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IT leaders must put quality assurance at the core of software development

Software
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/TechnoVectors)

Whether digital natives, or incumbents trying to keep up with them, most businesses understand how crucial software development is to building products and services. Development processes are vital for keeping the customer experience streamlined, but the impact of the pandemic has meant that customers expect better and more sophisticated digital experiences than ever before as their worlds have increasingly moved online. With many forced to turn to online channels to communicate with their favorite brands, software development is firmly in the spotlight. 

However, in their haste to make updates to capitalize on fast emerging trends, IT teams are at risk of skimming over some key steps, not least quality assurance (QA). 

Developers know QA is a vital part of any software project, but to many businesses, it has now become a last-minute, box-ticking exercise as they strive to increase the speed at which they can get new products and services launched. Given the speed at which they have had to react to the pandemic and its impacts, this is somewhat unsurprising but as most are now realizing, not having QA as a core process in the project lifecycle can come back to haunt developer teams. In fact, it often makes the road to developing user-ready software longer and can disadvantage the business and potentially its bottom line. 

The key to avoiding these issues is to ensure QA is incorporated into the entire software development lifecycle. All projects should take on the mantra “quality over velocity”. This means leaders must embed QA as a specified, core requirement of any project, instead of considering it as an afterthought.

Quality assurance means customer satisfaction 

Quality assurance is about monitoring the software development process and method to ensure that the output adheres to the project requirements, as well as industry security and compliance standards. With QA at the core, businesses can gain a better understanding of the status of their product, which allows them to assess, improve and consistently enhance its output for better outcomes and know whether the output meets the business requirements.

In order to draw out a strategy that ensures quality at each step, businesses need to understand their customers’ needs, user journey, expected target markets, and how they expect the software to perform. Without this, businesses will struggle to meet and ensure customer requirements, business goals, and overall expectations.

Without QA at the core of project development, it is difficult for businesses to assess the true functionality of its product or service as well as to track critical defects that are costly to address once identified in post-production. It can also lead to several other challenges, including delayed product releases, unhappy customers, reduced brand reputation, and increased technical debt.

Be proactive, not reactive  

Looking at traditional industries, such as hardware and manufacturing, product quality is assessed at the end of the production line, most of the time this approach works fine. Software development doesn’t work in the same way but has still inherited some of these practices from its manual cousins, instead of creating new ones. Ultimately, this means many businesses relying on software-driven processes have been working from outdated strategies that don’t meet the needs of the fast-moving digital world. While many have begun to recognize and address this issue, there are still hundreds of CIOs and CTOs out there that expect QA processes to be an add-on at the end of the software development process. 

QA and developers: a symbiotic relationship 

On the other hand, even the people in technical lead roles who understand the importance of QA, still believe that developers should be driving it in addition to building the software itself. This is true to an extent – there are some fantastic, talented developers out there! But this perspective can teach bad habits and means QA becomes an expectation of developers rather than a specified core requirement for the entire project. 

That’s because it’s easy to forget that developers aren’t quality assurance engineers. It is an entirely separate role that should be working side by side with developers throughout any digital project. A developer’s role involves writing and maintaining the source code, which usually includes implementing unit and integration testing to ensure that the code matches the requirements. However, they are not involved in performing functional and non-functional testing.

QA is a specialty, too  

For software to work, it not only needs to be built, but constantly iterated to ensure it meets the rapidly changing nature of today’s customer expectations. To do so, both developers and QA testers must be part of the development team from the outset to avoid unnecessary delays in getting products to market. Understandably, hiring these additional skilled employees can be difficult, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which left internal teams and budgets stretched. If you add the lengthy and costly process of recruiting technical staff, you can see why QA has become a second-class citizen in the world of software development.  

All of these forces can amount to a battle that many IT leaders do not have the resources to fight. The problem is that this regularly means that QA processes are neglected. However, the scale of development work required by today’s digital business is showing that putting quality assurance at the heart of the software lifecycle can actually save time, helping to avoid code with errors coming back to be remedied.

Ultimately, companies don’t just need to build software, they need to improve and evolve it depending on the needs and goals of each business and its customers. Embedding quality assurance as a core element of every development project makes it easier for companies to deliver this.

Nuria Manuel, QA Technical Lead, Distributed

Nuria has been working with Distributed for almost 2 years. She began as a project manager and one of the company’s first employees and is now its QA Technical Lead.