Testing Early and Often: An Interview with Matthew Bissett

[interview]
Summary:

Matthew Bissett recently shared with us his thoughts on the importance of early testing in order to rapidly speed up software releases. Matthew is delivering a session titled "Reduce Release Cycle Time: Nine Months to a Week - Nice!" at the 2012 Better Software Conference East.

 Mathew Bissett has been working for Her Majesty’s Government for more than six years, having been recruited straight from university. Currently the test manager responsible for the integration and testing of his area’s flagship system, he has driven through delivery process improvements to enable weekly deliveries. 

Noel: How has testing's role or purpose changed over the years, and where do you see it going in the future?

Matthew: In my experience, testing's role has changed from being there to stop software from being delivered until all the risks had been tested and has become an information provider to the product owner. At the end of the day it is the product owner who is taking the risk and it is up to the test team to ensure that he/she knows what risk they are taking by saying 'ship it' - because more often than not they will!

In the future I see testing becoming more embedded in the whole lifecycle, not just from a personnel point of view. Mature teams realize that there is nothing to be gained by not testing risk at the earliest possibility regardless of whether their job title has the word test in it. I also believe that systems will become more resilient when failure happens rather than fail less often as teams rush software to market as soon as they can.

Noel: Why is it so important is it to identify risks early?

Matthew: I think this is fundamental to releasing good software in a timely manner. Saving up risk is like buying your weekly groceries on credit - you've still got to pay for it at the end of the month. Since we introduced our weekly delivery cycle process in my organization, it has been more important than ever to identify and assess risks as early as possible - so much so that I do not allow any software into our delivery cycle if there are important outstanding risks that have not been tested. Software should not fail in the last stages of your delivery cycle - if is does then you have done something wrong along the way.

Noel: What are the pressures commonly felt at the end of the delivery cycle, and how are those relieved by drastically reducing release cycle time?

Matthew: We realized that when we were trying to deliver 6 weeks worth of work the delivery became "too big to fail." After all we had 30+ people working on it for 6 weeks. Our customers were also very demanding on which delivery their feature would be in because they did not want to wait another 6 weeks. Both of these reasons can be alleviated by reducing your release cycle time.

A smaller cycle time means that your increments are typically smaller, which in turn carry less risk and should be easier to test. Also, if your customer's feature fails or is not ready, then they are far happier to wait for the next release. A smaller cycle time is not the only thing to take into account though. If you are not mature enough to introduce quality gates and enforce them then you can still have the same problems. Stick to your guns!

Noel: How does the introduction of CI remove team independence?

Matthew: Integration is the biggest risk of the system I deliver for many reasons, not least the ingrained culture of my area. Introducing CI and making sure that the component systems are integrated as soon as feasible has made a big difference to the quality and speed of our delivery. Also, when you integrate a system incrementally

About the author

Noel Wurst's picture Noel Wurst

Noel Wurst has written for numerous blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines, and has presented educational conference sessions for those looking to become better writers. In his spare time, Noel can be found spending time with his wife and two sons—and tending to the food on his Big Green Egg. Noel eagerly looks forward to technology's future, while refusing to let go of the relics of the past.

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