No matter what profession you work in, there is usually a level of expectation from your customer or client – an expectation to perform well, deliver as promised and to remain professional regardless of the situation of the project.

Having worked in the testing arena for 11 years before my current role as a software test consultant, I’m well aware that the level of client expectations in our own industry has never been greater.

In such a competitive market, expectations must be met or exceeded by every individual working on any given project. In the beginning, it’s important to gain a very clear understanding of what the expectation of the client actually is. This can be gained through formal discussions regarding agreed deliverables, as well as a more general understanding through conversations with the account manager. After all, when dealing with clients and customers, perception is everything.

Having been fortunate enough to work on a number of large-scale and smaller accounts during my time at Sogeti, I have identified this maxim from testing projects through to quality reviews. The one question I always ask myself when beginning a project is this: “What is the perception from the client of how we as a company are performing, and how can this perception be improved?”

On occasions I have worked on projects in which the client perception is so positive that those involved within the project seem to ‘walk on water’. But on the flip-side to this, I have also been introduced to projects that are failing, with the task of recovering those situations, identifying the areas of failure, and reporting on them. In both cases, a significant gap exists between the perceptions of the client and our own understanding of those perceptions.

The recession has certainly not helped this situation. There are generally now fewer staff to perform tasks across a project due to lower levels of funding, and this can lead to incomplete skill-sets. In some situations, clients also seem to want and expect more. In both circumstances, perceptions and expectations need to be managed effectively and assuredly from the outset.

The most important lesson that I have learnt from my history of working on a broad range of testing projects, with varying levels of perception and expectation, is this: make sure that you always take sufficient time to understand what the expectations are before a project starts, otherwise perception levels will begin to fall all around before you even get started.

James Coe AUTHOR:
James is a managing consultant at Sogeti UK.

Posted in: A testers viewpoint, Opinion, Software testing, Sogeti customers, Testing and innovation, Working in software testing      
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As a software test consultant I spend a lot of time thinking about the processes and business data flows behind transactions. If you tell me that you’ve just booked the holiday of a lifetime and I ask you where and when, I’ll privately be wondering about the business processes behind your purchase. Let’s call it an occupational hazard.

Holidays are at the front of my mind because I’ve been working with a large travel operator on an interesting HR system implementation. If you think there’s a wide array of factors and variables in booking a holiday, well, it’s dwarfed by the variables involved in HR.

The particular HR system I have been consulting on is a commercial off-the-shelf application, or COTS application, so there was no requirement from the client for unit testing of the product. Instead the focus for me and the Sogeti team was testing the design and flow of underlying business processes. The application has the ability to change businesses processes almost instantly – which is just as well, as HR involves such a breadth and depth of those processes.

HR systems basically have to capture all of life’s events. You have a fundamental change in your personal situation and need to change your benefits; you plan to start a family so parental leave and allowances need to be calculated; all salaries change but have to be processed on time with the correct tax calculations; you book leave which needs to be tracked; you get married or promoted and need to change your tax codes; you have a young family and need to have flexible working time.

Employees don’t want to know the details of how things are processed and nor should they. They just need payments to be processed, changes made where necessary and to be paid at the end of the month. However, from the perspective of the HR system administrator it’s a very different story because it’s about the complex flow of HR processes.

So here was the challenge for me and the Sogeti team: how do you start testing a complex HR application when the businesses processes haven’t been clearly defined yet? Where do you start?

Luckily at Sogeti we have a lot of experience in this field, and we know how to tackle complex process-based testing with thorough consulting. Our long-term, hands-on experience with large complex systems means that we know how to work closely with our clients to advise them, walk them through the ways that system may be used, to develop test scripts based against yet-undefined business processes and to modify these through system testing through to user acceptance testing. At each stage we gain customer confidence, reach agreed goals, and we test.

Consulting is about ensuring that our customer – the business or organisation that has trusted us with the most inner workings of their business processes – fully understands and supports the implementation, the consultation and advice that we offer.

A trusting client relationship, such as the one I developed with this HR implementation, not only means we reach our goals, but makes my work as a consultant personally more rewarding. You say complex business processes? I say a great project to work closely with a great client.

James Coe AUTHOR:
James is a managing consultant at Sogeti UK.

Posted in: A testers viewpoint, Opinion, Software testing, Testing and innovation      
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