Subscribe via RSS Feed

Quality Assurance: Band-Aid Fix or Vaccine Cure to Software Projects

If Quality Assurance is intended to be a vaccine to projects, then why is it so often being used as a Band-Aid?

BandAid-1In our daily life, we take preventative measures such as flu vaccines early in a season to avoid, eliminate, and/or to reduce chances to get sick. This is similar to QA being part of a software development project early on in order to reduce defects and minimize project duration and cost. Unlike a conventional testing approach–which merely reacts to whatever has been designed or developed and frequently is perceived as interfering with development)–QA’s role early in the Software Development Cycle helps improve predictability and makes development faster, and less aggravating.

During my career, I have seen QA teams that are “shared resources” supporting many projects simultaneously rather than dedicated to specific projects.  Huge armies of QA teams execute defined test cases/scripts to test and certify an application once development is complete.  Because QA team members lack application familiarity and test only at the end of the development lifecycle, they require significant execution support. Often, the feedback they provide is late in coming and often inaccurate.

The Value of the Vaccine Approach

Compare this to a vaccine approach where the QA team is dedicated for the duration of the software development project and testers are co-located with the business and development team.  Because they collaborate with the development team on formulating acceptance criteria and engage in testing continuously through development, they can spot the commonly-overlooked showstopper problem. Now, QA feedback is considered as timely and relevant and a value added partner in delivery. This increases the efficiency of the software development process and the effectiveness of solutions produced.

We all have our examples of exciting projects turned into nightmares. Creeping deadlines, tsunamis of defects, applications that fail to deploy or performance bottlenecks that just cannot be found. Unfortunately, these kinds of situations always occur at times when they are least welcome – right before the project deadline, during the holiday season or when you had planned that nice weekend getaway. Most of these nightmares can be eliminated if QA is considered a vaccine for the project lifecycle rather than a Band-Aid fix.

The Risks of the Band-Aid Approach

There are many operational risks with Band-Aid approach.  It assumes that the test cases are of high quality, and that feedback is timely and actionable.  These are unwarranted assumptions.  Like any IT artifact, test cases may be ambiguous or confusing to testers (of poor technical construction) or they don’t test what needs to be tested (of poor functional construction). Since QA leads are shared across several applications, there are chances for error in writing test cases.  Being part-time on every project, the QA team is forced to work independently from the development team.  Test cases/scripts are often written to abstract specifications in the early stages, before software is ready to be tested, and executed in much later stages of a project once development is complete.  They are not written in conjunction with the development of the software, or in full collaboration with development.  Also, the development team is often not made aware of specific QA and UAT acceptance criteria, nor does it receive testing feedback, until very late stages of a project.

There is financial risk as well.  This approach emphasizes unit-cost efficiency of test execution over a holistic approach to quality assurance.  On a test-cases-that-can-be-executed-per-person basis this model looks attractive, but to be cost-effective, there must be low overhead of execution.  The greater the effort required to stage testing activity (e.g., with test data or instructions to carryout testing), or to interpret the results of testing performed, the greater cost of execution.

What approach does your IT organization have to QA?

Next week, I will take a closer look at the benefits of a more holistic, Vaccine approach to QA and testing.

Photo Credit: Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Business-IT Alignment, Team Performance