How testers can play a more effective role in Scrum teams

April 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Scrum and agile, Software Engineering | Leave a comment

It is said that Scrum does not create any new problems; it just brings to surface existing problems faster. One such problem is of developers not being fully aware of what exactly the end user wants & needs. Difference between wants & needs is what the customer explicitly asks for and what is implicitly expected by the user. Of course they get the detailed requirement documents but many important aspects may get missed out as the user wants / needs pass through the customer -> business analyst -> systems analyst -> developer.

Scrum insists on fully completing (including testing) the incremental functionality taken up in a sprint, else it is treated as not done and needs to be taken up afresh in one of the subsequent sprints based on overall priority. Non-scrum projects do not do so. As a result, testers may look at the requirements when developers do the same or even later based on when they plan to test it. As a result the developers typically base their development work on the requirements documents alone and not on test plans / test cases. In many projects, testers do not even have direct access to the business analysts and quite often try to understand the requirements from the developers. This may work in non-scrum projects because there is no insistence on creating a potentially shippable product at the end of each iteration. What is developed in one iteration could be tested in the next iteration or even later.

When such projects move to Scrum, they tend to carry the existing way of working. Very soon, the problem starts surfacing. Developers continue to develop till the last day of sprint and the testers have no time to test what is developed towards the end. The rush job of testing to somehow complete before end of the sprint may leave out some of the important aspects. On the other hand, testers could be under-loaded during the initial days of the sprint because they would have already finished testing for the previous sprint and are now waiting for developers to give something to test. Such a situation starts creating disillusionment about Scrum and team starts resisting the Scrum’s tenet of no change either in due date or deliverable. The team also starts putting pressure to allow testing in next sprint what is developed in later part of the current sprint. If the management gives in and allows, it loses the great benefit of getting early feedback which comes from producing a potentially shippable product and demonstrating the next working increment during the sprint review meeting at the end of the sprint.

This is where the real contribution from the tester comes in. He should be provided direct access to those who interact with the users. He should acquire enough domain knowledge to be able to anticipate the real needs of the users. Equipped with these, he can help create more effective user stories and discuss them with the person managing the requirements creation. He can also start preparing test cases for sprints / iterations coming in future which would be available to the developers along with the requirements.

This approach helps to build a closer interaction of testers on one hand with the business analysts & domain experts and on the other with developers thus acting as an effective bridge between them. It enriches the role of the testers. It also helps to take care of the problems mentioned earlier and risks to successful Scrum implementation in a project.

I would really appreciate any thoughts / experiences from you that either support or challenge what is said above.

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