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In which direction are we shifting again?
Paul Cooper, Head of IT Acceleration & Innovation, N Brown Group
Minimum Viable Product - three words that have positively disrupted the way we create digital services over recent years. Many workshops have been run with a focus on figuring out the smallest amount of effort needed to build something that proves an idea is good enough to commit more time and effort to. Within this new found way of investing in technology, how do testing professionals prove their worth?
This test and learn mind set comes naturally to anyone who has worked within a development team, especially those focused on validating new and amended source code. Organisations often have untapped resources within their testing functions who can add value in not only the practices needed but also the cultural shift needed when looking to evolve and innovate their digital products without expending too much time and effort up front.
First steps are to develop a shared understanding of the problems you are solving. Take care to ensure all disciplines are involved in early workshops as a common mistake is that product owners are the only people on point to understand the problem. Always involve engineers and quality
assurance professionals to bring in different perspectives and approaches. Leaders need to encourage the participation of everyone involved in this up-front effort; that quiet technical testing engineer in the corner may actually have the idea that shaves a week or two off the timeline to hit that critical milestone.
Two key considerations when testing a digital product considered MVP are:1 Does it deliver the features well enough for customers to engage with? (Functional testing) and 2 If it does deliver, will it scale without us having to rewrite large parts of the architecture? (Non-functional).
Quite often small start ups just focus on functional validation and testing which is understandable, all markets are competitive and the pace of change only ever increases, however the find out and hope approach has led to many a failure, investors and venture capitalists know this, their main focus will always be on seeing if a solution will scale and by proxy if the company itself will as well.
Leaders need to encourage the participation of everyone involved in this up-front effort; that quiet technical testing engineer in the corner may actually have the idea that shaves a week or two off the timeline to hit that critical milestone.
While keeping the focus on the customer is key, developing that minimum feature set whilst also keeping the other eye on scaling is a fine balance. When approaching your non functional areas you need to ensure performance is baked in from the start, however for other key areas such as supportability, scalability and resilience many companies are shifting right and deploying to production early on in that would traditionally be done utilising DevOps pipelines to really prove both deployment practices and key non-functional areas well before any official customer launch.
In such a scenario testing professionals need to start thinking as if they were managing the digital product itself, developing that T-Shaped nature within a team that can really start to engage and bring about a better understanding to areas of a solution that often lag behind. A powerful but simple practice is to prepare for such a launch by introducing a milestone where teams start treating high priority blocking issues as P1 incidents, bringing in other areas of the department and walking through resolution as if it were a production issue; do the right teams have the information they need in order to bring the service back online, did they have the right information in the first place to even spot that there was a problem?
The act of planning for scenarios like this can often flush out requirements, test out architectural patterns and ask questions on support models, all invaluable to organisations large and small as having to re-work designs after launch can often be very costly, slow down the all so important scaling activities in rolling out to customers but more importantly quite often dealing with non-functional work takes the focus away from customer feedback and optimising for their needs.
As things progress, take feedback and learn from those early pilots to scope out further enhancements. Bringing together testing and service management practices within production 10 years ago would be a textbook mistake but now the two quite often need to co-exist and validate solutions in quick time bound cycles to improve and scale.
When detailing the minimum effort needed to make that viable product, be pragmatic on scope, focus on customer needs first but keep one eye on scaling not only the solution but the people and processes that support it too. Testing professionals know it isn’t just about the technical solution and by collaborating with the people that live this on a day to day basis means we can all get behind the idea that wins our customers over and scale it with confidence.