Quality assurance plays a huge role in the software development life cycle, so it’s worth doing it right. There are some current development trends that might come in handy when prioritizing software quality in your project.
No matter the industry, software quality is essential to success, especially among the generations of digital natives. For businesses, this means ensuring that their products and services are delivered with maximum efficiency and accuracy.
Studies show that even 88% of users would abandon the app after experiencing bugs. Hence, the need for high-quality software is continuously growing, as it clearly has a direct impact on the business. But does the quality of code come down only to the amount of bugs and glitches in the application – or is there more to that?
Let’s dive deeper into the topic of software quality assurance in the development process along with its impact on the user experience.
How do we define software quality?
The question of how to define software quality has been circling around for years, while , in fact, we should circle back toward follow-ups connected to the quality of a software system. As each project is different, the software quality metrics or questions regarding the state of the product will differ as well. However, all those things combined will converge on confidence toward the product and its processes.
Going forward, from a confidence point of view, you can connect it to stakeholders’ perspectives and their functional requirements pretty easily, for instance:
- How fast does it take for that pipeline to process an order from payment to the warehouse?
- How much trouble does it make when a new user is trying to register?
- How often is our site down? Does it work?
- How often is our DB overloaded with queries?
The list of questions goes on and on and on, but each one corresponds to “How much confidence do you have?”
A well-developed system with a proper implementation process is able to answer it rather easily and swiftly. While the question would sound different depending on a stakeholder, all questions would share the same spirit – the spirit of quality.
What are the most important practices to ensure software quality?
The answer to this question is short: awareness and well-structured knowledge. To elaborate on that, we would need to jump into a specific project with a multiple-variable set.
Regardless of the project size – whether it's divided into six development teams or we’re joining forces with two developers, one project manager, and a quality assurance engineer – the bottom line seems alike for these two cases, among other possible scenarios.
There are various aspects of software quality and quality measures that come along with a certain point of view. Quite often you may find yourself focusing mostly on software functions of the application, and thus missing the bigger picture.
It’s worth taking a step back once in a while, looking at your application as a product, and diving deeper into the business value it brings. This, however, would require a slightly different approach to quality attributes.
Defining the scope of software quality testing is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to delivering high-standard software. When taking into consideration the budget and the deadline, we may have to prioritize and adjust standard testing scope according to the product’s needs.
In this case, it's the business value that should be the compass of software quality management.
Undoubtedly, it should be the most important criteria when choosing the right types of tests that should be prioritized and performed during the development stage.
When thinking about strategy, we cannot forget about the agility of the environment we work in and should at least try to predict changes and scenarios which may unfold.
The mentioned changes can happen either on the business side – in relation to the scope, priority, and business value – or on the technical side, e.g. relating to libraries or scalability of the solutions. Thinking ahead about those factors can help businesses reduce the cost of application maintenance.
Strategy is all about long-term thinking, but it doesn’t mean it has to be set in stone and cannot be changed in the future. Designing the architecture which allows for future changes and adjustments is often the key to a successful business approach to software projects.
There are multiple aspects of quality culture in the organization. However, understanding that top quality is the common goal of the whole development team is definitely one of the most important aspects.
It is really hard to achieve quality in a team where people blame each other or get offended when the bug is found. Hence, it’s crucial to maintain the environment where all the team members are open to a dialogue, as well as to understand that elimination of crucial defects is their mutual goal. It works wonders for the team morale, productivity, and quality.
It’s becoming more and more popular for a quality engineer to be more of an “evangelist” of quality in the team rather than taking the whole responsibility for the quality aspect.
And from the project perspective, establishing the process that supports quality makes all the difference in delivering high-standard products. Whether it involves proper refinements, a productive review, clear and exhaustive definitions of “ready” and “done”, or effective planning, it builds the quality culture in the project piece by piece.
Frequent and diverse testing
In the world of software development, where change is the only constant, agile software testing is the fundamental practice that directly impacts the quality control of products.
Testing early and testing often is the pillar of the modern software development process, as it ensures regular quality control and prevents easy-to-fix or small bugs from becoming bigger (and more expensive) issues.
Shift-left testing – an approach that moves testing activities toward the early stages of development – can prove helpful in this case, as it allows QA engagement in the initial project phases.
Thanks to that, when we work with designers consulting the mock-ups, a Product Owner contributing to user stories and the definitions of “ready” and “done”, developers helping us choose the best architecture and establish processes like code review or pair programming – we introduce the element of software quality at each stage and, at the same time, broaden the perspectives of other team members.
It often happens that as a team, we focus so much on the current sprint or the next deadline that we forget to look at the software product from a broader perspective.
Is the architecture prepared for expanding some features in the future? Is our infrastructure scalable? Does it ensure software security? Are we ready for a big load of users if the application becomes a success?
One example of risk management can be spotting potential performance issues in software products.
Perhaps your product is set to operate on a global market – or there are planned marketing campaigns around some features? These are only some of the signs that you should include performance efficiency tests in the scope of your testing strategy.
Performance issues might be one of the most frustrating types of bugs in terms of the user experience. Imagine entering an app because of its sale marketing campaign only to see that the page is down, and you can’t buy anything.
Looking at it from another perspective, imagine being that business owner who made all this effort and spent all this money to encourage you to be their client only to lose them right at the start because of the page being down.
Risk management allows us to confront and name potential risks in a software project during the production process, which then helps us understand them and find ways for mitigation.
By doing it up front, we can find ways to prevent those risks from becoming a real problem. Sharing it with the client elevates the level of trust and transparency and helps you establish a healthy partnership.
Automated tests (CI/CD and the whole pyramid)
Throughout the whole development of your system or app, there will be plenty of opportunities for the previously delivered feature to stop working. To prevent missing such cases, you should incorporate automated tests in your pipeline. As there is a whole universe of different automated tests, your project would require careful design aligned with the pyramid of automation.
Such an approach will reduce the manual check in terms of reviewing the whole system over and over again, minimizing the time spent on such activities, and allowing you to incorporate test-driven development. Most importantly, it may give you a quick answer to what’s the state of your development and support you whenever it’s lacking a few bits.
Do not assume anything. Each application is specific in its own way, and you should be able to spot differences on multiple occasions. Throughout refinement, you should gather information on how to deliver each feature as well as discuss business needs, reasons, and risks around each decision.
Naturally, there are some areas in which non-technical stakeholders won't have answers, but then you should consult the best, bespoke solution with the team. Bear in mind that frequent questions provide you with a clean view of the upcoming plans and risks.
Architecture planned for changes
Starting from a small localhost sandbox, it’s good to prepare for the upcoming flood of users. Starting small is cheap and agile, but you should be prepared to enhance your infrastructure for more users than your team and a few stakeholders.
Not to mention the need for multiple environments, where you will be able to poke around in a controlled environment and spot issues earlier. While your backend should be able to hold the whole traffic without any hassle, staging may be a bit weaker – but it should be usable for your team.
Rely on some dashboard and analytics, monitor your environment and look for some abnormalities. Those may give you some hints on how to improve your system, ensure that you build quality software, and avoid some nasty crashes which could lead to downtime and damage to your app reputation.
Products instead of projects
In the heat of a project, you may tend to forget where the initiative was supposed to take you. Step back and remember who you’re addressing with given features and how you’re going to monetize your user activity. Additionally, focus on your software product in terms of the values it brings to the end user and check them regularly during planning, refinement, and other meetings.
Some features may sound trivial and low-priority at first, but with business value in mind, they may attract a huge batch of new users, which will lead to bigger revenue for your business. Depending on the application, a system, or a service, you need to concentrate on different sources of the value, but the value is oftentimes a game changer.
The system you’re developing won’t be working properly without constant feedback from end users. It’s good to incorporate user testing in the design phase, gather initial feedback, and correct your assumptions.
Once your app is live, you should also have a clear way to report a bug, a suggestion, or a small quality-of-life improvement. Whether it’s a simple button in the footer of your site or a quick form inside your settings, it will allow your users to start a conversation with your team and help you improve your software quality.
Once you get traction on your user base, there is also a way to navigate through multiple solutions with AB tests.
Those may show you which solution works best for user registration or as the pipeline of your e-shop. As this is a pretty advanced technique, it’s good to conduct it with a clear question as to what you are checking there. The results may surprise you and allow for learning more about your users, so it’s a win-win scenario!
Using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence
When talking about modern development, it’s hard to skip the topic of Artificial Intelligence. Testing in the projects that use machine learning can be tricky, but it’s worth remembering these three main fundamentals:
- Error analysis
- Validation of the machine learning model
- Label reviews in a ML data preparation process
At the end of the day, users and their smooth experience with the application is what Quality Engineers specialize in, so it’s well-aligned with the main purpose of the machine learning software. After a short introduction to the basic ML concepts, QA can be an invaluable asset in terms of team leading, driving the quality, and developing the best testing practices in relation to the ML product development reality.
Software quality measures depend on your standpoint
Trends aren’t just another buzzword. It’s worth keeping up with them to constantly improve the quality of your application.
Preparing an exhaustive testing strategy can help you address and mitigate potential future risks. Nurturing the quality culture in your environment might prove beneficial not only for the team’s spirits, but also the business value your product brings to its users. A continuous user-driven approach helps you develop the right thing at the right time.
On top of that, frequent discovery and software testing prevents us from steering our app development in the wrong direction.