Friday, November 30, 2007

Using Time boxes to boost testing efforts

Wikipedia defines "Time Box" as following-
a timebox is a period of time in which to accomplish some task. The end date is set in stone and may not be changed. If the team exceeds the date, the work is considered a failure and is cancelled or rescheduled.

Using Time box is not a tough proposition. It is an easy to understand technique and its implementation is not tough either but it definitely involves Self discipline and commitment.

The concept of Time box can be described as follows-
Considering the general approach of accomplishing tasks, we take something to accomplish and put all our energies to complete the task.
With time box approach, with little thinking- the whole task is divided into manageable parts and some time is devoted to accomplish each part. So at a given time, we are focusing only on a smaller part and hence it helps to accomplish the same with more efficiency. This technique helps us track the progress and is an able tool to accomplish things. This technique can be used effectively in smaller tasks as well. As a rule, the Focus has to be maintained on the task at hand without worrying about what task was done before the current time box and what task has to be done after the current time box. In reality, the
thinking is "boxed" with the task at hand. This Technique has a striking similarity to Dale Carnegie's concept of "Living in Day Tight Compartments" theory for eliminating worry in our lives.

Almost all of us have to deal with the tasks that we don't really like to do but we have to do it because of our commitments. Such tasks can be termed as "Unpleasant tasks". All of us invariably spend some time during the day to accomplish Unpleasant tasks and people generally tend to delay unpleasant tasks or do it with a degraded efficiency. The concept of Time box can help master the unpleasant tasks by assigning them an appropriate Time box. Such tasks can have smaller time frame than usual time boxes to achieve more effectiveness.

J.D. Meier defines simple steps to gain maximum out of Time boxing technique here-
Summary of prescribed steps-
Step 1. Identify candidate areas for time boxing.
Step 2. Identify your objectives.
Step 3. Identify the appropriate time box.
Step 4. Execute results within your time box.
Step 5. Evaluate and adapt.

Regarding Step 4, it is always advisable to stick to the assigned Time box at all costs. In the beginning, it might look like a difficult thing to achieve but over a period of time you will get a fair idea. That is where Step 5 becomes important (where you do the evaluation)

Time boxes' application in Software Testing:
1. One of the true applications of Time Box technique has been explored by Jonathan Bach as mentioned in the article- Session-Based Test Management where the methodology is to perform Exploratory testing in time-bound, goal oriented sessions. Read the document to gain knowledge on how the Test based sessions work.
I have myself applied this concept ("session" or "Time boxes") and it proved to be quite an effective way to do a focused testing. If done without planned time bounds, the Exploratory testing does tend to get unfocussed and very ineffective as well. Personally, it helped me ensure that Testing efforts remain focuses, provide the means to measure the effort spent and in understanding what was tested and what was left.

2. There are times in professional lives when we get assigned with the tasks without stipulated timelines to complete the same. I have found in my experience that usually these are the tasks which one tends to get complacent with and get indulged in tendency to delay. Some examples of such tasks that come to my mind are- The tasks related to not-so-urgent process improvement such as defining better Test case creation methodology, preparing Training presentation for new testers joining 2 months later etc. Applying Time boxes in this situation can help to do these tasks in a better way without an unreasonable delay.

3. During a typical day, a tester is involved in numerous activities. Consider a typical Test case execution phase, a tester might be involved in editing the test case, executing the test cases, Investigating the issues, logging issues in Bug tracking system, clarifying issues with Development team, Read emails, write emails, responding to queries asked by Manager, doing other organizational paper work etc. As it can be seen there is a lot of activities that a tester is involved in which could distract him/her from the primary job at a given time. The application of Time boxes in this scenario will help ensure that a tester is focusing the energies completely on testing at a given time and not on other activities given that it is a Test Execution phase. In this case, it is advisable for the tester to plan and divide his entire day into different time boxes and stick to the assigned time.

4. A Tester can use this technique even when doing the testing using test cases. It is easier for a experienced tester to define the accurate time boxes as he/she would usually know the time. Tester can divide the whole day in time boxes for Test case execution. This would help a tester produce results with good efficiency.

Keep testing effectively with Time boxes!

Further reading:

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