Volume 7, Issue 9 - October 2006

Software Savvy
Testing Plans:
The Key to Long-Term Software Success
by Lyn Hartl

Software has become a critical component in the success of window manufacturers and a key link to all sales and manufacturing points. The long-term success and protection of this substantial investment is the topic of the day.

After the initial software purchase, design and execution are completed by either internal manufacturing personnel and/or third-party consultants, the initial go-live euphoria fades and is replaced by the release cycle for introducing new products, pricing updates and software enhancements. 

Manufacturers need to have a solid plan in place for the efficient evaluation of these releases in place prior to their introduction into the live environment.

  1. Develop a sign-off procedure within the organization that requires each area (sales, marketing, engineering, production etc.) to review and approve or reject all new features prior to final testing;

  2. Develop a set of benchmark quotes, orders and manufacturing output that will be used as the gold standard that new releases will be measured against for accuracy;

  3. Once the added features and/or functions are approved by each area, the system should be run against a solid cross-section of benchmark orders and all output from the system should be verified prior to live roll-out;

  4. A “release notes” bulletin should be communicated to all users outlining the changes introduced with the release. This bulletin may differ between external dealer/distributor users and internal staff; and

  5. Have a plan for version control for users who do not update the system as instructed unless the software architecture manages this process for you.

Using Technology to Improve the Process
Door and window configuration software involves complex rules that take into account question filtering, windloads, pricing, engineering limitation and configuration design. These rules work hand-in-hand with database tables to manage the user interface and the output from the system. Many of these types of rules are written in dynamic rules engine code that can be prone to programmer error.

The best software technology available utilizes tools to address the difficulties in implementing the points above by having smart tools that generate all configured units with all option combinations to check for code errors. This saves the manufacturer weeks of testing resources with each release by eliminating the need to configure every unit with each option combination manually.

These tools empower the information technology development team to pinpoint the source of any code errors instantly to debug and correct the problem. Benchmark quotes mentioned above can be produced with thousands of completed configurations and testing tools can run the new release against previous versions and identify any deviations in pricing, bill of materials, drawings and report output. This saves the laborious task of doing manual comparisons of output.

The Role of the Software Vendor
Many of the select software vendors work solely in the fenestration industry and employ large numbers of developers who work on improving applications and giving more functionality to the systems. Stay involved with them and assist in the direction of the development resources to benefit your company. Many of the licensing/support resource dollars that you invest each year go to this work and you should help direct how these dollars are spent. Be a driver of features instead of picking and choosing what the vendor introduces.

Lyn Hartl is the founder of WTS Paradigm based in Middleton, Wis. 

DWM
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.