The stakes for Microsoft, which was outlining its Office 2010 product strategy, were extremely high. According to Microsoft's earnings statements, Microsoft Office productivity suite generates more revenue than any other business division, says Gregg Keizer,who covers Microsoft and general technology news for Computerworld.
Months before Microsoft released Office 2010 productivity suite, 9 million people downloaded the beta version to test the software and to provide feedback. Through this program, Microsoft collected 2 million valuable comments and insights from those testers.
Denise Carlevato, a Microsoft usability engineer for 10 years, and her colleagues from Microsoft's Virtual Research Lab observed how people used new features. Their objective was to make Microsoft Office fit the way millions of people used their product and to help them work better. It was a massive, controlled crowd sourcing project.
According to Carlevato, "That's just what you have to do to cater to as broad an audience as possible". This is not especially easy; to retain the loyalty of millions is a herculean task. "While the team was building it and giving insights and information, it was still all like a big jigsaw puzzle. Toward the end when this all came together I had the opportunity to go out and see how the web apps were actually going to live with real people."
Developing a new software product is always exciting, especially to watch ideas take form and truly become a reality. Sometimes a fresh perspective or an innovative use case is all it takes to turn a product from good to great. However, when it comes to testing, we often find ourselves in unchartered waters wondering if the product will actually work in the diverse customer landscapes. It is virtually impossible to test the vast number of devices and configurations of software that web-based software can run on today. Truly robust testing is time consuming, and ensuring that every possible permutation and combination of features, localizations, and platforms works, as intended is nearly impossible.
Often times, comprehensive testing is a challenge and buggy code is delivered to the customer. For example, if a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application does not render in a particular browser or a critical software tool fails to deliver its intended functionality, a bug fix or a patch is promised and the vicious cycle starts all over again. Either way, the customer withstands the worst of inadequate testing, especially when faced with the escalating costs of software maintenance, performance, etc. For the software development company, ramifications include distress around brand image, perceived quality, relationship and potential future projects, trust, etc.
Welcome to the new world of crowd sourced testing, an emerging trend in software engineering that exploits the benefits, effectiveness, and efficiency of crowd sourcing and the cloud platform towards software quality assurance and control. With this new form of software testing, the product is put to test under diverse platforms, which makes it more representative, reliable, cost-effective, fast, and above all, bug-free.
Crowd sourced testing, conceived around a Testing-as-a-Service (TaaS) framework, helps companies reach out to a community to solve problems and remain innovative. When it comes to testing software applications, crowdsourcing helps companies reduce expenses, reduce time to market and increase resources for testing, manage a wide range of testing projects, test competence needs, exigency to resolve higher defects rates, and use 3rd party's test environment to subside the project requirements.
It differs from traditional testing methods in that the testing is carried out by a number of different testers from across the globe, and not by locally hired consultants and professionals. In other words, crowd sourced testing is a form of outsourced software testing, a time-consuming activity, to testers around the world, thus enabling small startups to use ad-hoc quality-assurance teams, even though they themselves could not afford traditional quality assurance testing teams.
Why Does Crowd Sourced Testing Work?
To understand why crowd sourced testing works, it is important to understand the set of biases that infest most testers and test managers around the world. This phenomenon is called, "The Curse of Knowledge," a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy. It means that for a particular subject expert, it is nearly impossible to imagine and look beyond the knowledge the tester has acquired i.e. the set of concepts, beliefs and scenarios that the tester knows or predicts. As a result, it is particularly challenging to think outside the box and conceive the various ways a typical end user would use particular software.
This phenomenon has been empirically proven through an infamous experiment conducted by a Stanford University graduate student of psychology, Elizabeth Newton. She illustrated the phenomenon through a simple game, people were assigned to one of two roles, namely tappers and listeners. Each tapper was to select a well-known song, such as "Happy Birthday," and tap the rhythm on a table. The listeners were to guess the song from the taps. However, before the listeners guessed the song, tappers were asked to predict the probability that listeners would guess correctly. They predicted 50%. Over the course of the experiment, 120 songs were tapped out, but listeners guessed only three of the songs correctly - a success rate of merely 2.5%
The explanation is as follows: when tappers tap, it is impossible for them to avoid hearing the tune playing along to their taps. Meanwhile, all the listeners could hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. The problem is that once we know something, we find it impossible to imagine the other party not knowing it.
Extrapolating this experiment to software testing, most testers conduct a battery of tests that they feel is representative and that captures the set of end-user scenarios for how the software would be used. The reality is far from this. Any expert tester would asset that it is impossible to capture the complete set of scenarios that an end user may throw at a software system. As a result, critical path(s) of the code under certain scenarios go untested, which leads to software malfunctioning, production system crashes, customer escalations, long hours of meetings, debugging, etc.
Crowd sourced testing circumvents all these headaches by bringing a comprehensive set of code coverage mechanisms and end user scenarios during the design and development stages of software engineering, during which the cost of modification is meager. This results in identifying critical use cases early on and providing for those contingencies, which reduces software maintenance costs later on during and after productive deployment. Besides progressive code coverage, the quality and depth of software testing among various vital software modules is achieved, which ultimately results in a higher code quality, among other benefits.
Crowd sourced testing - the framework
At the heart of crowd sourced testing is the community that tests a given software product. The community encompasses people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, geographies, languages, all with a diverse approach to software usage. The community, represented by a diverse and extended user space, tests any given software by putting it to use under realistic scenarios, which a tester in the core test team may not be able to envision, given a tester's constraints, such as limited bounds of operation, knowledge, scenarios. Thus, it is easy to observe the broad set of usage patterns that put the software under intense scrutiny. Crowd sourcing software testing draws its benefits from delegating the task of testing a web or software project, while in development, on to a number of Internet users, to ensure that the software contains no defects.
The method of crowd sourced testing is particularly useful when the software is user-centric, when software's success and adoption is determined by its user feedback. It is frequently implemented with gaming or mobile applications, when experts who may be difficult to find in one place are required for specific testing, or when the company lacks the resources or time to carry out internal testing.
The spectrum of issues that such test efforts could uncover within a short lead-time is particularly noteworthy. Such testing efforts yield productive results with reasonable costs. Often times, the product company pays only for those valid reported bugs. Hence, the Return on Investment (ROI) is high compared to the traditional means of software testing.
How does it work?
Most crowd sourced testing companies provide the platform for the testing cycles. Clients specify the type of tests that they wish to have performed and the types of devices that the software product must be tested on.
Testers complete a profile, indicating the skills they have, the devices to which they have access to, and the countries where they reside. Once a tester has completed his profile, he/she can check the project dashboard for a listing of projects and releases that are available for testing. The dashboard may also include sample test scenarios, additional tools and scripts, instructions for testers about what is expected from them, etc. Usually, the testers are required to submit a QA plan, which outlines both high level test cases and detailed test scenarios. The plan may also include whether or not the test can be automated and expected results.
A qualified Project Manager, who is typically a proven community leader or a person from the client/the platform company, reviews such plans, and approves or amends such plans to cater to the client's specific testing requirements.
Each project includes an explanation and access to a forum where bugs and issues are discussed and additional questions can be asked. Testers document bug reports and are rated based on the quality of their reports. The amount the testers earn increases as their rating increases.
The community combines aspects of collaboration and competition, as members work to finding solutions to the stated problem. Forums facilitate networking and discussion of bugs or relevant issues; rating systems allow for recognition of a job well done, which helps participants gain credibility and improved career.
The crowd source testing team is usually in addition to the organization's testing team, and not a replacement.
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