How To Create A Roadmap For Risk-Based Testing?

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Jakub Adamik

Updated Feb 10, 2023 • 9 min read

There’s always a risk of a bug slipping through and making it to the final user or an unexpected issue popping up on production.

There are different testing approaches that aim to prevent these types of issues ​​– all tackling the problem from a different angle.

With the right roadmap in place, you can make risk-based testing a regular part of your business process.

Banking transfers sending an incorrect amount, a shop’s website going down during a big sale, or typos in the title – all are real issues but with different risk levels. If these issues occur, users can lose trust in the product and start looking for alternatives, the product may become inaccessible causing huge losses to business, or a company can be faced with fines and lawsuits if bugs cause data leaks or break law compliance.

As a business, you're always looking for ways to minimize risk and protect your bottom line. A key component of being able to handle risk is having a plan in place for how you will identify and respond to risks as they arise.

One way to do that is through risk-based testing, which allows you to target your testing efforts towards the areas of your application that are most likely to cause problems.

What is risk-based testing?

All businesses face risk, but not all businesses are prepared to handle it. Back in 2018, Amazon lost $100 million in sales due to an outage that was a result of huge traffic during Prime Day sales. Smaller platforms and shops are facing the same, well-identified risks every year, a sale or new marketing campaign begins and websites cannot handle the traffic. An event that was supposed to bring in new customers and revenue ends with dissatisfaction.

The more complicated the product is – the more browsers, systems, or devices it needs to support – the easier it is for bugs to slip through. NIST estimated that bugs are costing the US economy $59.5 billion, but could be reduced by a third with a better testing methodology introduced in the risk management process. Usually, the response is to introduce a more comprehensive testing suite, but this increases test execution time and maintenance costs.

Having a perfect, bug-less, and risk-less application is impossible. Attempting to come close to this perfection is costly and impractical for most businesses. However, the good thing is you don’t need to achieve perfection.

Instead, you can accept these limitations and focus your attention on crucial areas identified during risk analysis. Don’t aim for perfection, aim to prevent any costly bugs, defects that will block critical paths, and issues that will have a significant impact on the company's business and end users. That’s what a risk-based testing approach is all about.

Additionally, it tackles other common problems. It introduces “defined risk” into the testing plan to help the testing team set their goal and priorities for each sprint and, as a result, makes sure that the testing effort is focused on high-risk areas.

Benefits of a risk-based testing strategy

Every testing approach has its own benefits, there’s no catch-all solution that will work equally well for every scenario. Risk-based testing is a really compelling pick due to its flexibility, but it has many other strengths too:

  • The test strategy contains clearly prioritized areas and actions, it allows the allocation of resources to high-risk factors first.
  • Costs are reduced as the testing process is optimized and testing efforts are reduced in low-risk areas.
  • Risk assessment becomes an integral part of the testing process, allowing better test planning.
  • The team identifies risks early on and has time to come up with the best approaches to mitigate those risks.
  • The testing process greatly focuses on flows important to customers, this allows to improve user experience and reduces the chance of negative reviews. This results in improved user retention.
  • Improved software quality, with less costly defects making it to production.

What are the steps in risk-based testing?

Identification of project risks starts early in the test process, allowing the QA team to handle risk identification first and then prepare a testing plan based on priorities set together with the client. It consists of six main steps:

1. Identify stakeholders

To allow efficient risk assessment at later stages, first you need to identify stakeholders and confirm if they are willing to participate in the process. In many cases, it won’t be possible for all stakeholders to take part, so you will need to make sure their roles are represented by other representatives.

2. Analyze product

This is time to dive deep into the specifics of the application and create a map of it. You need to list out the client’s expectations, and all the areas in the application and their requirements – including compliances mandated by law like GDPR. Then create use cases to understand how the application will be used.

3. Identify risks

All stakeholders should meet up, brainstorm risks and establish key risk indicators. Remember that this is not a security threat modeling session, it may be similar but the focus of a session for planning risk-based testing is much broader. You need to focus on business risks and non-functional requirements like performance, usability, and accessibility.

Try to put yourself in the role of an end user – what expectations do you have? Finally, make sure that risks are in the scope of the project. If you go beyond that, you will end up with risks you can’t do anything about.

4. Assess risk and prioritize areas

You can use several methods. I recommend what is, in my opinion, the easiest risk assessment matrix – the 3x3 grid approach. On one axis, you place the probability of risk, and on the other you place impact.

The benefit of this method is its simplicity. It’s quick and doesn’t require much in-depth knowledge, but allows you to put each risk into one of five levels and quickly develop risk response strategies for your product.

While prioritizing, you need to take into account the complexity of each area and the importance for the business. More complex flows will require more attention and time.

5. Mitigate risks and plan activities based on priorities

You can employ different risk reduction techniques here, but to start you need to decide what to do with each identified risk. You have three options:

  • Accept risk: the business impact is acceptable, there’s no need to plan any special actions.
  • Eliminate risk: chance and impact of failure are too high to be accepted, but at the same time costs of mitigating it are too high – in such case maybe eliminating a risky component is the best way forward.
  • Mitigate: add checks or controls that reduce the risk impact or the chance of its occurrence.

Now, it is time to plan activities. The goal is to reduce impact and the chance of occurrence.

The plan should include both ongoing efforts and activities you integrate into your process, like a test design based on set priorities, test automation, and performance testing, but it can also include one-off actions like a security audit or accessibility certification. Timelines should also be specified, as some actions only make sense after a specific milestone has been achieved, while others can take place from the beginning.

6. Monitor risks and review results

Assess your work and remember about continuous risk monitoring. Did you do a job good enough for the system at hand? Analyzing is not enough, you need to test if what you have put in place actually works. For example, an extensive and carefully crafted disaster recovery plan is not useful if it fails in practice, for example, if your backups actually won’t allow you to recover the data you need.

Risks also need to be monitored. As the project evolves, its scope may change. As a result, new risks may appear, old risks may not be relevant, or risk levels may be changed. Risk-based testing is an ongoing process, both when it comes to the execution of activities but also planning and predicting.

Accelerate your business by pre-empting potential risks

Services such as risk-based testing and risk audits focus on optimal usage of resources, clear prioritization of areas and testing scenarios, and understanding of customer needs. This makes it a great pick when time or budget is a constraint, and thanks to smart usage of risk assessment and management, it doesn’t compromise on quality.

Quite the opposite, it can improve quality by directing resources to areas that need them the most instead of spreading them equally across the system.

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Jakub Adamik

Jakub is a Senior QA Engineer with over four years of professional experience. He is a huge fan of...
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