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5 essential best practices for QA teams to adopt

Performing QA duties properly should mean more than checking lists of basic application requirements. Here are five ways software QA teams can improve review processes all around.

Software QA teams are often charged with creating comprehensive testing strategies that holistically account for the application development methodologies, architecture styles, frameworks or other elements in use. This includes understanding requirements, creating test design review processes, implementing test automation to increase test coverage and maintaining detailed bug reports that provide transparent and actionable metrics.

However, the key to creating better quality software isn't to simply establish and enforce rigid review processes, but to ensure that QA teams have the right mindset when it comes to performing their duty. In this article, we examine five core best practices for QA teams to adopt, especially when faced with heavy business-level application demands.

Make test strategies adaptable

A carefully tailored test strategy forms the basis of the QA test effort. Plans should always account for the software development methodology used in the organization, the test requirements of the domain and the specific types of applications that domain encompasses. Testing teams in particularly regulated industries or business environments that must comply with strict quality management systems should doubly ensure that test plan documents conform to the specific quality standards required by the regulatory organizations.

Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory's books on Agile testing are great resources for testers looking to better balance the quality and speed of tests through strategic planning.

Try to shift left

A shift-left testing strategy strives to implement quality engineering from the start to prevent defects down the line. In practice, this means testers get involved in the beginning stages of software development projects. Some organizations implement this through specific Agile methodologies, like behavior-driven development. If such an approach isn't possible, at a minimum, testing teams should try to perform requirements and design reviews as early as possible. Any nonfunctional testing, especially performance and security tests, should arguably fall in these early stages as well.

Implement practical test automation

Although test automation is a critical component of almost all test efforts, it must be implemented conscientiously to produce any real value. Before you begin an automation effort, understand what you want to automate and why. For instance, are you creating a regression or end-to-end test suite, or is the goal to implement in-sprint automation?

Cost-benefit analysis is key to any strategy, so be sure to estimate and include the cost of maintenance on any automation tools the team plans to implement. No test automation effort is a one-time thing, and automated test suites require frequent optimization to remain effective. Also, be sure to focus on applying automation to the non-negotiable test cases required for a given project, rather than those that are optional and perhaps fine to still perform manually. Finally, after each test execution run, evaluate and address any flaky tests, as these quickly undermine the automation suite's effectiveness and value.

Focus on UX

UX is a critical -- but too often overlooked -- aspect of the testing process. An application of high quality from a functional and nonfunctional standpoint does not impress the customer if it isn't equally intuitive and easy to use. One negative -- or even mediocre -- customer review may cause potential users to look elsewhere for the service they want.

Create test cases that focus specifically on assessing how easy it is to navigate both forward and backward through the application. Ensure that in-application workflows, such as form pages or other data entry procedures, are simple and intuitive. QA teams should also make sure that any error messages the user receives fully explain what the issue is and clearly detail what action to take. These can all be simple tests, and they go a long way in the effort to improve user satisfaction.

Over the course of thinking about customers and their user experiences, take some time to assess the strength of your accessibility testing efforts. Considering the percentages of adults in the United States that suffer from mobility, cognitive, vision, hearing and other types of conditions that could impact their ability to interact with an application, it can be difficult to argue that comprehensive accessibility should be viewed as an optional component of a testing strategy. In the effort to maintain applications in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, consider implementing frameworks and tools specifically designed for accessibility testing, such as WAVE and EvalAccess 2.0.

Continue monitoring through production

A shift-left approach to software engineering requires continued management throughout a product's lifecycle. This means monitoring and, if possible, testing in production. No matter how complete the test coverage, it's inevitable that defects escape into production. However, the goal is to find those defects and fix them before they impact the customer. There are several well-known methods to perform testing in production, including A/B and canary testing.

Production-stage monitoring is also as critical as testing. Many factors can bring down an application or cause latency, such as network issues, server outages or overload failures. QA teams may also encounter challenges midproduction as they feel the effects of changing resource requirements, fluctuating budgets and unforeseen changes to project schedules. The thing to remember is that, while effective implementation of quality and testing processes is critical to delivering high-quality software, true quality comes from a focus on the customer throughout a software product's lifecycle.

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