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Monday, February 16, 2009

Software testing best practices

The Foundational practices are the rock in the soil that protects your efforts against harshness of nature, be it a redesign of your architecture or enhancements to sustain unforeseen growth. Every time we conclude a study or task force on the subject of software development process I have found one recommendation that comes out loud and clear.
"We need to adopt the best practices in the industry." While it appears as an obvious conclusion, the most glaring lack of its presence continues to astound the study team.
The best practices can be classified into the following types:

a) Basic Best Practices
b) Foundational Best Practices
c) Incremental Best Practices
Basic Best Practices

They are the training wheels you need to get started

and when you take them off, it is evident that you know how to ride. But remember, that you take them off does not mean you forget how to ride. This is an important difference, which all too often is forgotten in software. "Yeah, we used to write functional specification but we don't do that anymore" means you forget to ride, not that you didn't need to do that step anymore. The Basic practices have been around for a long time.
Functional Specifications
The testers use this to write down test cases from a black box testing perspective. The advantage of having a functional specification is that the test generation activity could happen in parallel with the development of the code. This is ideal from several dimensions. It gains parallelism in execution, removing a serious serialization bottleneck in the development process.
Reviews and Inspection
It is argued that software inspection can easily provide a ten times gain in the process of debugging software. Not much needs to be said about this, since it is a fairly well known and understood practice.
Formal Entry and Exit Criteria
The idea is that every process step, be it inspection, functional test, or software design, has a precise entry and precise exit criteria. These are defined by the development process and are watched by management to gate the movement from one stage to another.
Functional Test – Variations
Most functional tests are written as black box tests working off a functional specification. The number of test cases that are generated usually are variations on the input space coupled with visiting the output conditions.
Multi-platform Testing
When code is ported from one platform to another, modifications are sometimes done for performance purposes. The net result is that testing on multiple platforms has become a necessity for most products. Therefore techniques to do this better, both in development and testing, are essential.
Internal Betas
Techniques to best conduct such an internal Beta test are essential for us to obtain good coverage and efficiently use internal resources. This best practice has everything to do with Beta programs though on a smaller scale to best leverage it and reduce cost and expense of an external Beta.
Automated Test Execution
The goal of automated test execution is that we minimize the amount of manual work involved in test execution and gain higher coverage with a larger number of test cases. The automated test execution has a significant impact on both the tools sets for test execution and also the way tests are designed.
‘Nightly’ Builds

The concept of a nightly build has been in vogue for a long time. While every build is not necessarily done every day, the concept captures frequent builds from changes that are being promoted into the change control system.
The Foundational practices are the rock in the soil that protects your efforts against harshness of nature, be it a redesign of your architecture or enhancements to sustain unforeseen growth. They need to be put down thoughtfully and will make the difference in the long haul, whether you build a ranch or a skyscraper. Their value added is significant and established by a few leaders in the industry. Unlike the Basics, they are probably not as well known and therefore need implementation help. While there may be no textbooks on them yet, there is plenty of documentation to dig up.
User Scenarios
One of the viable methods of testing is to develop user scenarios that exercise the functionality of the applications. This best practice should capture methods of recording user scenarios and developing test cases based on them. In addition it could discuss potential diagnosis methods when a specific failure scenario occurs.
Usability Testing
Usability testing needs to not only assess how usable a product is but also provide feedback on methods to improve the user experience and thereby gain a positive quality image. The best practice for usability testing should also have knowledge about advances in the area of Human Computer Interface.
In-Process ODC Feedback Loops
Orthogonal defect classification is a measurement method that uses the defect stream to provide precise measurability into the product and the process. Given the measurement, a variety of analysis techniques have been developed to assist management and decision-making on a range of software engineering activities.
Multi-Release ODC/Butterfly
The technology of multi-release ODC/Butterfly analysis allows a product manager to make strategic development decisions so as to optimize development costs, time to market, and quality issues by recognizing customer trends, usage patterns, and product performance.
“Requirements” for Test Planning
One of the roles of software testing is to ensure that the product meets the requirements of the clientele. Capturing the requirements therefore becomes an essential part not only to help develop but to create test plans that can be used to gauge if the developed product is likely to meet customer needs.
Automated Test Generation
Almost 30% of the testing task can be the writing of test cases. To first order of approximation, this is a completely manual exercise and a prime candidate for savings through automation.
Incremental Best Practices
The Incremental practices provide specific advantages in special conditions. While they may not provide broad gains across the board of testing, they are more specialized. These are the right angle drills -- when you need it, there's nothing else that can get between narrow studs and drill a hole perfectly square. At the same time, if there was just one drill you were going to buy, it may not be your first choice. Not all practices are widely known or greatly documented. But they all possess the strength that are powerful when judiciously applied.
So clear is its presence that it distinguishes the winners from the also-ran like no other factor. The search for best practices is constant. Some are known and well recognized, others debated, and several hidden.

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