Outsourcing QA in the world of DevOps – Best Practices for Dispersed (Distributed) QA teams

Best Practices for Dispersed (Distributed) QA teams

DevOps is the preferred methodology for software development and release, with collaborating teams oriented towards faster delivery cycles augmented by early feedback. QA is a critical binding thread of DevOps practice, with early inclusion at the story definition stage. Adoption of a distributed model of QA had earlier been bumpy, however, the pandemic has evened out the rough edges.

The underlying principle which drives DevOps is collaboration. With outsourced QA being expedited through teams distributed across geographies and locations, a plethora of aspects that were hitherto guaranteed through co-located teams, have now come under a lot of pressure. Concerns range from constant communication and interworking to coverage across a wide range of testing types – unit testing, API testing as well as validating experiences across a wide range of channels. As with everything in life, DevOps needs a balanced approach, maintaining collaboration and communication between teams while ensuring that delivery cycles are up to speed and the quality of the delivered product meets customer expectations.

Outlined below some of the best practices for ensuring the effectiveness of distributed QA teams for an efficient DevOps process.

Focus on right capability: While organizations focus to a large extent on bringing capabilities across development, support, QA, operations, and product management in a scrum team, paramount from a quality perspective would be QA skills. The challenge is to find the right skill mix. For example, a good exploratory tester; good automation skills (not necessarily in the same person). In addition, specialist skills related to performance, security, accessibility also need to be thought through. The key is to choose an optimum mix of specialists and generalists.

Aim to achieve the right platform/tool mix: It is vital to maintain consistency across the tool stacks used for engagement. As per a 451 research survey, 39% of respondents juggle 11 to 30 tools so as to keep an eye on their application infrastructure and cloud environment; 8% are even found to use over 21 to 30 tools. Commonly referred to as tool sprawl, this makes it extremely difficult to collaborate in an often decentralized and distributed QA environment. It’s imperative to have a balanced approach towards the tool mix, ideally by influencing the team to adopt a common set of tools instead of making it mandatory.

Ensure a robust CI/process and environment: A weak and insipid process may cause the development and operations team to run into problems while integrating new code. With several geographically distributed teams committing code consistently into the CI environment, shared dev/test/deploy environments constantly run into issues if sufficient thought process has not gone into identification of environment configurations. These can ultimately translate into failed tests and thereby failed delivery/deployment. A well-defined automated process ensures continuous deployment & monitoring throughout the lifecycle of an application, from integration and testing phases through to release & support.

A good practice would be to adopt cloud-based infrastructure, reinforced by mechanisms for managing any escalations on deployment issues effectively and quickly. Issues like build fail or lack of infra support can hamper the productivity of distributed teams. When strengthened by remote alerts and robust reporting capabilities for teams and resilient communication infrastructure, accelerated development to deployment becomes a reality.

Follow good development practices: Joint backlog grooming exercises with all stakeholders, regular updates on progress, code analysis, and effective build & deployment practices, as well as establishing a workflow for defect/issue management, are paramount in ensuring the effectiveness of distributed DevOps. Equally important is the need to manage risk early with ongoing impact analysis, code quality reviews, risk-based testing, and real-time risk assessments. In short, the adoption of risk and impact assessment mechanisms is vital.
Another key area of focus is the need to ascertain robust metrics that help in the early identification of quality issues and eases the process of integration with the development cycle. Recent research from Gatepoint and Perfecto surveyed executives from over 100 leading digital enterprises in the United States on their testing habits, tools, and challenges. The survey results show that 63 percent start to test only after a new build and code is being developed. Just 40 percent test upon each code change or at the start of new software.

Devote equal attention to both manual and automation testing: Manual (or exploratory) testing allows you to ensure that product features are well tested, while automation of tests (or as some say checks!) helps you with improving coverage for repeatable tasks. Planning for both during your early sprint planning meetings is important. In most cases, automation is usually given step-motherly treatment and falls at the wayside due to scope creep and repeated testing due to defects. A 2019 state of testing report, shows that only 25 percent of respondents claimed they have more than 50 percent of their functional tests automated. So, the ideal approach would be to separate the two sets of activities and ensure that they both get equal attention from their own set of specialists.

Early non-functional focus: Organizations tend to overlook the importance of bringing in occasional validations of how the product fares around performance, security vulnerabilities, or even important regulations like accessibility, until late in the day. In the 2020 DevSecOps Community Survey, 55 percent of respondents deploy at least once per week, and 18 percent claim multiple daily deployments. But when it comes to security, 45 percent of the survey’s respondents know it’s important but don’t have time to devote to it. Security has a further impact on CI/CD tool stack deployment itself as indicated by the 451 research in which more than 60% of respondents said a lack of automated, integrated security tools is a big challenge in implementing CI/CD tools effectively.

It is essential that any issue which is non-functional in nature be exposed and dealt with before it moves down the dev pipeline. Adoption of a non-functional focus depends to a large extent on the evolution of the product and the risk to the organization.

In order to make distributed QA teams successful, an organization must have the capability to focus in a balanced and consistent way across the length and breadth of the QA spectrum, from people and processes to technology stacks. It is heartening to note that the recent pandemic situation has revealed a positive trend in terms of better acceptance of these practices. However, the ability to make these practices work, hinges on the diligence with which an organization institutionalizes these best practices as well as platforms and supplements it with an organizational culture that is open to change.

Trigent’s experienced and versatile Quality Assurance and Testing team is a major contributor to the successful launch, upgrade, and maintenance of quality software used by millions around the globe. Our experienced responsible testing practices put process before convenience to delight stakeholders with an impressive industry rivaled Defect Escape Ratio or DER of 0.2.

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By Nagendra Rao

Nagendra Rao is the Vice President - Sales and Marketing and leads Trigent Software's global sales and marketing initiatives. Nagendra has 20 years of experience in the ISV, retail, e-commerce and marketing industries. Prior to joining Trigent, Nagendra worked at Hughes Networks, Tata Consultancy Services and Crompton Greaves.

View all of Nagendra Rao's posts.

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