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Improve ROI in software testing with adaptability, automation

QA needs to reiterate its value to the business side of the organization. Use this tried-and-true advice to leverage documentation and automation to make everyone happy.

The benefits of software testing are obvious. Application testing ensures promised features are delivered and functional, improves customer experience and verifies regulatory requirements. But ROI is a different animal.

Return on investment is a way to measure if the time, effort and money invested in software testing result in monetary savings or revenue for the business. Users confronted with defects will abandon an application and seek an alternative that performs better, for example. That lack of quality control presents obvious financial problems for a business.

But does quality assurance through software testing truly pay for itself? How do you create ROI in software testing that the business side understands and appreciates? And how do the expansion of test automation, automated embedded unit testing, and the AI capabilities change the equation to increase the QA team's business value?

Expand QA skills and roles

To boost the ROI in software testing, plan to take on secondary responsibilities. Before you expand QA work roles and responsibilities, however, assess the effects on QA workload, identify conflicts with existing priorities, clarify which activity takes precedence and determine who works on what. Define the plan and be willing to adjust it so that it suits your team and the goals of the business.

Software development moves fast, so adaptability is crucial. That flexibility, in fact, is part of why manual testing continues to thrive -- humans can change directions on the fly, while machines need to be programmed. Having a team with variable skills is essential to build and prove your QA team's business value.

Streamline QA documentation

Another way to boost ROI in software testing is to reuse technical documentation. QA personnel often develop in-depth reference documentation that can be used to supplement test cases and provide training materials internally or for people outside of the team. QA testers have a deep understanding of how the application works, which means they produce quality technical end-user documentation.

Test case documentation can be converted into user documentation with less effort than writing those materials from scratch. Manual test cases typically are easy to decipher, and user workflows through the application are established there. QA staff can repackage the tests that represent general workflow into end-user documentation.

Automated tests are trickier to translate into useful text, but they can still be used for product documentation. Script comments from automated tests generally describe the script's function. Repurpose these test workflow comments into user documentation.

Combine manual QA and automated testing

The perceived ROI of automated testing is complicated. Certainly, automation streamlines some processes, but it also invokes the specter of fewer testers. Testing new development usually requires the agility of manual testing, while smoke and regression testing are best served by developing an automated test suite. The real trick is to figure out how to sensibly combine the two. In doing so, you can improve and even spotlight software testing ROI.

Combining manual QA and automated test development is common, but it's difficult to keep both efforts organized and productive over the long term. Priorities can change quickly in software development, and automated test development is often abandoned in favor of manual testing on the fly. It's difficult for testers to switch back and forth between manual and automated testing -- the mind shift required throws off momentum and reduces productivity.

Additionally, automating tests requires persistence and patience. Productivity in the context of automated software testing means tools are set to find defects by exercising valid verification points. Many teams shortchange test automation by creating simple tests that merely prove the application does not throw an error. In this scenario, they don't find defects outside of system or server issues.

For example, if a QA team tests a tax-preparation application, the testing must validate that a user can go through the process from beginning to end without errors. The test must also validate the accuracy of calculations and decision points.

Automated tests verify complex calculations and decision points. If I run my taxes through the application, I enter the data and come up with a calculated value for a refund or a payment -- but how do I know the calculations are right? The only way is to include verification points. QA teams directly add to the value of test automation by developing scripts that include verification points for complex workflows.

To combine manual and automated test development under the same QA auspices, allow people time to switch between each role after they finish a task. Get feedback from the QA team and change your approach if needed.

QA teams must continuously create and improve ROI to remain viable both in software development and in the business overall. Combine roles that best support production of a high-quality application without burning out your team. Understand how improvements to QA testing, such as test automation, translate into ROI for the organization's broader goals.

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