Today, software is a necessary cost of doing business for just about every type of company. From process management to CRM, marketing and inventory control, various business software applications help companies improve their productivity, marketability and ultimately, their ROI. Having custom software or integrations built for your specific needs is the surest way to solve all of your challenges without creating new incompatibilities.
How can you ensure that your software complies with specific standards and performs as you (or your client) expected it to? What’s more, how can you ensure that your investment in software delivers the ROI and business benefits you need?
It sure doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting on its face, but the process of Quality Assurance is critical to the success of your software project. In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of a smart QA strategy, the risks of not having one, and how you can use quality controls to ensure that software furthers your business goals.
Why Quality Assurance Matters
The proliferation of artificial intelligence and machine learning are only feeding the struggle to standardize. After all, there are now more than 100,000 software and IT companies and 1 million employees across the United States. Operational IT budgets have been rising, yet over half (52%) of respondents surveyed by ComputerEconomics.com recently said they still lack the funds to adequately support the business.
Just a few of the risks inherent to software development that can impact the resulting product include:
- building software that is not exactly what the customer expected.
- building a website that loads too slow resulting in customers leaving the site.
- creating software that is difficult to navigate resulting in poor user experience.
- deploying production ready software by deadlines.
Each risk you can mitigate results in a higher quality product and greater profit. Let’s have a look at how you can reduce your risks through Quality Assurance.
What is Quality Assurance?
Quality Assurance (QA) is the process of ensuring that software meets expected requirements. Through QA, you can confirm acceptance criteria and quality for software, analyze the expected and the unexpected outcomes of your software, assess the impact of software decisions on consumers and more.
QA utilizes critical thinking, thorough planning, and subject matter expertise to reduce both:
- the number of high impact risks consumers may encounter using the software;
- and the number of high frequency risks consumers may encounter using the software.
Take an application that allows customers to upload spreadsheets to a server, for example. Let’s say that customers typically upload 1 GB spreadsheets. In the rare case that a customer attempts to upload a 10 GB spreadsheet, the server crashes. This would be a low frequency problem, but it has very high impact.
In another example, a customer sees a half-second flicker on the screen every time they login to the site. The flicker does not block the customer from logging in, but it does create an irritating experience. This is considered a high frequency problem with a low impact.
Software Development Without Quality Assurance
What does a software development project without quality controls look like? Imagine there’s no one on the project trained to look at the application through the eyes of a consumer. Developers write the code for new software features and have a good handle how the software will function on the backend. However, that extensive knowledge brings with it an inability to navigate the application like someone with no context of the internals. As a result, there’s a reduced number of identified bugs and or improvements to make the app better.
A developer could be tasked with building a button feature that increments a numerical value when clicked, for example. The acceptance criteria for this feature states that when the button is clicked, the value should be increased by one. But, what if the button is rapidly clicked 100 or 1000 times? Would the button handle that load without breaking?
When the developer's code satisfies the acceptance criteria, they move on to the next feature to build. Stressed with the job to build many features and make deadlines, they do not have time to test many unexpected outcomes of the feature.
The longer these issues go unidentified, the harder and more expensive they become to track and resolve.
Without effective QA, fewer bugs are identified and fixed before sending software to production. In Agile teams, software is continuously deployed to production for immediate consumer use. It’s impossible to find every single bug in a piece of software, but there’s nothing worse than learning about production bugs from consumers. This is especially true if those bugs cause the whole system to crash.
And once those bugs are discovered, does fixing them produce another bug? Does fixing that other bug produce yet another bug? It’s difficult to manage these scenarios without a dedicated team member, while your software is already in use.
What often results is a crippling inability to prioritize bug fixes. Say a few bugs are identified on a project and the team decides that one of them is not a high priority to fix right now. The team needs to ship code to production as soon as possible, so they made a choice. But was it the right one? Without QA, they may not have considered the impact that decision could have for consumers in the future.
In the end, the team may push software to production that “works,” but still needs a high frequency of bug fixes and improvements. This type of software is very expensive to maintain.
What Does a Project With Successful QA Look Like?
Smart QA begins before a single line of code is written. In the earliest stages of your planning process, it’s important to incorporate product strategists and UX specialists into the teams that will inform developers’ efforts. Development and/or design team members don’t necessarily have an inherent knowledge of feature requirements from an end user perspective. QA-thinking through eyes of a consumer can catch these issues and report them to the team, saving time and reducing the chance of building features incorrectly.
A robust QA process instills confidence in your team’s bug fixes and acceptance criteria validation before shipping to production. In most cases, people can improve the quality of their work faster with a second set of eyes for review and feedback and in many teams, QA is the last source to verify features before shipping to production. Make the most of your QA team by having them analyze features, reporting issues and/or improvements back to the team, but also verifying those fixes before shipping out to production.
Empower your QA team to prioritize risks, particularly where they affect consumer experience. Higher impact bugs get resolved first, increasing confidence that if there are outstanding issues in products sent to consumers, they are at least lower impact.
Incorporating QA in every phase of the project enables teams to push more stable software to production for consumer use. While it’s not possible you’re going to completely eliminate the need for bug fixes and product improvements, a robust QA ensures that the fixes you’re spending resources on are more quality-driven and likely to improve consumer experience.
At the end of the day, effective QA processes result in higher functioning software that is more stable, less expensive to maintain, and better able to deliver on business goals. Want to learn more? Click here to learn more about software development with short feedback loops, informed design decisions and QA processes that drive better business results.