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26 March, 2024

Test Management Tools: Past, Present, and Future

The evolution of test management tools

Few things can divide a group of testers like a discussion on test management tools. They create marmite-level reactions but with even more complex flavours. There are almost as many opinions as there are Testers and Test managers.

That being said, we can boil these various perspectives down into three main camps:

  1. Professional tool lovers
  2. The open-source tools advocates
  3. The Excel developers

Of course, everyone has different influences, backgrounds, experiences, and technical abilities, all of which greatly affect their test management tool preferences. However, I have found that familiarity is the single biggest factor in tool preference. The familiarity heuristic isn’t limited to test tools – people like to stick to what they know. 

Anyway, this got me thinking: How much do testers really know about test management tool functionality? After all, they’re sticking with tools they know and probably using the same old features when there might be better ways to use the tool or better tools to use.

Sure, most testers know the basics and most tools cover the basics with varying degrees of prowess… but test management tool functionality is constantly evolving. It’s highly likely that even the most interested testers won’t know about all the latest developments.

I live and breathe test tools, investing time, staying up to date with the latest developments and sharing the best of what I have learnt.

With that in mind, the next four issues will form a series of test management tool insights. In the coming weeks, we’ll compare leading test tool functionality, explore the business case for the tools, and look at the best ways to use test management tools to build a scalable and flexible testing ecosystem.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s worth taking a step back first and asking, “How did we get here?”

Understanding where things have come from can often help inform where they are going. The story of test management tools goes back at least three decades, and as the first in the series, today’s insight offers a precis of their past, present, and future.

The Genesis: Bug-Tracking and the Dawn of Test Management

The journey began in the late 20th century when bug tracking was a manual, cumbersome process. As software became more complex and development teams became larger, a better bug-tracking approach was needed. This led to the development of the first software testing software.

These early tools were rudimentary, focusing solely on tracking and managing defects. They weren’t exactly test management solutions as we think of them today and were essentially databases that allowed teams to log and monitor bugs.

However, these early tools laid some groundwork and got people thinking about more comprehensive test management solutions.

Mercury Interactive and Professional Test Tools

By the 1990s, software testing was being taken more seriously than ever before. This was linked to a huge boom in computing and the rapid proliferation of desktop PCs.

Against this backdrop, large teams of dedicated testers were being deployed on many projects, and solutions were needed to optimise testing processes, workflows, asset storage and reporting.

Mercury Interactive’s Test Director (TD), introduced in the late 1990s, was one of the first steps toward integrated test management.

TD was revolutionary, offering features for bug tracking, test planning, execution, and reporting within a unified platform. It addressed the growing need for a more organised approach to test management and marked a significant evolution from disjointed bug-tracking systems.

It offered integrated solutions for test planning, execution, defect tracking, and reporting, with all results and assets in a centralised database. TD was also really well supported by a dedicated team at Mercury Interactive and had an active user community.

These enterprise-grade features propelled TD into the mainstream, at least within the burgeoning software development landscape of the time. It quickly became a staple of every serious software development project.

Integration and Scalability with HP Quality Center & ALM

The 2006 acquisition of Mercury Interactive by Hewlett-Packard was another major moment in the history of test management tools. This led to the release of a new and improved version of TD, this time rebranded to HP Quality Center (QC).

QC built upon TD’s strengths and introduced a web-based interface and enhanced integration capabilities. This ability to communicate with development tools made it easier for software teams to collaborate in real time.

As with TD, QC offered comprehensive test management features, including requirements management, test planning, execution management, and advanced reporting and analytics. However, Quality Center’s integration, scalability, and relatively easy deployment made it a preferred choice for organisations managing large-scale testing operations. It marked a significant advance in the tools available for test management.

Building on the success of Quality Center, HP introduced Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) in the late 2000s.

ALM was a more comprehensive solution to support the entire development lifecycle. It extended the functionalities of QC to include project planning, application development tracking, and more sophisticated reporting and analytics features.

These tools are fondly remembered by many testers and are still actively developed and used in many companies with test teams ranging from as low as five, and up to thousands of active users.

IBM Rational Quality Manager: A Competitor’s Perspective

While the Test Director family of tools (TD, QC, ALM) were the most successful test management tools, they weren’t the only kids on the block.

Many tools and providers came and went, but a few managed to survive. One of these was the Rational suite of test tools.

Rational had long been developing test tools before being acquired by IBM in the early noughties. Parallel to the evolution of HP’s test management tools, IBM introduced Rational Quality Manager (RQM) as part of its Rational suite.

RQM provided a collaborative web-based platform that supported test planning, construction, execution, and reporting. It was designed to integrate with other tools in the Rational suite and third-party solutions, offering a versatile option for teams looking for comprehensive test management capabilities. RQM’s emphasis on collaboration and integration made it a noteworthy competitor, pushing the boundaries of traditional test management solutions.

Adapting to Agile and DevOps: The Introduction of ALM Octane

To this day, many businesses still use the waterfall development model. Notwithstanding that, however, it’s fair to say that Agile changed the game for testing and test management tools.

Test tools have always been an important aspect of Agile, but as projects became more complex, dedicated Agile and DevOps-based test-management tools have grown in prominence.

Recognising the shift in software development practices towards Agile and DevOps, HP launched ALM Octane in 2016.

Designed to support high-velocity and scaled Agile and hybrid/wagile frameworks, ALM Octane provides increased flexibility, collaboration, and integration over previous test-management tools.

It also offers seamless connectivity with CI/CD pipelines and integrates effortlessly with various development tools, supporting the rapid iteration cycles characteristic of Agile and DevOps development.

ALM Octane’s analytics and real-time insights empower teams to make data-driven decisions, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of testing processes.

Octane has recently gone through an evolution, been renamed ValueEdge Quality and is an integral part of OpenText ValueEdge, their value stream management (VSM) solution.

In Summary

Test management tools have evolved remarkably over the last three decades, transitioning from relatively simple bug-tracking systems to sophisticated platforms integral to the development process.

This evolution was spurred by the increased complexity of software projects, increased test team size and importance, and shifts in software development practices, notably the ongoing transition from Waterfall to Agile and DevOps methodologies.

This dive into the history and evolution of test management tools highlights key milestones and the pivotal roles of platforms such as Test Director, Quality Center, and ALM Octane.

It’s worth noting that these tools mentioned above were never static. They were, and are, constantly evolving, adding new features and improving existing functionality.

What Next? The Future of Test Management Tools

The future of test management tools is likely to be shaped by further advancements in technology

Of course, as with most other tech, you can expect Artificial Intelligence (AI) to play an increasingly important role.

In fact, tools such as OpenText Aviator already offer generative AI-powered DevOps solutions, including leveraging AI insights to predict and anticipate delivery times.

It won’t just be AI though. The ongoing shift towards remote, collaborative and integrated software development environments will continue to drive the evolution of these tools. We can expect to see increased flexibility, scalability, and even more comprehensive analytics.

I can’t wait!

Remember to check back next week for the next part of our four-part series on Test Management tools.

Stephen Davis
by Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis is the founder of Calleo Software, a OpenText (formerly Micro Focus) Gold Partner. His passion is to help test professionals improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software testing.

To view Stephen's LinkedIn profile and connect 

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