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A leading maker of athletic apparel tasked TEKsystems with a dual mission: Own all quality assurance (QA) and testing activities to ensure a successful website redesign, and strengthen its permanent QA organization.
The client, a well-known maker of innovative athletic apparel, is headquartered in Maryland and distributes its products globally. The company manufactures performance athletic clothing, footwear and accessories, and is known for outfitting Olympic athletes and several major sports teams. They rely on a multichannel distribution model, selling products through third-party and owned retail outlets, directly to consumers and to businesses. TEKsystems has partnered with the client since 2012.
In the application development process, quality assurance (QA) and testing is critical to ensuring the soundness of the final product. In addition to testing for design and code flaws that detract from operational reliability, QA teams advance an application’s overall quality and help improve the end-user experience.
However, development and QA are sometimes perceived as oppositional forces, with developers building the product and QA hindering its creation. This perception can significantly impede success in a development organization if not addressed; poor communication and working relationships between the groups can lead to delayed projects, flawed products and low team morale. Conversely, organizations that can unite these forces throughout the development life cycle reap faster build times and stronger applications. Creating this strong partnership takes a high level of organizational maturity that can be difficult for IT teams to achieve on their own, so many call on the help of outside consultants.
The client, a maker of high-performance apparel, was growing quickly and ready to capitalize on some strategic investments in e-commerce with a major website redesign. But first they had to overcome a major roadblock: Their QA and testing team was not equipped to handle the project’s testing needs, imperiling the critical launch deadline.
The client had embarked on a project to overhaul their direct-to-consumer website with the goal of making it faster and more responsive. Already, sales through their website and catalogues accounted for 39 percent of revenue, and the client’s leaders hoped to grow that further. The ambitious redesign would enable this critical sales channel to keep up with changes in how consumers interact with websites and purchase goods as they increasingly move away from traditional desktop computers. Following the launch of the direct-to-consumer website, the client planned to develop a brand-new business-to-business site to grow that line as well.
The client’s website redesign involved a major change to the underlying architecture and technology platform. They had run previous versions with the Adobe ColdFusion Web development platform and an SQL Server database, but decided to switch to a cutting- edge technology stack for the update. They developed the site using Node.js and MongoDB, a high-performance development solution that allows websites to load faster with highly responsive user interfaces that work seamlessly across multiple platforms and mobile devices.
Moving to the new technology was a bold decision that would allow the client’s site to flex with changing consumer habits, but required a lot of skill from the development team. Changing to newer technologies— particularly Node.js, which only a few organizations have used in a production environment—would be challenging, but the technologically advanced development team was up to the task. In addition, their use of Agile methodology, an adaptive, iterative approach that incorporates feedback throughout the development cycle, would help them handle the unexpected roadblocks that the new technologies could present.
However, the client’s QA team was not as well-equipped to perform the required testing of the new technologies. The team, which consisted of four testers, lacked the appropriate technical skills as well as the ability to communicate effectively with the development group. Most importantly, the team lacked a leader to guide their strategy and represent the value of their function within the organization. Viewing the QA team as a hindrance to their goals rather than a valuable part of the process, the development group brought them into the process nearly three months after they should have begun creating a testing strategy. At that point, 60 percent of the code had already been delivered, which meant QA started with a large testing backlog.
The client needed the website to successfully launch in late September in order to capitalize on the crucial holiday season, so missing the deadline was not an option. Facing a heavy backlog of testing and an overwhelmed QA team, the client’s IT leaders recognized that they needed help meeting the project deadline. They also wanted guidance in setting up a long-lasting foundation for QA and testing success.
Having previously partnered with TEKsystems on application development work, the client was familiar with our expertise in QA. They initially requested consultation on how best to use their existing QA resources to complete the project, and also for advice about how to build a QA organization with the capacity to meet their future needs. Within five weeks, TEKsystems evaluated the client’s existing QA and testing program and provided:
The client’s IT leadership was impressed by the speed and quality of our work—but realized they needed more help to meet their critical launch deadline. So they made an unusual request: They asked TEKsystems’ principal quality management practice architect to act as an interim manager for their QA team until the website launch. While the absence of our principal architect would pose challenges for our quality management practice, we saw they needed this assistance to meet their deadline, and agreed to step in.
TEKsystems would take over the client’s internal team for three months with a dual mission: We would take responsibility for all QA and testing of the website to ensure a successful launch, and we would institute the people, process and technology changes needed to mature the client’s Quality Management practice.
In addition to hiring three skilled QA analysts who would work permanently with the client, our interim QA manager would conduct intensive training of the existing resources. Our testing strategy would involve implementing a standardized keyword-based process, a systematic approach that would allow highly scalable testing, ensure greater thoroughness and enable a more flexible development process. In conjunction with this approach, we would define a testing schema to standardize how tests would be organized. But first, instituting the keyword approach would require educating the QA team in a new set of concepts and processes. We would conduct intensive workshops to instill the new skills needed to make the strategy a success.
Finally, TEKsystems would work diligently to increase the partnership between the developers and the QA team, bringing it in line with Agile QA and testing best practices.
While TEKsystems’ quality management team originally planned to implement and train on the automation strategy, changing requirements and the sudden loss of two QA team members—half the client’s team—meant the strategy was no longer feasible within the client’s timeline of approximately three months. Knowing the September 26 go-live date was absolutely critical to the client’s business goals, we changed the plan to ensure success.
Although we had planned to embed the QA resources within development teams where they would work in an Agile process, the loss of half the team meant this approach would spread the remaining members too thin. We pulled the client’s resources into a separate team that would address the backlog in a more traditional waterfall (linear) method, and prioritized the testing backlog.
The situation remained complex, however. During the redesign, the client was also hiring a new cloud provider for their infrastructure, which added layers of new environment support for the QA team. This required further adaptation, and the team’s strategy became, “Look, listen, communicate effectively and respond to new changes as well as possible.”
Instead of iterative regression testing, TEKsystems adapted to the shifting conditions and tight timeframe by planning a massive regression testing effort at the end of the development cycle, just before the website’s schedule release date. This required the full team—including TEKsystems’ resources—to work a marathon of 10-plus-hour days and two solid weekends. Ultimately, the strategy and effort was successful, with the website successfully going live on the planned date of September 26, in time for the holiday shopping season.
In addition to meeting the client’s deadline, we introduced a comprehensive approach to maturing the client’s internal QA organization that focused on strengthening the team; providing a logical, standardized work methodology; and upgrading the technology used. TEKsystems greatly expanded the existing QA and testing team’s skills. We also hired three highly qualified QA analysts to augment the team. The newness of Node.js and MongoDB meant there were virtually no QA testers with specialized experience in these respective technologies, so our architect / interim manager worked with our recruiters to identify highly skilled QA analysts, and then interviewed them for high technical aptitude. He also ensured the resources were a good cultural fit for the client’s IT department, with the ability to communicate and work effectively with the development engineers.
The client’s IT leaders were impressed with TEKsystems’ ability to meet their timeline despite steep unexpected challenges, and have further engaged us to lead QA and testing for their upcoming business-to-business (B2B) website. To date, we have hired 10 contractors to work on the B2B website and begun to institute our strategy for maturing the client’s permanent QA and testing organization. The automation framework we introduced has already shown excellent results, validating our original strategy. We look forward to continuing this partnership with the client.
While the client was impressed with our original automation strategy, changing conditions meant it was no longer feasible within the required timeframe. TEKsystems pivoted quickly to deliver results. This took creativity and commitment from our dedicated team, who figured out a new way forward and worked around the clock to successfully meet the client’s deadline.
Commitment to client success
TEKsystems strives to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our clients. While the client originally called upon us to deliver consulting services, we ultimately took responsibility for ensuring all QA and testing activities were completed on time. Critically, we granted the client’s request to “borrow” our principal practice architect to lead their QA team—despite the challenges this posed to our Quality Management practice— because we realized they needed this help to meet their deadline.
The TEKsystems Quality Management practice leadership comprises field-tested professionals who stay up to date with the rapidly changing and growing body of development and testing technology. Our testing strategies have been created using industry best practices, tested in the field and improved over time. While our principal quality management architect personally served as the client’s interim QA manager, TEKsystems put the whole Quality Management practice at his disposal. He was able to call on our quality management and application experts for advice to work through the complexities of the cutting-edge technology stack.