Delta Air Lines improves customer self-service apps quickly using automated quality assurance tools

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Read a full transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Welcome to a special BriefingsDirect podcast series, coming to you from the HP Software Universe 2010 Conference in Washington, D.C. We're here the week of June 14, 2010, to explore some major enterprise software and solutions trends and innovations making news across HP’s ecosystem of customers, partners, and developers.

Our next customer case study focuses on Delta Air Lines and the use of quality assurance tools for requirements management as well as mapping the test cases and moving into full production quickly.

We're joined by David Moses, Manager of Quality Assurance for Delta.com and its self-service apps efforts, and John Bell, a Senior Test Engineer at Delta. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Moses: Generally, the airline industry, along with the lot of other industries I'm sure, is highly competitive. We have a very, very quick, fast-to-market type environment, where we've got to get products out to our customers. We have a lot of innovation that's being worked on in the industry and a lot of competing channels outside the airline industry that would also like to get at the same customer set. So, it's very important to be able to deliver the best products you can as quickly as possible. "Speed Wins" is our motto.

It goes back to speed to market with new functionality and making the customer's experience better. In all of our self-service products, it's very important that we test from the customers’ point of view.

We deliver those products that make it easier for them to use our services. That's one of the things that always sticks in my mind, when I'm at an airport, and I'm watching people use the kiosk. That's one of the things we do. We bring our people out to the airports and we watch our customers use our products, so we get that inside view of what's going on with them.

A lot on the line

I'll see people hesitantly reaching out to hit a button. Their hand may be shaking. It could be an elderly person. It could be a person with a lot on the line. Say it’s somebody taking their family on vacation. It's the only vacation they can afford to go on, and they’ve got a lot of investment into that flight to get there and also to get back home. Really there's a lot on the line for them.

A lot of people don’t know a lot about the airline industry and they don’t realize that it's okay if they hit the wrong button. It's really easy to start over. But, sometimes they would be literally shaking, when they reach out to hit the button. We want to make sure that they have a good comfort level. We want to make sure they have the best experience they could possibly have. And, the faster we can deliver products to them, that make that experience real for them, the better.

By offering these types of products to the customers, you give them the best of both worlds. You give them a fast pass to check in. You give them a fast pass book. But, you can also give the less-experienced customer an easy-to-understand path to do what they need as well.

Bell: One thing that we've found to be very beneficial with HP Quality Center is that it shows the development organization that this just isn't a QA tool that a QA team uses. What we've been able to do by bringing the requirements piece into it and by bringing the defects and other parts of it together, is bring the whole team on board to using a common tool.

In the past, a lot of people have always thought of Quality Centers as a tool that the QA people use in the corner and nobody else needs to be aware of. Now, we have our business analysts, project managers, and developers, as well as the QA team and even managers on it, because each person can get a different view of different information.

From Dashboard, your managers can look at your trends and what type of overall development lifecycle is coming through. Your project managers can be very involved in pulling the number of defects and see which ones are still outstanding and what the criticality of that is. The developers can be involved via entering information in on defects when those issues have been resolved?

We've found that Quality Center is actually a tool that has drawn together all of the teams. They're all using a common interface, and they all start to recognize the importance of tying all of this together, so that everyone can get a view as to what's going on throughout the whole lifecycle.

Moses: We've realized the importance of automating, and we've realized the importance of having multiple groups using the same tool.

It's not just a tool. There are people there too. There are processes. There are concepts you're going to have to get in your head to get this to work, but you have to be willing to buy-in by having the people resources dedicated to building the test scripts. Then, you're not done. You've got to maintain them. That's where most people fall short and that's where we fell short for quite some time.

Once we were able to finally dedicate the people to the maintenance of these scripts to keep them active and running, that's where we got a win. If you look at a web site these days, it's following one of two models. You either have a release schedule, that’s a more static site, or you have a highly dynamic site that's always changing and always throwing out improvements.

We fit into that "Speed Wins," when we get the product out for the customers’ trading, and improve the experience as often as possible. So, we’re a highly dynamic site. We'll break up to 20 percent of all of our test scripts, all of our automated test scripts, every week. That's a lot of maintenance, even though we're using a lot of reusable code. You have to have those resources dedicated to keep that going.

Bell: One thing that we've been able to do with HP Quality Center is connect it with Quick Test Pro, and we do have Quality Center 10, as well as Quick Test Pro 10. We've been able to build our automation and store those in the Test Plan tab of Quality Center.

It's very nice that Quality Center has it all tied into one unit. So, as we go through our processes, we're able to go from tab to tab and we know that all of that information is interconnected. We can ultimately trace a defect back to a specific cycle or a specific test case, all the way back to our requirement. So, the tool is very helpful in keeping all of the information in one area, while still maintaining the consistent process.

This has really been beneficial for us, when we go into our test labs and build our test set. We're able to take all of these automated pieces and combine them into test set. What this has allowed us to do is run all of our automation as one test set. We've been able to run those on a remote box. It's taken our regression test time from one person for five days, down to zero people and approximately an hour and 45 minutes.

So, that's a unique way that we've used Quality Center to help manage that and to reduce our testing times by over 50 percent.

I look back to metrics we pulled for 2008. We were doing fewer than 70 projects. By 2009, after we had fully integrated Quality Center, we did over 129 projects. That also included a lot of extra work, which you may have heard about us doing related to a merger.

Moses: The one thing I really like about the HP Quality Center suite especially is that your entire software development cycle can live within that tool. Whenever you're using different tools to do different things, it becomes a little bit more difficult to get the data from one point to another. It becomes a little bit more difficult to pull reports and figure out where you can improve.

Data in one place

What you really want to do is get all your data in one place and Quality Center allows you to do that. We put our requirements in in the beginning. By having those in the system, we can then map to those with our test cases, after we build those in the testing phase.

Not only do we have the QA engineers working on it in Quality Center, we also have the business analysts working on it, whenever they're doing the requirements. That also helps the two groups work together a bit more closely.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Read a full transcript. Sponsor: HP.

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About the Author
Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, an enterprise IT analysis, market research, and consulting firm. Ga...
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