Tuesday Sep 17, 2013

Functional Testing Business Processes In Oracle BPM Suite 11g by Arun Pareek

Over the last couple of projects, I have been trying to establish a set of methodologies around initiation, development, deployment and management of business processes using Oracle BPM Suite 11g. In a series of posts, I will be taking about a lot of problem areas that can be effectively tackled in order to deliver a highly successful BPM project using this technology.

The areas I intend to cover are around design and modelling best practices, team development, delivery methodologies, testing, troubleshooting, automation, performance tuning and operational management to name a few. However in terms of priority and the nature of pain experienced in each of these aforementioned areas, I am of the opinion that a great chunk is attributed to testing and maintaining code quality. Business processes are in constant need to be truly dynamic more than ever so that planned as well as ad-hoc changes can be promoted seamlessly. Also with Oracle BPM Suite 11g promising greater involvement of business users in terms of making deployable changes to the processes, ensuring that functionality and quality of the build/changes is maintained is very crucial. In the previous blog post, I had elaborated on unit testing strategies for business processes and methods of achieving them from the Oracle BPM Suite 11g studio. Proper unit testing is important in terms of validating that the core logical outcomes of a business processes are executed as expected. This ensures that all sequence flows and paths in a business process are tested and conformant. The post can be accessed here.

However, apart from testing the basic process paths a lot of other things demand testing too. Business processes can populate data in downstream systems, integrate with services, create events, send notifications, assign workflow tasks which may have their own lifecycle, etc. From a quality perspective all of these steps must be verified too. The overall functionality of the business processes must be thoroughly tested to determine their reliability before being deployed to the actual IT infrastructures. Organizations do invest in quality measures to evaluate features of business processes by employing a comprehensive testing strategy, involving analysts, developers, functional testers and business users. However they begin to invest in test automation very late in the project lifecycle. This poses a significant threat and concern, particularly when the business processes are continuously changing and evolving. An increasing pace of business process changes as well as applications growing more complex means that many functional testing teams are reaching the breaking point. Change management becomes difficult as there is always a risk of introducing new bugs down the way. As much as we all would like to have agility, the process is defeated by having improper developer operations.

Having a regression functional testing suite very early in BPM project development cycle is, by my opinion a must have thing for any successful and timely implementation. More often than not, it is not the choice of technology that is responsible for this but rather the lack of some important know-how’s.

Typical Problem Areas and how Automating Functional Testing can help

In my interactions with different project teams, here are some typical questions they have, especially with respect to testing business processes in Oracle BPM Suite 11g.

  • Is it possible to really approach functional testing early in the project cycle considering the nature of composite applications involved (business processes, services, rules, etc.).
  • Human tasks components in business processes need to have user interfaces (which may have their own development lifecycle). How can functional testing be achieved before a fully operational UI?
  • Are their any developer tools, approaches or frameworks that can be utilized to automate functional testing?
  • What kind of a functional testing strategy is suitable, cost efficient and good to contain a wide variety of problems in the project lifecycle?

If we begin to investigate the possibilities, they may be endless. I, am particularly aware of many custom products which promises to take care of all of these. However hey tend to be expensive, have a steep learning curve and may not always fit the bill. This act as a big deterrent. However, in this article, I am keen on presenting an approach that is quick, easy, developer friendly and can be easily catered in the development phase of the project. The best way to begin with functional testing is to base it on the business process design. Model driven functional testing ensures that critical processes and their paths are covered and that any variation of those tests can easily be amended and rerun without adding to significant time to the test cycle. Functional testing can start earlier and better quality tests are produced and maintained in a test repository. This can then be part of the continuous build and integration iterations to ensure sufficient test coverage in accelerated delivery cycles. A part of model driven testing strategy was described in details with respect to ascertaining the cyclomatic complexity factor of the business processes and deriving test cases based on that. This approach is a very good starting point, especially because this can be used to build unit tests too. Once the basic process paths are determined, the functional test suites can incorporate a lot of test steps to cover the functional aspects such as validate business logic and rules, verify data across systems, check events and notifications, etc..

With all this being said, however, automation of functional testing will only be successful if an organization’s underlying quality fundamentals are solid and everyone clearly understands how testing can continuously support process iterations. Another big advantage to automate early is potential time savings. Considering that multiple stakeholders will need to repeat their testing task, every time something changes, doing them manually becomes a burden sooner or later. Have a look at the sheet I’ve compiled based on various time and frequency of performing functional tests and the effort involved in each case.

The columns marked in green in the above sheet reflects the most likely scenarios in terms of the amount of time spent on testing in various Oracle BPM Suite 11g projects. The effort involved in manual testing can range from 20 days to 4 months for a very simple and less frequently changing business process to a complex and often changing business process. This effort does not accounts for test planning but simply reflect the time spent in test execution. The columns in red represents scenarios that can be applicable for certain project types too and in those cases the amount of time spent in manual testing can be even 8 months. This offcourse is under the assumption that all quality standards of software functional testing are maintained.

Approach and Tooling
As indicated before, there are many players in this field providing varied approaches and option. This article will not debate their merits here. In the course of my involvement with BPM projects, I seems to incline towards SOAPUI. This is particularly due to the fact that it is pretty inexpensive (there is also a freeware if ~$350 license cost seems significant) and does most of the basic functional testing that can be considered acceptable from a quality perspective. It is fairly straight forward too and the learning curve is minimal. Chances are also high that in most projects there will be developers with considerable amount of experience using SOAPUI, if they have been involved in a SOA project in the past.

Having said that, this article will talk about how to plan and implement a comprehensive and automated functional testing suite for business processes developed using Oracle BPM Suite 11g. Read the full article here.

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