This guest blog post is part of an Atlassian blog series raising awareness about testing innovation within the QA community. You can find the other posts in this series under the QA Innovation tag

This is a guest blog post by Paul Gerrard, a Principal of Gerrard Consulting Limited and is the host of the UK Test Management Forum. It is Part 2 of a two-part blog series on the future of QA testing.

In Part I of this article on the Redistribution of Testing, I suggested there were four forces that were pushing testers out of the door of software projects (and into the real world, perhaps). In this post, I want to highlight the industry changes that seem to be on the way, that impact on development and delivery and hence on testing and testers. After the negative push, here’s the pull. These changes offer new opportunities and improve testers’ prospects.

Recent reports (IBM’s ‘The Essential CIO’ 2011 study and Forrester’s ‘Top 10 Technology Trends to Watch’) put Business Intelligence, adoption of cloud platforms and mobile computing as the top three areas for change and increased business value (whatever that means).

Once more, the industry is in upheaval and is set for a period of dramatic change. I will focus on adoption of the cloud for platforms in general and for Software as a Service (SaaS) in particular and the stampede towards mobile computing. I’m going to talk about internet- (not just web-) based systems rather than high integrity or embedded systems, of course.

The Industry Changes its Mind – Again

The obvious reason for moving to the cloud for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and regardless of the subtleties of capex v opex costs, the cost advantage of moving to cloud-based platforms is clear. “Some of this advantage is due to purchasing power through volume, some through more efficient management practices, and, dare one say it, because these businesses are managed as profitable enterprises with a strong attention to cost.” So, it looks like it’s going to happen.

Moving towards IaaS will save some money. The IT Director can glory in the permanent cost savings for a year – and then what? Business will want to take advantage of the flexibility that the move to the cloud offers.

The drift from desktop to laptop to mobile devices gathers pace. Mobile devices coupled with cloud-based services have been called the ‘App Internet’. It seems that many websites will cease to be and might be replaced by dedicated low-cost or free Apps that provide simple user interfaces. New businesses with new business models focusing on mobile are springing up all the time. These businesses are agile by nature and Agile by method. The pull of the App internet and Agile approaches is irresistible.

The Move to SaaS and Mobile (App) Internet

I’m not the biggest fan of blue sky forecasters, and I’m never entirely sure how they build their forecasts with an accuracy of more than one significant digit, but according to Forrester’s report Sizing the Cloud, the market for SaaS will grow from $21bn in 2011 to $93bn in 2016 and represent 26% of all packaged software.

Now 26% of all packaged software doesn’t sound so dramatic, but wait a minute. To re-architect an installed base of software and create new applications from scratch to make that percentage will be a monumental effort. A lot of this software will be used by corporates who have systems spanning the (probably private) cloud and legacy systems and the challenges of integration, security, performance and reliability will be daunting.

The Impact on Development, Delivery and Testing

Much of the software development activity in the next five years or so will be driven by the need for system users and service vendors to move to new business models based on new architectures. One reason SaaS is attractive to software vendors is that the marketing channel and the service channel are virtually same and the route to market is so simple that tiny boutique software shops can compete on the same playing field as the huge ISVs. The ISVs need to move pretty darned quick not to be left with expensive, inflexible, unmarketable on-premise products so are scrambling to make their products cloud-ready. Expect there to be some consolidation in some market sectors.

SaaS works as an enabler for very rapid deployment of new functionality and deployment onto a range of devices. A bright idea in marketing being deployed as new functionality in the afternoon seems to be feasible and some companies seem to be succeeding with ‘continuous delivery’. This is the promise of SaaS.

Many small companies (and switched-on business units in large companies) have worked with continuous delivery for years however. The emergence of the cloud and SaaS and of maturing Agile, specification by example, continuous integration, automated testing and continuous delivery methods means that many more companies can take this approach.

What Does this Mean for Software Practitioners?

Businesses like Amazon and Google and the like have operated a continuous delivery model for years. The ‘Testing is Dead’ meme can be traced to an Alberto Savoia talk at Google’s GTAC conference. Developers who test (with tools) ship code to thousands of internal users who ‘test’ and then the software goes live (as a Beta, often). Some products take off; some, like Wave, don’t. The focus of Alberto’s talk is that software development and testing is often about testing ideas in the market.

Google may have a unique approach, I don’t know. But most organisations will have to come to terms with the new architectures and a more streamlined approach to development. The push and pull of these forces are forcing a rethink of how software available through the internet is created, delivered and managed. The impacts on testing are significant. Perhaps testing and the role of testers can at last can mature to what they should be?

Some Predictions

Well, after the whirlwind tour of what hot and what’s not in the testing game, what exactly is going to happen? People like predictions so I’ve consulted my magic bones and here are my ten predictions for the next five years. As predictions go, some are quite dramatic. But in some companies in some contexts, these predictions will come true. I’m just offering some food for through.

Our vision, captured in our Pocketbook is that requirements will be captured as epic stories, and implementable stories will example and test those requirements to become ‘trusted’, with a behaviour-driven development approach and an emphasis on fully and always automated checking. It seems to us that this approach could span (and satisfy) the purist Agilists but allow many more companies used to structured approaches to adopt Agile methods whilst satisfying their need to have up-front requirements.

Here are my predictions:

  1. 50% of in-house testers will be reassigned, possibly let go. The industry is over staffed by unqualified testers using unsystematic, manual methods. Lay them off and/or replace them with cheaper resource is an easy call for a CIO to make.
  2. Business test planning will become part of up-front analysis. It seems obvious, but why for all these years has one team captured requirements and another team planned the test to demonstrate they are met. Make one (possibly hybrid) group responsible.
  3. Specification by example will become the new buzzword on people’s CV. For no other reason that SBE incorporates so many buzzwordy Agile practices – Test-First, Test-Driven, Behaviour-Driven, Acceptance-Test Driven, Story-Testing, Agile Acceptance testing) – it will be attractive to employers and practitioners. With care, it might actually work too.
  4. Developers will adopt behaviour-driven-development and new tools. The promise of test code being automatically generated and executed compared to writing one’s own tests is so attractive to developers they’ll try it – and like it. Who writes the tests though?
  5. Some system tests and most acceptance tests will be business-model driven. If Business Stories, with scenarios to example the functionality, supported by models of user workflows are created by business analysts, those stories can drive both developer tests and end to end system and acceptance tests. So why not?
  6. Business models plus stories will increasingly become ‘contractual’. For too long, suppliers have used the wriggle-room of sloppy requirements to excuse their poor performance and high charges for late, inevitable changes to specification. Customers will write more focused compact requirements, validated and illustrated with concrete examples to improve the target and reduce the room for error. Contract plus requirements plus stories and examples will provide the ‘trusted specification’.
  7. System tests will be generated from stories or be outsourced. Business story scenarios provide the basic blocks for system test cases. Test detailing to create automated or manual test procedures is a mechanical activity that can be outsourced.
  8. Manual scripted system test execution will be outsourced (in the cloud). The cloud is here. Testers are everywhere. At some point, customers will lose their inhibition and take advantage of the cloud+crowd. So, plain old scripted functional testers are under threat. What about those folk who focus more on exploratory testing? Well, I think they are under threat too. If most exploration is done in the cloud, then why not give some testing to the crowd too?
  9. 50% of acceptance tests will be automated in a CI environment for all time. Acceptance moves from a cumbersome, large manual test at the end to a front-end requirements validation exercise with stories plus automated execution of those stories. Some manual tests, overseen by business analysts will always remain.
  10. Tools that manage requirements, stories, workflows, prototyping, behaviour-driven development, system and acceptance testing emerge.

Where do testers fit? You will have to pick your way through the changes above to find your niche. Needless to say you will need more than basic ‘certification level’ skills. Expect to move towards a specialism or be reassigned and/or outsourced. Business analysis, test automation, test assurance, non-functional testing or test leadership beckon.

Whither the Test Manager?

You are test manager or a test lead now. Where will you be in five years? In six months? It seems to me there are five broad choices for you to take (other than getting out of testing and IT altogether).

  1. Providing testing and assurance skills to business: moving up the food chain towards your stakeholders, your role could be to provide advice to business leaders wishing to take control of their IT projects. As an independent agent, you understand business concerns and communicate them to projects. You advise and cajole project leadership, review their performance and achievement and interpret outputs and advise your stakeholders.
  2. Managing Requirements knowledge: In this role, you take control of the knowledge required to define and build systems. Your critical skills demand clarity and precision in requirements and the examples that illustrate features in use. You help business and developers to decide when requirements can be trusted to the degree that software can reasonably be built and tested. You manage the requirements and glossary and dictionary of usage of business concepts and data items. You provide a business impact analysis service.
  3. Testmaster – Providing an assurance function to teams, projects and stakeholders: A similar role to 1 above – but for more Agile-oriented environments. You are a specialist test and assurance practitioner that keeps Agile projects honest. You work closely with on-site customers and product owners. You help projects to recognise and react to risk, coach and mentor the team and manage their testing activities and maybe do some testing yourself.
  4. Managing the information flow to/from the CI process: in a Specification by Example environment, if requirements are validated with business stories and these stories are used directly to generate automated tests which are run on a CI environment, the information flows between analysts, developers, testers and the CI system is critical. You define and oversee the processes used to manage the information flow between these key groups and the CI system that provides the control mechanism for change, testing and delivery.
  5. Managing outsourced/offshore teams: In this case, you relinquish your onsite test team and manage the transfer of work to an outsourced or offshore supplier. You are expert in the management of information flow to/from your software and testing suppliers. You manage the relationship with the outsourced test team, monitor their performance and assure the outputs and analyses from them.

Moving Forward

The recent history and the current state of the testing business, the pressures that drive the testers out of testing and the pull of testing into development and analysis will force a dramatic re-distribution of test activity in some or perhaps most organisations.

But don’t forget, these pressures on testing and predictions are generalisations based on personal experiences and views. Consider these ideas and think about them – your job might depend on it. Use them at your own risk.

Paul Gerrard is a consultant, teacher, author, webmaster, programmer, tester, conference speaker, rowing coach and most recently a publisher. He has conducted consulting assignments in all aspects of software testing and quality assurance, specialising in test assurance. He has presented keynote talks and tutorials at testing conferences across Europe, the USA, Australia, South Africa and occasionally won awards for them. Find him on Twitter at @paul_gerrard or his site, Gerrard Consulting.

(Guest blog) On the Redistribution of Testing – ...