The Importance of QA in Software Testing

Quality Assurance (QA) is an essential part of any software development team. It helps the testing team save time and money as well as increase the quality of the products.

Having QA experts within your team will allow detecting vulnerabilities and errors faster, thus ensuring that the software being developed is the best it can be. QA testers also bring together all stakeholders and members of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), including project managers, developers, business analysts, etc.

QA testers enhance not only the final products but also the trust and reliability of testing and development teams, leading the organizations ahead of the competition.

To shed light on this topic, I have talked to experts in the industry who highlighted what can QA bring to a testing team.

 

Why have QA experts? 

Whenever a business is trying to test a product, quality should always be a top priority.

Louise Gibbs, a Senior QA Analyst at MandM Direct, shared this definition from Jerry Weinberg: “Quality is value to some person”, which was completed by Michael Bolton: “Quality is value to some person who matters, at some point in time.”

Hence, as she points out, testing is when we investigate an application and find something wrong. ‘You always need to assume that there’s going to be something wrong’, she says. Then, to assure quality, testing teams need to identify the bugs and determine whether or not it is important to the people who matter. For this, QA experts are essential.

QA experts know what is important to the business and to the users, she continues. They can assess if the application is fit for purpose or not. QA experts can use their knowledge of the business and use it to determine if any issue will prevent users from having the best experience possible.

Aman Dhudwarr, Senior Test Consultant at First Derivatives, reinforces that idea by saying that things will go wrong, even in testing. ‘When there is a lot of money and effort at stake, the need for QA increases.’ But she warns risks can only be avoided depending on how experienced the QA team is.

According to her, QA experts are here to mitigate these risks, build confidence in the team and product as well as provide greater coverage in less time.

Lewis Prescott, QA Automation Lead at Cancer Research UK, adds that a QA team can offer their expertise at all levels of the tech team. They will assess all the possible risks before they even reach development.

Louise also underlines that businesses will want to provide quality products and services to their customers but will often consider their own needs first. Hence, a QA team can reinforce that connection between the business and the users, acting in both of their interests.

For instance, a QA team can assess what the business has asked for and determine if it would actually provide what the user wants and needs as well as making sure that there are no unintended consequences of providing this new feature.

 

Many benefits….

According to Louise, QA experts are able to know what is important both to the user and business, hence bringing key elements to a team. Having a QA team in testing is extremely beneficial as it provides the knowledge and experience required to target testing to the most important areas as well as more accurately assess the impact of any bugs they might find.

For Lewis, QA experts bring both structure and guidance to testing activities, perform great analysis of legacy systems, and give to businesses the value of testing.

Aman emphasizes the fact that a QA team will give a broader perspective and diversify the project teams with a quality-focused point of view.

‘The more diverse your QA team is, the better.’

She continues by pointing out that cognitive bias is often an oversight and with tight deadlines and budgets, it can quickly turn out wrong. A QA team will make sure that the software meets its specifications but also validate how well the unique needs of the business have been met, something that ‘can make or break a company’.

Moreover, Aman adds that centralized QA teams provide a better level of test independence and shift the focus from detecting issues to their prevention. Indeed, pure code-based testing usually fails when it lacks a human factor and developers struggle to meet test targets as they often focus on producing new code. With better automation, good AI tools, and collaboration, QA teams are able to keep developers accountable and make the business’s needs a priority.

Lewis points out that, with GDPR, sophisticated security threats, and agile development, ‘how do businesses operate without a QA team in 2020?’

 

… And challenges

However, having QA experts within your team might also represent a challenge.

Louise stresses that in order to bring the best value, QA experts need to have empathy and good communication.  Indeed, a ‘QA team can never fully understand the needs of both the business and the user without some degree of empathy’. Similarly, they also need to be in good communication with representatives from both groups. If your team has a leader who can never be contacted or doesn’t speak to its customers, it will be hard to build a product that deemed to be high quality.

‘Ensuring good communication channels between different teams and the business will improve the chances of developing a successful product’.

Moreover, as Louise highlights, having regular communication with different departments within the business can really improve the quality of the products in development.

Yet, lockdown has made everything harder. ‘Before’, she says, ‘I knew at least 1 person from most departments through coffee or water cooler chats. This was always so useful. A lot of them I didn’t even know by name but I often knew what department they worked in so knew I could speak to them about a relevant issue. Now, without being able to see colleagues outside my immediate team, I have to rely on zoom calls, online chats, and emails’. It is more difficult to establish a connection through a webcam. ‘I have all these names of colleagues, with details of what they do, but I have no idea what they look like and who is best to talk to about specific challenges.’

Aman believes that a lack of emphasis on testing culture holds a lot of businesses back. Indeed, she points out that QA is often treated as a ‘quality gate’ and thus, the budget isn’t put aside for investing in better test automation tools and processes. All of this then leads to ‘manual bottlenecks’ and lower quality products.

 

QA practices

Aman shares that to have QA practices, it is essential to have continuous feedback. With the rapid adoption of agile methodologies, continuous feedback is key in driving quality as well as productivity. So much so that, according to her, it overlaps with most of the principles of software testing.

For instance:

  • Early testing: the sooner testing begins; the sooner feedback is available which can be actioned before it’s too late or expensive to fix.
  • Defect clustering: certain modules will be the buggiest, which need to be communicated for a risk-based approach.
  • Pesticide paradox: test cases need to be regularly reviewed & revised, adding new & different test cases to help find more defects.
  • Exhaustive testing is not possible: you can’t test absolutely everything so it’s important to continuously work on the above!

Lewis also adds that the aim of automated testing is to make it easier for testing to be performed at speed and it should not be considered outside of the features testing requirements.

 

Drive digital transformations

As we’ve seen, QA experts can bring a lot to a team and a business. What they can also do, is drive digital transformations.

Indeed, Louise points out that having someone on the team who can connect testing with the business, is ensuring that the team understands the needs of both the business and the customer. While the COVID-19 pandemic has driven digital transformation within businesses all over the world, QA experts can ensure that this transformation works in the team’s favor.

Lewis also adds that QA is fundamental to achieve digital transformation as the quality remains the goal for a feature or release. It also provides the business with the ability to move quickly and make changes easily. QA can accelerate your development teams and feature development.

Aman highlights the fact that the rate and scope of digital transformation are only increasing, and the digital speed has become crucial. She points out that for QA to drive digital transformations is through test automation.

‘First Derivatives found that for many of our clients’ software testing can take up to 60-70% of project efforts, whereas test automation can save 40-50% of manual efforts made in the entire delivery.’ She says to be particularly excited to see how can using AI technology be leveraged to make testing smarter and more efficient.

 

Add value and efficiency

Moreover, QA can also add value to the business.

One way of adding value, as Louise stresses, is by communicating to the team the business and user needs. That way, they can ensure that everyone is aware of what is important and they can use it when developing a new application. Hence, this leads to less time wasted developing a product that won’t be fit for its purpose.

Moreover, Lewis underlines the fact that QA can help to find potential risks or blockers as early as possible and thus, allow the business to adapt and build the right product the right way.

 

Conclusion

QA experts are becoming more and more essential within a testing team. However, although there is quite a level of QA that exists, Aman points out that there is always room for improvement, especially in the era of agile.

‘Quality should never not be a priority! If it slips, it will cost further time and money, as well as reputational damage. It’s worth remembering that Quality Assurance isn’t just about testing; reevaluating the processes you currently have in place can also increase the effectiveness of your existing resources.’

Special thanks to Louise Gibbs, Aman Dhudwarr, and Lewis Prescott for their insight on the topic!

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