Chris Murman, a colleague of mine, wrote this blog post on whether “we are doing agile right”. One thing that caught my attention was the discussion of “quick wins” and whether they are helping or hurting. As usual, something in an unrelated topic made me think about automation.

First, what’s a “quick win”? To me, an automation “quick win” is addressing a testing-related technology need with criteria similar to these:

  • in a relatively short time frame
  • with a disproportionately small effort as compared to value
  • with a medium to large amount of visibility

A couple of quick win examples I’ve seen in my career:

  • fixing an existing problem with an automation tool or suite of scripts
  • creating a disposable tool or script that frees testers from a high effort activity

Sounds like good stuff, but there is a danger of addressing “too many” quick wins at the expense of the larger task at hand, whatever that may be. Quick win activities are typically tactical in nature. We only have so much effort to expend on our given activities so if we focus only on the tactical activities, we run the risk of starving the strategic initiative. Frequently, quick wins are wins that buy us time but are not necessarily part of the longer term solution; notice the 2nd quick win example above.

As usual, the key to success here is balancing our efforts by focusing on value. Quick wins will have value, especially taking into account the definition above. When making value assessments, we must take care to keep an eye on the value of the strategic, long term initiative. These initiatives have a broader impact than the quick wins because they are influenced by a broader set of business values. These multiple values can change independently; if we don’t keep an eye on the current business value of any initiative, we will be making value-based decisions with old information.

Care must be taken because quick wins can be addictive; by their very nature they provide value very quickly so they can easily obscure our longer term value propositions. Focusing on quick wins is not necessarily bad, but care must be taken to ensure that delaying a more strategic initiative is still the right value decision.

There is, however, one oft-overlooked aspect of quick wins that can change the value proposition. When starting a new automation initiative, some organizations may have a lot of skepticism regarding automation. In initiatives like this, “a few” quick wins can build a good impression and foster patience with the skeptics; the will see get some noticeable and should have increased trust with the automation team/developer.