This content is part of the Software Development Training Center: Strategies to master the software testing process

Struggling with testing? Here's how to get lean QA started

Trying to identify bottlenecks in the software testing process can be challenging, but starting a lean QA effort can help. Expert Amy Reichert explains.

How do I begin a lean quality assurance practice in my organization?

Lean QA uses a simplified version of Six Sigma lean principles for manufacturing processes altered to fit the QA software development process. You can find plenty of information on lean practices online or via business books.

How lean QA works for your needs depends on if you have waste in your business processes. Waste is time, energy or product that is lost during development. For example, downtime of test environments, duplicated work efforts or work that is lost or must be redone. Working on creating a lean QA process starts by discovering where the waste or inefficiencies are in your current process. If you don't currently have a standardized process, then review how your QA team members perform their work.

First, there is always waste or inefficiencies in the system somewhere. If you're lucky, they'll be hard to find. If you discover ample opportunities for change, then you'll need to prioritize where to start and build out a plan. Begin looking for waste by examining work processes as they are stated as well as observing how they are performed. Are your QA processes organized into a workflow? Do you have set starting, middle and end points to your testing process? Are those processes actually followed?

To get to lean QA, you'll have to discover the truth by observing and tracking where the pain points in your QA processes lie. Where does the testing process bog down, or at what points does it seem to stall? You likely have QA members who continue to work through problems, and you'll have some who stop working and wait for instruction.

You may need to have small discussion groups with managers and team members to find out where they believe the issues are. Discover if it's a process or particular team members, or a combination thereof. Do you have staff members who are productively engaged less than 90% of the work week? Are there significant gaps between work assignments where duties or tasks are not clear, or no backup or fill in work exists?

Downtime is a point of waste in many organizations, and that's a place where lean QA can help change things. The downtime can be produced by QA environment build or merge issues or by waiting for new code to come into test. Keep in mind to look not only at your QA process, but to include those processes that feed into or support QA testing. Processes you need to look at when considering lean QA include environment update and build, the development process -- is the code unit tested prior to delivering, late or on time? -- and network support.

You can ask for input from the whole team, but don't forget to measure or collect metrics from actual data. Observe and research across a three- to six-month period, if feasible. Be open-minded and focus on improving the process, rather than blaming individuals or groups. Formulate a realistic, organized plan for improvement and prepare to move to the next step: process organization.

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