Thoughts of a new(ish) Software tester

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Rather than testing in the same way every time it can be a good idea to use the product in the way a certain type of person would.  For example, use a website as someone who only uses the keyboard to navigate, so all actions have to be done without the use of a mouse.  Or as someone who always changes their mind, so keep using the back button to revisit pages.  The first is likely to reveal accessibility/usability issues and the second could reveal innaproproate caching issues.

I realised the other day that if you can fully get into character then you can really experience and act out how certain users would feel using a product and thus reveal flaws or bugs which you otherwise might not discover.

What follows is a description of my findings when I adopted a persona to test a website without even realising it.

Last Tuesday I wanted to order 2 pizzas from Pizza Hut for my wife and I and I wanted to do it as soon as possible, in whatever way possible, and as cheaply as possible.  I was very hungry and when I’m hungry my patience is severely reduced and any small frustrations are magnified.
So I wanted to get my order in as quickly and easily as possible.  Was Pizza Hut online going to be up to the challenge?

So the first thing I did was Google Pizza Hut.  Up came a link to the Pizza Hut menu. Clicking this took me to a menu for all their pizzas which seemed like a good start.  However, although I wanted Pizza fast I also wanted a good price and that meant getting the best deal I could.  On the page there was no clear indication of any offers available.  I didn’t know where to find the deals so I gave up (remember, I was not in the mood to spend time searching around) and clicked on the ‘Order Pizza’ button, this took me to a page to select whether I want to Order for Delivery or Order for Collection.  I chose delivery and selected the delivery time.  Then I was taken to a page where I could select DEALS, Pizzas, Sides and Dips and Desserts and Drinks.  Why did I have to get this far before I could find out that any Deals were even on offer??  So I clicked on Deals where I was presented with 11 different deals, including Buy 1 get 1 half price, £21.99 Medium Super Saver – 2 medium pizzas and 2 sides, £25.99 Medium Full Works for 2 medium pizzas, 2 classic sides, 2 desserts and 1 drink, Two’sday Tuesday – Buy one pizza get one free.  Luckily for me, and for Pizza Hut, it was a Tuesday so I could get the best deal of 2 pizzas for the price of one.

So I chose a large Stuffed Crust Cajun chicken Sizzler for myself.  This showed the Total cost of £17.49 in the ‘Your Order’ section of the screen.  I then ordered a large Stuffed Crust Super Supreme at £19.49 for my wife.  The only problem was the total for my order now showed as £36.98  ‘How much??’ I said out loud, ‘Where’s my 2 for 1 deal gone?’  ‘You’ve just told me I’m getting a 2 for 1 deal and now where has it gone??’  Maybe I’d pressed the wrong button or missed something so I pressed the browser back button a couple of times.  I was hoping this would take me back to the page where I could restart my order and empty my basket.  I was back at the menu page but my basket still showed £36.98!  ‘How do I empty my basket!!’  By this point I was really getting annoyed and losing the will to live so I clicked the Checkout button below my basket total.  This took me to another page where miraculously my deal was taking effect and a -£17.49 showed that I would only be paying for 1 pizza.  ‘Why couldn’t they give me a clue I was doing the right thing on the previous page??’

Anyway, from here I managed to pay with my debit card with no disasters and my pizza even arrived on time.

From a testing point of view I found the 3 issues below:

Caching my choices and keeping them in my basket
Back button did not take me back to the original page
Price with offer was not shown until checkout button pressed

I’m not sure if any of these would be classed as a bug but it depends who’s definition you use.  I would include Cem Kaner’s definition of a bug as ‘something that would bug someone that matters’, i.e. the customers.

The number of customers these issues bug and the financial impact associated with potential loss of sales is probably the more important question.  Also, does the cost of fixing these issues outweigh the financial gain of keeping the sales?  Product managers are the ones paid to answer these sorts of questions but they are interesting nonetheless.

In conclusion I found it very interesting looking back on the persona I had briefly adopted.  It really changed the way I approached the website, which on another less hungry day, would have caused me no angst at all. More importantly it would possibly not have lead to me noticing any or as many issues with the way the site worked.  I will aim to think up other personas for future use with my testing because, as demonstrated here, it will help find new and interesting software quirks which could otherwise be overlooked.



Are Two Testers Better than One?

This sounds like a rhetorical question but the answer is not quite as obvious as you’d think.  By better I mean more productive in terms of doing more useful testing, uncovering more bugs and getting more product coverage.

A more interesting question I’d like to ask is ‘Are two testers working together, i.e. pairing, better than two testers working independently?’  I often see it working for developers in helping each other avoid mistakes so why not do the same with testing to increase the numbers of mistakes/bugs found?
For example, if there are a set of regression tests which need to be run, would it be more effective to split up the tests between two testers or have both testers work together?
From a time perspective it seems counter intuitive to believe that there is any chance that the tests will be completed in less time if the testers work together.  If two people’s time is occupied by each test then surely it could take just as long as if a single tester were used, thus doubling the cost of getting the work done.

The answer to the question depends on several factors:

How experienced is each tester?
What product knowledge do they each have?
How quickly/efficiently do they work?
Do they work well together?
Are they good communicators?
Are they familiar with the tests?
Do they think and work differently and use different methods from one another?
Do their skills complement one another?

Up until recently I have been doing all regression testing for the area I’m responsible for by myself and, to be frank, it can hard to keep it interesting and different each time.

However, for the last couple of regression tests I have sat side by side and worked with another tester and worked together on what are normally our own separate set of tests.  I looked forward to trying this as, at the bare minimum, I’d have someone to talk to whilst testing.  It was only once we began that I realised the various other benefits of pairing.
One of the main benefits I noticed first was in learning more about the area of the product in which my fellow tester specialises.  I am generally responsible for one area of the product and although I know a lot about the other areas they are not my primary focus, so it was interesting to see how much I could learn from my colleague.
Another advantage was the amount of communication which went on between us so we knew what each other was doing and we could complement each other rather than duplicate the work.
Also, we avoided carrying out unnecessary testing which had already been covered as part of earlier feature testing and bug fixes.  Without this interaction this time saving information would not have been imparted and regression testing would have taken longer than necessary.

There are several advantages I see to pair testing:

  • Increased creativity
  • More efficient testing
  • Time saving
  • Improved communication
  • Keep regression testing interesting
  • Bounce ideas off one another

Other ideas this subject brings to mind are:

  • Pair with different testers to mix things up and bring out new ideas and ways of working
  • Try pairing on other areas of test such as bug fixes and story features
  • Test with 2 or more other testers (may be impractical)
  • Pair when doing exploratory testing
In conclusion I highly recommend trying pair testing even if only as an experiment; what is the worst that could happen?

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Purposeful Regression Testing

Regression testing is a term that all testers ought to be familiar with but does it mean the same thing to all of us?

My view of regression testing has gradually been changing since I started as a software tester 8 months ago.  When I first started out one of the first things I was introduced to was the regression tests we run for every new kit.  This was a good place to start as it helped me build up my knowledge of the product and also get familiar with quite a wide coverage of tests.  With each run of the regression tests I became more and more confident and found I could run through the tests quicker each time and with less of a need to read the test steps word for word.  Although this was all good and positive I could also feel myself getting a bit too comfortable and did not feel I was putting enough thought into my regression testing.

It felt as though this testing was gradually turning into checking but at the same time I thought this must be the nature of the beast.  However, running the same manual tests time after time is not what I’d call fun.

So what can we do to change things?
Of course, automation is one tool we can use to reduce the number of regression tests we run manually. Automation is especially useful when the tests are literally run in the same way following identical steps every time and the results are simple enough for a computer to understand.
Some of the tests cannot be automated, or if they were automated they could not be interpreted reliably by a computer.  This may be due to timing issues in running the test or audio quality assessment of the output which we cannot (yet?) trust a computer to make a valid judgement on.

However, as well as these special cases, I believe that there will always be fundamental manual tests that must be carried out by a human to ensure confidence that the kit has the basics right, before moving on to the ‘more interesting’ testing.

Every tester knows that it is not possible to run every test variant on a product of any reasonable size, let alone get close to this with every set of regression tests.  For this reason regression tests need to be carefully chosen to be of maximum use specifically to the kit in question.  To continue to be useful I believe several factors need to be taken into account when selecting what tests to run as part of a regression suite.  I would include the following in my areas for consideration:

  • Recent new product features – Areas of the product which have recently been created.  Even though they may have had a thorough testing, in general, I would still want to focus on a new area rather than an older one.  I would expect more bugs to be found lurking there as they are likely to have had less exposure to as many different variants of input as opposed to more established parts of the product.
  • Customer impact – If I had to choose between testing only area A and area B and was told both were of equal size and that area A was considered essential to 70% of customers and area B only important to 30% I would choose to test area A.
  • Time – We can obviously only perform a finite amount of testing within whatever time frame we have.  So, looking at the example above, in simple terms if I had 100 minutes to test I would spend 70 minutes on area A and 30 minutes on area B.
  • Bug fixes – Even when bugs have been fixed and successfully retested I still like to focus on these areas as they are effectively newer areas of code now so the same principle applies to that of new feature areas.
  • Refactoring – Again for the same reasons as new features and bug fixes.

Targeted and meaningful regression testing should include the core tests which cannot be automated but also take into account all of the factors above.  The examples above are obviously very simplified so deciding what to test and for how long is not straightforward.  I think part of the skill of being a tester is to weigh up all the factors and choose one’s tests wisely rather than blindly following a regression test script.  I’d like to think that’s how regression testing is done in the majority of companies but I fear it may not.

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Take it with a pinch of salt

One lesson that I’m learning fast as a software tester is that you won’t improve if you take everything you see, hear and read at face value.
In the interests of saving time and/or effort this is a very easy trap to fall into.  Perhaps the time when one is most susceptible to this is when you are inexperienced and are at the mercy of all the new information you are being bombarded with.  Ironically,  this could potentially be more harmful for those with more experience and responsibility, who believe they know everything there is to know and therefore stop asking questions.

It sometimes feels like there is no other option than to believe the information you’re being given at face value.  At least if it’s not acccurate you can use it as a baseline which can be modified as new information comes to light.

One example of where I fell into this trap was when I had some testing to do on a new feature and I wasn’t sure if the testing had to be done on all of the environments we use.  I didn’t want to spend time duplicating my tests in different areas if this was not necessary.  As much as it would be ideal to test everything in every possible scenario and environment, this simply is not possible, so we try to fit the best coverage we can into our timescales.  So I asked someone if it mattered which environment I used to test the new feature on and they told me it didn’t.  The person I asked has a lot more experience than myself so I felt I had no reason to question what I was told.  I duly carried out my testing and reported the results, not realising I had not been testing exactly what I thought I had.  In hindsight, if I’d asked a couple more questions I probably would have realised what should have been tested.  So I learnt an important lesson that it’s much better to ask one question too many, at the risk of looking stupid, and get things right, than to avoid that question and end up making yourself look really stupid.

Another example where information can be misconstrued are bug descriptions.  It is very easy to think that the report you’re writing about the bug you saw 5 minutes ago is as descriptive written down as it is reproducible in your mind.  When you’ve forgotten about that bug and then read your report a month later is it still as clear?  Even more importantly, is it clear to someone else?

I’m not saying people shouldn’t be trusted but you need to know what they mean when what they’ve said or written looks to you like they mean something else.

I think the best way to combat this pitfall is to continue to ask questions until you are confident that there is no ambiguity left in your mind about what the facts are. This attitude and the frequency of questioning should not diminish with experience and if anything should probably increase.

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April 2012 – Time is Precious

One of the natural consequences of working in software development is that requirements can change at any given time.  Because we’re an Agile team working in an Agile environment this is not a big problem as it means we are prepared and able to react quickly to the changing demands of management and customers.  If we were working in a Waterfall environment (which I’ve heard about but not experienced for myself) I imagine we would find it a lot harder to adapt to such short notice changes.  Therefore, we are not always in control of how much time we will have to carry out development and testing.  I don’t see this as a negative as it just means we have to be adaptive and flexible.  I have also found that it brings out the creativity in the team and makes for a challenging and rewarding experience.

On a team level and also on a personal level this means that we have to make the best use of the, sometimes limited, time we have.  In an ideal world customers would work to dates we could set them and not mind if the dates kept slipping out so we could take our time to create even more polished applications.  Obviously, in reality, this would never be the case as customers want to move fast and beat the competition to market.  They want to have use of a product we can provide them before they find a similar product created by one of our competitors.

To achieve this we must have all areas of the company working together to meet the customers requirements.  When this happens and we all pull together to realise what the customer wants and when they want it, it is very satisfying knowing that we are driving the company forward by meeting customer expectations and improving our reputation.

One of the conclusions I am coming to is that there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.  I’m not thinking of this in terms of cramming everything in, such as doing your revision last minute on the night before the exam.  But rather planning what needs to be done today, what needs to be done this week, and also what contingency plans do we have if requirements change.  I don’t think deadlines necessarily need to be dictated by customers either.  When the implementation of a piece of work is not directly customer dependent it should not mean that we rest on our laurels until the next ‘real’ deadline comes along.  If we can commit to a target date for all tasks undertaken then we should be able to have a gauge, at least in our minds if not visible to the team, of how our tasks are progressing in relation to the deadline we have committed to.  Commitment based tasks are something we are considering where I work so the results should be interesting.  The theory is that our time management and work rate ought to improve as we have a defined static target to aim at.