Easing the QA Money Drain

Chris Lawson, Director, Client Delivery, Zenergy Technologies
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CIOs have a problem and it has only recently surfaced. QA budgets are trending upward at a rapid pace and eating into the total IT spend, which is taking dollars away from new development and feature enhancements. The 2015-2016 World Quality Report states that up to 35 percent of total IT budgets is getting earmarked for QA and testing, a significant increase from previous years. No CIO wants this scenario, but it is becoming reality.

What is driving this increase? It is a perfect storm of the mobile device explosion and companies working rapidly to get new product features into the hands of their customers before their competition do. Combine this with digital-age users, who demand their software and data follow them wherever they go, from laptops on wifi to handheld devices on cellular. Users expect their applications to work seamlessly as they roam from home to car to office.

What is a CIO to do? Does he free up dollars for new development by cutting the QA budget and take the risk of releasing poor software? That is not the best choice to remain competitive. Plus, no CIO wants to see the company lambasted on social media for poor quality software. It happens more than we like to admit.

Is the only other choice to simply accept this high QA budget, knowing fewer product features can be released? The answer is no. How ever, how do CIOs strike a balance of lowering QA and testing costs while decreasing time to market, all while keeping quality high? We will explore this question, but first, let us look at the factors that drive QA budgets higher. As a veteran consultant in the software QA industry, I often find the following culprits in IT shops:

1. Heavy reliance on labor-intensive manual testing
2. Redundant testing
3. Outdated processes

Let us dive into each of these factors and discuss evolutionary QA and testing practices that can increase efficiencies without sacrificing quality.

Leverage Automation the Right Way

Manual testing will be relevant and necessary within software development for a long while. However, it is important to pin point when and where it occurs. Software testing that is repeated often should be shifted from human to machine and test automation tools are the answers. Nonetheless, too often, automation can be technical distraction if the solution does not align with the organizational testing goals and desired outcomes. I advise organizations to define the smallest number of critical tests that can be run in the shortest amount of time. This gives organizations a quick-hit in a working automation baseline that can evolve over time. Most in the industry refer to these tests as adaptive smoke tests and they should run continuously as part of the overall build process.

  ​QA budgets are trending upward at a rapid pace and eating into the total IT spend   

This small suite of tests provides a safety net for continuously integrating new software features. It is an important first step toward slowing the drain. Over time the smoke test suite can evolve and grow into varying levels of automated regression tests that will greatly reduce dependency on tedious manual regression testing, freeing your QA staff to focus on exploratory testing to flush out complicated and tricky bugs hiding within the software.

Review for Redundancy

When was the last time someone in your organization reviewed your testing practices for redundant processes? Redundancy can be considered a positive when it comes to servers, but not so good when more than one person is unknowingly doing the same activity. It is important for the entire software development team to have transparency into all levels of testing from unit to system integration. This allows the team to develop better test execution models to ensure testing overlap and redundancy is minimized. I recommend regularly inventorying your testing suites to confirm each test is still meeting overall testing objectives and to ensure they maintain relevancy as new features are added. Reducing time spent on unnecessary redundant tasks through increased team communication and collaboration will save valuable time. It also has the potential side benefit of improving overall team cohesiveness.

Update Your Processes

Many organizations, I have consulted with, have clung to processes and techniques that could be easily eliminated or replaced by more effective and efficient methods. Since, something has always been done a certain way, does not mean it is currently the best way.

Examples of this are creating dense documentation from requirements to developing complicated test plans that provide little to no value. Creating minimal lightweight processes and documentation that provide real value to the organization is a must these days if you want to move fast. Most people in IT have numerous stories where complex, high-dollar solutions were implemented that not only provided little to no value, they drastically slowed the organization down. Make sure your processes are in line with the newer, faster-moving world of software development.

Increased QA budgets are a new fact of life for today’s CIOs. However, the ones who champion test automation, eliminate redundancy, and update old processes, will ensure those budgets are not draining precious dollars from new development and the features their customers demand.

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