One of the most vital parts of any software development process is quality assurance (QA). This is essential in ensuring that the final product is fit for release and meets the requirements of the original brief, so it should be treated as an integral part of the entire process, not something that should be left until the final stage before deployment.
What is QA and why does it matter?
QA is an essential part of the software development process, as it ensures that the solution meets expectations, both for users and stakeholders. Without it, you run the risk of releasing a buggy or even non-functional product that frustrates users and harms your reputation.
It's often used interchangeably with testing, but it has a much wider scope. While testing is primarily concerned with finding defects and ensuring all functionality works the way it should, QA covers every aspect of how the software operates and how users interact with it.
QA is a highly strategic, process-driven activity. However, many QA processes may fail because they aren't given the high priority they deserve, or there’s no one to take ownership of them. As well as meaning problems get missed, this can lead to significant time and cost overruns in the software development process.
5 ways you can improve your QA processes
QA can present many challenges. For example, it can be a highly time-consuming and resource intensive process - and as the scope and number of features of an application grows, it can quickly become too complex to manage effectively.
Therefore, it's vital you have a clear plan in place for your QA process. Follow these five steps and you'll go a long way to ensuring you have a QA process fit for the needs of the business.
1. Build QA into your planning from the start
Failure to plan thoroughly is often the root cause of QA missteps. If people don't know what their role is or when they should be performing key activities, this can create confusion and lead to issues being missed. To avoid this, it's vital to set out a comprehensive QA strategy right from the earliest planning stages of your project.
This must include setting goals for the project, what the priorities will be and how teams should communicate their results. All of this needs to be fully documented and be accessible to all stakeholders.
2. Integrate your QA team fully into the project
QA professionals are often viewed as being separate to the development team so they can provide impartial feedback. But having your QA team closely integrated into the project offers several benefits.
Having these professionals involved as early as possible means they can have their say on developing a practical strategy for QA, as they’ll know when and how to test in order to see the best results. They can also highlight any potentially unclear or unnecessary business requirements and help develop more focused, useful objectives.
3. Embrace automation
Using automation wherever you're able to can address many of the most time-consuming and tedious aspects of the QA process. This can, for example, enable a team to write a specific test once, then run it automatically countless times without the need for human intervention.
However, this can't be used for everything, so it's important to identify in your early planning which aspects of QA testing can be left to automated tools and which can't. This ensures your team is prioritizing their efforts in the right places and avoids wasting time trying to fit automated tools to tasks they're not suited for.
4. Adopt a shift left approach
Moving your testing and QA earlier in the process ensures that you can spot and fix any potential issues before they have a chance to spiral out of control. This is known as shift left testing and is a key part of agile software development.
Doing this improves the efficiency of the QA process and reduces the costs involved. The earlier potential problems are addressed, the cheaper it will be. For instance, IBM states that it can cost five times as much to fix a defect at the implementation stage as it would if the problem is identified and addressed during the design and architecture stage.
5. Prioritize regression testing
Regression testing - which involves running tests to determine that any changes made to your code haven't adversely affected functionality - must be made a top priority as part of any QA process. This can account for as much as 70% of testing efforts, so doing this properly is vital in keeping development cycles on track and avoiding delays.
This comes down primarily to planning. By identifying early when regression testing will need to be carried out, the QA team will be able to better prepare and update tests focused on any software models most likely to be affected by any changes. Having this in place also provides vital reassurances to other stakeholders that the addition of new functionality as the project progresses won’t hinder the overall pace of the development.