Three Horizons

~ by Randy Wagner

How to Balance the Past, Present, and Future in QA

Today is present in multiple ways for Quality Assurance (QA). The work we do is a result of our past, hopefully informed by the future as we see it, and limited by the time and resources at hand. It’s up to us to best interpret these perspectives to deliver the highest quality we can.

For QA, the constraints hit particularly hard because we are sandwiched between BA and Development efforts that might run long and release deadlines that are less likely to move. This means we need a clear focus on what to test, how to test, and what lurks beneath the surface without wasting time.

Re-evaluate Time Spent on Areas of Past Mistakes

One truism in software is that we didn’t get here by accident. Budgets are too large and we have too many process structures in place to make things up as we go along. The pain of previous lessons learned often leads us to skew our testing to avoid repeating the same mistakes. If we’ve had recurrent issues with a step in the workflow, our test cases will likely have multiple runs at it. The same is true for tricky user profiles, document generation, or any other ghost that lingers from the past. We would not be doing our due diligence if we’re not respecting the scars of the past. However, we do have to continually re-evaluate. Perhaps the issue hasn’t recurred since the major Prod release a year ago. Might be time to scale back on that focus.

Assess Testing Methods and Skill Levels of Resources

There are current pressures as well. You have to make sure you replicate transactions with the largest clients and address directives from senior management. The time, resources, and skills available today are likely not those of last year or next year so we have to keep that in mind. Is there different testing we can do that wasn’t an option previously? Perhaps a new regression testing tool would make more sense. It may be as simple as recognizing we have a new BA or Developer, or QA for that matter on the team who is still coming up to speed, so we adjust the testing focus slightly to accommodate.

Consider the Relevance of Business Features in the Future

Let’s not forget the future. Is the business model changing? Will resources change? Should we be ramping down one tool to increase on another? The future speaks to our current testing. At the end of the day, we have to make sure we’re validating business acceptance criteria but it would do us well to keep an eye on the future. We might not use a feature very much which suggests light testing but it may be key to the new line of business being launched next quarter.

QA is the “Insurance Policy” for Software Systems

In the end, we have to find a balance with all three horizons in order to test effectively. QA is the “insurance policy” for software systems. We can’t test every permutation, but we can at least try to stack the odds in our favor and give the customer a system that works today and tomorrow.

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, project management, configuration management, and automation.