Stop Running Analytics Projects Backwards! End User Testing Is Key!

5/26/2016

Hey…This is Melissa Bryan, your Business Analytics Coach. It’s my continuing quest to socialize the nerds so that the world can be positively impacted and transformed though data and analytics and today I want to talk about End User TestingEnd User Testing

Does it feel like it’s always struggle for you to complete projects on time and on budget…No matter how good your intentions are?

Do you tell yourself that this time it’s going to be different but seldom is that the case?

Does it feel like no matter how diligently you gather requirements end user testing always highlights a million issues and a couple unwanted surprises?

Have you ever released a project even though you knew testing wasn’t 100% complete because you had to “GO LIVE” by a particular date?

Let’s take it a step further. Are you guilty of missing your kid’s soccer games, date night with your sweetie, or spending time with friends because you have to work late or weekends clearing issues to meet a deadline?

I know this story all too well. You’re tasked with building a new forecasting system that includes expenses, salary & headcount, revenue, capital and cash flow models. In the waterfall world, you would interview HR and Finance team members, take a million notes, ask for sample reports, develop a project plan and have the end user sign off that all you heard and noted it was correct.

With your development bible in hand, you go off and build until you were 100% complete. Then weeks and weeks after the initial interviews, you ask the HR and Finance departments to test the results. However, because their schedules are crazy and everybody these days are doing the job of two people, getting them to start testing is like pulling teeth. Even more frustrating is that you know in the back of your head they’re not giving it proper diligence.

Then, once they finally get some testing done, you hear, “Oh…did I tell you?” The five words every developer and consultant hates, because, no you did not tell me! You find out they forgot to tell you about some “special exceptions,” and oh by the way, two weeks ago Sr. management decided that we are no longer calculating productivity using a partial factor and we need a more robust method to deal with the complexity. They need you to change all that logic to a multifactor productivity calculation.

You built the productivity model weeks ago. Now you have to go back, take the time to understand the code, make the changes, and have the end user retest. The worst part…these are only for the issues found in productivity. They still need to test expenses, revenue, capex and cash flow.

You are now only a couple of weeks from go live. All these bugs have to be fixed and then need to be tested again! Since we were at the end of the project, we were out of time and running dangerously low on budget. Talk about stressful! No wonder so many people are unhappy at work.

After years of working in this stressful environment, I started thinking there has to be a better way or I need to find a new profession.

I wanted more success and less stress. Isn’t that something you want too?

Lucky for me the universe heard me. As I was posting my resume on LinkedIn and Monster, the owner of my company was reading, “Get twice as much done in half the time” and this was when I was introduced to agile methodology. My life was changed forever.

Your thinking, “Melissa…it changed your life? Really…your life?” Yes! It completely shifted how I work how I communicate, and how I interact with others. But the biggest shift has to do with my expectations – the expectations I place on myself and others.

The alternative to waterfall, or the traditional sequential development, is agile. Agile teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cycles, known as sprints. At the end of the sprint, which are typically 2-4 weeks, a product or a portion of a product is fully tested and shippable.

Agile has completely revolutionized how we run our business. We don’t just use it in all our project, but the entire organization is run with an agile approach. Our leadership team even uses sprints and daily standup meetings to keep us focused on the longer term strategic objectives.

You say…That’s great Melissa, but my company by no means is ready for agile. Transparency is something we give lip service to. We have too many data hoarders, empire builders and micromanaging middle managers to have self-forming teams. The shear thought of giving up their perceived power scares the bejesus out of them.

I know that most organizations are not ready for Agile or a Scrum culture, but there is one simple change I learned from the agile guru, Mike Dwyer, that you can make now. This one simple change can have dramatic effect on your project success and start getting you out of the office by 5 o’clock. It’s so simple and makes complete sense yet there are people out there who will doubt it and be naysayers even before they try it.

Here it is…

Don’t wait until the end of the project to develop your test scripts. Have your customer build the test scripts before you start the development of any particular module. Make it your first priority in each build. It’s that simple. This is completely opposite to the traditional waterfall method. Although it is a simple change, many will find it rebellious. That’s ok. New, no matter how simple, can feel distressing.

Having the business users develop the test scripts before we develop does two things. First, it challenges the business to demonstrate their understanding of the math and the business logic behind their processes. It also helps mitigate risk. I worked with many teams that are greener than green. If you’re working with a department of Kermits, I wouldn’t build anything until they can demonstrate an understanding of their business. Otherwise, you are going to be burning through those budget dollars. Do you want to be the one to tell the CFO why the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and has nothing to show for it?  Me either!

Secondly, it gives you the answers! You now are building from the right specification on day one. Specifications designed by the user. You can now test your build every day. If the code you write doesn’t produce the answer, you’ll know it now and not 16 weeks down the road.

I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and try this one small change on your next project. Much of what we do in business analytics can be tested right in excel and excel is a tool that all finance, marketing, sales, operations and HR professionals know how to use. So find that subject matter expert or business analyst who knows their stuff and have them build your answer set today…not in 16 weeks.

I would love to hear how this small change is impacting your work! Post your comments below. From one socialized nerd to another, go forth and transform the world through data and analytics. And for more information on agile read, “Scrum – Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time“ and don’t forget about Lodestar’s Faster Cheaper Analytics program which can help you decrease stress and increase productivity with agile and Scrum. Email us at Services@LodestarSolutions.com for more information!

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