Agile testing: how can metrics help?

The Agile methodology for software development focuses on releasing high-quality software regularly. Agile testing plays an important part in that, as it helps to ensure that the software you release is free from bugs and delivers a quality user experience.  

However, while testing is a measure of quality in itself, how can you be sure that the Agile testing strategy you’re using is up to the job? There must be a way to measure testing so that it can be improved, and that’s where metrics come in. Agile testing metrics give you a way to assess the efficiency of your testing effort in Agile. 

In this article, we’re going to discuss how testing fits into the Agile methodology, explain how the role of software testing has changed over time, and introduce some best practices that you can follow to ensure proper software testing in Agile. 

Where does testing fit within agile?

Agile testing simply means testing software while following the principles of Agile software development. Those principles include flexibility, responsiveness to feedback, and collaboration.

In the old waterfall software development model, a separate team would test software away from development. However, the separation of developers and testers in waterfall led to a divide that hampered software production. Developers strove to create perfect code while the quality assurance (QA) team tried to break that code by finding as many bugs as they could.

The Agile approach, on the other hand, is a set of development methods and practices where the solutions evolve through the collaboration of cross-functional teams. So, you do away with development and testing silos and unite the two. By regularly comparing notes, eventually, the developers start to think like testers, which means the errors are found earlier. Your testers also start to think like developers and engage more with the creative development process so they can test as you build. 

What are the benefits of an agile testing strategy?

There are lots of benefits associated with an Agile testing strategy. For example, it can help you:

Produce better software - This is the main goal of an agile testing strategy. Agile testing provides continuous feedback so that constant improvements can be made. This process reduces the number of bugs in production as they are fixed as soon as they are introduced in the development phase. That ensures the best possible user experience.

Speed up delivery - Agile testing optimizes the development cycle and delivers constant feedback so you can adapt the product to better meet the needs of the customer more quickly.
Reduce documentation - Working in collaboration with the developers means that your testers can use their experience and knowledge of the product rather than relying on documentation from the developers. Although they may need guidelines about what to test, it can be a few lines in a ticket rather than full documentation.   

Create cleaner code - All of the defects that are raised by the testers can be fixed within the same iteration. That helps to keep the code clean and saves time and money as bugs are fixed earlier on in the development phase.  

Agile testing - how to get it right

Now you know what agile testing is and the benefits it can bring, you can start to think about how you can implement Agile testing and align it with the overall aims of Agile development. Here are a few best practice tips to help. 

Automate tests where it makes sense

Testing early and often is an important concept in Agile testing. Teams must attempt to automate tests that make sense to get quick feedback on the status of a release. Manual testing should still be a cornerstone of your approach to QA, but it should be performed earlier on in the lifecycle wherever possible.

Since Agile teams operate on a collaborative level, automation becomes the responsibility of both testers and developers. In particular, you should focus on automating regression tests to help you maintain system stability with each change and achieve shorter development cycles. 

Understanding where your limitations are with automation and engaging with a service that can scale the manual testing component of your development cycles can be hugely beneficial. 

Consult with business analysts

Good testing relies on setting testable requirements from the outset. Communication with business analysts should be encouraged to remove ambiguity from your user stories and every user story in Agile should include clear acceptance criteria.

Avoid functional complexity

The more complex a feature or function, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to test. The whole team should discuss the desired functionality and determine whether test cases can be written to cover all functions in every possible way. The software must also be tested thoroughly before release to ensure it delivers the level of functionality the user expects.

Instil team value

The only way Agile testing can work is if software quality becomes a combined team goal rather than the sole responsibility of QA testers. The whole team must agree upon testing strategies, test cases, and defect prioritization. Proper Agile testing, therefore, is reliant upon team value as much as specific testing processes.

Here are a few more Agile testing best practices to help you get it right. 

What are agile testing metrics?

Agile test metrics are measures that allow QA managers to assess how effective their software tests are and whether your testing efforts are helping your business achieve its goals. 

Within Agile teams, test metrics provide feedback on testing efforts, areas that need improvement, and whether the testing processes achieve the primary Agile aim of high-quality software with frequent releases. 

As a QA manager, it is your job to choose the right agile testing metrics to track and then do what it takes to improve them. A good starting point is to ask yourself what you want the metrics for. You should discuss that with your teams and then collectively decide what to measure and how to measure. That will help to motivate the team to disclose the information as they understand the purpose behind it. 

Which agile testing metrics should you measure?

There are literally hundreds of metrics out there that can help you understand every aspect of your Agile testing strategy and whether it’s successful. However, very few teams have time to measure more than just a handful. With that in mind, here are a few that can provide valuable insights that are well worth focusing on.   

  • Defect cycle time - Quick software release times are important in a fast-paced Agile team. Measuring defect cycle time indicates how quickly defects are resolved. Shorter defect cycle times help you to produce faster software releases.
  • Defects found in production - Early software testing aims to find defects when they are cheaper and easier to fix. Counting the defects in production is a measure of the team's testing efficacy. Agile teams can capture this metric per sprint, release, or unit of time to reveal specific testing or development issues.
  • Code complexity - Metrics such as cyclomatic complexity can measure the risk inherent in any build by determining how complex the code is. Simple, clean, and readable code leads to reduced defect counts and higher quality software. Static code analysis can also test if code adheres to established industry standards.
  • Cumulative flow - A cumulative flow diagram shows work-in-progress, completed tasks, testing, velocity, and the current backlog on an area graph. Agile teams can use this metric to measure software testing progression and analyze whether testing is a bottleneck in the development cycle.
  • Cost avoidance - Cost avoidance shows you how much money your business is saving by finding and fixing issues earlier. The first step is to look at the pass/fail rates and how long it takes to fix those problems. You can then multiply that by a developer’s cost per hour to give you an idea of the savings. 

You can take a look at SeaLights' agile testing metrics learning section for a wider list of recommended metrics.  

Take the next step with agile testing

Getting Agile testing right requires a multi-faceted approach that ensures testing practices align with Agile aims. Automating the tests that you can, particularly regression tests, and instilling a team ethic that ensures equal responsibility for software quality is an excellent starting point. But don't neglect your Agile testing metrics. All metrics must be useful in an Agile context, meaning older, individually focused metrics may not provide value.

Last, always bear in mind that no metric provides all the answers for judging software quality or testing efforts. A holistic approach is needed that collates relevant measurements, provides a unified perspective on software quality, and reflects the combined efforts of your Agile team.