Testing Times in HR technology! Part 8 of the Smooth Steps series guiding folks through the full project life-cycle is all about testing – user acceptance testing (‘UAT’), piloting and the parallel run, which usually refers to payroll. It is a series part packed with practical tips.
Unlike the (implementation) ‘building blocks’, I give the tests and trials of testing rather more focus than you might expect. That’s because from my independent perspective I can stand back and observe that, in general, our Phase 3 customers around the country suffer from an unfortunate triple whammy here:
This leads to an underestimate of what it takes to test and pilot and a disappointment about the results. This creates a horribly unnecessary consequence that project teams can feel that nothing can be done if trials of new systems don’t go well. I think that’s such a shame: the test period should be a return to the buzz and excitement, as I comment in the article, of the beauty parade that is product demonstrations at the very start. It is your chance to get your hands on your own real-(nearly)-live system!
All this is avoidable with a bit of extra know-how and Testing Times aims to give you just that…..
Testing the design and build of your new people system can bring you back to some of the thrills and spills of those product demonstration beauty parades (that were the good days of your system selection. Seeing the system come to life and for the first time in your own hands is really gratifying after intensive work.
From a professional perspective, the testing process can prove frustrating. As consultants, we find that a lack of familiarity with this structured exercise causes an unnecessary waiting game, as we work together to arrive at sign-off milestones. Ultimately this means late go-live dates and budget over-runs.
In this part I look at what the different types of testing are, do and how therefore to approach each. We will look at:
To read some more tips on a rigorous project approach revisit part 5 of this series and for advice about handling the chunky implementation stages of the implementation journey, of which testing forms an element, go back to part 7.
Let’s make testing less testing for all and instead a fast-track to smooth success!
Test too early as a project team and you’ll test again; test too late and you’ll likely face a choice between accepting either delay or compromise on outcomes. Testing has to sit neatly between the point at which someone believes they’ve done their bit and someone else needs to check it over
It’s important to know what to test. Remember that I recommend a stage approach to the project. Package the full scope of the system into neat “product” parcels for formal sign-offs.
Take a practical approach to mini, informal tests (e.g. of a workflow or profile design) after each consultancy exercise so as not to lose the moment where memory is fresh. Ad hoc is allowed as an extra!
User acceptance testing (“UAT”) is:
User acceptance testing (“UAT”) is not:
The first stages of testing an HR system design and configuration will be carried out by the developers and their quality assurers. Systems testing will have happened for any one piece of project-specific build.
The bigger testing exercises that developers carry out are prior to release of new functionality for their wide customer base. In an SaaS context these upgrade releases and bug fixes can now feel painless to you as the end-user. When testing is done by customers at the end of that system testing it is often referred to as beta-testing.
At the UAT stage, the implementers have taken their job as far as they can. They now need you to apply their build and to validate whether it works to do what it should in real-life scenarios. You know those scenarios and the supplier testing team does not – they are keen to know whether the ready-to-test technical spec works for you! Think of it as somewhat like the difference between laboratory testing and clinical trial.
1) Write your intended test plan (test script) when the requirements analysis is fresh in mind. Get ahead and have this ready at project start in preparation for selection – to be refined later – or as one outcome of a business process review
2) Test scripts can be very detailed and appropriately so. There are templates available for download to see examples. The essence of the plan contents describes:
Tip: Test scripts relate only in part to a particular system solution. If HR technologies are a significant part of your day-to-day departmental operations you may well be wise to invest time in devising a generic test script that can be applied in any one case (with some refinement) of new software deployment or upgrade.
3) Engage your internal project team to carry out UAT. If you try to involve other functional team members, it could simply be too hard to be efficient and you risk that a less-than-perfect result at this stage jeopardises initial reactions when going live later. To stress, do not ask your supplier to do the job for you. If you wish to involve external advisers (see part 6 on the who is who), only count on those you are sure have a sound grasp of the real requirements of the business.
4) Allow plenty of time. Quite how long is contextual and understand that even on the most modest scale you are likely to need to dedicate more than one focused day. Quite often I see product suppliers offering plan examples which include a 2-week window for UAT by their customer. To plot through different circumstances end-to-end and to record results takes a surprising amount of time.
5) Document results carefully and diligently. The format to which this is to be done should be agreed in the test script (and shared with those who you’ll give that back to) and it is absolutely essential that every scenario tested, outcome observed and score (the pass or fail, or the categorisation of the importance of error) is completed. Ask the consultancy team what evidence you need to be able to produce, typically a screen shot to accompany your notes, ahead of time so that you don’t have to repeat.
Key question: Is the supplier involved at all in UAT? Do I have to do it all alone? No, you’re not alone. Whilst I offer no wriggle-room around getting out of your user role, do expect your consultants to support you. Largely those experts are waiting for your responses, so keep in touch to report results throughout. You can be efficient with time needed for repeats of the UAT period to limit how long the whole process takes. It is also fine to ask for guidance about writing your script [see above] and to expect a low-key introduction as to where to start in this first trialling. But have confidence! You do not need to have received full training in how to use a system to do UAT.
Note and report failures. Overall success may then be defined, for example, as “X% of test items have achieved with no problems classified as high or medium on impact – and with 100% of items now tested.” Be sure that all those items that do not pass as individual tests have a decision attached to them as to whether to fix or to accommodate. The exit point of the UAT exercise is then the signing-off of the scope of that testing with a concluding “pass” result.
The technical specification has now been tested by the professionals; the functional specification, against the business need, validated in UAT. In theory, this leaves you good-to-go towards live use of the HR system.
In practice, most wish to see the organisation have a further “test” opportunity by sampling what’s going to happen when the technology is in live use. The opportunity here, and the associated risk otherwise, is all about understanding usability and experience, as well as gauging cultural or communications issues. Another motive for doing more by way of trial is a test of the strain on the system as volumes increase and performance as part of a live IT infrastructure.
When I looked at the role of HR as the professional PM I distinguished planning for a test by your organisation’s end-users and a pilot. These are my words to underline a very useful point of pragmatism. In both cases, you are identifying a sample group and asking that they try out the technology. The difference is what you intend to do with their feedback. Here is why:
Imagine a sample group gives me feedback about how they find using a new tool. What might I learn? I might learn about things users like and don’t like about:
I then need to decide which of those types of feedback I’m going to respond with either (a) changing things to remove any difficulty or (b) working with and around the concern. For example, I could use the feedback to guide how I devise a training plan [and see the next part of this series].
The key point is that with the first response (the change) then I need time to re-iterate design and re-test. In the second case I don’t. That’s a practical point when it comes to planning.
Being clear about the purpose of sampling use amongst your wider organisation in either way will help to ensure users are not frustrated. Let those users know what you do intend to do with their feedback too.
There is much debate about whether pilot groups should be a representative average, your most supportive (and yet helpfully critical) friends, or the really trickiest parts of the business to reach. It is very common, for example, to see the HR and Finance teams engaged as the pilot group.
A group is identified by location, departmental function or sometimes by association with particular management leads.
My recommendation is that the 2 profiles most likely to help are both the most ardent supporters and those most resistant (or in complex areas). This is because both groups will respond – albeit with differing motives – with a comprehensive battering of use and give you full feedback. The last thing you want is a non-response.
Choose a pilot group proportionate to functionality of technical scope rather than necessarily organisational size. You need big pilot groups to test the volumes and complex array of scenario for functions associated with time-recording and absence, but basic self-service or core functions in HR less so.
Parallel running (i.e. concurrent use) of existing and new HR and payroll systems is the safe transition period before letting go of old tech. It is in payroll where this safety is really called for as a true final test. In other areas or types of system, the imperative is not there and keeping a legacy system going is likely to be about practical concerns, such as to help you manage and be sure of your data migration in its completeness.
I focus here on advice to the uninitiated leader or project colleague about how to run payrolls in parallel to perform that last true test with the right degree of rigour which avoids undue risk without overkill:
If parallel run time tests your patience, then I urge you to bear with it. A maverick view, and one that in theory does hold water, is that adequate scenario testing on the new system with QA and UAT renders parallel payrolls redundant. It is the rare Finance professional happy to accept that as a plan.
Tip: Any type of testing starts to make clean data becomes important. Ensure development environments and those used for training (both forms of playground!) are separate. Keep user testers happy by preparing test grounds with complete and accurate data [read here for further advice in this area]. Beware the particular annoyance of spurious workflow email output! Attach test system email addresses that are false, or those of the testing team, or on divert to a single mailbox.
The types of testing are a point of considerable confusion and worth clarifying. Distinguishing the purpose of testing the developers do, user acceptance testing and testing by the business more widely will help you to make the right choices about how to plan those activities.
Enjoy the initial excitement of getting your hands on your new technology for the first time “for real” and, armed with advice, allow that to extend into smooth testing success. When the sign-off milestones are achieved, all are set to progress into promoting the results.
For next time are questions of training and communications and taking the system out there!
Take One Step on Step 8!: Please do not side-step your project team role on UAT. Please take it in your hands to know and to apply your own business context for real-life scenario-based testing. The system developers simply cannot do this well. No professional is performing an inadequate service to you in strenuous argument against taking that on
To learn more about how Phase 3 can support your HR technology project then please contact Kate and colleagues here: firstname.lastname@example.org