Changing The Role of QA in your SDLC Process

How does your team view QA?

It’s a question that every quality leader, CTO and Director of Engineering should be asking themselves. Especially in today’s tech world, where quality is the key differentiator between highly competitive products on the market, internal views of QA can have a huge impact on the product you deliver. 

If testing is seen as a bottleneck or annoyance, or even an afterthought, then it might be necessary to take an assessment of the role of QA in your SDLC process. That’s because attitudes towards testing reflect on how QA is integrated into your design, code, production and beyond. 

If testing is seen as lesser than, then the likelihood is that your product will not be well-tested.

And effective, thorough testing is the key to delivering quality every time. 

So, ask yourself: “is QA a separate entity, fully integrated, or a continuous process?”

Take stock of your team and their processes. This will reveal internal behaviours towards testing, and whether these need to be changed. If you find that QA is a separate entity, it’s time to do two things:

  1. Influence internal views of quality
  2. Fully integrate QA into your SDLC

Influence internal views of quality

Before you can change the role of QA in your SDLC, you need to have your organisation on side. If you simply propose a change with no evidence, backing from key stakeholders or team alignment, it’s very likely you are going to come up against a brick wall. 

In Leading Quality: How Great Leaders Deliver High Quality Software & Accelerate Growth, Ronald Cummings-John and Owais Peer discuss the importance of building a culture of quality in your company. That means you need to influence internal views of quality, in order to create a shared narrative around what QA means. When everyone is on the same page, change can be made. 

The following steps were identified in Leading Quality as key to changing the narrative around QA in your organisation. 

Understand the individuals you need to influence

Influencing internal views of quality isn’t a simple task. Shifting the behaviour patterns of a team requires strategic conversations. 

That’s because the CEO of your company is going to have different goals and concerns to a developer. Each person in an organisation has their own agenda, beliefs and skillset. And each person also has differing levels of influence, decision-making ability and thought leadership.

That’s why, when trying to influence internal views of quality, it’s important to assess who is key to making the change and deciding how best to approach them. 

With each person, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are their goals and objectives?
  2. What concerns/challenges do they face in their day-to-day role?
  3. Why would they object to your idea?
  4. How does your idea impact them and their teams?

This will build up a clearer picture of how you should approach changing the quality narrative, and what evidence gathering and convincing you should be carrying out. 

Create empathy to increase alignment between teams

A lack of alignment is a huge factor as to why QA can become siloed. 

If developers see QA as an obstruction to delivery, and QA see developers as lacking understanding of the importance of their role, that’s hardly going to create a recipe for success. 

So, in order to create the culture of quality you want to see, it’s necessary to increase alignment between teams. 

One way to do this is by cross-functional pairing sessions.

As explained in Leading Quality, this is where those from different disciplines work together to share ideas and avoid misalignment down the line. 

For example, developers and designers at Pivotal Labs have regular half-day pairing sessions in order to fix design tweaks. Creating this narrative between developers and designers and building up relationships means that confusion further on in the SDLC is avoided. Team members have a better understanding of each other’s vision and goals. 

The role of these cross-functional sessions, therefore, is to build empathy between departments and keeping teams aligned. 

If your QA team has a healthy and open relationship with developers and designers, the likelihood is that their views on quality will become more aligned. This will lead to an improved quality narrative and is an important step on the way to influencing internal views of QA.

Support your quality narrative with evidence

An idea without evidence doesn’t hold weight.

After all, would you pay for an expensive phone without checking some reviews first? Would you pay for a new SaaS platform without reading a case study?

Evidence drives decision making, and strategy changes are no different. 

Collate data about how changing the quality narrative, and shifting the teams focus on QA will drive ROI and improve the quality of the product you deliver. 

Use data from industry studies, presentations from talks, or even books (like Leading Quality) that have anecdotes and examples from companies from the likes of Google, Etsy, New York Times, GitHub, King and HelloFresh.

This will add credibility to your ideas and help get important stakeholders on board.

Cultivate internal champions

Cultivating internal champions is about focusing on the key executives in your organisation who buy into your vision. Finding like-minded individuals will add momentum to your idea. After all, it's universally agreed that influencers of any kind add weight to a vision.

As outlined in Leading Quality, Spotify, for example, has roles in their company dedicated specifically to promoting the importance of QA. These “Quality Advocates” champion putting quality at the centre of everything you do.

Discover who the ‘Quality Advocates’ in your team are. If they exist, work on collaboration in order to further influence internal views of quality. What if they don’t exist?

These four steps are essential to creating an environment where the role of QA in your SDLC can be changed. After this has been achieved, it's time to fully integrate QA into your SDLC.

Fully integrate QA into your SDLC

Fully integrating QA into your SDLC requires one key change: shifting to continuous testing.

There are some common misconceptions about testing continuously, however. Some consider it expensive, time-consuming and a huge strategic change. 

But continuous testing doesn’t mean testing every single new line of code or conducting an excruciating amount of tests. 

In fact, it’s much more agile than that. 

Continuous testing means shifting your QA left, moving it towards the very beginning of your SDLC, rather than having it as a static stage of the development process. This means incorporating testing even before a line of code of written, and well beyond release. 

This way, QA is built into the design phase, development phase, production phase and everywhere in between. But what does that look like?

Dan Ashby illustrates how testing fits into every stage of development in the diagram included in his post, ‘Continuous Testing in DevOps’:

Dan Ashby Diagram

Dan isn’t suggesting that we run automated test scripts at the planning stage of your SDLC. That doesn’t quite make sense (and isn’t possible!) What Dan means is that continuous testing is about pre-tempting bugs before they happen, putting quality first, and building testability into the product.

When you apply the analytical skills needed to test an application to test an idea, concept, or design, you will improve the quality of that idea, concept or design. 

Similar to the mindset behind TDD (Test-Driven-Development), continuous testing is about incorporating QA from the very beginning of each task, or phase of your SDLC.

Fully integrating QA into your SDLC will improve the quality of what you produce. That’s because, by leaving QA as an afterthought, you increase the likelihood of critical bugs appearing in the late stages of development, or even worse, after production. 

Testing early, and testing often means catching pesky bugs that will slow down your release velocity further down the line. This, in turn, will mean you are delivering quality, without compromising on speed. 

Change the role of QA in your SDLC process

If QA is siloed in your engineering team, it’s time to make a positive change. 

Firstly, you need to ensure that the quality narrative in your company enables you to make that change. Align every team, and individual on why QA is important, conduct research, provide evidence and have strategic discussions. Once your organisation understands the importance of QA and the direct impact it can have on your business, you will be in a position to change strategy. 

Secondly, fully integrate QA into everything you do. Involve QA in the planning stages, test ideas, test designs and don’t stop testing when products make it to production. Testing early and testing often will change the role of QA in your SDLC to a positive change maker. 

You will see product quality improve, and impress customers as a result. 

If you would like to learn more about the best way to boost your QA, connect with one of our growth experts today.