How to Build Confidence in Warehouse Innovation with Test Automation

How to Build Confidence in Warehouse Innovation with Test Automation

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Warehouse technology changes can be daunting and many companies hold off out of fear of the worst-case scenario – the dreaded failure to ship. Unfortunately, many executives have experienced one or more of these situations in their careers and know the consequences of a difficult Go Live in team stress and lost opportunity. As former system integrators ourselves, we believe there is a better way and developed Cycle®, a continuous testing platform to improve on traditional implementation methodologies. 

Whether you are implementing an evolutionary improvement like shipping software or a transformation like a warehouse management system (WMS) or fixed automation, change management plays a huge role in eventual project success. As you guide the organization on its innovation journey, test automation can be a powerful tool for risk reduction and gaining buy-in from stakeholders. Depending on your company’s culture and innovation maturity, you may need to tweak messaging and phase deployment of test automation into your program, but here are a few successful ways to integrate test automation as a change management asset.

Utilize functional volume testing to reassure IT and operations that infrastructure needs are satisfied and that there will be no big surprises during Go Live
Perhaps you remember the “stress tests” of the 2000s – a dozen or more subject matter experts (SMEs) from operations gathered in a conference room with their laptops running simultaneous functional tests to see if the system held up under some degree of strain. Given the IT resource constraints prior to broadband and cloud, the conference room approach generally made sense as a way to provide some assurance that major issues weren’t hiding in plain sight. However, automated functional group testing can now simulate user interactions on the front-end (think web, radio frequency, mobile, etc.) to run these functional tests on servers – freeing up your SMEs to keep doing their day jobs and allowing tests to scale to the actual size and schedule of the operation.

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There are many performance testing options for hammering away at APIs, but we prefer functional volume testing for systems like WMS because of its unique ability to test the actual business processes by recreating the behaviors of users. If you can get IT and operations both watching the tests taking place, it will build trust in the whole solution.

Conference Room Testing

Use test automation as an operations training resource to reinforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) and demonstrate best practice system usage
Once you have started implementing functional volume testing, you may see that watching tests run in real-time can also be a great interactive way to train new team members. A great use case we’ve seen is using the Cycle platform to execute functional tests that take labor standards into account. It’s one thing to say “this task should take 60 seconds,” but it often builds confidence if you can show associates “here is how to complete the task in 60 seconds.” Demonstrating the processes and labor standards under different test scenarios can also result in productive conversations with your team about potential process improvements.

Implement test automation for recurring regression tests of key business processes and requirements
Most behaviors in modern execution systems are controlled dynamically through user-driven configurations. For example, warehouse execution systems have tables that control the relationships between inventory zones, picking methods, and automation. Shipment execution systems have tables to drive your company’s carrier rating logic. Dynamic behaviors allow shippers to be more nimble, but extensive configurability introduces risk that an intentional configuration change or expired configuration could have unintended downstream consequences. Operations teams are understandably frustrated when “what worked yesterday isn’t working today.” Test automation-driven health checks are one tool to protect your operation against resulting loss of goodwill and operational output.

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“Health checks” can be used for more than just making sure your server resources aren’t being taxed. For example, an off-hours health check could ensure that:

  • Inventory allocation logic is properly enforcing key client requirements
  • Staging lane assignments are resolving correctly
  • Key work streams are released to the floor successfully
  • Automation APIs are responding with values that successfully translate in WMS
  • Shipment execution system APIs are responding with valid labels and accurate carrier ratings

This list is just a starting point but hopefully you get the idea. These kinds of unexpected “gotchas” are often the most frustrating for operations and chip away at trust in warehouse systems, especially systems viewed as “experimental.” Catching unforced errors proactively can save hours of production support and build goodwill between IT and operations, which results in smoother implementations of innovative technologies in the future.

Robotic Process Automation

Conclusion
Many IT leaders view test automation only as part of the development lifecycle, but Cycle’s behavior-driven approach provides the flexibility to implement robotic process automation-like (RPA) use cases that can help build cross-functional trust in the systems. With the right strategy and internal messaging, it is possible for test automation to be a part of change management and to enable organizations to innovate without fear of change.

If you are interested in learning more about the test automation landscape and how to implement a risk-based testing strategy, read our latest white paper here.

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