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In uncertain times, product quality is key: 4 ways to amplify QA

Ronald Cummings-John Co-founder, Global App Testing

As your engineering team settles into the routine of working from home and operating in the current climate, your strategy might be changing.

Rather than the initial firefighting that lockdown, shelter-in-place, and similar orders around the world brought, work-from-home patterns are forming as tech-first companies look to the future.

So, what should you be doing now? You need to reduce customer churn, and the best way to do that is to focus on product quality. For tech-first companies and the world of software development, that's a sure-fire way to boost your product ROI as well as to reduce customer turnover.

For my book, Leading Quality, I spoke with QA specialists and CTOs at leading companies such as Google, Etsy, HelloFresh, and The New York Times to get insights into what strategies help top companies to deliver fantastic products that customers return to time and again.

But these strategic ideas are not limited to huge corporate powerhouses: Companies of any size or budget can implement them. In fact, boosting your current QA doesn’t necessarily require budget, or even headcount.

These tried-and-tested techniques can level-up your QA strategy without the expenditure of endless resources. It's all about supercharging your process and getting the most out of it. These four tips—for CTOs, QA leads, and vice presidents of engineering—will help you amplify your QA during today's uncertain times, and beyond.

Prioritize QA

Quality is crucial to product success. It can mean the difference between an app your customers love and a buggy app with low ROI. So why is QA so often considered an afterthought?

This is because, traditionally, it was seen as the pesky bottleneck in the lives of developers, a slow process of pass or fail that meant your release cycle couldn't move as smoothly as you would like. It was viewed as a bit of a headache.

Now attitudes are changing, but there is still a great deal of influencing to be done. So how can you better lead quality in your company?

Leading quality is all about influencing those around you so that they prioritize QA. For example, if your current company narrative is that QA is a bottleneck, ensure that your dev teams are communicating what exactly is causing them frustration.

As a leader, it's important for you to communicate with everyone involved in the software development lifecycle just how crucial quality is. If people see an essential set of tests as a bottleneck, explain how it will save costs and improve customer experience down the line, reducing churn. Walk your teams through the customer journey and explain just how important delivering quality is.

This open line of communication will increase empathy among teams, and, hopefully, alignment. Once your company understands the value quality can bring, it will become much easier to make QA a priority.

Test earlier

"Test early, test often" is the battle cry of any great QA team because bugs are more difficult—and more expensive to fix—the further down the development cycle they are found.

Why fix a bug for thousands of dollars and days of your time when you could have fixed it for under $30 and less than a day? Continuous testing is key to amplifying your QA strategy. It lets you catch and fix bugs early, which means fewer bugs make it to production and there are fewer fires you have to put out.

It also means that you'll produce higher-quality products for your users, who then will be more likely to stick with you.

By testing earlier, you are building testing into the psyche of the development process. This will help prioritize quality by putting QA at the front of the minds of designers, developers, and testers alike. At the early stages, you should be asking yourself, Can I test this?

Once that question is commonplace, the positioning of quality within your organization will change. Continuous testing is not just a tried and proven technique, but a mindset that delivers quality products.

Make QA work smarter

If testing earlier sounds like an unrealistic strategy change, never fear. At this time of strapped budgets and frozen headcounts, you could be forgiven for assuming that investing in continuous testing is not a viable option if you're not already practicing it.

However, to test early and often you don't need to drastically increase your testing capacity. Rather, you need to take an assessment of your current process. That's because it's natural in every business for legacy strategy and software to become the norm. Now is the time to question it.

Ask yourself:

  • Are there tests I could conduct earlier?
  • Could more of these tests be automated?
  • Are any of these tests unnecessary?
  • Could you be using a more scalable solution for some tests?

You may discover that you aren't fully optimizing your current testing capacity, when, in fact, you could redistribute your resources, making your QA work smarter.

Adapt and overcome

Adapting is something everyone is being asked to do, regardless of their profession or industry. But how does it apply to QA?

Just because teams now work remotely doesn't mean the pressure for keeping to lightning-quick software development lifecycles is off. In fact, many tech-first companies in industries such as healthcare, gaming, and fitness are seeing increased customer demand. That means increased pressure on engineering teams and QA teams as more updates are put into place.

That’s why you need to adapt your current QA strategy to scale as your product scales. The strategy that worked when you had a few thousand users won't cut it as user load surges to the 1 million mark. Your QA strategy must mature as your product does.

Widen your test coverage to include a range of different testing techniques, from exploratory testing to UX testing to automation. Testing widely covers all bases, and means pesky bugs that would have only affected a few hundred users in the beginning won't have affected hundreds of thousands of frustrated customers.

Organizations experiencing an expanding user base can scale their testing capacity in several ways.

  • Hire extra QA engineers. If your recruitment isn't frozen and your budget allows it, this is a great way to onboard extra team members who can help broaden your testing capacity.
  • Partner with a outside experts. Vendors offer a range of services for companies to access so that they can scale their QA and testing capacity without the time and high cost of extra hires. You can use testing solutions to augment your current QA process. 
  • Implement automation. If you haven't automated repetitive testing yet, it’s time to start. If you are unsure of what to automate, this article may help. 

Quality delivers certainty in uncertain times

Every business is striving to achieve business as normal wherever possible. As the initial firefighting stage calms down, it's natural to wonder where your QA can take you next.

These four steps should form the blueprint for amplifying your current QA strategy so that you can deliver quality at speed and retain your user base, even when times are uncertain.

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