Failing to Plan

A solid and realistic plan is the key to successful test management. The quality of your plan can make or break programme delivery.

Why Plan?

Ensuring the availability of the right resources at the right time is a fundamental, yet often overlooked, reason for planning. Understanding resource requirements early, and securing those resources in a timely manner, eliminates the last-minute requests that are, unfortunately, all too common. This also helps you use resources that have been assigned to your project on a part-time basis wisely.

Experience has proven that having the wrong people assigned to a task wastes a programme’s time and money. Whilst it may seem sensible to allocate any available person to any task, it is essential that they truly fit the role. Setting out a clear business case and justification will help secure the right people for the right roles and maximise the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Build a Creative Plan

Resource constraints are part and parcel of today’s complex business landscape, so test managers need to be creative. For example, you can determine which tests can be brought forward or rescheduled; this will help maximize execution in the time available for testing. You can also look into automating and/or virtualising specific processes to remove dependencies and bottlenecks. By doing so, task execution continues without impacting your plan.

Always allow for contingencies so you have the flexibility to address any issues that may arise during your programme. This may sound obvious but it’s easily forgotten. Sometimes contingencies may not be possible, but your stakeholders will always be grateful if you plan realistically rather than optimistically.

Failure is Success

A test that fails to achieve its expected result does not mean that the plan has failed. A test that has failed execution establishes and helps drive out new defects within the system. In other words, a failed test is a successful test; it has proven that the system does not function as desired. For example, if the plan states there are 50 tests scheduled for the week and you execute all 50 tests, of which 40 pass and 10 fail, you have completed 100% of the plan with an 80% pass rate. The test manager needs to manage this message correctly.

Driving out defects is as important as, if not more important than, the test pass rate. This helps prioritise and highlight issues within the documentation, build, or environment that need fixing before the system/programme is released into production. There is no benefit in releasing a new programme when its functionality does not meet the user’s requirements.

Prioritise

A critical aspect of test planning is a firm understanding of test preparation and test execution activities. Tests need to be fully risk assessed.  Risk assessment ensures that high-priority tests are executed first; this is beneficial for projects that have been overrun delayed and for which money is no longer a luxury, and ensures that all business/programme-critical tests have been executed first.

As testing begins, knowing resource availability and defects that are blocking test scripts will enable to you to maintain the plan and accurately re-plan if necessary.

Communication is King

It is vital to distribute this information regularly to key stakeholders and the project team. This sets clearly defined expectations for all resources so they know exactly what they are expected to be working on; it also provides them with an opportunity to raise any concerns about potential issues that could affect testing.

Planned Defects

Defects need planning too – though we don’t mean that defects need to be created intentionally! Rather, defects tend to be resolved with the fixes then released as quickly as possible into the test environment without due consideration. It is important that we plan their entry into the environment so the defects can be retested accurately and at the earliest opportunity to unblock the respective scripts.There are a number of complexities that can delay the retesting of a defect. These can be environmental, such as when the system date needs to be rolled back; batch-related, such as when the defect requires an end-of-month batch job to run before it can be retested; or data-driven and setting up the data required to enable the retest could take an hour or a few weeks.

Checking release notes and the expected release dates are effective ways to plan ahead for test execution. The defect management tool should contain up-to-date statuses of each defect, when each defect is scheduled to be fixed, and a schedule that shows when defects will be released into the testing environment. With the estimated fix dates established, retesting can be incorporated into the plan. Once the specified release has been deployed into your test environment you can adhere to your plan and retest the defect. Defects are tracked between planned fix dates and actual fix dates to ensure they meet the agreed-upon Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Looking after Stakeholders

Looking after all stakeholders and managing them effectively is not only important – it’s a quick win. Building an effective relationship with technology and business stakeholders can have a knock-on effect on your plan, as they become understanding and more accommodating.

There will be times where you are solely dependent on one individual; in order for your plan to succeed, that individual becomes your single point of failure. In order to manage this, build a rapport with the individual so they are more likely to be flexible in meeting your requirements. For example, if you need this individual for one day over the course of the next two weeks, they may not be able to schedule a whole day away from their BAU work but may be willing to offer 20% of their time over the first of the two weeks. This, in effect, enables you to achieve your goal and allows the individual to complete their day-to-day tasks.

Secret to Success – Building Trust and Confidence

Honesty is the best way forward when forging your business relationships with senior stakeholders. They may not have the time to read reports or be involved in meetings to discuss the issues occurring within your work-stream. The best approach is to provide them with the facts, clearly and concisely. If you come to them with a problem, they are likely to either respond by asking “what can I do?” or telling you “I don’t have time to deal with this”. If you present them with the facts and a resolution or compromise, you’ll gain their trust and they’ll be more likely to rely on your knowledge.

Fail to Plan, Succeed at Planning  

A clear, concise plan ensures successful test management. The best way to achieve this is by planning ahead, allowing for failure that is actually success, planning defects in conjunction with test execution to avoid wasted effort, and looking after your stakeholders. Also, remember that every project is different, so you may not plan everything effectively straight away; however, your planning will improve as you continue going forward.

Harpreet Minhes