Friday, 23 November 2012

Elementary Analysis techniques

In thinking about the process of test analysis I recalled what Caner et al (2002) wrote in their book 'Lessons Learned in Software Testing'. This was that we could keep in mind the idea of three, what I'll call 'elementary' analysis techniques. Namely; Reference, Inference and Conference. The reason I consider these to be elementary techniques is they are in my experience the most basic, rudimentary and uncomplicated techniques that a test analyst will apply. With or without specific training.

As I'll often say, given they are so rudimentary they are most likely already being used. The issue is that in order to recognise them, we need to realise what activities we're doing and then give those activities a name.

Lessons Learned in Software Testing: A Context Driven Approach

Reference
The most accessible thing a Test Analyst can look over are the existing application and/or project documents that have been created.

The first analytical activity therefore would be to refer to the documents or artefacts provided at the start of a project. These are usually documents such as the Requirements and Technical Design documents, but there may be others. Remember these may be in a different form, such as task cards or items in a back-log. Either way there will be a definition of what the system to be tested should do and it's a first point of reference.

In addition there may be other sources of information available such as UI Mock-Ups, perhaps early prototypes or even an existing application that's being enhanced. All of these can be referred to directly and in this way the Test Analyst will start to identify the explicitly stated aspects that will need testing.

When this analysis is carried out, it may be done as part of Verification testing of documents and other items mentioned above.

Inference
When the Test Analyst is in the process of identifying the most obvious and clearly stated testing needs, they will of course be thinking in broader terms.

As each new testing need is identified the Test Analyst will refine their understanding; of how the functionality of the application should be, what characteristics it should exhibit, what business tasks it should support or enable. Testing needs that are identified will imply others that should both be present and of course not present in the system.

Inference is looking at any form of requirement statements that have been identified and asking; ”what” each time, for example:
- what requirement does a requirement that 'all data is validated' imply?
- what does 'data needs to be of a specific type and follow a defined syntax' actually mean in defined terms?
- what requirement is assumed to be obvious if 'only complete orders should be processed'?
- what 'users are alerted' when their order is incomplete?

In order to correctly infer what these implicit requirements might be, the Test Analyst will need to:
- apply their business and technical domain knowledge drawn, from previous experience with similar applications or
- review earlier versions of the application under test, if it exists
- apply their understanding of customer needs in context of the problems the software is meant to resolve

Conference
After referring to all the sources of information at hand and considering what additional requirements the identified testing needs infer, the Test Analyst now does what often is forgotten or is left far too long to do.

They can go and speak to the rest of the implementation team about the issues around testing. This includes Product Managers, Project Managers, Developers, Business Owners, System Users, Support Teams, etc. and ask them about the testing needs of the system - directly. They can share with these stakeholders the testing needs that have been identified explicitly and inferred implicitly.

This form of analysis can also be considered a Verification activity where the Test Analyst essentially conducts a Peer Review or Walkthrough with the stakeholder.

Business Analysis

Once we're aware of the elementary forms of analysis that are being applied by default, we can start to apply them with intention. By doing that we make our use of them and the application of our 'personal methodology', more consistent and effective.

Bare in mind, these techniques apply even MORE in an Agile context, compared to a traditional testing context.

From here we can start to look at some more advanced techniques. Yet again, I'll say many Test Analysts will apply these without realising it. But others will realise, yet perhaps not have a name for them. So let's break the spell on two more techniques and get them in-mind and used.

Mark.

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