Guide to Software Quality Assurance
What is quality assurance?
Quality assurance (QA) is a process used to ensure that a product or service meets certain quality standards. This often involves thoroughly testing the product or service to confirm that it functions as intended and meets the expected specifications and requirements.
What is software QA?
When we apply this process to software, it fills the same role of verifying that the application not only functions as it should, but meets other important criteria around performance, security, and more. Software QA typically involves continually testing the software to identify and fix any defects or issues that are surfaced.
What is the purpose of quality assurance?
Quality assurance in software is an important part of the development process because it makes sure that the application is high-quality and meets users’ needs. Through this, developers and QA professionals can find and address problems before the software is released to the public, which improves user satisfaction and builds trust in the company that produces the software. When developers are able to remove issues in the application early and constantly as they’re surfaced by QA testing, it also saves time and money because those issues aren’t allowed grow into more widespread and complicated problems.
Quality Assurance vs. Quality Control
Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) are two similar but separate concepts. As discussed above, quality assurance checks that a product or service meets certain quality standards and functions as intended. On the other hand, quality control is a process used to ensure that a product or service is produced in accordance with certain quality standards. This often requires inspections of the product or service during or after production to confirm that it meets these criteria.
Quality Assurance vs. Testing
One of the biggest misnomers in software projects is that quality and quality assurance is the same thing as testing, which is a big misconception. Quality encompasses a much larger responsibility, including the quality of an organization’s processes, people, training, systems and culture.
This focus on holistic quality used to be the exclusive preserve of more regulated industries such as life sciences and manufacturing. But there has been a dramatic change in the regulatory and legal landscape over the past five years, due the dawning realization that software is an essential component of the modern economy. Now, CIOs and technologists are being held to a higher standard, since software has become an critical service, so quality in its wider form, is no longer optional.
Types of quality assurance testing
There are many different types of QA testing used to accomplish the goal of delivering a high-quality application to users. These can fall under “functional” or “non-functional” testing, which we discuss more here. Some common types of QA testing include:
- Unit testing - performed on individual units or components of the software to verify that they function as intended.
- Integration testing - performed on multiple units or components of the software to make sure that they work together properly.
- System testing - performed on a complete application or system to confirm that it meets the specified requirements and functions expected of it.
- Acceptance testing - determines whether an application or system is ready for release to the public based on its criteria.
- Regression testing - ensures that changes or updates to an application or system do not introduce new defects or issues.
- Performance testing - assesses the speed, scalability, and reliability of an application or system.
- Security testing - verifies that an application or system is secure and protects sensitive data from unauthorized access.
Learn more about these testing types and more with our Guide to Functional vs. Non-Functional testing methods.
What is an SQA plan?
An SQA plan, or software quality assurance plan, is a document that outlines the process that will be used to guide the QA procedures, measures, and more. The SQA plan typically includes details such as the scope of the quality assurance, the roles and responsibilities of the QA team, the types of testing that will be performed, and the criteria that will be used to evaluate the software. We will discuss where and how this plan fits into the QA process next.
Quality assurance steps
The steps in your quality assurance process can vary depending on the specific software being developed, as well as the requirements and constraints of the development process. The four general steps that every QA process should have are: Plan, Do, Check, and Act. However, we can break this down to be more specific:
- Define the scope and objectives of the QA process (Plan) - identify the specific application that will be the focus of the quality assurance testing, as well as the goals and objectives of the QA process.
- Identify the quality standards and criteria that will be used (Plan) - determine the specific quality measurements that will be used to evaluate the software’s quality.
- Develop an SQA plan (Plan) - create a document that outlines the processes that will be used to make sure that the software meets the required quality standards and criteria.
- Implement the SQA plan (Do) - carry out the activities and tasks outlined in the QA plan, including testing the software to identify and fix bugs or defects.
- Evaluate the results of the QA testing (Check) - analyze the results of the quality assurance to determine whether the product or service meets the quality standards and criteria.
- Make any necessary changes or improvements (Act) - if the product or service does not meet the specified quality standards, make your changes or improvements to fix the bugs or defects identified during the QA process.
- Document the QA process and results - create a record of the QA process, including its requirements, the steps that were followed, the results that were obtained, and any changes or improvements that were made. This documentation can be used to inform future QA efforts and improve the quality of future applications.
Software QA best practices
When it comes to setting your team up for success, there are many best practices that should be followed to get the most out of quality assurance. Some common software QA best practices to keep in mind include:
- Make sure that you clearly define quality standards and criteria. Before starting the QA process, it’s important to define standards and criteria that will be used to evaluate the quality of the software as clearly as possible. This will help the QA process stay focused and effective, and avoid potential misunderstandings or different interpretations.
- Develop a comprehensive SQA plan. As mentioned earlier, a well-defined SQA plan is essential to the success of the quality assurance process. This document should outline the steps and activities that will be followed during the QA process, as well as the roles and responsibilities of each person on the QA team.
- Perform early and frequent testing. It’s important to start testing the software as early as possible in the development process and to continue testing throughout the development cycle. This will help to identify and fix defects or issues before they become more difficult and costly to address down the line.
- Use a variety of testing techniques. Different testing methods are suited to different types of defects or issues (or development methodologies). To make sure that your software is thoroughly tested, it’s critical to use a variety of these techniques, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and acceptance testing.
- Prioritize the defects and issues surfaced by impact and usage. Not all bugs are experience-breaking issues that need to be resolved immediately, and it’s important to use risk management to assess what needs to be addressed in the short term and what can wait.
- Involve stakeholders in the QA process. To verify that the software meets the needs and expectations of the users, it’s also wise to involve stakeholders, such as customers, in the QA process. This will help to surface any issues or concerns that the stakeholders may have, and will lead to the software being more user-friendly and easy to use.
- Continuously improve your QA process. The QA process should be regularly reviewed and updated to keep it up-to-date, effective, and efficient. By continuously improving your processes, your organization can be confident that you are providing high-quality software products to customers and end-users.
SQA standards & certifications
We’ve mentioned a couple of times the importance of defining the specific criteria and standards that your quality assurance should meet, but how do you start or organize this list? A good place to start is with the established SQA certifications and standards that are used across the industry. There are many that pertain specifically to software quality assurance, some of the most common being:
- ISO 9001 - a widely-recognized standard for quality management systems, this is applicable to organizations of all sizes and in all industries. It also provides a framework for developing and implementing a comprehensive quality management system of your own.
- ISO/IEC 5055 - this standard was developed to focus on the quality and integrity of the internal construction of a software application. It certifies software based on performance efficiency, reliability, security, and maintenance.
- CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) - a framework for improving the maturity and performance of an organization's processes, this can be applied to those related to software development and quality assurance. It provides best practices and guidance for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of these processes.
By complying with SQA standards and obtaining relevant certifications, companies can not only improve how they define standards and criteria for QA, but also demonstrate their commitment to providing high-quality software to their customers.
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