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Optimize Testing

Integrate testing into the design process, early and often, to continuously verify design decisions.

Integrate testing into the design process, early and often, to continuously verify design decisions.

By Barbara G. Goode

GoodeMy sister watched as our friend Bob, an experienced electrician, installed a ceiling fan in the mudroom at our dad’s house. “BLEEP poor design on the fan,” she texted me. “It took him forever to install.”

When it came time to buy another ceiling fixture—this time a heat lamp—I decided to search online. I found a promising one and looked at the reviews. According to one buyer, though, the unit allowed insufficient space between the heat plate and the cap. That flaw caused a lack of airflow, which triggered the unit to overheat just after a few minutes of operation.

Others complained that the installation process was needlessly difficult: One said the design made it hard to get screws into the holes because the fan blades were in the way. Another added some ideas about how the manufacturer might solve the problem. Too bad the company didn’t get their input in time to adjust their design.

Continuous Testing

This experience exemplifies the importance of integrating testing into the design process. The feedback indicates testing would have produced helpful insight at least two points: during operation assessment and installation review.

Writing for the Project Management Tips blog (, Brad Egeland asserts that any project without sufficient allocation of testing throughout is doomed. He says that testing must happen continuously, both formally and informally—as part of development, in the phase designated for testing, and both before and after deployment.

Approaching test this way may be very different from the way we are accustomed to thinking about it: Testing is critical and must be integral to design—not the last step before deployment that is afforded whatever time happens to be left.

While Egeland’s blog is written with IT projects in mind, the principles apply to product design. You can see what I mean by considering his recap of the importance of testing from Jason Charvat’s book, Project Management Nation. He writes that with a poorly tested solution, support and maintenance costs will escalate, and reliability will suffer. He also notes that while testers sometimes try to destroy a solution during the test phase, tests are better conducted under realistic conditions. He recommends deciding which tests are necessary and at what points, and advises setting sensible ground rules for testing, such as:

  • Use real data and real operators.
  • Test as developers build so errors can be corrected quickly.
  • Involve people who understand design and user specifications.
  • Determine what the test includes—and what it does not.
  • Involve users who know how the system will be used.
  • Test to see that interfacing the new solution to the current
    infrastructure has no unexpected consequences.
  • Schedule time for repetition of unsatisfactory test results.

This is not a comprehensive recipe for success of course; you know the scope and particulars of your project and how these ideas might apply. But it may be a useful springboard, as will the many tools now available to help you integrate test effectively, collaboratively, and efficiently.

Changing Mindset

In a presentation delivered at Automotive Testing Expo North America 2012, Brad McCully, general manager Product Testing Services for Advanced Technology Services Inc. reviewed the top challenges in product testing. He concluded by noting that testing professionals are starting to think differently about how work gets done. “It’s time to start changing to a more productive environment in order to compete in the new marketplace,” he said.

It’s time to think about what adjustments to your environment would enable streamlining of testing—so that your products, systems, or services can compete for ever more educated and discerning customers. As for me, although the fixture I found online had all the right specs, I’ve decided to go for one that will elicit less cursing from Bob.


More on Optimization

Barbara G. Goode served as editor-in-chief for Sensors magazine for nine years, and currently holds the same position at BioOptics World, which covers optics and photonics for life science applications. Contact her via [email protected].

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