By: Michele Lucchini, Director of Delivery Operations
Quality assurance (QA) in application development today is evolving: technological trends are influencing the nature of QA teams’ work, and the QA function itself is having a more strategic influence on the business as a whole. This likely will affect how QA is staffed, the skills QA personnel need to be successful, and where in the software development process QA can add the most value. Usablenet has a strong QA capability, having done QA for over 500 sites and apps for clients. We are excited to see QA transforming to become a more business-critical aspect of enterprise mobile strategy execution.
At the outset, it is useful to contrast current trends with the traditional model: QA has historically focused on debugging software at the tail end of the development process. The goal was to perform a gatekeeping function, ensuring that only those products that passed testing reached the marketplace. This model is changing drastically.
The first key change is that the range of responsibilities is expanding due to development trends and usability concerns. These are caused by the growing importance of responsive web design (RWD), agile development, and accessibility.
With RWD, consistency from one screen and one user journey to the next is essential, so QA must examine three areas: user experience, functionality, and performance. In any given transaction, a user may shift from smartphone to tablet to personal computer in any combination (researching products on one device, filling the shopping cart on another device, and ultimately checking out on yet another). Any radical interruption of experience, functionality, or performance throughout this process should be considered a test failure.
Agile development by its nature is iterative, collaborative, and unbound by rigid plans and schedules. This allows development teams to be more agile, creative, and entrepreneurial; however, it can also lead to more errors and oversights. We believe that the use of cross-functional agile testing teams will grow alongside the increasing adoption of agile development throughout the industry. Like agile developers, agile testers will have greater leeway to ensure that business goals and customer expectations are being met.
Accessibility concerns are also growing in importance. Developers and testers both must ensure that their applications’ UI and UX are easy and intuitive for people with a range of physical disabilities. As with RWD, this is a multi-platform problem, as smaller screens make it more difficult for people with low vision or manual dexterity to navigate applications and fill in forms.
Beyond these technical areas, QA is changing in its importance to the business. Because QA is about more than debugging today, quick bug fixes at the end are no longer possible. Therefore, we believe it is essential for QA to become part of the workflow as early as possible so as to identify problems before they become catastrophic. This is more resource intensive. Yet, at the same time, having QA involved earlier enables teams to generate actionable intelligence that can influence business decisions and contribute to market success. QA is therefore becoming a more strategic function.
A final trend affecting QA is the growth of automated testing. While this is inevitable, it should be entered into cautiously. An automated system may be able to debug faster and more accurately than humans, but whether or not it can replace a human tester remains to be seen. As we have discussed, QA is becoming more strategic and has greater responsibilities than merely debugging. For this reason, it might be smarter to invest in human QA resources rather than automated QA solutions – or invest in both in the near term.