Software Testers can Benefit from Flowcharts

“If you don’t like testing your product, most likely your customers will not like to test it either” – Testing Whiz

Flowcharts are a commonly used tool in many industries and across businesses, but the software testing industry is still trying to ascertain their use and benefits for testers. We hope to bring some clarity on how software testers can benefit from flowcharts, and whether this tool can be part of tech case design techniques. Research indicates that companies seeking to significantly improve their testing methods and strategies and enhance cohesion and collaboration between IT and business can immensely benefit from flowcharts.

Experts working within the realm of test case design methodologies believe that flowcharts are amongst the most effective method to obtaining and maintaining the fewest test cases required for affording maximized coverage. Those who would classify as non-technical staff / users often find it hard to express their requirements – they too can benefit from flowcharts as the tool helps them to map their requirements in a clear and unambiguous manner. Despite being a simple tool, the benefit from flowcharts is that they can contain every qualitative and quantitative information that other formalized tools / approaches support. Users enjoy the many benefits of flowcharts as a technical tool, without needing technical skills or in-depth knowledge of the systems / technologies.

Another benefit from flowcharts is that they can automatically generate test cases from the information contained. Additionally, by mapping requirements through a flowchart, it is possible to include / integrate the cause and effect model. This effectively means that causes, limitations, and outcomes can be defined, presenting verifiability, in order to generate complexity metrics. Presenting requests and maintaining becomes easier as the degree of verifiability increases, and any obsolete, repetitive, or invalid tests would be easily highlighted and automatically deleted, when there is a change in requirements.

As mentioned above, since non-technical users are able to benefit from flowcharts clearly mapping their requirements, the divide between IT and others can be greatly reduced, thereby fostering mutual respect and collaboration. The fact is formalized test case design methods are usually not accessible to other parts of a business (except IT), and even if they were, they would be tough to practically implement. In an increasingly competitive world, it makes sense to simplify processes for all – and using a simple yet effective tool such as a flowchart greatly enhances the purpose of simplification.

Software testers use the pairwise method – “in computer science, all-pairs testing or pairwise testing is a combinatorial method of software testing that, for each pair of input parameters to a system (typically, a software algorithm), tests all possible discrete combinations of those parameters (WIKIPEDIA)”- given their expertise, skill, and knowledge of the possible limitations and results.  However, not all users would have such knowledge and hence comprehensive testing using the pairwise method would not be a possibility. This lack of expertise can increase the gap between the business and IT, as users would be unable to provide design time coverage metrics or map their actual requirements. Non-IT personnel would find it tough to provide accurate estimates to the business on a project in terms of how long it would take to complete and what the actual costs would be. Communicating the value of and the number of resources required for a project would be a herculean task, and there would be times when projects are rejected for these reasons.

The benefit from flowcharts of the cause and effect model is that the various parameters can be easily defined, and test cases created from the model / diagram. The model is automatically generated from the requirement inputs, therefore ensuring verifiability and traceability. However, this approach too requires some discipline and a consistent approach to gather requirements, and a popular language is used with clarity.

Flowcharts have several benefits, as they are a lot more flexible and responsive with regard to collaboration with non-IT users. Software testers face several challenges, and one of prime grievances is that writing test scripts and cases are hugely time consuming. In addition, a lot of rework is required when there are changes in the specifications within the agile development environment. Test cases are however, the core KPIs and cannot be avoided. In the hurry to develop test cases, project managers often allow testers to skip proper test documentation and rather proceed with random testing – minimized testing efforts and lack of structured documentation leads to serious production issues. Just as a program cannot be without source code, so also test cases are critical to the success of products. Testers can benefit from flowcharts as the tool allows for visualization of processes, and can also prove to be critical portions of test documentation as they would cut down on the amount of text and pages written to capture all the information with regard to a test.

Similar to flowcharts, are test flow diagrams that use graphs to describe test cases. This is extremely beneficial for testers as these diagrams replace the intense description of the massive set of test cases. Experts recommend that flowcharts and test flow diagrams be used increasingly in software testing. By representing a set of features in a graph, it becomes easier to utilize path coverage practices in order to put together structured test cases. Such test cases would have a higher degree of specifications and would be better at identifying gaps and errors. This method promotes comprehensiveness and modularity, allowing flexibility and variety in usage. The graphical / pictorial essence of flowcharts and test flow diagrams affords developers and testers, the ability to effortlessly review, analyze, and provide their feedback on test designs.

Given that testers can benefit from flowcharts, it seems rather counter-intuitive that this tool has not found more widespread use and favor with this section of professionals. A flowchart can represent the behavior and flow of software, and can be interconnected by defining business requirements and specifications, along with positive, negative, and extraordinary test scenarios. The events, actions, states, stages, and possible behavior of the software program would be comprised in the elements. There would be start and end points in this type of flowchart too – similar to a basic flowchart. The model would help testers to view the behavior of the object within the application from their own perspective, making their job of testing for various functionalities and performance related aspects. As interpretation becomes simpler, the understanding of the flow and behavior of the system becomes clearer, as does designing a more structured and robust set of test conditions in all possible scenarios. In addition, testers are better able to assess and visualize myriad coverage measures and methods of reporting.

The exposition clearly highlights that software testers can realistically and consistently benefit from flowcharts. The clarity afforded by this tool, enables business heads and leadership to gain a better understanding of the required scope of testing and resources required, making the process of approval faster and simpler. Flowcharts are obviously one of the best tools for illustrating and presenting even the most complex of processes, and additionally are a great tool for putting together easily comprehensible documentation. It seems reasonable from a business perspective and for software testing companies to incorporate the flowchart in their best practices.

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