Quality assurance (QA) sits at the core of successful software development.
At its simplest, it is a methodology intended to ensure that a software product meets predetermined requirements. It focuses on identifying and bridging performance gaps so that the software product is safe, reliable, and fulfills quality benchmarks.
QA functions alongside the development process, not just as a step in it. The major focus of QA is to implement corrective actions immediately and prevent minor issues from turning into big problems.
Why is quality assurance necessary?
QA facilitates quality engineering and robust outcomes. It is fundamentally essential for many reasons, the key among which are ensuring superior-quality software products and reducing costs. We discuss the significance of quality assurance in software development in detail below.
- Resource-efficiency: Quality assurance is no longer considered an afterthought. It is an ‘envelope’ practice that ensures software development teams find bugs and defects at the early stages of development. It helps businesses save a considerable amount of time and money in the long run by preventing expensive errors as soon as they occur.
- Competitive outcomes: The primary objective of quality assurance is maintaining a desired level of quality in the software that customers have come to expect. Software architects adopt rigorous testing procedures to ensure that every step in the development process adheres to industry standards. They perform granular testing for different requirements - from usability to security - to keep the quality bar high. The result? Software products that don’t just work but deliver a differentiated user experience.
- Enhanced brand reputation: QA drives attention to every stage of the development and delivery process to ensure that the product performs as intended before it arrives in the market. It prevents companies from tarnishing their brand reputation and helps protect them from legal liabilities that may arise from selling defective products or providing substandard services.
What are the key quality assurance activities in the software industry?
Quality assurance involves proactive and reactive measures to nip potential software issues.
Proactive QA involves taking steps to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. This might involve implementing new processes or procedures, conducting regular employee training sessions, or investing in new equipment.
Reactive QA, however, involves fixing problems after they have already occurred. This might involve conducting root cause analysis to identify underlying issues, putting corrective actions in place to prevent similar situations from happening or issuing refunds or replacements to customers affected by a problem.
Between these two approaches, certain activities are commonplace. We aim to discuss these in more detail below.
- SQA management plan: It includes details about how a software provider plans to carry out the QA process throughout the project lifecycle. It further details software engineering activities and QA skills required for successful project completion.
- Establish the checkpoints: The SQA teams establish checkpoints. These checkpoints are located where data can be cached during the execution of tasks. Software providers leverage these checkpoints to uncover insights into the project’s progress and decide the future course of action.
- Multi-testing strategy: Testing should not be limited to one method. Software providers with a meticulous eye for detail use a combination of testing approaches when they have a variety of them available at their disposal.
- Evaluate the change impact: Changes sometimes reintroduce new errors. It is, therefore, essential to assess the impact of the change and determine its compatibility with the nature of the project.
- Build positive relationships: Strengthening relationships among team members at a grassroots level can significantly impact the quality of the software product. A company is more likely to deliver clear, quantifiable benefits to its customers if its teams are committed to co-innovating, co-investing, and collaborating - and aligning to the objectives of teamwork and shared success.
Standard software quality assurance approaches
The two approaches to SQA are:
- Software quality defect management: No prizes for guessing what a QA defect management approach is! It focuses on identifying and managing defects to enhance the overall capability and quality of the software. There is a general classification of defects based on severity and priority levels.
- Software quality attributes: Under this approach, it is observed if a software product is performing as expected, regardless of whether it has any defects. Software development teams measure the product's performance based on several quality attributes, including:
Quality assurance vs. quality control
Quality assurance and quality control may seem equivalent, but they are not. In fact, quality assurance precedes quality control.
Quality assurance is a set of practices implemented to ensure software products are of superior quality. On the other hand, quality control is a combination of activities used to determine whether these software products meet the quality requirements. Alternatively, architects conduct QA to verify whether the processes, procedures, and methods are implemented correctly — and to fix any defects as they arise. In contrast, quality control ensures that processes, procedures, and methods designed for the project are followed correctly. Simply put, QA focuses on achieving quality standards, while QC focuses on meeting predetermined and prefilled quality standards.
The table below outlines the differences between quality assurance and quality control in a clear-cut manner.
Quality assurance vs. testing
Although quality assurance and testing seem similar, they are quite different.
Quality assurance is a systematic process of checking and correcting the quality of software products. However, testing is the process of executing a program or system with the intent of finding errors, bugs, or other defects. Let's say you are preparing a meal. To ensure quality, there are several things that you will have to set right. Everything in the recipe should be fresh and above par, from ingredients to spices. But, testing the recipe is a different ball game altogether. You have to taste a spoonful to check if the flavor is adequate or if the texture is right.
So, the big takeaway is that QA is involved in the initial stage of the project at the same time as requirement gathering.
Key QA standards
Software development has no textbook definition of ‘quality.’ The meaning of it varies. What do we mean by calling a software product high-quality? Do we mean it is exceptionally built? Or does it just fit the bill and meet the predefined requirements? Whatever the case, a few standards for SQA set the anticipations for quality and are well-recognized in the industry. We cover a few of the most popular ones in the section below:
As of today, ISO 9000 is the most widely used standard for quality management systems (QMS). It is a set of international standards that defines and establishes the quality management system requirements. The ISO 9000 family of standards is designed to help organizations improve their product quality, service quality, and continual improvement activities. The standards are based on four principles:
- Customer focus
- Process approach
- System approach
- Evidence-based decision-making
- Relationship management
The Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) is a process improvement approach that provides organizations with the essential elements of effective processes. CMMI can be used to guide process improvement across a project, a division, or an entire organization. The model describes five maturity levels for processes: Initial, Managed, Defined, and Optimizing. Each level represents increasing levels of process discipline and capability. The model describes the fundamental process areas (KPAs) required to achieve each maturity level.
The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) developed the CMMI model and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It is based on best practices from leading organizations around the world. The CMMI model is not a prescriptive approach; instead, it provides guidance that organizations can use to tailor their processes to meet their specific needs. The model is also flexible enough to be applied in various contexts, such as product development, service delivery, acquisition, and business processes.
Different CMMI levels are as follows:
- Initial: The Initial level is characterized by ad hoc processes that are generally understood but not documented or repeatable. There is little or no process discipline at this stage, and the organization relies heavily on individual heroism to get work done.
- Managed: The Managed level is characterized by managed processes that are continuously monitored and improved. At this stage, the organization has achieved a high degree of process control, and results are consistently superior to those at the lower levels.
- Defined: The Defined level is characterized by well-defined and standardized processes optimized for efficiency and quality. This stage suggests that the organization has fully implemented process discipline across all projects, and results are predictable and consistent.
- Quantitatively managed: At this level, an organization's processes are managed using quantitative data and statistical methods. This means that the organization measures the performance of its processes and uses the data to make informed decisions about improving them, making value chains more efficient, stable, and predictable.
- Optimizing: This level is characterized by constantly evolving processes that are continuously improved based on feedback from customers, employees, and other stakeholders. At this stage, the organization has achieved a state of continual improvement in all areas of its operation.
In contrast to ISO 9000, CMMI hasn't gone global yet. It is estimated that several thousand companies in 94 countries use CMMI, but ISO 9000 remains the most prevalent standard.
Notably, Kellton is a CMMI Level 5 certified company.
Testing Maturity Model (TMM) is a framework for assessing testing quality. It is a way to evaluate the level of maturity of an organization’s testing process and identify where improvements are needed. TMM provides a standardized measure of an organization's testing process by assigning points for each maturity level. The TMM model has five levels:
- Scope and Objectives
- Team Formation
- Team Plan
- Acceptance Criteria
- Test Policy & Strategy
- Test Planning
- Test Monitoring and Control
- Test Design & Execution
- Test Environment
- Test Organization
- Test Training Program
- Test Lifecycle & Integration
- Non-Functional Testing
- Peer Reviews
- Test Measurement
- Product Quality Evaluation
- Advanced Reviews
- Defect Prevention
- Test Process Optimization
- Quality Control
Quality assurance is an indispensable part of the software development process since it ensures a software product works as intended before it hits the market. It is no longer a nice-to-have but is a ‘must-have’ practice to ensure the sure-shot delivery of high-quality products, whether for day-to-day business operations or building a product for consumers.
If you have questions about the SQA processes or need a team to handle your project, contact our highly qualified quality assurance professionals today.