QA is not software testing: Quality is your Users Experience

Date: 11th October 2011
Author: Deri Jones

It was an interesting day out Thursday at the Iqnite London QA and Software Testing Conference 2011.  An opportunity to bump into some known names in the QA space like Shane Kelly (QMF fame), who’s at our client William Hill, as well as to meet and network with new folk, and share the platform with old friends like Den from Dixons Stores.

The panel ran an interesting group session after lunch, involving a bit more energy as people moved round the room to reflect where they saw themselves on the continuum from being pure QA folk, or pure software Testing, or a bit of both. More of that later.

The Keynote from Jason Tylor at Spec Savers was fascinating.  It seems that off-shoring there, and often elsewhere,  results in a pulling back from an agile approach. Jason was talking on Managed Testing, using 3rd parties, and showed some major benefits from the approach, cost savings not being the least of them.

This recalled the session earlier in the afternoon on the topic of where does testing and QA really fit together.  Consensus seemed to be that:

  • Testing is a  vital stand-alone activity,  what it achieves for the business is dependent on the effectiveness of the spec that the software is being tested and validated against.
  • QA (Quality Assurance) was felt to be a wider role that involves trying to engage the rest of the business in the need to think  about quality and fitness for purpose. This is needed from right back at the early product concept stages and all the way through development,  not just at the final stage of software testing to prove that the new software does indeed do what the spec says it should.

This led on to – what is “Quality” when you are trying to encourage Quality thinking to the non-QA teams across the business.

Quality should sure as hell not be something that only QA care about!

The session I did with Den Fitzpatrick from Dixons Stores in the morning had also hinged on this issue of trying to get the whole business to engage. The header was ‘Uniting the Tribes: Bringing IT and Business together through Testing’ .  It showed how Dixons website is managed via a complex mix of different teams at different countries, and how the use of Dynamic User Journeys as a common language, provides a unifying force that cuts back the usual inter-team friction and greatly reduces the difficulty of getting hard facts about what is happening on the website.

Above all  it answered the same questions raised in the afternoon:

  • “What is Quality?”
  • “What is the definition of quality that Business and IT can agree on?”

The Dixons answer to these issues is that “Quality”  on a Multichannel retail website is a necessarily a much wider concept than each individual component matching its specification. It is whether or not every aspect of the site and technology works in concert to provide the best user experience 24/7.

Dixons use SciVisum monitoring and measurement across a number of different multi-page Dynamic User Journeys, that ‘Do what the Customer Does‘.” to understand how performance is affecting user experience. There were lots of screen-shots of our Portal showing how the customer experience measured this way really does make an easy to understand measure of Quality that makes sense for the most senior Director, down to the most-hands on tech team on support.

Even better, it supports the QA Manager in his role to get the interest of the software development  team to extend beyond just releasing the code over the wall and moving on to the next project.  Often 90% of a software tester’s time is involved with the developers, and the one area that is really hard to measure in any meaningful way before release is  non-functional performance, for example  just what difference with the new software release make to speed of delivery when the site is busy?  Testing performance is crucial.

Now, with User Journey performance being plotted on large plasma Wall Boards, all staff can see at a glance if today’s release made anything worse (or better)!

QA Testing wallboard of Customer experience

So, it was a good days outing at Iqnite this year. Overall the message rang out  that QA guys want to get more traction from across the business, and a common language of user experience measured 24/7 by dynamic User Journeys provides just the glue needed between teams – everybody knows that when all Journeys go green, that’s the definition of Quality for a multi-channel retailer!

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