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Review: Testtrack Pro 6.1

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Review

Review: Testtrack Pro 6.1

by Sean Whelan

Defect tracking for distributed development teams

Overview

Testtrack Pro 6.1 is a defect tracking solution for software development and quality assurance teams that offers user-customizable fields, a workflow audit trail, powerful data analysis, and on-demand reporting. It is built to scale up for large teams who collaborate on projects across multiple locations and time zones. TestTrack Pro is a client/server application with client access from Web browsers and server support for OS X, Solaris, Linux, and Windows. In addition to Web browser access, there is a Windows client application. The system offers customizable workflow actions, automated E-mail notifications, import / export utilities and a SOAP SDK for simplifying integration to other applications.

Rather than just a defect tracking solution, Testtrack is aimed at filling the role of a software development life cycle Workflow Management Module. The combination of automated notifications, Source Code Control integration, and integration to other customer-facing Seapine modules (Solobug and SoloSubmit) that capture end-user reported software issues add up to a tool that can be used by all teams involved with a software release from the Subject Matter Expert and the Project Manager to the Support, Development, and Quality Assurance Teams. User security is set by Usergroup to control the granting of user rights and user access down to the individual field and command level.

We originally implemented Testtrack in the late 1990's in its earlier form, Testtrack for Workgroups. We have developers and QA staff who work both on Mac and PC machines, depending on which product line they are supporting. At the time, Testtrack was one of the few commercial defect tracking solutions that offered full clients for both Mac and Windows. With the release of Testtrack Pro in 2000, Mac users were only able to access the server through the Web client. The earliest versions of the web client were not full featured and caused some distress for our Mac teams. Over the last four years, Seapine has enhanced the Web client to the level that it has become the preferred method of access for many of our engineers, regardless of platform. Seapine currently has no plans to re-introduce a Mac-specific client, but will continue to serve all platforms with the web client.

Installation

OS X installation is straightforward and fairly simple. A disk image file is automatically extracted from a .gz archive and mounted on the desktop. The mounted disk image contains a typical installer and a .PDF file. The installer prompts for Admin credentials and then offers the user two paths for proceeding, an "Easy Install" and a "Custom Install." The easy install will load all Testtrack components automatically including the License Server, License Server Admin Utility, Application Server, Web Server Admin Utility, Sample Database, and the stand-alone customer issue reporting tool, SoloBug. The Custom Install allows the user the freedom to specify which components are to be installed, what server ports are to be used for communication, and other configuration details that are set up as default values in the Easy Install.

Simple configuration of the server must be done to enable the Web and License Servers. The user must go into the System Preferences and set both applications to automatically start upon machine startup. Admin User and License information will need to be keyed in to the License Server Admin Utility before logging in to the sample database or creating a database for your project.

Seapine sells its licenses per user seat and offers the choice between named licenses, and "floating" licenses which correspond to concurrent user access to the server. Prices per user start at $295 per named user and $795 per concurrent user.


Figure 1. License Server Admin

Customizable Workflow

One of the key features of Testtack Pro 6.1, is that it allows Administrators to fully customize the product to fit the workflow needs of the development, support, and quality assurance groups who are using it. Administrators can customize field names, contents of pop-up field entries, field relationships, workflow stages, and the default values of fields. Customization includes specifying whether or not a given field is required for record entry, auto-assigment rules, e-mail templates, as well as record filters and reports. Testtrack allows the user to capture additional information beyond the standard defect tracking fields through the creation of unlimited custom fields. Two Custom fields can be added to the main screen, while additional fields are added to the Custom Fields tab. Custom fields are not restricted to text values, but can be added with any of the standard field types, including: date, integer, text entry, and pop-up menu with customizable entry values.

Customization is achieved by selecting options from stripped-down, easy-to-use configuration screens. The customization is so simple that you could have junior level support staff customize your database (not that you would want to, but, it is that simple.) Another advantage offered by Testtrack Pro as compared to some other defect tracking systems, is that it is not necessary to take the server offline while adding and editing custom fields or field values. This work can be done while users are logged in, which can cut down on the time spent doing Admin tasks after-hours and minimize on the need for planned service outages to make updates. The only customization tasks that require a lock-out of all users are deletes of fields or record entries, as they may be in use at the time of the deletion.


Figure 2. Adding Custom Fields

Working With Testtrack Pro

The web server is typically hosted as part of your intranet, and users in your domain can reach the service from a URL that you configure in the System Preferences of your server, such as http://testtrack.mycompanyname.com.

Upon Login, the user sees a relatively clean home screen that offers navigation links across the top to screens for Defects, Workbook, Customers, Users, Security Groups, Test Configurations, Filters, and Reports. Along the left side are links for actions that can be taken on whatever record or list of records are displayed in the main screen, such as Assign, Fix, Verify, and Close. The user only sees actions and links to which he/she has security rights. A developer user may be set up with the right to Fix defects, but not to Verify them, a QA engineer might have rights to Verify defects, but not to Estimate a Fix.


Figure 3. Main Defects Screen

Defect Entry is straightforward. The combination of industry standard fields such as Summary, Description, Severity, and Steps to Reproduce can be augmented with the addition of whatever custom fields your workflow desires. New to the 6.0 version is the ability to customize the workflow steps that a defect goes through during its life cycle. In the past, Testtrack Pro limited records to the main states of Open, Fixed, and Closed, with subsets for review status and staff assignment. Now system administrators can enhance the workflow to include whatever additional steps might be necessary, such as Waiting For Build, or Pending Management Review.


Figure 4. Defect Entry Screen

The displayed columns and sort order on list screens for each user are adjustable. The last settings saved are kept on the server, so that the user can see a consistent view when logging in from different machines or with different browsers. Users and Administrators are able to create filters to slice and dice the defect list any which way to include or exclude records based on attributes of any of the fields. Filters in use on a typical project would include: My assigned items, All Open Defects, High Priority Items, Items found in last day, and any other number of other combinations based on Status, Date, Product Line or other defect information.

The defect database can be queried with a quick search on summary and description fields or a complicated search using an advanced query builder. The query builder walks the user through selecting search criteria. Useful queries can be saved and turned into filters for later use by the individual, or to be shared with a group.

Server performance remains good across the WAN for groups working remotely from the server, and we have not experienced a performance drag despite having tens of thousands of entries in some databases that serve multiple product teams. The administrator has the choice of combining projects in one database or creating separate databases for each project. New databases can be built using previously customized projects as templates.

There is an import utility to move data from other systems into a new Testtrack Pro database. Comma and Tab Delimited text files can be imported directly. The import interface allows for the mapping of import columns to the destination columns in the program. The mappings can be preserved in an import template for future imports of text files from the same source application. There is a specified XML record format that allows for direct import and export of data from other Tesstrack databases.

Editing a defect record places a lock on the record making it unable to be edited by other users. Locked out users can retrieve information to identify who has the record locked to avoid bottlenecks that may occur when a record is unintentionally left in edit mode. User sessions have an idle session timeout that is configured under the Server Options Section of the Server Admin tool.


Figure 5. Server Admin Screen

Automated Notifications

One useful feature of Testtrack Pro 6.1 is its automated E-mail notification system. During set-up the project administrator can identify the workflow actions that cause e-mail notification, and to whom. Notifications can be sent using Testtrack Pro's internal notification system or using SMTP or MAPI e-mail. The e-mail notification templates can be customized to contain pre-defined text as well as values from the defect record. Project managers may choose to receive notification for every new defect entered for their projects, while individual developers may only want notification when a task is assigned to them. Additional users can be added to the notification for a record for situations when a high priority issue comes to the attention of those higher up in the food chain who would normally not be included at that level.

Get at the information

Basic On-Demand reports are included with the Testtrack Pro installation. Reports can be customized using the report configuration menu, and they are formatted using included XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language) files, which can be edited in the program itself, or replaced with your own XSL files. Three report types can be created by the user: detail, list, and trend reports. The trend reports are supposed to show actions plotted over time, such as defect rates reported during a specific period, but we have never found them to be much use, largely due it not being clear what criteria used in adding up the trend counts. The list reports are easy to set up and customize and are essential for defect review meetings and release planning. The same report generation engine is engaged to automatically build release notes based on a release level. Like the main reports, release notes are fully customizable as to their content and format.

Push defect entry out to the clients

Seapine allows teams to extend the reach of the defect database out to their clients. Testtrack comes with a standalone defect entry application called Solobug that is extremely lightweight and can be sent out to customers, or anyone who is not connected to the server's network, but whose feedback on software issues is valued. Solobug runs on OS X, Palm OS, and Windows, and is customizable as to the fields it contains, the values for those fields, and which fields are required for submission. A Solobug user saves the output file from Solobug after defect entry and e-mails it to a designated address so that it can be reviewed and imported into Testtrack if desired. The customization of Solobug includes provision for entering end-user instructions and directions on where to submit the Solobug output.

Solosubmit is an add-on to Testtrack Pro 6.1 that allows customers to enter defects and feature requests into the Testtrack database through a web page. As with Solobug and Testrack, the fields, field names, field validation, and other items are easily customizable. Testtrack's workflow can be configured to segregate items entered through Solobug and Solosubmit, so that they are not entered into the development workflow until they have been reviewed internally. The intention of these tools is to lower support costs by allowing customers to enter items directly into your issue tracking system without having to telephone a support person and without having to re-key the information from an e-mail.

Testtrack SDK with SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)

If the team's workflow requires integration to a third party CRM tool (such as Siebel or SAP) or other in-house project management or customer service system, the Testtrack SDK allows access to Testtrack features and data through the SOAP programming interface. The SDK ships with platform independent SOAP client licenses, a Testtrack Pro SOAP Programming manual and a set of examples for such tasks as entering records programmatically. We used the SDK to build an integration between our Testtrack Pro databases and our CRM system, so that the Customer support team could enter records directly from the CRM system screen through a punch-out and automated log-in to testtrack.

Conclusion

Testtrack Pro 6.1 is a comprehensive defect tracking solution that offers software development groups an affordable, scaleable, and reliable way to manage defects and enhancement requests throughout the software development life cycle. The ease of customization and low cost of server administration make it a tool that can fit the need of the smallest team, up through the largest, geographically distributed development group.

Seapine Software, the maker of Testtrack Pro 6.1, markets it as a "feature complete" defect tracking solution that can help reduce issue turn-around time, reduce time spent on project management tasks, and improve day-to-day communication for distributed teams. The automated notifications, comprehensive security settings, and On Demand reporting have helped our development and QA teams to stay informed about all issues regarding a release cycle, even when working from different offices and on different schedules.

The speedy performance of the Testtrack server allows us to host the databases in one location and allow access to Development and QA teams distributed across North America and Europe. It allows our engineers collaborate across distances and has become an integral part of our workflow.


Sean Whelan is the Senior Director of Quality Assurance for Commercial Print Products at EFI, Inc. He leads a QA team whose engineers test and release software targeted to customers on Mac and Windows platforms as well as testing hosted Web Products.

 
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