In agile development, testing is integrated throughout the lifecycle; testing the software continuously throughout its development.
Agile development does not have a separate test phase as such. Developers are much more heavily engaged in testing, writing automated repeatable unit tests to validate their code.
Apart from being geared towards better quality software, this is also important to support the principle of small, iterative, incremental releases.
With automated repeatable unit tests, testing can be done as part of the build, ensuring that all features are working correctly each time the build is produced. And builds should be regular, at least daily, so integration is done as you go too.
The purpose of these principles is to keep the software in releasable condition throughout the development, so it can be shipped whenever it’s appropriate.
The XP (Extreme Programming) agile methodology goes further still. XP recommends test driven development, writing tests before writing the software.
But testing shouldn’t only be done by developers throughout the development. There is still a very important role for professional testers, as we all know “developers can’t test for toffee!” 🙂
The role of a tester can change considerably in agile development, into a role more akin to quality assurance than purely testing. There are considerable advantages having testers involved from the outset.
This is compounded further by the lightweight approach to requirements in agile development, and the emphasis on conversation and collaboration to clarify requirements more than the traditional approach of specifications and documentation.
Although requirements can be clarified in some detail in agile development (as long as they are done just-in-time and not all up-front), it is quite possible for this to result in some ambiguity and/or some cases where not all team members have the same understanding of the requirements.
So what does this mean for an agile tester? A common concern from testers moving to an agile development approach – particularly from those moving from a much more formal environment – is that they don’t know precisely what they’re testing for. They don’t have a detailed spec to test against, so how can they possibly test it?
Even in a more traditional development environment, I always argued that testers could test that software meets a spec, and yet the product could still be poor quality, maybe because the requirement was poorly specified or because it was clearly written but just not a very good idea in the first place! A spec does not necessarily make the product good!
In agile development, there’s a belief that sometimes – maybe even often – these things are only really evident when the software can be seen running. By delivering small incremental releases and by measuring progress only by working software, the acid test is seeing the software and only then can you really judge for sure whether or not it’s good quality.
Agile testing therefore calls for more judgement from a tester, the application of more expertise about what’s good and what’s not, the ability to be more flexible and having the confidence to work more from your own knowledge of what good looks like. It’s certainly not just a case of following a test script, making sure the software does what it says in the spec.
And for these reasons, agile testing is not for dummies!
For further reading about agile principles, see 10 Key Principles of Agile Software Development.