Offshoring Agile Testing
Over the past few months I've had several people ask me whether it makes sense to offshore agile testing, and more importantly when it makes sense to do so. So I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject:
Focus on whole team testing. The basic strategy is that agile teams should strive to do as much, if not all, of the testing themselves. We call this whole team testing. For organizations new to agile this can be daunting because they may be organized in such a way that programmers write code and then hand it over to testers for validation and verification. The implication is that organizations will need to invest in their staff so that the programmers become more well rounded and pick up testing skills (we refer this as moving from being a specialist to a generalizing specialist).
Offshore entire development teams. A common strategy for organizing geographically distributed agile teams is to have whole teams at each location. For example, if your larger team is spread across three locations - Toronto, London, and Bangalore - then each team is responsible for implementing end to end functionality. With a component-based approach the Toronto team should be fully responsible for one or more subsystems, the London team responsible for one or more subsystems, and the Bangalore team responsible for one or more subsystems. With a feature-team approach the Toronto team would implement all of the functionality, end-to-end, for a feature regardless of which subsystems that functionality affects. Agile teams typically aren't organized by job function (e.g. analysis is done in London, design and coding in Toronto, testing in Bangalore) due to the overhead of handoffs between sites, the increased risk of miscommunication due to less effective ways of communicating information, and the increased complexity of managing the work.
Adopt independent testing at scale. You may choose, or be forced to have, an independent test team that focuses on some of the more complex forms of testing. The general idea is that this team works in parallel to other subteams and tests their working builds on a regular basis. Having said that, the vast majority of the testing effort should still be done in a whole team fashion. If your team is experiencing agile scaling factors such as domain complexity or technical complexity then you may find that it makes economic sense to have an independent test team focus on forms of testing that are difficult for the subteams to address, in particular pre-production system integration testing. If your team is in a regulatory domain where independent testing is required, then you're better off to "shift left" this effort with an independent test team to reduce both cost and risk.
Offshore independent testing carefully. I would offshore independent testing only to organizations that I have a very good, long-term relationship with that have proven that they can work in a disciplined agile manner. I would also want to ensure that they have actual experience with agile independent testing AND are staffing the team with people that have that experience. A clear sign that they don't understand what is required is if the independent testing team is asking for a detailed requirements specification, an indication that they're planning on doing confirmatory testing which is better suited for whole team testing. Furthermore, I would only do this if I don't have adequate staff to do so myself AND do not have time to build up my own independent test team.
I suspect that you're going to find yourself in serious trouble if:
You do not have successful experiences with agile delivery in simpler (e.g. non-offshoring) situations first. Walk before you try to run.
You think you can save money by having agile programming done in one location and agile testing in another (the coordination costs are going to be much larger than you think)
You're offshoring testing because you're new to agile (in this situation you don't have the experience to organize let alone govern the offshored activities)
You work with a service provider where you don't have a proven track record with them when it comes to agile development (a proven track record with traditional approaches is a good start but still very risky)
In short, it can make sense to offshore agile testing in a very narrow range of situations. Be very careful.