Why You Need to Build a Test Strategy




Even the most passionate engineers have the occasional existential crisis and wonder, “Am I valued at work?” Tinkering just for the sake of innovating is rewarding, but how can you truly know if your company’s leaders believe your work makes an impact and benefits your customers? The reality is that over the course of your lifetime, statistics show you’ll probably spend more than 90,000 hours at work, so why not prove that each of those hours has intrinsic value beyond operational costs? To show your value and contribution to your company, you don’t have to change what you’re doing, per say, but you do need to “reverse engineer” the way you describe what you’re doing to leadership. That’s where building an effective test strategy comes in.

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In this episode of Test Talks—our video series that invites experts to weigh in on test, technology, and trends—Graham Green, chief marketing manager at NI, shares how you can better define and communicate your test strategy by aligning it with your product’s differentiating features. Without a demonstrable test strategy, you may have difficulty proving your worth to leadership through just effort alone.

With NI’s Build Your Test Strategy quiz, you can analyze how your test team adds value to your organization based on characteristics including market priorities and distractions or nonessential areas that may waste time. The quiz also identifies “distinctions” or differentiators that show how your company stands out among competitors. NI believes test teams primarily differentiate themselves through these seven values:

  1. Functionality—Deliver new and different features to market.
  2. Quality—Ensure increased reliability and trust in your product.
  3. Life cycle—Keep your product on the market for many years to come.
  4. Development schedule—Get to market before everyone else.
  5. Manufacturing volume—Serve a larger market with more products.
  6. Regulation—Meet standards by choice or compulsion.
  7. Data insight—Share standardized data across businesses.

To compare your test strategy with those of your peers and improve your performance with best practices and NI solutions, visit landing.ni.com/test-standardization.



7 Ways to Make Your Test Strategy a Differentiator

Are you valued at work? I want to offer you a thought model that I’ve seen in secure investment in both people and teams. It doesn’t require a change in what you do. It’s about how you describe what you do. And it starts with that question, are you valued at work? Here’s the test. Do you hear your leadership describe the benefit your team brings to your customer, or do you hear them focus on how to optimize your team’s operational costs?

I recently learned that we’ll all spend roughly 90,000 hours at work over the course of our lifetimes. The idea of being viewed as a cost center for all that time, well, it really got to me. How should I feel if my life’s work was really just perceived as a necessary evil? I didn’t really contribute. Now, I know that I work hard. I know that I add value for our customers. But do other people?

This isn’t just a weird narcissistic thing. It’s not that I want everyone to shower me with praise. It’s that, if others see me as just a cost center, how will I ever persuade them to invest in me, in my career, and in my team? Now, this led me down a path to study the transfer function, if you like, between company goals and engineering workload.

Example. When you walk into a SpaceX office, you’re surrounded by cool imagery everywhere of—well, of space. Now, the idea here is that everyone, from the chief engineer to the newest intern, really knows that they’re contributing towards a larger inspirational mission. Now, this, as any management book will tell you, is effective top-down goal setting, linking a company mission to the day-to-day work of every employee. It fuels engagement and productivity and yada, yada, yada.

But it made me think. If the answer to workplace recognition is a reflection of a company mindset and not a reflection of my actual day-to-day work, then I figured all we have to do to be recognized for the value we bring is to reverse engineer a link to our company goals and not from them.

Now, the answer to all this came when I made a recent visit to Ireland to a company that was making fire alarms. It was one of those epiphany moments, if you like. A little light bulb appeared above my head. Now, the test manager, he faced the problem we just discussed. Now, after the meeting, the whole team left the room. And he took me aside and he said, look, I’ve got great people. They work really hard. They’re good at what they do, but we don’t have a test strategy. And because of that, it’s hard for our leaders to really believe in us.

Now, my light bulb moment was that that phrase “we don’t have a test strategy” it just wasn’t true. They had a great test strategy. What they didn’t have was the language or the model to explain the value it delivered to others. The key for this manager was to understand that test, by itself, well, it has no value at all. Not outside his team, anyway. Test’s value comes in what it allows the business to deliver.

Now, here at NI, we’ve developed a model for this, and we call it “The Seven Values of Test.” If you’re a test engineer watching this, I’m about to read them all out, I want you to think. Now, which of these seven, which are must-haves, a standard that must be met by every company in your market? Which ones are nice-to-haves, the kind of things that you get a high five for improving, but that’s probably about it? And which, these are the important ones, which are differentiators? These are the things that your company’s brand promise, your unique product value, is really based upon.

OK. Here we go. Number one, functionality. Do you always bring new and different features to the market? Two, quality. Is their reliability and trust in your product? Three, life cycle. The faith that your product will be supported in the market for many years to come.

Four, schedule. Getting to market before everyone else. Five is volume. Serving a larger market with more product. Six, regulation. Meeting standards, either by choice or by compulsion. And seven, lastly, data insight. Sharing standardized data across your business.

Now, I know that almost everyone watching this is going to have a different perspective about their priority balance with the seven values, and that’s great. But I’m here to tell you that the common mistake is that folks fixate on the must-haves and not the differentiators. Take the guys in Ireland. OK. They’re making fire alarms. And with a fire alarm, quality is for sure the most important aspect. I mean, it’s a must-have. A faulty fire alarm is bad news for everyone.

But, well, their quality was good. And their competitor’s quality was good, too. And so their differentiator were the new features, like the custom RF comms they could build into their product, the kind of things that appeal to you or I when we walk into a shop and we’re trying to choose this one as opposed to that one.

Now, this was the value that their leadership wanted to hear about, and those test engineers played a huge part in making it a reality. Now, the test engineering manager here was able to reverse engineer their company objectives and demonstrate how the work of his team provided not just those must-haves but these all-important differentiators. Then, actually, they doubled down on this. And we helped them optimize a test standardization strategy specifically towards adding new functionality.

Now, this resulted in the value of their team rising within the company. So did their visibility, their funding, their support, and actually the careers of those individuals, too. All of this comes down to the fact that your hard work alone, it isn’t always enough. It’s your ability to communicate how your role contributes towards your company’s differentiation. That’s the key to allowing your leadership to see you for the value you provide and not the money you cost.

So the lesson learned here is don’t wait for someone else to sell you on their vision for your job. Build a model or use us to identify how your value supports your business but in their language. This is the way to ensure that your 90,000 hours are really as valued as they deserve to be.