Quality assurance (QA) is about ensuring that the application development lifecycle emphasizes quality throughout the process. Whether an organization follows a Waterfall, Agile or continuous development methodology, the role of quality assurance is to manage quality from beginning to end. Knowing what QA is, what it isn't and what quality assurance software can do is vital to any enterprise that develops applications of all types.
QA is about preventing defects rather than finding them. Often, quality assurance software is synonymous with software testing. The software development world often uses the terms quality assurance and testing to represent the same functions within the development lifecycle. However, there are some important distinctions: Whereas testing evaluates the quality of the product or application under test, QA focuses on the quality of the process. The role of quality assurance is also about go-live risk assessment. As QA focuses on the quality of process, and with the impact of social media, it can be argued that quality assurance plays an important part in safeguarding the reputation of an organization.
Who is responsible for quality?
In small organizations, QA functions may be performed by the same department that would also perform tests; in larger organizations, often it is necessary to separate the roles of quality assurance analyst and tester. Most often, testers are embedded within the project teams, whereas the quality assurance analysts are usually an independent group. Executing the quality assurance role outside of the project team has the advantage of providing a fresh, less biased view of the degree of quality built into the process which should, in theory and in proper execution, extrapolate into the quality of the product.
Although quality assurance analysts assess the quality of the development process and testers assess the quality of the application, the quality of each software release is ultimately the responsibility of the entire project team -- which includes developers, project managers and even operations, when continuous delivery methodology is in place. This responsibility becomes especially critical and evident as businesses shorten the development lifecycle and deploy quickly or even continuously in order to meet the demands of the consumer and competition. In fact, the entire team's emphasis on quality is one of the hallmarks of a successful transformation to methodologies such as Agile and DevOps.
How is quality 'assured?'
As long as software remains a product of human invention and ingenuity, total quality of neither the product nor the process can be completely "assured." However, there is a set of tasks that provides a framework for effective validation and verification of the product. This framework gives testers, quality assurance analysts and the entire project team a means by which to assess the quality of the product and the level of risk associated with each software release.
At the highest level, the core test process involves reviewing the requirements for ambiguity and testability, developing test cases for each requirement, executing the test cases and reporting the defects. However, there are many other supplemental tasks in which testers engage daily that are integral to an effective and efficient testing process. In Tea Time Testers and PractiTest's The State of Testing 2015, testers reported tasks such as meetings with development and product management, requirements reviews, test reviews, risk analysis and retrospective meetings as an integral part of their daily work activities to ensure quality.
The quality assurance and testing process faces many challenges and those challenges increase exponentially as new technologies emerge. Time and resource constraints are increased with the advent of mobile and cloud technologies. Test scenarios must now include many device, platform and browser combinations and testers must also consider usability, security and performance testing in their test approach. Given the increasing complexity and speed of the software development process, quality assurance software tools become increasingly important to delivering quality software.
What is quality assurance software?
Quality assurance software is one or more sets of tools through which the quality assurance and testing processes are managed and executed. Quality assurance software provides a repository for the test artifacts including requirements traceability, test plans and test cases. Maintaining test cases in one location encourages reusability across projects. This is an especially important feature for testing Software as a service packages because the release schedule for upgrades is dictated by the vendor rather than the customer.
It also provides features for managing the test execution process including release/cycles development, test suite creation and a means of executing tests and capturing their results. The tools also provide a framework for managing defects throughout their lifecycle. All the information about a defect from when it is found, fixed, retested and closed is maintained in one location. An important aspect of quality assurance software is its ability to provide metrics and status reports quickly and easily.
Quality assurance software is often integrated with performance and load automation tools and functional test automation tools to form integrated quality suites. In addition, it can be integrated with requirements management, release management, development and portfolio management tools to create application lifecycle management suites. Some quality management software offers additional add-on functionality to support mobile testing, Agile methodologies or specialized commercial off-the-shelf software packages.
Using quality assurance software to manage the test process, including tracing requirements to test cases and documenting the results of test execution and defect remediation streamlines the amount of documentation time needed for testers to perform test activities. It provides meaningful metrics that are critical in risk analysis, which benefits the entire project team. Meaningful metrics and streamlined processes make for a solid QA software product that can allow a team of quality assurance analysts to start having a positive impact on your enterprise's software product.
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