The role of ‘internal’ testing in agile project delivery

In our previous blog post we outlined how the Accessing Adult Social Care project had moved from Alpha into Beta.

In this blog we will hear from the team (Lee, Marianne and Maurice) at Neath Port Talbot Council involved in building and testing the product – a text messaging service set up to help residents track their application for support from Adult Social Services.

Moving from Alpha to Beta was a key milestone for us as it meant we were taking our prototype and turning it into a real-life working product.

While the team were busy testing the new screens with service users, we were busy building and testing internally to ensure that the data was moving from our on-premises database to our cloud database and web app, then onto the texting solution. We then went live on the 1st September.

The three of us each brought a different skill set to the process:

Marianne Matthews is an IT business analyst and her role in this project is to identify and input data from the Social Services Information system.

Lee Hanford is an IT business analyst and programmer and has been building the link to connect this information to the text messaging system. He has also advised on the use of gov.notify (the text messaging service).

Maurice Griffin, also an IT business analyst, has been shadowing the software developer, Matthew, and learning more about the technology he is using to build the system behind the text messaging service.

Different approaches

We were brought into the project a few months in and quickly had to adapt to the ‘agile’ way of thinking and working. This meant doing work in short sharp collaborative bursts; testing, adjusting and testing again. We’ve had to test in several phases:

Testing within our organisation

Marianne has provided a feed of the data that has then been used for testing the solution Lee built. i.e., that data was being transferred successfully from our own Social Services Database to the Cloud Database, and in turn to our Web App. A synchronisation process was set up to run every minute, bringing new data into the cloud database. This then automatically linked to the secure Web App. We tested this using an API (Application programming interface) testing tool and fine-tuned until the results were as expected. This included making sure the data we sent over, matched the same format as our delivery partner.

Basic testing with Social Finance

Basic testing was then carried out with the delivery partner, Social Finance, to pick up this data and send text messages to their own staff. We set them up with limited access to our Gov.Notify account to create the text message templates and had to test it internally first before it was rolled out to identified residents, this process picked up minor issues which were quickly resolved such as dates being in the wrong format.

Advanced testing with Social Finance

Finally, we carried out advanced testing which involved using the system to test different scenarios by creating scripts with expected outcomes for the end-user. These included, if the person making the referral has asked for Welsh messages, that the Welsh text templates are used. This is a technique we hadn’t previously used in other projects and something we’re going to use in the future. From this process, we’ve learnt to think about how the end-user would interact with the service as we are developing a solution.

Key learnings

Working with our delivery partner has been a really positive experience. Seeing how others run projects and their approach to testing is something we can feed into future work.

We have also learnt a great deal about an alternative technology stack (set of applications) to our current solutions, and how tools such as Github can be of huge benefit when creating and maintaining our software.

The main challenge has been learning new cloud-based technology. This is something we hadn’t previously explored and is something we want to use outside of this project. Cloud based systems allow us to be more efficient and will further streamline our internal processes which will be essential in the future.

Learning a new language

We were aware of the agile method of project planning previously but hadn’t experienced it first-hand. We’ve been more accustomed to the ‘waterfall’ method which involves developing something in a linear sequence – basically making a plan and sticking to it. The agile method allows us to be more flexible and iterative.

As well as a new way of working we’ve learned how to ‘speak agile’! We attended show and tells, scrums and ceremonies without fully knowing what they were. It was a struggle to sometimes fit all these meetings in, again this was part of adapting to the new way of working.

What’s next?

The next steps for NPT will be iterating the text service based on learnings from the research we’ve undertaken with residents that are signed up to use the service.

For the wider project, we will be focusing on setting up to be able to test the text service in multiple authorities so that we can learn whether the text service could be used across Wales; potentially offering greater benefits to more residents and teams outside of Neath Port Talbot Council.

Blog post by:

Lee Hanford – IT Business Analyst (Neath Port Talbot Council)

Marianne Matthews – IT Business Analyst (Neath Port Talbot Council)

Maurice Griffin – IT Business Analyst (Neath Port Talbot Council)

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