RELEX is well known for its product, DBMS Linter but also for the high quality of software development. An obscure but nonetheless very important part of our business, among other things, is testing code and software. Actually, testing is one of prospective lines of development in our company: the number of testers on the staff has grown by 300% over the past five years, while the number of projects and their complexity have increased. I asked Yulia Abramova, Head of External Testing Department at RELEX, to tell me more about how the work of testers is organized.
Yulia, please tell us a few words about your work at RELEX.
I have been working as a tester for over six years now. I started my career at KROK and came over to RELEX as the first testing outsourcer and worked my way up from manual tester to external testing team leader. Now we have 15 testers on our team and get to check 30 projects a year on average. The most interesting products among those that my team and I verified were: a system for receiving, storing, editing and searching information about drivers and vehicles; a database for an automated information management system protected from unauthorized access; a program for viewing and manipulating X-Ray and tomograms images. For long-term projects we sometimes use the ‘test jumping model’.
How did the company started to use this model?
The company chose this model on my initiative. From my first day at RELEX, I handled several projects at once because one project at a time did not seem enough for me. At first I “jumped” from project to project testing, then started coaching a couple of beginners. After some time I started to organize the work of other testers and solve current issues of testing. After reading the article “Test Jumpers: One Vision of Agile Testing” by James Bach, I understood that I had been using this method in my work intuitively, and decided to apply the test jumping model to the test lead work. Thus, I actually evolved to a “jumping” test lead.
Yulia, this is interesting. Please tell us about this model in more detail.
First of all, this model is an intermediate phase between several independent testers and a structured testing department headed by a formal lead. A test jumper lead is useful if a need arises to allocate a tester with management functions but it is too early to form a department as there are not enough tasks. So a person starts evolving “from the ground up”: an ordinary tester starts working in the test jumping mode, masters this method and then takes on some management tasks. In my opinion, this is the optimum evolution model both for an employee and for the entire company. Another option is when a project manager is assigned some testing functions in the jumping format. This is more difficult but sometimes may be helpful, for example if you need to optimize the work of the testers.
What attracts you as a leader in test jumping?
Test jumping is good for many reasons. For instance, if you need to train a beginner quickly: by jumping from project to project he will try his hand at more tasks than by staying on one project all the time. Another example: you have a project that needs a qualified person, but only for a short-term task. Using test jumping, you can allocate the person for this task first, and then switch him to another. Other activities apart from projects, e.g. training, can be organized in a similar way.
The test jumping model has the following advantages:
Test jumping is a quick way to extend your career path.
Switching between tasks and projects makes the work of the tester more diverse and interesting.
Test jumping is useful in staffing: a company may have a tester “jumping” from project to project without having a dedicated person for each separate task. There were some funny situations in my practice when a company asked for “half of a tester”.
What are the pros and cons of this model?
For a manager and for a company, test jumping has some great advantages:
Analyzing the situation on projects (making it possible to have your own vision, to allocate people with the needed skills, and to see the bottlenecks).
Backing up the beginners (the test jumper lead can quickly correct a beginner’s work).
Helping project leads to keep their testing skills in shape.
Some disadvantages of test jumping for the leader could be:
Lack of time for full-scale testing and urgent tasks.
Constant need to switch, between testing and management as well as between projects.
Yulia, what advice would you give to those who would like to use your experience in their work?
To make the work of a test jumper effective, the following conditions must be fulfilled:
A dedicated task for a jumper in each of the projects that he switches between.
If possible, organize the test jumper’s work (to provide a testing stand, to correct a critical error, to give the required information etc.).
Providing the work acceptance, the approval at the end of the “jump”.
To make your group work in the test jumping mode, your employees should be highly skilled and self-organized, as well as able to estimate project timelines and deliver maximum results.
Based on our experience here at RELEX, we determined the ideal conditions for a test jumping lead:
Number of people and projects: no more than ten people, no more than ten projects tested concurrently.
Skill level of testers – junior to mid-level.
As a person’s skill level increases, the arising problems also become deeper and more complicated, therefore the lead needs more time for analysis and decision making. A more skilled tester can already cope with such problems independently (consulting with the team leader or with the colleagues if necessary), therefore the lead no longer needs to “jump”.
Thus, if you do not have a testing department but have a candidate for the test lead role plus some beginners, and 10 or less projects, you can try this model. At present we seldom use it at RELEX because the external testing group that I lead has overgrown it and moved to a new level.
Yulia, thank so much for the information and for your time.My pleasure! Thank you!