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QA's role broadens: 5 takeaways from the World Quality Report

Ericka Chickowski Freelance writer

The role of quality assurance (QA) continues to evolve and broaden within the enterprise, with QA's mission extending far beyond just testing software for defects. These days QA also guards software's fulfillment of strategic and business objectives.

So says the World Quality Report 2020-21, released last week by the experts at Capgemini in partnership with Micro Focus, TechBeacon's corporate parent. Now in its 12th edition, the WQR stands as one of the most comprehensive looks at quality practices in the global enterprise.

This year the report was based on over 1,750 interviews of CIOs, QA leaders, CTOs, development leaders, and other IT decision makers. The results show that as QA professionals, DevOps teams, and other stakeholders seek to execute on the broadened quality mission, the daily work of QA is becoming more integrated into development and more automated, and it requires more technical skills to accomplish.

The report also found that these trends have been accentuated and accelerated as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked digital transformation at many enterprises. QA, the report says, is now integral to digital transformation.

TechBeacon caught up with two of the lead authors of the report to get their perspectives on the major themes that bubbled up. Here are the five most important takeaways identified in the World Quality Report.

1. QA's mission has broadened

This year's WQR results show that the objectives of QA continue to grow more sophisticated, said Sathish Natarajan, group vice president and head of digital assurance and quality engineering for Capgemini North America.

"Traditionally, finding defects has always been the most important objective of QA. It still it is an important objective, but QA has moved beyond this to a very strategic focus to provide brand protection and contribute to business outcomes."
Sathish Natarajan

For the second year in a row, business assurance was the No. 1 objective named by respondents as an essential mission for QA, with 74% saying it was a priority. That compares to 72% who said detecting software defects before go-live was a critical objective.

Coming in third and fourth for major priorities were ensuring user satisfaction and customer experience and protecting the corporate image and branding, which were named by 70% and 64% of respondents, respectively.

2. QA is increasingly asked to be the quality facilitator

At the same time that objectives have broadened, QA work is also more closely woven into the development function. Where testing used to operate as an independent or shared service, Natarajan said, the ideal model with the increased prevalence of agile and DevOps has been to bake testing into the continuous delivery pipeline.

In other words, QA is becoming a shared responsibility across the team. This year's According to the WQR, four in 10 DevOps teams report having 30% of their overall project effort allocated to testing. As that integration has occurred, QA's role shifted from quality tester to quality test facilitator.

QA is entering its next evolution—from being an independent integrator to becoming more inclusive. This means it acts "as an enabler of quality to ensure rest of the constituents in the organizations are taking responsibility for quality," Natarajan said.

While this is not universal, the data indicates this sea change. For example, over half of organizations now report that they prepare and execute their tests early as possible. And a large contingent of QA leaders—42%—say that their teams are tasked with finding and removing redundant test cases.

In the same vein, 35% say they're helping their DevOps teams optimize testing by implementing quality dashboards in order to make their efforts more visible.

3. Automation is the new normal

The prevailing attitude with regard to test automation has firmly shifted from automation as a "nice-to-have" to automation as the new normal, said Natarajan.

People are looking at testing all the way" from "Can I automate my design of test cases?" to "Can I automate my requirements process?" "How can I automate my design review process?" "How do we automate my test data provisioning?" and so on.

"Now there's a real focus on the entire testing lifecycle."
—Sathish Natarajan

The majority of organizations now say that they have the required automation tools, enough time to build and maintain automated tests, and the right automation strategy. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that while this enthusiasm and progress are universal, automated testing is still not so universal across the entire test activity portfolio.

The industry is still not where it should be, said Mark Buenen, global leader for digital assurance and quality engineering for Capgemini Group.

"The level of automation is still below 20%, and that is a true concern. When we look at the overall maturity of how QA testing is being executed in agile environments, this is still holding us back."
Mark Buenen

4. QA's role continues to be more technical

One of the biggest impediments to implementing a higher percentage of automated tests seems to be not on the tooling side but from the pool of skills available to organizations. Some 52% of organizations reported in the WQR that they don't have the right skilled and experienced test automation resources available to them.

This underlines another trend coming out of this year's report, which is that the QA function continues to grow more technical by the day. In the report, a telling quote from Tribikram Rath, director of QA engineering for General Electric, sums it up. 

"The gap between 'black box' testers and developers is narrowing. We're finding people in coding are growing more comfortable with testing, and vice versa. In fact, over the last five years, I'd say that testers are close to becoming developers in their own right."
Tribikram Rath

Buenen said the way that teams fill the technical function varies. While QA professionals are increasingly going to need strong dev skills, in the right mix of team skills a QA veteran with no coding skills but lots of experience designing test cases could work hand-in-hand with engineers to get the job done well.

"[The key is to bring in] the right expertise at the right moment in time, because nobody will have all the expertise at a high level. You will not have an engineer who can do it all, you will not have a QA and test person who can do it all, and you will not have a business architect who can do it all. It's a team activity."
—Mark Buenen

5. AI plays a bigger role in QA

That thirst for deeper technical skills in QA will only grow as artificial intelligence (AI) gains steam. Not only must QA increasingly test AI functionality in software, but it must also learn to leverage AI for automating tests, managing test data, and generating smart QA dashboards.

"AI is becoming a lot more mature, and a lot of the organizations are finding good use cases to leverage AI in testing."
—Sathish Natarajan

The study shows that approximately 80% of organizations will have more AI trials and proofs of concept in place soon to use AI in QA activities.

The pandemic's role

All five of these trends didn't seem to experience any disruption this year in light of lockdowns and COVID-19 turmoil. If anything, the pandemic seems to have accentuated their importance. The biggest shift in priorities identified by respondents to meet the challenges caused by COVID-19 have been a stronger focus on usability testing, an improvement in productivity monitoring of teams, and a strengthening of collaboration tools for teams.

The pandemic has forced leaders who were stuck in the idea that QA pros and developers had to sit side by side to collaborate to face the fact that it is possible to get the work done from different locations.

"We are seeing the distributed agile model at its best."
—Sathish Natarajan

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