Balance IT
In the modern organisation, IT is intrinsic to most of what goes on. From a laptop running MS products, to the multitude of systems used by a corporate, the need for software testing is growing as the uptake of IT solutions to resolve our business needs increases.

The testing department is coming under increasing demand to become involved in ever increasing volumes of projects. If the volume of work were static the problem would be more easily resolved with additional resources being employed. The situation that presents most test departments is far from a balanced flow of work.

Lots of businesses have particular times during the calendar year where the volume of project activity increases. For some retailers this would be Christmas, for companies involved in education it could be the start of a term, but the pressures come in peaks and troughs. A test department may be able to cope with some periodic increase in demand but may find itself in a situation where it is perceived as a bottleneck to the desired throughput of projects. This reflects badly on the department and can be avoided by bring in external testers.

Recruit IT
By understanding the flow of work coming through the department and plotting this over the year ahead (if possible), the size of the core team can be understood. The core team is the size of team required at the lowest point of utilisation. External testers are then used to deal with the demand for resource over and above the core team, covering the peaks of activity. The external testers can be employed for the duration of the peak and then released, dropping the team back to its core size.

Recruitment of good quality test resources is becoming increasingly difficult. Less people are leaving university with IT related degrees in this country. If activities can be performed offsite, then some of the additional overheads of Resourcing in terms of phones, computers, desk space, HR and training can be avoided, making the use of some external resources here in the UK, cheaper than employing them. Cost is an ever present consideration and if external resources can be used and released as is required, provide the right level of expertise and be utilised offsite then these factors begin to form a really strong case for the use of the external tester.

Flexibility is key to the way we work and the supplier of external test resources that can provide this at a price which is competitive compared to employment, are worthy of consideration.

Offshore IT?
Does offshore work? Simply – yes – if performed correctly. Where so many fail, is by misunderstanding some of the key factors that need to be in place. The simplest way is to treat it as a black box scenario, offshoring well specified work packages, with quantifiable and specified deliverables against known timescales. This reduced need for communication simplifies the process, but it is only as good as the inputs. If these can be well specified then the chance of a good delivery is excellent. A prime example of offshore capability being used in this manner would be the generation of test scripts. This is often seen as a tedious activity that bores the UK Test Analyst, being repetitive in nature. Providing an offshore capability with a requirement specification that has been statically tested, perhaps even with the test scenarios defined, should enable a good offshore team to produce a well-defined suite of scripts. Confidence can be obtained by sampling scripts as they are being produced and example scripts can be provided by the client to define the standards to be followed. Having mentioned static testing, the passing of a single document to an offshore team for review against the 8 point check is simple and requires minimal communication. Neither the test scripting nor the static testing require anything more than e-mail to send information, so setting up links between the offshore destination and your own test environments is not required. If you are not currently utilising offshore then we would strongly recommend giving one of these a try and sampling the option.

Manage IT
Once confidence to this level has been achieved the next easiest element to place offshore is the test execution. This does involve setting up links to the offshore capability, but some software can be used to achieve this quite simply. Access to defect management tools needs to be arranged to ensure that defects are reported as they are found and not gathered for end of day reporting. Freeware is available such as Bugzilla to achieve this and only needs to be hosted. The data protection act comes into play here, but it should be remembered that personal data should be scrambled prior to testing anyway, if not using simulated data. At this point it is worth pointing out that we do not recommend that all of the test execution is performed offshore, as interfacing with developers, business analysts, environment managers and project managers is required, so some onsite presence is required. Again if this is new to your organisation, try just placing a small fraction of the work offshore and increase the volume as confidence grows.

As more onus is placed on the offshore capability, the increase in management and communication occurs.

From a service perspective, it is critical that both the offshore and onshore sides of the operation understand each other, how they work, what their expectations are and how to get things done.

Too many people trust in organisations that put people in place to manage an offshore setup that the client has no knowledge of or relationship with. This can work, but beware the teething troubles that can occur. A good mechanism is to have the head of offshore resource work onsite for a considerable period of time, at least 3 months if not 6, before moving into an offshore service model. Most importantly rely on a team that has successfully managed offshore engagements and work well as a unit spread across the two countries.

To summarise, start simple, build confidence, know your offshore lead and gradually move to an offshore model. If moving straight into offshore, get expert assistance.

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