People working in quality assurance as testers, managers or engineers know what it’s like having to justify their existence; it’s been part of the job for many years. QA experts have had to fight the perception that what they do is a bottleneck, overkill and it slows everyone down.
Finally, however, QA is getting the attention that it deserves. Companies are gradually investing more in QA skills and tools. This began with the onset of Agile and DevOps—methodologies which have now infiltrated mainstream software development practices everywhere. Since those practices focus on speed, efficiency and quality, engineering leaders have grown to understand that great products are not achievable without adequate QA checks and balances. Another risk is the unflinching nature of high user expectations: Thanks to social media, one user complaint can quickly escalate into others across the web, creating an uncomfortable perception problem for the software provider.
Robust testing practices can prevent egregious flaws in the software that result in poor user experience and performance—or, worse, a breach. True, testing can sometimes get in the way of speed. Yet no matter how fast you release a product, if it doesn’t work well, no one’s going to buy it, much less use it.
Nevertheless, we can continually improve the QA practice to fit into modern development teams’ workflow. Testers need to work with developers and master automated testing, while developers need to sometimes engage in testing; everyone should think about the appropriate level and amount of testing. You can have too much of a good thing.
The Right QA Balance
The below ideas can help your organization reduce conflict between QA aficionados and those who would rather code and release as fast as possible.
1: Assess, analyze and report. Developers and testers alike are highly technical; they like numbers. Therefore, the more that the QA team can quantify the risk of an application, provide evidence as to the effectiveness of current QA practices and use metrics to show the need for more QA resources when warranted, the faster that everyone will get on board.
There are plenty of tools that can deliver common quality metrics such as total number of defects, defect leakage, test coverage, test pass/fail rates, test completion rates, code coverage and application uptime. It’s important to share and discuss these metrics throughout the development team and with product and business managers. What constitutes high quality for the development team may not be the case with executives who are closer to the end user/customer.
2: The gut check. After metrics, take into consideration the comfort level of your team and company concerning product flaws. In regulated spaces, or for applications that collect sensitive private data, the tolerance for bad code and security gaps is usually low. Gather feedback from different perspectives and roles in the organization for a balanced perspective on the QA practice and areas for improvement.
3: Get people involved. Quality assurance is no longer a separate activity from development; especially when you are practicing Agile and DevOps, the responsibility for quality is shared. Therefore, developers, business analysts and operations managers all should be doing their work with an eye to quality, delivering feedback regularly to the QA team. Provide opportunities and incentives for any team member to attend events and training related to software quality.
4: Streamline testing. Test automation tools are helping product teams be more comprehensive in testing, by automating low-risk test cases so that testers can focus their exploratory and manual methods on high-risk or new features. This is a positive development, although testers must take time to learn how to use the tools. Some other ways that can help teams be more efficient in testing include:
- Conducting more testing early in the sprint. This avoids the 11th hour disaster of finding a major flaw right before the release deadline.
- Per Agile methods, dividing development tasks into smaller chunks with team members from different disciplines to ensure testing is being done all the time and with visibility by all.
- Using test driven development (TDD) or behavioral driven development (BDD), which requires that QA, developers and business stakeholders meet at the beginning of a project to agree upon requirements and test cases. Developers then write code against the test, until it passes. New tools are helping bridge the gap by writing requirements and user stories in plain English.
- Outsourcing part of the testing load during a major project, which can help increase coverage and reduce stress on your team. However, understand that too much outsourcing will undermine any efforts to develop QA as an internal best practice and “mindset” for software teams.
If your team is committed to QA as a best practice, not an afterthought, those at the top will need to invest properly in the right tools, training and people to get results. Misconceptions about QA still exist; contrary to the view of some DevOps experts, we can’t (and shouldn’t) automate every test. As well, even though developers are now testing the code they write, you still need experienced testers on your team. With the pace of innovation and the high stakes in the marketplace, organizations need more—not fewer—people engaged in testing.
For testers who love their job, as many of them do, it’s an exciting time to be in the field. Companies increasingly are seeing the value of QA and testers continually are gaining more tools and tactics to excel at helping their organizations produce really great software.