The Last Car in the Roller Coaster

~ by Randy Wagner

A Typical Ride for Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance (QA) in any project is typically the last car in the rollercoaster. They are not steering. They are along for the ride and sometimes that tail end just whips around. If requirements and development are late, QA is almost always held to the original due date. No matter how “exciting” the ride is, it does not let up until the end of Development. But then Stabilization begins.

The Shift from Development to QA – Stabilization

The all-too-short period of Stabilization is meant for a project to catch its breath, find its footing, and square its shoulders before User Acceptance Test (UAT) and Production release. QA begins to call the shots now. It’s their turn to work with the Product Owners to define the roadmap of what needs to be regression tested before users see the delivered product. Development takes orders from the back of the train as QA prioritizes the remaining defects and adds a few more as they crop up. QA reviews the original testing, identifies areas of concern or where the greatest defects were found, sorts out resource availability as people start to roll off the project, and delivers a plan to validate the functionality without re-executing everything. There are simply not enough time and people.

Challenges of the Stabilization Period

Development is Rarely Complete and New Defects Surface

Stabilization always comes with some challenges. Development is rarely complete at the end of the Development phase. There are always a few stories and all too many defects that seep into what should be a period devoid of new code changes. Rather than just running regression tests and cleaning up a few discordant functions, QA finds itself burning the first few weeks cleaning up the Development party. It’s a realistic expectation that new defects will be found that complicate the work.

Defects Have Ripple Effects and Reveal Gaps in Functionality

The greater challenge is that these late defects are most likely to have ripple effects, not just within an x-center but across them as well. The system is intended to operate coherently which means more touch points than we see in early development. Gaps in functionality are revealed.  Daily triage becomes the anguished diary of the project.

Even when the Business Analysts (BAs) have done a great job, the interim between originally defining a story in Sprint 2 until now also comes with an evolution in thought and forgetfulness on why a given path was originally chosen. Product Owners are tempted to revisit requirements when QA does demos of stories that spilled over. Stabilization has a tight schedule, and every change threatens the go-live date.

QA Leads the Project from Stabilization to Production-ready

It takes a strong hand to juggle all the demands with too few hands. QA wants to deliver a strong system that has often been limited by the constraints of a Minimum Viable Product approach. We could spend years testing and finding more defects, but we have to strike the balance that gets the system to Production in a cost-effective manner. Stabilization is where that balance happens and it’s the QA team that ultimately takes control and polishes the product to a Production-ready state. No easy task from the last car on the roller coaster!

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies.  He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, configuration management, and automation.