Agile and Performance Testing – A Winning Combination

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Performance testing is now entering the Agile development methodology, and rightly so. Agile Performance Testing is a framework that elevates the benefits of both the Agile approach and Performance Testing by testing performance at the start of the Testing Sprint and adding performance testing to the Definition of Done (DoD). Similarly to embedding Functional Testing as part of Agile, this is a Shift-Left philosophy that allows the close inspection of sprint-level performance, something that is not possible with traditional Performance Testing processes. Let’s take a closer look.  

Performance Testing has made huge strides over the last decade. With digitalization becoming a global trend, businesses need to optimize their performance metrics. There are many variations of Performance Testing that need to be taken into consideration to create robust websites and applications. Here are just a few main types of Performance Testing:

  • Load Testing – Often referred to as the main subset of Performance Testing, this methodology involves the scrutiny of the website, testing how a system behaves with a large number of users and what is the response time received for pages under different scenarios. Performance Engineers can then see how the system behaves with varying numbers of users and what kinds of bottlenecks are created in varying usage scenarios.
  • Capacity Testing – This is another type of performance load testing that helps you identify the maximum capacity of users the system can support, while not exceeding a max page time you defined. In other words, capacity Testing exercises the system to check if the application and infrastructure can actually take on the amount of traffic that they were designed to handle without compromising user experience.
  • Stress Testing – As the name suggests, this kind of testing involves the testing of performance under extreme conditions. You can find out how it behaves when it faces extreme conditions such as doubling the number of users, using a database server with much less memory, or a server with a weaker CPU.  Will the system start throwing out errors? Will response time double? Or will the entire system get stuck and crash?

What is an Agile Environment? 

As mentioned earlier, the Agile environment is a response to the ever-changing environment dynamic of the IT space, which requires optimal quality and faster time-to-market. The Agile approach embodies the entirely new mindset to organizing and steering workflow that is flexible enough to survive the turbulent and dynamic environment of software development today.

Agile teams, commonly known as Scrum teams, consist of the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and developers and work as a cross-functional team. It does not mean that there is no management anymore. Managers make sure that the teams are fully equipped with the right set of skills and able to collaborate and deliver the product. They are enablers, not task-masters like before.

This approach splits the development process into short and manageable sprints by the end of which you have a functional product increment. Then, the sprint will be reviewed and the results showed to the client to gather feedback. In the uncertain tech environment, the client’s requirements might change and in the next sprint, developers can make the needed modifications.

The Agile approach already includes adapting functional testing in the Agile environment. The same can’t be said about performance testing. It’s becoming extremely crucial that the Definition of Done (DoD) includes the completion of performance testing within a sprint.  It’s all about the Shift-Left when it comes to Agile software testing, be it the regular types of testing or as we are discussing right now – non functional testing as performance testing.

Agile methodology involves early and continuous software testing, executed in conjunction with development to ensure that progress is being made with each sprint. Performance testing becomes an important part of the development process which helps teams to identify the possible bugs early on. Performance issues can have a detrimental effect on your final release and financial metrics.

Agile Performance Testing: Top 5 Benefits

Performance Testing in Agile will bring accurate results only when executed correctly, and the lack of communication between teams, the flexibility of requirements, and the accuracy of reporting will undo all the good that testing can provide. Let’s learn in detail about the top 5 benefits of Agile performance testing and how it elevates the software development lifecycle.

Before we dive into the specifics, the screenshot below shows how Agile Performance Testing can be broken down into testing at the code level and response time testing for newly developed application features. Furthermore, performance testing in Agile can and should also involve Regression Testing for the entire system with all of the new code and features implemented.

agile approach to performance testing

An Agile Approach To Performance Testing (Source: Ministry of Testing)

1 – Increase Team Performance

The Agile methodology requires a ton of planning and constant communication between the teams and also team-members. Short sprints deliver frequent results that can be tested, reviewed, evaluated, and modified in the next round. Continuous communication enables everyone involved to stay in-sync and develop the best possible product, while also meeting release deadlines.

2 – Establish Performance Testing Benchmarks

Instead of looking at Performance Testing activities as an afterthought that should be dealt with after the development is done, the Agile approach forces you to test frequently and engrain performance into the organization’s mindset. By injecting a testing scenario into each sprint, you minimize the possibility of overlooking application performance issues and bugs.

Early and continuous software testing enables testers to be a part of the process and pushes team members to develop performance standards at the beginning of the development cycle. Having an explicit list of standards from the very beginning helps developers to adhere to them and build with the performance in mind, which makes performance engineers’ lives easier.

3 – Reduced Costs and Less Resource Usage

There are two main Agile performance testing cost-effectiveness reasons. Firstly, every developer and tester knows that the earlier you catch a bug, the cheaper it is to fix it. Secondly, since Agile implies working in short sprints and testing at the end of each iteration, once you identify an issue, you will know exactly where to look. You are essentially wasting less time on remediation.

4 – Enhance Brand Performance

Websites are becoming more and more user-experience centric. The customer has rightfully so become the centerpiece of the products you are creating. And they are unforgiving when it comes to performance issues, long page load times, and crashes. The meaning of this is simple – Agile Performance Testing can help you gain traction in the market and spike your brand credibility.

5 – Short(er) Performance Feedback Loops

Short feedback loops help developers become more productive and involved in the process. Imagine you have been working on something for months and now you are forced to change most of it and rewrite huge chunks of your creation. It can be highly frustrating. When developers receive performance-related feedback after each iteration, they can be more proactive and effective.

Agile Performance Testing: Best Practices

The benefits of Agile performance testing are clear but how do you implement it in the way that it actually helps the process?

Test As Early as Possible 

Testing early and frequently is cost-effective and improves the performance metrics in the long run. This doesn’t mean that you should not Shift-Right and test for performance issues in production, but you need to Shift-Left as well to establish a wide coverage of the DevOps pipeline. Your performance testing needs to be on the same page with other Agile processes for best results.

Combine Performance Tests of Components and End-to-End Performance Testing

Shifting-Left gives you the time to implement a widened testing spectrum. You can perform components level functional and performance tests to check out individual components before they are integrated into the system. You can follow that up with end-to-end Performance Tests to be on top of things when new (or refactored) code is introduced into the mix. In other words, the component level performance testing is done as part of the sprint, and then before a release to production additional system level performance tests are conducted. This allows full end-to-end performance testing.

Set Performance SLAs

Before you can build test scenarios and run tests, you need to develop an explicit set of performance benchmarks (SLAs). If you just measure without comparing the results to any “ideal” state of your software, the measurements will be quite useless. Your team members need to develop a system upon which the tests will be evaluated and strive to achieve the set standards. Make sure to include the SLA to the “definition of done”.

Facilitate Collaboration between Developers and Testers

“Daily Agile Meetings” promote consistent information exchange between the team members, including devs and testers. When performance engineers take part in these meetings, they can anticipate what is coming and build scenarios accordingly. This closer collaboration breaks the wall between the teams and allows performance teams to be directly involved in the Agile process.

Keep Thorough Documentation and Reports

Creating documentation and reports about each iteration of tests is important for later reference, as well as to keep all involved stakeholders up-to-date. Reports need to be analyzed and learned from to design better tests in the future, as well as to understand if there was any deterioration in performance from one sprint to another. This is especially important when in certain cases the performance testing runs in parallel to sprints, showing daily or weekly performance trends.

Make sure you customize your reports in correspondence with people who will be reading them (executives usually don’t have a tech-savvy vocabulary) to allow better collaboration and visibility.

Agile Performance Testing is all about improving performance incrementally, instead of waiting till the later stages of the pipeline and facing bottlenecks.

Agile Performance Testing: For End-to-End Coverage

The bottom line is that Agile Performance Testing helps establish an end-to-end performance testing framework, where performance engineers are not always waiting for the pre-release and production stages to get started. They become active stakeholders in the Agile environment, where performance becomes second-nature for all stakeholders. Performance is no longer an option.

With the global markets becoming competitive and the battlefield shifting to the performance space, businesses need to act accordingly. Performance testing has to be versatile today, with relevant subsets Shifted-Left to get a better end-result with new features that are blended seamlessly into previous versions. Performance engineers can then shift their focus to Regression Testing and other related performance subsets, while wasting less time on bottlenecks.

Needless to say, Agile performance testing needs to be matched with an equally capable performance testing tool that can be integrated smoothly into the pipeline. It should also have comprehensive reporting and monitoring capabilities to make the most of the situation. Only then, performance criteria can be tweaked for constant metric optimization and business growth.

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