The Battle for Test Environment Ownership

by David Berclaz // Last updated on March 26, 2024  

Test Environment Ownership Battle

When I was working at Nespresso, test environments felt like scarce treasures in a land of plenty - everyone wanted to lay their hands on them. The ownership lines between development, QA, and IT/Ops teams were as blurred as a mirage, leading to a wasteland of scheduling conflicts and unmet deadlines. Reflecting on those days, it's no surprise we faced numerous challenges with our Test Environment Management (TEM). Does this sound familiar in your organization?

In this article, we'll explore the critical battleground of test environment ownership. It's a topic that, if not navigated carefully, can turn collaborative efforts into competitive struggles, affecting everything from project timelines to software quality. How do you ensure that this valuable asset is managed effectively, promoting harmony rather than conflict? Let's discuss strategies for clarifying ownership and ensuring that your test environments are a boon, not a battlefield.

Contenders for Ownership

Deciding who should own test environments often presents a dilemma. Development, QA, and IT/Ops teams each have strong reasons, tied to their distinct roles in the software lifecycle, for why they should be in charge. Understanding these roles is key.

Development Teams: The Frontline Innovators

Developers, as the architects of software, owning test environments can lead to quicker innovation and instant feedback. This alignment with development needs might accelerate releases.

However, this benefit may lead to less focus on comprehensive testing protocols and environment stability, with a tendency to favor new features over thorough testing and maintenance.

QA/Testing Teams: The Guardians of Quality

QA teams, focused on ensuring software meets all requirements, push for control over test environments to maintain high-quality standards through detailed testing.

However, their limited technical expertise in managing environments could necessitate reliance on Development teams for setup and troubleshooting, potentially slowing down testing and underscoring the importance of collaboration to overcome technical challenges and keep testing efficient.

IT/Ops Teams: The Stewards of Stability

IT/Ops teams, as infrastructure custodians, focus on stability, security, and scalability, ensuring test environments adhere to best practices for maintenance and compliance, closely resembling production settings for accurate testing.

However, their stringent oversight might restrict the agility developers and testers need for rapid experimentation and iteration.

Considering a Hybrid Approach?

The battle for ownership doesn't necessarily need a single victor. A hybrid model, where responsibilities are shared based on the phase of development or specific project requirements, might offer a balanced solution.

This approach encourages collaboration and leverages the strengths of each team, ensuring that test environments are innovative, quality-focused, and stable.

Key Considerations in Deciding Ownership

Deciding who should own the test environments in a software development project is not a decision to be made lightly. It requires a careful assessment of several key factors that can significantly influence the effectiveness and efficiency of the testing process.

Here are some of the most critical considerations:

Project Complexity & Scale

The size and complexity of the project play a pivotal role in determining the most suitable ownership model. Larger, more complex projects may benefit from the IT/Ops team's expertise in managing sophisticated environments, whereas smaller projects might find a more agile approach with Development or QA ownership more effective.

Organizational Structure & Culture

The existing structure and culture of an organization can greatly impact how well different models of test environment ownership will work. In companies with a strong emphasis on collaboration and cross-functional teams, a shared ownership model might thrive. Conversely, in more hierarchical or siloed organizations, clear, defined ownership might prevent confusion and inefficiencies.

Resource Availability

The availability of resources, both in terms of personnel and technology, is a crucial consideration. If the QA team lacks technical expertise or if the IT/Ops team is overstretched, it may be practical to consider alternative ownership structures or invest in training and tools to support the preferred model.

Speed vs. Stability

The existing structure and culture of an organization can greatly impact how well different models of test environment ownership will work. In companies with a strong emphasis on collaboration and cross-functional teams, a shared ownership model might thrive. Conversely, in more hierarchical or siloed organizations, clear, defined ownership might prevent confusion and inefficiencies.

Security & Compliance

In industries where security and compliance are non-negotiable, the IT/Ops team's ownership of test environments might be preferable. Their expertise in managing secure, compliant infrastructures can be invaluable in avoiding potential legal and financial ramifications.

Collaboration & Communication

The effectiveness of any ownership model is highly dependent on the ability of teams to collaborate and communicate effectively. Whichever model is chosen, fostering open lines of communication and collaboration between all stakeholders is essential to managing test environments effectively.

5 Best Practices for Effective Test Environment Ownership

Establishing clear ownership and managing test environments effectively is key for the smooth operation of software development processes. Drawing on my experiences as an employee at Nestlé Nespresso, and as a consultant at Deloitte and Apwide, here are my top 5 best practices to ensure that test environment ownership positively impacts your projects:

1- Invest in the Right Tools

Use tools that facilitate the creation, management, and monitoring of test environments. Automation tools for provisioning and deploying environments can significantly reduce manual effort and enhance efficiency.

Tools like Terraform have made a significant difference at Nestlé (a special shout-out to Nicolas and Valentin!), and, of course, the Golive Jira App, which we developed to provide greater visibility to all teams involved in our software delivery process.

2- Foster a Culture of Collaboration

Regardless of who owns the test environments, you need to promote open communication and collaboration between the owning team and other stakeholders. Regular meetings and updates can align efforts and resolve issues promptly.

Thanks to Golive, many of our Apwide customers have been able to avoid frequent release status meetings that previously involved spreadsheets and PowerPoints. However, it's important to remember that nothing can replace direct communication for quickly resolving release issues.

3- Implement Access Control

Establishing strict access controls and security protocols for test environments is fundamental to protect against unauthorized access and data breaches. Although I haven’t implemented such measures firsthand in my roles at Nespresso, or Nestlé, I’ve seen many Apwide customers adopt this practice effectively. Even without the intention of using production data, risks like improper data scrambling can occur, highlighting the need for robust access control.

Moreover, a growing trend among our Apwide customers is to limit access to the test environment exclusively to the team that booked it via the Golive App. This not only enhances security but also ensures that the testing process remains focused and uninterrupted by other teams. It’s a good practice that I believe significantly contributes to the security and efficiency of managing test environments.

4- Monitor & Optimize Environment Usage

Effective monitoring of test environments is essential for optimizing resource use and reducing waste. The Golive Jira App simplifies integration with monitoring tools, allowing for efficient tracking of environment utilization.

For those not yet monitoring non-production environments, our free open-source health check, deployable as a bash script or Docker image, offers an easy start. This approach has already benefited many of our customers, improving the performance and reliability of their test environments. Early identification of issues and resource optimization ensure environments are always prepared, strengthening the development process.

5- Version Control for Environment Configurations

Implementing version control for test environment configurations is essential for maintaining consistency and tracking changes. It enables quick reversion to stable configurations if updates cause issues, thereby improving reliability and reducing downtime during testing phases.

As Test Data Management (TDM) gains importance in our industry, I'm exploring various TDM solutions to better serve our customers. To aid in tracking configuration versions deployed, we've introduced customizable attributes in Golive. This feature allows teams to easily identify the configurations in use across any test environment, streamlining version control and ensuring all team members are informed and aligned.

Join our community

As the landscape of release management continues to evolve, the role of test environments in ensuring product quality, speed to market, and operational efficiency cannot be overstated. The best practices outlined above are foundational elements that can significantly elevate your release process.

Now, it's your turn to take the helm. Begin by evaluating your current test environment management strategies against the best practices shared. Identify areas of improvement and initiate the necessary changes to foster a more controlled, collaborative, and efficient testing culture. Remember, the journey to optimization is continuous and ever-evolving.

We encourage you to share your experiences, challenges, and successes in our TEM LinkedIn Group, where you can connect your peers (and me!). Together, let’s champion the cause of efficient test environment management!

About the author

David Berclaz

After working for large organizations like Deloitte and Nestlé Nespresso, David co-founded Apwide in order to help organizations improve their Test Environment Management processes.

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