As I interact with business software developers specifically — those that are powering enterprise functions that help businesses grow and succeed — I’ve noticed a clear pattern in what’s on their mind. These professionals are dealing with a spate of new challenges that are unlike any they’ve had to tackle before.
The pandemic upended and catalyzed the way their clients work; providing a stress test and clear use case for cloud-based, synchronous and asynchronous work tools, less patience among end-users for experiences that didn’t live up to consumer-facing contemporaries, an expectation of flawless performance (anyone remember the last Zoom outage?), and a need to retain users amidst a sea of well funded competitors.
My company has had a hand in helping some of the best of these business software providers evolve and test their way past some of these challenges — and there have been some lessons learned that are worth consideration. Unsurprisingly, many of these insights are “consumer minded;” we have expected excellent experiences on consumer devices apps for the better part of two decades now, and those expectations and experiences have carried to our professional technology use cases.
1.) Your app customer experience (CX) needs work and focus
The reaction from many might be to “stop CXing us to death!” — but I really can’t emphasize the importance of this area enough. With so many business software solutions having a high degree of similarity in terms of function, price and even roadmaps, CX can be a massive differentiator. In some sectors, like banking, entire companies are built on the proposition of providing an intuitive CX as a wrapper for archaic, complex processes. This only happens when legacy flows and interfaces are completely inadequate and behind consumer-facing contemporaries.
Accessibility, localization, and UX testing should be paired together to look at the larger picture of where, how and when current CX schemes just aren’t working. This is not something that can be fully automated because it isn’t so much a matter of clean code and clean data — it’s incredibly human. Are we thinking about how something works in different languages, or on the logical flow of menus and the journey someone takes through the app? Have we considered how well in sync our mobile and desktop experiences are?
It might seem self-serving coming from the guy at the testing company, but brass tacks, everyone has work to do here; and a deeper look is probably key to hitting success metrics that intersect development and revenue, like retention rates.
2.) Speed leads to wins both long and short-term
Given the need for progressively better stickiness and retention against the backdrop of very competitive use cases (how many business expense apps are out there, do you suppose?) development speed is even more critical of a consideration than it used to be. A habit of frequent releases energizes teams and fuels net-new and expansion sales in the short term, and can provide an edge to outmaneuver all those competitors in the long term.
Importantly, quality cannot yield ground to speed — and that is where testing needs to get a bit more creative. Certainly robust automation plays a role here; but a “one size fits all” mentality is probably not going to yield the best result in the end. We often propose a fused testing methodology to business clients that meshes together automation with manual confirmation; essentially allowing automation to lead and manual testing methods to further investigate and confirm issues at a very high rate of speed. Flexibility is key here; not every release will be the same and a key element of speed is not wasting time and resources. Every run, in the end, will be a little different.
3.) The composition of the QA team counts… a lot
Building on the premise of flexibility and hybridizing testing models, in the end this all comes down to people. In house QA professionals are excellent, but the pace of development that is being called for can severely limit their ability to stay afloat. Nobody wants to be online all weekend programming and running tests on a regular basis, and businesses should avoid this even more so. The talent shortage in QA is real. In fact, 88 percent of companies are currently struggling to find, hire, and retain quality engineers for testing and automation support.
This is where team location and augmentation become important. Remote staff situated in different locations can help move QA forward on a 24 hour, not eight hour, basis — and augmenting ones team with quality engineers to help identify and program automated test schemes, or crowd testing resources to quickly affirm UX and other more “human” test factors can provide a distinct advantage. Empower these specialized members of your team with more resources — and if you have engineers and others engaged in the testing process, by all means recalibrate the team composition to free up their time! Specialization is a necessity.
4.) Process your process
Underlying all three of the previous points is a need for almost tenacious focus on process. Testing is often unintentionally seen as an addendum to the main event of development, and companies that are driving past their competition are working to overcome that tendency. For example, some of the businesses I’ve worked with have begun very directly integrating QA with CI/CD — breaking down some process silos in the name of enhancing efficiency. In this case, code is pushed, and we test immediately as an initial check. It seems like more work at face value, but because we’re catching issues earlier we’re avoiding more awkward, “back to the drawing board” moments later, and if code pushes are clean, the process becomes like a water spigot. Everything flows well until there is some kind of clog or issue, and catching that issue early is arguably always better than finding it later, or worse, a customer finding it.
Finally, mindset matters, and that mindset needs to be more akin to “how do I make ‘X’ a bit more like ‘Y’ consumer experience”. That, more than perhaps anything else, will help business software developers break out of old molds and innovate their approaches to development and testing in ways that will grow their business and retain users.
Dan Minahan is Director, Business Software Practice, Testlio