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Changing How Your Organization Values Test




Testing is fundamental to engineering, whether you’re validating your design or making products that ship to your customers. For decades, however, test teams have been asked to focus on cutting costs—without compromising quality—typically by reducing how much, or increasing how fast, they test.

As the pace of advancements in new technologies has picked up, so too has the need for designing, testing, producing, and delivering products to market sooner. Established companies with leading market positions were once thought of as untouchable, but now, they face challenges if they can’t adapt fast enough. New companies that can quickly and effectively utilize new technology and release in-demand products can capture market share and pose a real threat.

Companies large and small across all industries are either feeling the pressure to act or soon will. The typical response is to initiate change, which includes identifying areas of deficiencies that need to be corrected to improve operational efficiency, or creating a better customer experience. Solving for an organization’s shortcomings or supporting customers often involves adopting new digital technologies—a move so ubiquitous that it has given rise to the term “digital transformation.” But no matter what you call it, digital transformation signals a company’s attempt to evolve and keep up with the competition.  

Very few companies realize how much of a role test teams can play in transforming their business. All these years of trying to reduce costs has led to workflow obstacles. At the foundational level, teams are performing manual tasks, which is slowing things down and impacting release schedules or the ability to meet demand fast enough. Manual work also means that you can’t provide much information back to your organization beyond if the product passed or failed in testing.

It’s on us to act as an advocate for test—to show our companies that making the right investments in test can help drive business results. But we must do more than casually talk about what test can do. We must first change how test is perceived at our workplaces and shift the focus away from reducing cost. That means developing a strategic plan that explains how test can increase operational efficiency, foster collaboration across departments, and enable our organizations to not only get products to market faster but respond to market changes sooner.

To start changing how our organizations view test, we should begin by identifying where bottlenecks exist and determine what we need to do to clear them. It’s important that these bottlenecks be highly visible so that we can measure results in the future, after we’ve implemented a solution. As we begin to consider our strategic plan in support of test, let’s examine three areas where test is commonly undervalued so that we can remedy misperceptions:

  • Test systems
  • Data collection and storage
  • Processes across multiple group workflows
Evaluating How We Approach Building Test Systems

We can’t test our products without building test systems. But if we build testers without a strategic approach, we run the risk of wasting time and money. It’s at this stage where test is often perceived as a bottleneck. To show the value of test, we must limit the time it takes to stand up a new system or troubleshoot and make changes to an existing one.

We can expedite this process by standardizing on equipment and reusing a common framework that can be easily customized across systems. Eliminating the need for developing the same components over and over again saves a lot of time. Plus, if you can standardize on your equipment, you can lower integration time and the cost of sparing because you don’t need extra equipment stored for tester maintenance.

It’s critical that your framework and testers have the ability to connect—a necessity that cannot be overstated. The ability to view information in real time or receive status notifications about the health of systems—from any device—is highly useful. It means teams can react quickly if something requires their attention.

When we can reduce the time it takes to build and maintain testers, lower the cost of running them, and react faster because they’re connected, test’s value starts to become clearer.

Using Data to Drive Product Performance and Collaboration

Every piece of data that’s generated during a test will tell you something about how your product performs, but the reality is, very few test teams have the time to sit down and mine through data to derive relevant insights. That brings us to our next batch of bottlenecks we need to identify and clear out—because having the ability to use and understand data can drive significant value to your organization and foster collaboration upstream and downstream.

Often, these bottlenecks are attributed to a poor or nonexistent data strategy and a haphazard approach that leads to inconsistencies in data storage. Typically, the data that’s generated is stored directly on the tester, on a USB drive, or best case, on a common network drive in whatever format it was captured in. Using multiple storage devices makes it hard to find and use the data, sometimes even for the person responsible for the test. So, if we want to convince our organizations that test generates measurable value, we must define our data strategy.

When you standardize how data is collected—that is, how data moves and how data from multiple testers are ingested into a common location—using consistent metadata, you can eliminate a lot of overhead associated with finding and moving data manually. With the right set of tools, you can also automate the analysis of your test data and quickly pinpoint and dive into areas that need more attention. In this scenario, you’re increasing your understanding of how your products are performing (or why they’re not) while eliminating the time and cost of manually having to find and analyze your test data.

Armed with better information about product performance, validation teams can help shorten product design iterations by collaborating and providing the information design teams need to make changes faster. Manufacturing can start correlating component issues with products that pass on retest and come back as field failures. Using and sharing data-derived insights is one of the most valuable things your test team can do for your organization, but it requires you to identify how you can leverage automation in your process and where the bottlenecks occur.

Eliminating Manual, Time-Consuming Tasks in Your Workflow

The processes that test engineers follow to execute workflow tasks matter more than most realize. Initially, these processes were put in place to save on cost, and that is precisely what they’re trying to achieve. The problem is they often don’t deliver on this promise. That’s because the same initiative intended to lower cost has resulted in less investing, more manual tasks, and/or loosely defined processes that weaken consistency.

Earlier, we touched on building systems with a common framework and standard equipment for faster deployment and lower maintenance costs. That only works if your processes and procedures define a common set of tools for building a new tester and outline how to handle exceptions if you need to test a new feature and haven’t yet selected the necessary test equipment to do so.

But it's not just about improving every process we have. It's about adapting them to meet current standards. We tend to focus on how technological advancements impact test teams when they need to test new products or features and not on how these advancements can improve the test engineers’ workflows. To really make an impact, it’s important to step back and ask what could be done to make the process go smoother. Often the answer lies in automation, which is one of the ways you can connect test to digital transformation. Investments in automation can provide significant value to your organization relatively quickly. Imagine if you could track your assets—where they are, how much they’re being used, and how close they are to needing calibration. Or what if you could quickly compare test results across testers and then compare the software, settings, and equipment used to identify why you see a difference in results? Or what if you could tell if products from one station have more outliers that pass on retest that then end up failing in the field?

To effectively realize the value of test, we need to start thinking differently and investing in the right places. Not only does that enable us to build systems faster and automate the use of data, it also allows us to monitor and track performance while adapting seamlessly to unforeseen events and market changes.

Asking for an Investment in Test

Business transformation efforts rarely start with test teams, but that shouldn’t be the case. Debunking misperceptions and emphasizing test’s value is an opportunity to make a formal request for investing in tools and processes that improve efficiency, collaboration, and transparency—because the right investments enable teams to identify bottlenecks and make changes quickly. Tying test initiatives to business transformation strengthens the argument for investment, so long as you identify a problem that’s relevant to your organization’s goals.

At NI, we work across multiple industries and application areas, helping organizations identify problem areas and develop a test strategy that adds significant value. We know that test’s worth lies in your product and process performance data. We also know that when you combine that with the ability to adapt quickly, you have a world-class test team and strategy.

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