the effectiveness of the STEM based approach. The team is convinced that STEM powered approach is a winner and is raring to run the marathon, with the customer also cheering them to win!

A heartfelt “Thank you” to the STEM powered team and the innovation-centered Senior Management of the company.