By Josh Giller CTFL, CTAL-TA
Testing proprietary workflow software for a large financial services organization is a challenging and exciting career. My organization first got involved with the ASTQB in early 2015, with a small group of experienced testers from our Quality Assurance department working together to study for and take the foundation level exam. About a year later, another group of experienced software testers sat for the exam.
Unfortunately, not everyone was able to pass the exam when they sat for it the first time. Why? Certainly, the testers that were currently working in the Quality Assurance department were not just simply poor testers. As a matter of fact, the associates selected to take the exam were seasoned, well-established testers with established track records. The feedback received from those that sat for the exam indicated that the primary issue was the language and terms. Over the many years of in-house testing, our organization has developed a certain dialect that includes tons of acronyms and home-grown terms.
Deeper analysis revealed that our department was essentially “walking-the-walk” by providing quality testing for our internal and external customers, but we were not “talking-the-talk” – by this I mean we were not using industry standard language and terms. As a result, moving our vernacular toward industry standards became a strategic goal for our department, and organization for 2018. We approached this opportunity with vigor, and began a three-prong approach consisting of:
- Publishing functional testing techniques to an internal wiki space
- Introducing a “Word-of-the-Week” calendar
- Integrating the industry terms and definitions from the ASTQB into all QA departments
Testing Center of Excellence
Our organization maintains several digital libraries of knowledge, including a wiki-type space where shared documents and standard work are stored – I’m guessing many of you have something similar at your organization. One of these spaces on the wiki is the Testing Center of Excellence where information pertinent to testing resides, and this is one of the primary areas that we targeted for improvement. Leveraging the functional testing concepts from the foundation level and the test analyst advanced syllabi, we created pages with explanations of each testing technique (boundary value analysis, equivalence portioning, etc.) and provided examples relevant to the systems we are responsible for testing.
Providing examples and definitions of the testing techniques detailed in the ASTQB syllabi also helped standardize language used to provide critical peer feedback on test cases. All test plans are submitted to a peer review team for review prior to sending for stakeholder approval. This has helped eliminate inconsistencies in the comments left by peer reviewers and helped foster industry standard language adoption. In addition, the rotational model of the peer review team helped propagate the industry terms throughout the department, and even further into the organization!
Another exciting phase of our journey toward “talking-the-talk” is the Word-of-the-Week calendar that we rolled out in the beginning of 2018. As part of our transformational journey, we leveraged an opportunity to introduce industry terms in a fun and unique way.
At the beginning of the year, a desktop flip calendar was distributed to each quality assurance associate. The Word of the Week calendar displays a “new” term each week (along with the corresponding term(s) that we often use to describe it in our organizational dialect) to help familiarize our staff with the correct usage of the industry standard term. Utilizing a calendar provided a useful item that sat on associate’s desks and served as a physical reminder in testers workspaces about the industry terms and Word-of-the-Week calendar program.
In addition, our Quality Assurance department utilizes an innovative rewards and recognition program where teams can earn “points” for various activities related to software testing. The Word-of-the-Week calendar was integrated into this team challenge program to encourage testers to utilize the term in order to earn points for their team while at the same time promoting the term throughout the department and the organization. Some of the supplemental activities crated included crossword puzzles, word searches, unscramble, and cipher code-breaking games.
Lastly, we organized and sponsored several group activities to help keep the industry terms in the forefront of our minds. Our version of $100,000 Pyramid was a resounding success, and everyone had a fantastic time while working with the industry terms. We also have Jeopardy and BINGO games planned for the near future!
Changing the Language
The third leg of the stool was a need to overhaul the language in all departments across the organization, not just the Quality Assurance department. There needed to be a home-grown shift in the language to convert the dialect from a personal one of the organization to a more general, industry driven vernacular that makes it easy for testers and developers from other organizations to join and start adding value as quickly as possible.
One of the ways we tackled this was by closely examining all published documentation to update the “old” language with the “new” industry standard terms [see the ASTQB resource page with Software Testing Terms]. Luckily, we’ve recently made a huge push to digitize documentation and create a library of standard work which made updating terms easier and more efficient. As a note of caution, this was a massive undertaking and we anticipate that we’ll need continued support and attention from our Quality Assurance team to ensure it is maintained in the future.
As a result, we’ve found that our project teams began speaking the same language, helping development more clearly communicate with our business stakeholders. For example, when discussing the functional testing for a project, the tester is now able to confidently discuss three-value boundary analysis and feel comfortable that the developer and customer have an idea of what that means and how it reduces software release risk.
Getting involved with the ASTQB has been a great opportunity for my organization and for me personally. Gaining exposure to industry standards, receiving information via email and from the newsletters, and learning more about the software testing community have all been benefits reaped by working with the ASTQB. My organization learned about an opportunity to improve our communication, both internally and externally, and we are excited to share this part of story in our never-ending journey of continuous improvement!
Not only have we begun “talking-the-talk”, we’ve been able to successfully update the language and terms used across our entire Quality Assurance department and across the organization as a whole. I’ve seen this anecdotally as a member of the test plan peer review team; more and more of the test plans are including industry standard terms such as boundary value analysis and exploratory testing! I’ve also witnesses the improved communication firsthand in project meetings, where developers, customers, and testers are all speaking a commonly understand language that transcends the old boundaries of our home-grown vernacular. Last, but not least, we’ve been able to get more of our highly skilled testers Foundation Level certified as a result of these efforts.