Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Zephyr is blowing

My attention has been recently drawn to a new tool named Zephyr, which dubs itself as "The Next Generation Test Management Tool".

My very first impression is that the Zephyr team has done a great job putting on-line a complete workable demonstration environment. This is great to quickly delve into what the software is really about and getting assured that "it works on my machine", which is crucial nowadays as the corporate IT landscape is much more diverse than the traditional Windows + Internet Explorer desktops environment it used to be.

As far as platforms are concerned, Zephyr seems to run "on standard Windows desktop" (sic). I reckon they meant "Windows server", though I have seen production systems on desktops! Hence, I could not test the ease of install nor investigate the technologies used. Neither could I estimate its capacities to scale or work across a WAN.

The second impression is that the graphical interface is compelling, if not mind blowing. These guys did a great job of making arid forms filling an almost bearable task. Indeed the tool is brainy enough to avoid manual data copying and is able to pre-fill or filter data according to the context of the task.

Zephyr is also smartly aware of agile principles, as the notion of Scrum's sprint is hard wired into its dashboards. And dashboards is where Zephyr really shines. I love dashboards of all sorts, even complicated ones. But Zephyr's are truly awesome:

The dashboards and workspaces are tailored to the user profile, which makes navigation easier because you do not have to filter out a lot of non-relevant features. The tool does a great job at integrating and aggregating all sorts of QA related data, including the ones coming from defect tracking systems.

And I think this is where one of the challenges Zephyr will face resides. It currently connects to Bugzilla only, but there are many others out there. Moreover, companies have developed an habit of using their defect tracking system as a management tool for QA. How is Zephyr going to convert these users to this new platform? How disruptive for the practice would it be to move from the use, say, of JIRA to using Zephyr?

The thing that really truly bugs me about this tool is that it does not go further than the traditional "QA monkey" work, in which a human beings are presented a list of actions to perform and report the results thereof. That a tool with an agile penchant does not incite people to evolve their QA practices to more automation is flabbergasting. Where is the Selenium integration? Where is the FIT connector? Though manual QA will never be fully replaced, at least supporting a blend of automated and non-automated tasks would be a great first step. What the software industry really needs is lazy QA teams who mainly use their brains to work on automating their tasks!

To finish on a positive note, Zephyr takes integration seriously. It exposes JSON and REST APIs, the assurance that if you opt for this tool, you will not end up with yet another instant legacy application. This is something I would like to see more in so-called enterprise grade applications!

If you are looking for ways to improve your QA management, I can only recommend that you get Zephyr now, as the free 3 users licenses will allow you to see what this "Next Generation Test Management Tool" can do for you.

UPDATE 31-MAY-2009: Zephyr version 2.5 now comes with test automation features that include the ZBot technology.

ZBot allows you to execute testing scripts on remote machines and aggregate all results back in Zephyr. This is a great move, which addresses my concerns about the lack of support for automation in the previous releases.