The difference between testing and quality is often overlooked by many organizations, or simply not understood, with many assuming that the premise of ‘we test, so we do quality’ holds true.
Testing forms an important part of a quality assurance (QA) journey, but an overall quality approach must encompass all project activities across the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) covering off QA from inception to delivery and governance.
So, what is quality?
It is important to first distinguish between a quality product and a quality process.
Defining product quality is hugely subjective based on your point of view (customer, consumer, provider etc.) and is often based on how well the product does what you need it to or how much it impacts you.
Whereas, a quality process is about having a measurable, repeatable and scalable system that can ensure continuous improvement over time. Quality processes should act as an enabler to help you build quality into a product and refine your quality benchmark which will provide confidence to your end customer.
And what is testing?
Testing is an activity that occurs on a deliverable, in order to measure its perceived quality. It is important to note the term ‘perceived’, as depending on the type of testing being undertaken the objectives of quality are very different.
Testing helps support the delivery of a quality product provided it is run as part of a quality process. Testing needs a strategy, approach, and plan derived from quality processes to ensure that the product quality delivery is robust.
Why is the difference important?
Often testing is your only means of measuring or implementing quality projects. Without understanding the true functions of what testing needs to achieve, most projects often run into difficulties once testing begins.
This happens due to a number of factors but is centered mainly on the premise of carrying debt forwards. If you do not have mechanisms in place to measure quality during all phases of the SDLC, it is often difficult to attain your objectives at every stage. For example, can you clearly articulate and measure the objectives coming out of a functional design phase of your project? If you cannot do this for all milestones or phases of your project, then the chances are that each phase will accumulate items that are not fully met - this is what we term debt. This debt is often exposed by testing, causing significantly more defects and functional gaps to be found than was originally expected and a divergence from the intended goals, which increases the risk of a project.
As testing is often something thought of or involved quite late in the project lifecycle these impacts cost more to resolve and put project delivery at high risk, whereas the goal of testing and quality management are to reduce risk by applying shift-left thinking to ensure requirements, planning, and coverage is thought of earlier rather than later.
How do I get quality through testing?
In both sequential (Waterfall, V-Model etc.) and iterative (Agile, Kanban, DevOps etc.) delivery models there are different phases or activities that are undertaken as part of project delivery. With a quality process, you need to be able to identify all activities and for each one articulate the intended goal or outcome and how you can measure it.
Shift-Left thinking needs to be applied to ensure requirements are thought of earlier than later. Carrying out analysis of requirements, project planning and risks will ensure coverage is adequately mitigated.
Quality assurance needs to be part of your IT investment as it will govern testing confidence and decrease the gap of uncertainty, especially if your product must be right the first time in a consumer-driven market where brand is important. The sooner an issue is identified, the cheaper and easier it is to fix. Once a process can be measured you can start to identify if the goals are being met and stop carrying debt forwards.
Resources to help you on your quality journey...
To enhance your understanding of the quality process and the key steps along the quality pathway, download our 'QA Bundle' which includes an easy to read infographic, “What a Digital Quality Strategy Needs”, to ensure the quality coverage on your next IT project or programme is optimised for quality outcomes.
From here, you’ll also be able to access our checklist “How Does Your Quality Stack Up?”, to get your own Quality Score by answering a few key questions about the state of your organisation’s QA processes, people, and technology.