Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Wayne Lam, Jnan Dash, Larry Dragich

Related Topics: Agile Computing, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud

Agile Computing: Article

Testing Basics Might Have Averted Obamacare Health Site Fiasco

Attention to testing best practices could’ve avoided a hellish user experience and bad PR

It made headlines for all the wrong reasons when it launched on October 1, but things could have been so different for the HealthCare.gov website if only it had been tested properly before release. Users trying to enroll encountered all sorts of glitches, including very slow page updates, "page not found" errors and frequent crashes.

Early server outages were blamed on an unexpectedly high volume of traffic as nearly 5 million Americans tried to access the website on day one, but it soon emerged that serious flaws existed in the software, and the security was not properly assessed or signed off.

According to CBS, the security testing was never completed. Fox uncovered a testing bulletin from the day before the launch that revealed the site could only handle 1,100 users "before response time gets too high." The Washington Examiner revealed, via an anonymous source, that the full testing was delayed until just a few days before the launch and instead of the 4 to 6 months of testing that should have been conducted it was only tested for 4 to 6 days.

Amid the apologies, the resignations, and the frantic efforts to fix it up by the end of November, there are serious and important lessons to be learned. A proper testing plan with a realistic schedule would have prevented this catastrophe.

Start with an Estimate
It's incredibly rare for any software to be released with zero defects, but major functional bugs and inadequate security is certainly avoidable if you plan correctly. That starts with a realistic estimate of the scope of the testing that's required. The QA department must be consulted and asked to use their experience to provide a picture of how much testing is needed.

That plan will be based on documentation outlining the requirements of the software and discussion with the developers, as well as the wealth of experience that testing professionals possess. If requirements change significantly, or new requests are introduced, then the plan must be altered to cater for that. This is one major area where things obviously went awry. According to the Washington Examiner's source there were "ever-changing, conflicting and exceedingly late project directions. The actual system requirements for Oct. 1 were changing up until the week before."

This is a clear recipe for disaster.

Agile Testing
Modern software development is typically based on Agile methodology where requirements are built into the system quickly and feedback informs the project going forward. This approach does not mesh with traditional testing where testers would work out a comprehensive test plan based on detailed documentation, and then carry out that testing in a predefined block at the end of the project.

To adapt testing for modern software development it pays to get testers involved earlier in the process. They need to understand the system and really identify with the end user. It's much more cost effective to fix flaws and bugs sooner rather than later.

There's a logistical consideration as well. Each new build means a full regression test, bug fix verification, and a healthy dose of exploratory testing to make sure the new features are working as intended. It's important for the test team to scale up as the amount of work grows, and as much of the regression testing as possible should be automated to reduce the workload.

Exploratory Testing
With a fast-paced development it is absolutely vital to get experienced testers and have them perform some level of exploratory testing. This combines their knowledge about how the system should work with educated guesses about where it might fail. It's also very useful when documentation is lacking because testers can effectively design and execute tests at the same time.

Targeted exploratory testing is the perfect complement to scripted testing. It requires some creative thinking and some freedom for the tester, but it can be a great way of emulating an end user and ensuring that specific features and functions actually deliver what they're supposed to. Properly recorded by good cloud-based testing tools, the data can be used to provide clarity for developers trying to fix problems, and it can serve as the basis of scripted testing or even automated tests in the future.

Test Management
A project such as this, where disparate teams have to work together toward a common goal, can be an integration nightmare. Test management can be a real challenge, so the right tool is invaluable. The full lifecycle of every defect or requirement should be recorded to produce a clear chain from the original feature request, through the test case, to the defect, and on to repeated test cycles. It has to be clear who is responsible for each action every step of the way, so the blame game can be avoided entirely.

The ultimate aim is traceability, usability, and transparency.

If this data is gathered then it becomes easier to apply root cause analysis at a later date and discover where things went wrong. Remember that the earlier you can catch and fix the defect, the cheaper and easier it is to do. Identifying the root causes of the problems with the HealthCare.gov website requires an objective analysis of the original requirements, the documentation, the code implementation and integration, the test planning, and the test cycles. Understanding what went wrong through this process could ensure that the same mistakes are not made again in the future.

Knowing When to Pull the Trigger
Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, apologized for her part in the botched website launch, but the real problem, and her cardinal sin, was to tell Obama that the website was ready to be launched in the first place.

QA departments are not the gatekeepers for projects, business decisions are always going to trump everything else, and the pressure to deliver ensures that every project launches with defects in it, but you ignore them at your peril. If the testers had been consulted about the state of the website and the back end before launch, you can bet they would have pointed out that it wasn't ready for prime time. A one- or two-month delay would undoubtedly have been greeted with some alarm and criticism, but it would have caused far less damaging PR than releasing an unfinished and potentially insecure product.

More Stories By Vu Lam

Vu Lam is founder and CEO of QASymphony, developers of defect capture tools that track user interactions with applications. He was previously with First Consulting Group and was an early pioneer in Vietnam’s offshore IT services industry since 1995. He holds an MS degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. You may reach him at [email protected]

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
To many people, IoT is a buzzword whose value is not understood. Many people think IoT is all about wearables and home automation. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed some incredible game-changing use cases and how they are transforming industries like agriculture, manufacturing, health care, and smart cities. He will discuss cool technologies like smart dust, robotics, smart labels, and much more. Prepare to be blown away with a glimpse of the future.
"We have a tagline - "Power in the API Economy." What that means is everything that is built in applications and connected applications is done through APIs," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at Akana, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 16th Cloud Expo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits, DevOps is corr...
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Infrastructure & Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS) is a managed services provider of cloud computing solutions for the IBM Power Systems market. The company helps mid-market firms built on IBM hardware platforms to deploy new levels of reliable and cost-effective computing and high availability solutions, leveraging the cloud and the benefits of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the cloud and the best price/performance value available. ProfitBricks was named one of the coolest Clo...
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.
The basic integration architecture, as defined by ESBs, hasn’t changed for more than a decade. Most cloud integration providers still rely on an ESB architecture and their proprietary connectors. As a result, enterprise integration projects suffer from constraints of availability and reliability of these connectors that are not re-usable across other integration vendors. However, the rapid adoption of APIs and almost ubiquitous availability of APIs amongst most SaaS and Cloud applications are rapidly redefining traditional integration approaches and their reliance on proprietary connectors. ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures traffic gets delivered faster, safer, and more reliably than ever.
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context wi...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fillin...
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, discussed how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust IoT ...
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust IT industrialization – allowing customers to provide amazing user experiences with optimized IT per...