In Assembling Test Teams, Consider the Importance of Business SMEs

The Impoortance of Business SMEs

by Grant Colgan, Sr. Consultant

While reflecting on prior technology testing engagements, I recognized a trend that has steered me away from employing typical staffing approaches. In sum, test teams achieve greater success when they include both testing professionals and business SMEs in lieu of an entire team of testing professionals skilled with specific application testing experience. On multiple occasions, I discovered it was easier to train green testers (users with no formal testing background) on how to test than it was to get experienced testers (users with specific software or application testing experience) ramped up on all the business process intricacies with the goal of retaining key information.
I would not go so far as proposing the approach to be adopted for all test team resourcing initiatives.  There are multiple facets to consider when selecting a team, and one of the key contributing factors is scope.  If the scope of testing does not involve extensive business processes, then staffing a team solely with test professionals (proficient with whichever software or application is under scrutiny) typically works well.  When the scope of testing extends into complex business processes and / or unique company business rules, then supplementing a few business SMEs in place of test professionals positions the team for greater success.
For new and inexperienced testers (usually drawn from the business for their subject matter expertise) it definitely takes reasonable coaching to enable their professional development. But their business knowledge will prove invaluable throughout test planning, test execution, and defect management efforts.  Having business SMEs on the test team promotes sharing of knowledge while building the team’s confidence regarding depth and breadth of test coverage.  New testers can also serve as a breath of fresh air for a team.  Their inquisitiveness about how and why things are done prompts the team to revisit established processes which often reveals improvement opportunities, enhanced tactics, and discontinuation of inefficiencies.