HP LoadRunner and Performance Center Blog

Autobiography of a Performance User Story

I am a performance requirement and this is my story. I just got built and accepted in the latest version of a Web-based SaaS (software as a service) application (my home!) that allows salespersons to search for businesses (about 14 million in number) and individuals (about 200 million in number) based on user-defined criteria, and then view the details of contacts from the search results. The application also allows subscribers to download the contact details for further follow-up.

I’m going to walk through my life in an agile environment—how I was conceived as an idea, grew up to become an acknowledged entity, and achieved my life’s purpose (getting nurtured in an application ever after). First a disclaimer – the steps described below do not exhaustively describe all the decisions taken around my life.

It all started about three months back. The previous version of the application was in production with about 30,000 North American subscribers. The agile team was looking to develop its newer version.

One of the strategic ideas that had been discussed quite in detail was to upgrade application’s user interface to a modern Web 2.0 implementation, using more interactive and engaging on-screen process flows and notifications. The proposed changes were primarily driven by business conditions, market trends and customer feedback. The management had a vision to capture a bigger pie of the market. The expectation was of adding 100,000 new subscribers in twelve months of release, all from North America. A big revenue opportunity! Because the changes were confined to its user interface, no one thought of potential impact on application performance. I was nowhere in the picture yet!

Due to the potential revenue impact of the user interface upgrade, the idea got moved high up in the application roadmap for immediate consideration. The idea became a user story that got moved from the application roadmap to the release backlog. Application owners, architects and other stakeholders started discussing the upgrade in more details. During one such meeting, someone asked the P-question—what about performance? How will this change impact the performance of the application? It was agreed that performance expectations of the user-interface changes should clearly be captured in the release backlog. That’s when I was conceived. I was vaguely defined as – “As an application owner of the sales leads application, I want the application to scale and perform well to as many as 150,000 users so that new and existing subscribers are able to interact with the application with no perceived delays.”

During sprint -1 (discovery phase of the release planning sprint), I was picked up for further investigation and clearer definition. Different team members investigated the implications of me as an outcome. The application owner considered application usage growth for the next 3 years and came back with a revised peak number of users (300,000). The user interface designer built a prototype of the recommended user-interface changes; focusing on the most intensive transaction of the application – when a search criterion is changed the number-of-contacts-available counter on the screen need to get updated immediately. The architect tried to isolate possible bottlenecks in the network, database server, application server and Web server, due to the addition of more chatty Web components such as AJAX, JavaScript, etc. The IT person looked at the current utilization of the hardware in the data center to identify any possible bottlenecks and came back with a recommendation to cater to the expected increased usage. The lead performance tester identified the possible scenarios for performance testing the application. At the end of sprint -1, I was re-defined as – “As an application owner of the sales lead application, I want the application to scale and perform well to as many as 300,000 simultaneous users so that when subscribers change their search criteria, an updated count of leads available is refreshed within 2 seconds on the screen.” I was defined with more specificity now. But was I realistic and achievable?

During sprint 0 (design phase of the release planning sprint), I was picked up again to see the impact I would have on the application design. IT person realized that to support revised number of simultaneous users, additional servers will need to be purchased. Since that process is going to take a longer time, his recommendation was to scale the number of expected users back to 150,000. To the short time, user interface designer decided to limit the Web 2.0 translation to the search area of the application and puts the remaining functional stories in the product backlog. The architect made recommendations to modify the way some of the Web services were being invoked and on fine tuning some of the database queries. A detailed design diagram was presented to the team leads along with compliance guidelines. The lead performance tester focused on getting the staging area ready for me. I was re-shaped to – “As an application owner of the sales lead application, I want the application and perform well to as many as 150,000 simultaneous users so that when subscribers change their search criteria, an updated count of leads available is refreshed with 2 seconds on the screen.” I was now an INVESTed agile story, where INVEST stands for independent, negotiable, valuable, estimable, right-sized and testable.

During the agile sprint planning and execution phase; developers, QA testers and performance testers were all handed over all the requirements (including mine) for the sprint. While developers started making changes to the code for the search screen, QA testers got busy with writing test cases and performance testers finalized their testing scripts and scenarios. Builds were prepared every night and incremental changes were tested as soon as new code was available for testing. Both QA testers and performance testers worked closely with the developers to ensure functionality and performance were not compromised during the sprint. Daily scrums provided the much-needed feedback to the team so that everyone knew what was working and what was not. Lot of time was spent on me to ensure my 2-second requirement does not slip to 3-seconds, as it will have a direct impact on customer satisfaction. I felt quite important, sometimes even more than my cousin story of search screen user interface upgrade! At the end of a couple of 4-week sprints, the application was completely revamped with Web 2.0 enhancements with functionally and performance fully tested – ready to be released. I was ready!

Today, I will be deployed to the production environment. No major hiccups are expected, as during the last two weeks I was beta tested by some of our chosen customers on the staging environment. The customers were happy and so were internal stakeholders with the outcome. During these two weeks, I hardened myself and got ready to perform continuously and consistently. Even though my story is ending today, my elders have told me that I will always be a role model (baseline) for future performance stories to come. I will live forever in some shape or form!

Where does Performance Testing fit in Agile SDLC?

Is agile software development lifecycle (SDLC) all about sprinting i.e. moving stories from product backlog to sprint backlog and then executing iterative cycles of development and testing? IMHO, not really! We all know that certain changes in an application can be complex, critical or have a larger impact and therefore require more planning before they are included in development iterations. Agile methodologies (particularly Scrum) accommodate for application planning and long-term complex changes to the application in a release planning sprint called Sprint 0 (zero), which primarily driven by business stakeholders, application owners, architects, UX designers, performance testers, etc.

Sprint 0 brings a bit of waterfall process in the agile processes, with two major differences – sprint 0 is shorter in duration (2-4 weeks) and the stress on documentation is not as much as in the waterfall method. In my experience, sprint 0 is more efficient when it is overlapping, so while the development team and testers are working on sprints of the current release; stakeholders, architects, application owners, business analysts, leads (development, QA, performance testing, user interface design), and other personas get together to scope, discuss and design their next release. Sprint 0 is executed like any other sprint, which has contributors (pigs) and stakeholders (chickens) and they meet daily to discuss their progress and blockages. Moreover, sprint 0 need not be as long as the development iteration.

I have seen organizations further divide sprint 0 into two sprints i.e. sprint -1 (minus one) and sprint 0. Sprint -1 is a discovery sprint, to go over user stories to be included in the release and discover potential problems/challenges in the application, processes, infrastructure, etc. The output of sprint -1 results in an updated release backlog, updated acceptance criteria for more clarity, high-level architectural designs, high-level component designs, user interface storyboards and high-level process layouts. Sprint 0 then becomes the design sprint that goes a level deeper to further update the release backlog and acceptance criteria, and delivers user interface wireframes, detailed architectural & component designs, and updated process flows.

The big question is, where does performance testing requirement fit in an agile SDLC described above? While “good” application performance is an expected outcome of any release, its foundation is really laid out during the release planning stage i.e. in sprints -1 and 0. We know that user stories that describe the performance requirements of an application can impact various decisions taken on the application vis-à-vis its design and/or on its implementation. In addition, functional user stories that can potentially affect the performance of an application are also looked at in detail during the release planning stage. Questions like these are asked and hopefully addressed – whether or not the application architecture needs to be modified to meet the performance guidelines; whether or not the IT infrastructure of the testing and production sites are to be upgraded; whether or not newer technologies such as AJAX that are being introduced in the planned release can degrade the performance of the application; whether or not user interface designs that are being applied in the planned release can degrade the performance of the application; whether or not making the application available to new geographies can impact the performance of the application; whether or not expected increase in application usage going to impact its performance; etc. At the end of the sprint -1, the team may choose to drop or modify some performance related stories or take a performance debt on the application.

Going into Sprint 0, the team will have an updated release backlog and acceptance criteria for the accepted user stories. During this sprint, the team weighs application’s performance requirements against the functional and other non-functional requirements to further update the release backlog. At the end of sprint 0, some requirements (functional and non-functional) are either dropped or modified, and detailed designs are delivered for the rest of the stories. Sprint 0 user stories then transition into the sprint planning session for sprints 1-N of the development and testing phase. Throughout these 1-N sprints, the application is tested for functionality, performance and other non-functional requirements so that at the end of every sprint, completed stories can be potentially released.

Agile methodologies also allow for a hardening sprint at the end of sprints 1-N, for an end-to-end functional, integration, security and performance testing. The hardening sprint need not be as long as development sprints (2-4 weeks) and is an optional step in an agile SDLC. This is the last stage where performance testers can catch any issues vis-à-vis performance, before the applications gets deployed to production. But we all know that performance issues found at this stage are more expensive to fix and can have bigger business implications (delayed releases, dissatisfied end-users, delayed revenue, etc.) If the planning in sprint -1 and sprint 0 and subsequent execution in sprint 1-N were done the right way, chances are that the hardening sprint is more of a final feel-good step before releasing the application.

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About the Author(s)
  • I have been working in the computer software industry since 1989. I started out in customer support then software testing where I was a very early adopter of automation, first functional test automation and them performance test automation. I worked in professional services for 8 years before returning to my roots in customer support where I have been a Technical Account Manger for HP's Premier Support department for the past 4 years. I have been using HP LoadRunner since 1998 and HP Performance Center since 2004. I also have strong technical understanding of HP Application Lifecycle Management (Quality Center) and HP SiteScope.
  • Malcolm is a functional architect, focusing on best practices and methodologies across the software development lifecycle.
  • Michael Deady is a Pr. Consultant & Solution Architect for HP Professional Service and HP's ALM Evangelist for IT Experts Community. He specializes in software development, testing, and security. He also loves science fiction movies and anything to do with Texas.
  • Mukulika is Product Manager for HP Performance Center, a core part of the HP Software Performance Validation Suite, addressing the Enterprise performance testing COE market. She has 14 years experience in IT Consulting, Software development, Architecture definition and SaaS. She is responsible for driving future strategy, roadmap, optimal solution usage and best practices and serves as primary liaison for customers and the worldwide field community.
  • HP IT Distinguished Technologist. Tooling HP's R&D and IT for product development processes and tools.
  • Rick Barron is a Program Manager for various aspects of the PM team and HPSW UX/UI team; and working on UX projects associated with HP.com. He has worked in high tech for 20+ years working in roles involving web design, usability studies, and mobile marketing. Rick has held roles at Motorola Mobility, Symantec and Sun Microsystems.
  • WW Sr Product Marketing Manager for HP ITPS VP of Apps & HP Load Runner
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