Choose the Right QA Tools to Validate and Verify Product Value and Stability
The ultimate goal for product development is to deliver valuable, usable, and functional features, enhancements, and changes to end users in a way that aligns to business stakeholder expectations and objectives. This goal requires a deep understanding of the quality attributes that define product success from both business and technical perspectives and correctly enforcing these attributes in a streamlined quality assurance (QA) practice.
QA is an integral part of your software development lifecycle (SDLC), as it ensures quality standards and controls are upheld throughout development. Your QA tools should accommodate the various quality requirements from the various stages of your SDLC to ensure the product meets stakeholder expectations while abiding to non-functional requirements. Injecting the proper validation verification steps early in your SDLC can help minimize the high costs of fixing defects found later in development and ensure you are following corporate policies and regulations. Automation offers organizations the ability to expand test coverage and better utilize the time allocated to testing.
Automation can only be achieved by standardizing and enforcing a repeatable development and testing process that lays out the artifacts that need to be created, roles who need to be involved, quality attributes that must be clarified, and the activities that need to be completed to deliver a valuable product. However, the appropriate mechanisms need to be in place to continuously improve this process to better fit and govern your evolving business and technical environments. See our Build a Strong Foundation for Quality blueprint for additional information for defining, implementing, and maturing your testing practice.
Much like any other development tools, you will need to evaluate how your QA tools fit into your overall tooling environment and strategy.
- Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) – ALM tools help manage and monitor the development of products as they progress through the SDLC and orchestrate the completion of manual and automated work among your teams. A key benefit of ALM tools is that they provide traceability of user stories and requirements to code to test cases to release packages to support ticket, assuming they are defined and templated. See our Choose the Right ALM Solutions to Manage Product Delivery note for more information.
- Continuous Delivery – QA tools are integral parts of the larger product delivery pipeline that can include other automation tools, such as automated build, continuous integration, and automated deployment. QA tools must, therefore, be specifically configured to accommodate the outputs of upstream development activities and create compatible inputs for downstream development activities. This step requires a close look at the attributes of development artifacts and how they trigger QA and other automated development activities.
- Open-Source vs. Proprietary Tools – Open source is a popular choice of tools among today’s organizations. However, there are several things you should consider in your research and selection:
- Tooling Landscape – Most of the open-source tools focus on a particular set of features for specific technology stacks. Clearly identify what you are looking for at a minimum from functional and non-functional requirements perspectives.
- Cost vs. Value Consideration – Open source may not generate the cost savings you and your stakeholders expect. The implementation may be cheap but ongoing support and upgrades may drive down your ROI.
- Product Governance – Each open-source community has its own approach to govern the changes to and use of its products, whether that be an open developer forum with little oversight or a formal approval through a benevolent dictator.
- Open-Source Community – Review the livelihood and participation of the community to address your implementation and operational challenges.
- Consulting Availability – If you are not receiving the support you need from the community, consider the available third-party resources that can assist you. Unfortunately, this specialized skill set may come at a high cost.
- Integration Capabilities – Be cautious if vendors have invested interest in certain open-source tools, as this may lead to biased treatment towards their partners. Ultimately, you do not want to be left on the hook for support if the vendor shifts gears.
QA tools, much like any other optimization or implementation, should not be done in isolation as local improvements can drive down the performance of the entire delivery pipeline.
Players in the QA Landscape
QA tools leverage graphical user interfaces and automation capabilities to provide developers, testers, and operations with the ability to easily create, manage, execute, and report tests and results. Today’s QA tools have several common attributes:
- Test Planning – Build test cycles and phases, define milestones to coordinate dependencies and releases, and assign resources to execute the planned tests. Test plans include business and test objectives, review and approval process for the test plan and test cases, test resource management, scheduling of testing activities, listing of environment configuration requirements and the definitions of quality goals, and entry and exit criteria.
- Analytics & Reporting – Aggregated visual reporting of testing progress, results, and insights through real-time, dynamic dashboards with customizable reporting widgets and canned templates. Teams are notified of test results through the dashboard's URL, email notifications, or an exported format (e.g. PDF).
- Artifact Traceability – Trace testing artifacts, such as test cases and scripts, forward to test runs and issues that need to be fixed and backwards to the business process, system design, and business, functional, and non-functional requirements. Teams can visualize and increase their test coverage and assess the impact of requirement and design changes to related testing artifacts and plans. Ability to recognize which tests will fail or need to be retested based on recent requirements, design, and code changes.
- Test Case Generator – Automatically generate test cases directly from requirements, the source code, recordings of user actions, and visual and graphical workflows and models using a GUI interface.
- Test Coverage Analysis – Pinpoint the sources of test failures and defects by granularly dissecting test runs, test cases, and other testing artifacts and requirements to determine their root causes and their impacts to test coverage. Teams address erroneous defect results, such as removing false positives/negatives and duplicate entries, to produce a backlog of defects to fix or accept in the next test run or release.
- ALM Integration – Real-time integration with third-party application lifecycle management and other requirements management, design, build, deployment management, issue management, environment management and configuration management tools through out-of-the-box plugins or customizable REST API. Third-party tools include both proprietary and open source. Testing artifacts are automatically imported from the third-party tool, and test results automatically update artifacts or trigger workflows in the third-party tool.
- Artifact Management – Test artifacts (e.g. test plans, test cases, test scripts) can be readily created, reused, moved, and managed in a structured format, such as folder, hierarchical, and context-driven formats. They are stored in a version-controlled repository that supports check out, update, check-in, and collaboration across multiple artifact types and workspaces.
- Test Run Workflow Manager – Script, configure, execute, and manage automated testing workflows, including parallel testing. Automation is initiated internally by the test management solution (whether by the solution or through an integrated third-party tool) and then it triggers an internal capability or a third-party tool to execute the test. The solution will then submit the test results back into the test management solution. Workflows accommodate both manual and automated tests.
- Audit Log – Complete record of all changes made to entities to monitor and trace every change within the test management solution. Easily view and filter logs, specify logging levels, and set retention policies.
Each QA tool vendor and open-source community will have their own approach to testing and alignment to industry standards and best practices. They will also differentiate themselves based on the type of applications and platforms they support, integration partners, degree of QA lifecycle support, and automation capabilities. Some vendors only manage testing activities and do not provide the native capability to test. Therefore, your choice of tool and vendor will depend on the reason why you need to test and how you intend on using the test results.
- Comprehensive Test Management Suites – These suites provide a centralized, unified, and comprehensive platform for managing manual and automated tests, test processes, assets, plans, activities, and results against defined quality goals and requirements. A wide range of tests (e.g. regression tests, integration tests, performance tests, function tests, security tests) can be natively executed through these suites for applications on multiple platforms.
- Tactical and System-Specific Test Tools – These tools are designed to perform a specific set of tests for applications on certain technology platforms. Some tools are aligned to particular industry testing frameworks (such as NUnit), support certain development methodologies (e.g. ATDD, BDD), or are architected in a specific way (e.g. cloud, SOA). These tools are often used to complement feature gaps in comprehensive test management suites or are plugged into ALM solutions to extend their testing capabilities.
In addition to the core features defined earlier, vendors and open-source communities will incorporate several advanced features to streamline test creation and execution and support continuous delivery and automation:
- Regulatory Compliance – Templated test cases for regulatory requirements and industry guidelines (e.g. GAMPS, SOX, HIPAA, OWASP, ISO).
- Test Load Balancing – Intelligently distribute testing load across system clusters to achieve high testing performance.
- Test Environment Management – Provision, monitor, refresh, and tear down test environments. Teams can track all environment resources from a centralized dashboard and repository, enable check-in and out policies, and monitor environment performance and changes during testing.
- Test Data Management – Secured management and access of test data.
- See our Provision and Mask Your Test Data With the Right Tool note for more information on test data management solutions.
See our Implement a Proactive and Consistent Vendor Selection Process blueprint for more information about procurement best practices (including RFP templates).
QA tools empower all software delivery roles to create and manage a comprehensive list of tests and execute them in a continuous, and often automated, process. These tools can expand test coverage, which can motivate delivery teams to proactively improve product quality and value delivery. However, automation does not eliminate the importance of quality accountability and the need for continuous QA process improvement. Evaluate the rationale behind the need of QA tools and identify opportunities where automation can bolster the value of your products. In some cases, a single tactical tool can generate a higher ROI than a comprehensive testing suite.
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