This article was originally published in Testing Trapeze, the online testing magazine, in December, 2017. However, this has since ceased publishing and the article is no longer available to read via Testing Trapeze.
A few months ago, I was pleased to arrive on-site with a new client as a tester on the project. I was surprised, however, to find that the company had not yet ordered any equipment for me to work with, and I wasn’t able to use my own company’s equipment either. I became disheartened when I learned it would be some weeks before I had any equipment that I could use. This situation might seem familiar you, whether from working as a consultant, or starting a position with a new company.
Having previously worked as an “in-house” tester, this was my first project as a tester coming in from a consultancy, and I was very eager to get started. With the support and encouragement of my colleagues who were also assigned to the project, I began thinking of ways that I could still start testing, even without equipment.
When I talk about testing here, I’m talking about it in the sense of “expand outwards” – to test not only the product itself, but the processes, requirements, and constraints that surround it.
After some thought and experimentation, I collected these five ideas to start testing, even without any equipment.
1. Shadow Key Team Members
Let’s ease in with something you might already be tasked with at a new company or project. Without having any equipment of your own, you should be able to identify some people on the team who you can shadow and learn from. Whether it’s existing testers, developers, or a product owner, shadowing will help you to understand more about their roles and responsibilities. Remember that job titles are only job titles, so don’t assume that you already know what each person’s job entails. Find out what impact each person has on the team and project and ask how you might be able to support them in your new role. They can also help you learn about the current ways of working and their thoughts on the product.
2. Pair with Team Members
A natural progression from shadowing is to pair with members of the team. Whether it’s pair testing or pair programming, you can use their equipment and take the opportunity to note different systems or permissions you’ll need access to once you have your own equipment. Through pairing, you can learn about both the product you will be testing and the kind of testing that the team does already. Ask questions about the techniques used, any other approaches they’ve tried or would like to try, and anything in particular that they might appreciate your input on.
When I tried this myself, I realised that I wasn’t very good at explaining to the team why I wanted to pair, or what the benefits would be. It wasn’t something they were familiar with, so it was up to me to provide context. After the first session, I decided to share these resources with the team to try and help them understand more about the purpose of pairing:
- Pairing – Agile Alliance
- Programmer Pairing with a Tester – James Bach
- What is Pair Testing – TestLodge
- Pair Testing – Katrina Clokie
- 10 Ways to Improve Your Pairing Experience – ThoughtWorks
3. Test the Team
Shadowing and pairing can give you a good idea of how the team currently functions. Through attending meetings and having informal conversations, you might also learn a bit about how they interact internally and externally. Gently start to test how the team responds to new ideas or changes that your project brings, particularly if you’re coming in from a consultant or agency perspective.
Here are some interesting questions to consider:
- Who are the key stakeholders for you and your objectives?
- Who seems open to, and on board, with new ideas?
- Who might need a bit more convincing?
- Where does the team need support in the short, medium, and long term?
- How does each team member differ in their personalities?
- What kind of approach should you take when communicating with each of them?
- What topics are the team most and least enthusiastic about, and why?
4. Devise a Strategy for Improvement
Once you’ve shadowed and paired with the team, and found answers to the questions above, you should be in a good position to start thinking about a strategy for how to improve things or achieve the objectives of your project or role. Start with the most crucial or pressing areas for improvement. What support does the team need, and are you able to provide this on your own? If not, whose help could you enlist and how can you best go about getting it? After you’ve considered the most pressing areas, look at the medium and long term goals. Are there some seeds you should start sowing now to make future improvements easier or smoother?
If you use your “no-equipment-time” wisely to devise a good strategy now, it will hopefully pay off once you’re up and running with your own equipment. I found it helpful to also observe my new team and come up with ways to build a relationship with them individually, and build trust as a foundation for future work.
5. Identify Risks
Whenever we test, we should think about risks. This also applies to the testing of the processes, requirements and constraints around a product or project. As well as devising a strategy for improvement or reaching project goals, think about potential risks that might hinder or block progress. Consider everything you’ve learned so far and ask yourself these questions:
- What are the product, team and project risks?
- Which risks are in and out of your control?
- What is the impact of each risk?
- Who has pivotal influence over the success or failure of your project?
- How can each risk be mitigated?
- Who needs to know about these risks and impacts?
Those are my five ideas to start testing without equipment. There are lots of questions, but questioning is one of the things testers do best, and finding answers to important questions is another. I’m sure there are many other great ways to start testing without equipment. Let me know what other ideas you have in the comments below.
Remember that testing is more than clicking around and filling out form fields. It requires investigation, critical thinking, and problem solving. You can start doing those things right away, without any equipment.