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“Regression Testing” Your Small Business

We may need to shift our focus from the new thing we’re trying to do back to what we were already doing just to make sure that everything is still on an even keel.

How to use SMART Goals in Business

Imagine this scenario: you come up with a brilliant new service offering for your business, something that your competition isn’t doing, a concept so relevant and useful that you’re confident you’ll scoop up the market share in your local arena. You pull your team together to present the idea and discover that everyone is enthusiastically on board. Everybody works feverishly to put the nuts and bolts in place, and, within a few weeks, the new offering is unveiled to the public.

And, a month later, you find that strange problems have crept up elsewhere in your business. Existing products or services that have been part of your toolkit all along suddenly start experiencing glitches. The new “whiz bang” item you just brought to market is coming on strong, but the rest of the business – the bread and butter stuff you’ve done a thousand times – seems to be coming slowly unraveled.

How in the world does something like that happen?

Yet happen it does, and it’s made doubly frustrating by the fact that taking steps to be innovative and try new things can sometimes lead to seemingly unrelated issues with elements of the business that used to work great. This happens to some degree in larger businesses, but in situations where you’re dealing with a large staff and more than adequate operating budget, growing pains might end up being little more than a blip on the radar. In a small business, however, where everyone on staff is doing three jobs and you’re constantly watching the balance sheet, disruptions to the overall service level you provide are much more highly visible, to both you and your customers.

On its most basic level, this problem arises from the fact that we never have quite enough resources in our small businesses to give us the elbow room to comfortably grow. New undertakings will always carry with them an element of struggle that’s born out of trying to diversify when we barely have enough staff and revenue to cover the bases as is. This realization shouldn’t be a deterrent for trying new things, but it should serve to season your perspective when you start thinking outside the box in terms of what you can offer to your customer. Fully embracing the “next big thing” can be dangerous if that embrace means that you’re somehow relaxing your grasp on everything you were already doing.

One of the healthiest ways to strike a balance with all of this is to consider using something along the lines of “regression testing”. This is a term directly related to software development and, depending on the nature of your business, maybe you’ve had interaction with it in its purest sense. By definition, regression testing means making sure that any new changes to software haven’t inadvertently caused something that was already functional to suddenly stop working. This can sometimes occur if a coding change is being implemented to correct an issue – the update takes care of the problem, but also manages to make a previously successful part of the process grind to a halt. Ideally, regression tests should be performed in a monitored, non-production environment to make sure that software fixes or updates are copacetic before they’re ever unleashed into daily operations.

This also falls under the category of change impact analysis, which examines how modifications to something existing will play out further down the line. It’s all about cause and effect, and sometimes the effects are subtly hidden and are only triggered by certain factors at certain times. This can make it really daunting to try to determine the catalyst for the difficulty. It’s always best to be able to analyze trends, but that can be incredibly difficult in situations where things seem to work ok this time and terribly the next. In our businesses, enmeshed as we are in all of the components of our day-to-day operations, it can seem completely impossible to figure out what’s going on.

The bare bones fact is that we’ll run into issues in our businesses by doing one of two things (or possibly both): creating new stuff and fixing existing stuff. Taking prudent steps to manage those changes can do wonders for ensuring that the structural integrity of our business isn’t compromised. And that can definitely seem like a pain – after all, we’re already stretched thin and we’re just trying to do something new to benefit the company. As counterintuitive as it might seem, sometimes we need to shift our focus from the new thing we’re trying to do back to what we were already doing just to make sure that everything is still on an even keel.

“Change request management” is a common method for doing this. It provides a structured way for making changes, as well as for figuring out if we’re somehow doing damage to ourselves in the process. Effectively carrying this out will always require that you have multiple sets of eyes on what you’re doing. Especially if you’ve done extensive work yourself on some new item you’re introducing to your operations, you’ll be snow blind to potential pitfalls that come with implementing it. Having others serve as “spotters” can help to alleviate a lot of stress as you develop or modify something in your existing structure.

So how do you go about “regression testing” your business? Although there will be nuances based on the nature of your business, there are a few overarching concepts to keep in mind. Some may apply more specifically to creating something new, others to modifying something existing. The first item to keep at the forefront of your attention involves determining whether or not what you’re doing is cost-effective. There’s almost always an associated up-front cost to making any significant change to your structure, but this is much less of a concern if there’s a high probability that it will be offset further along by the inherent benefits of what you’re putting in place. Start off by determining if the old expression “Don’t step over dollars to pick up a dime” applies to you. Are you investing an inordinate amount of revenue and resources into something that’s not likely to ever help your bottom line in a tangible way? Be careful – sometimes what looks like a fantastic growth opportunity for your business can end up being little more than a fruitless money pit.

Another crucial element to analyze when you introduce changes into your business centers on framing things in a correct context. Be on your guard about unintentionally implementing what’s known as a “fragile fix”. This occurs when you have very tight parameters for what you’re evaluating that don’t take things into consideration in a broader scope. This is a tricky one – it’s tempting to fixate on what’s directly in front of us, but doing so will usher in the possibility of hidden problems. You might introduce a new program that has the potential of yielding measurable, positive outcomes in a very modest timeframe. On the surface, this can look like a great example of truly fulfilling your mission and expanding the reach of the business. But if it comes at the expense of spreading your staff so thin that they start to neglect key aspects of their existing job functions, it’s hardly worth doing.

Deficiencies that occur while we try to do something new can sometimes be hidden and even compensated for if they exist entirely on an internal level, but they can become really problematic if we end up creating customer impact along the way. We might think that the great new idea we’re presenting to the world will solve all of our problems and catapult us to financial success, but there’s always the possibility that we’re actually biting off more than we can chew. There can be much wisdom in doing a “soft release” of a new program, service, or product before telling everyone in town what we’re now offering. That way, if something doesn’t go according to plan (which is certainly bound to happen), we won’t suddenly find ourselves in the unenviable position of looking like we don’t know what we’re doing.

Another area where we can get off track involves balancing enthusiasm against practicality. The excitement of a new undertaking can be contagious, but we need to make sure that we have a realistic set of expectations. Without doing so, we run the very real risk of making ourselves look foolish and incompetent by over promising and under delivering. If we make the new service we’re offering the exclusive, primary focus for the business, there’s a real danger of losing sight of the bigger picture of the mission we’re trying to fulfill. Our companies can never be built on one single element, no matter how clever and exciting it might be. New things we introduce or existing things we start to do differently have their place as just one piece of the much larger jigsaw puzzle of our business.

And lastly, we always need to keep a balanced perspective about the current iteration of what we’re doing. It’s self-defeating to operate under the illusion that we’ve done everything perfectly with our undertaking. The reality is that we’ll make mistakes, perhaps a lot of them, and most certainly discover that there were at least one or two facets of our effort that weren’t as fully thought through as we’d like to believe. It’s ok to make adjustments – actually, you should plan on that right out of the gate. If you’ve introduced something on an external level, gather feedback from your customers so that you can draw better conclusions about the success of your efforts. If you’re modifying something that only impacts the people in your organization, conduct a few staff meetings to determine the effects, both positive and negative, on those affected by it.

Change can be a tremendous thing in the life of your business, but it’s a lot like throwing a pebble into a pond. There will always be ripples, far-reaching ramifications to whatever you do. Pretending that everything will magically work out and make you a million bucks won’t do you any favors. Always ask yourself the question, “How does what I’m doing now impact what I was already doing?”. If you can find the answer to that question, you’ll be well-grounded to move forward and make even better inroads as you continue on your journey toward success.


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