Justin Francis Self-Portrait

Monday, October 29, 2007

QA is Expensive

Is it "obious day at camp stupid?" Maybe, but quality assurance is still expensive, and people (especially stakeholders) sometimes like to forget this fact. In this context I am using QA to refer to the final testing of a build as a whole. Our team does not have dedicated QA staff, so every two week iteration the entire team takes from one to two days to test the build. That is 10%-20% of the total effort of an iteration. Read that line again.

Stakeholders, however, are still very angry (understandably) when a bug makes it into the production system. On any given iteration, we usually have a patch after the fact that fixes something, though usually something minor. I bring it up because that is our strategy for making up for the deficiency in the QA effort: let the users test it.

It sounds horrible, but the best testers of any system are real users trying to use the system in the real world. They find bugs ridiculously fast. This might lead you to have the idea of users testing a preview of the release. This is a good idea, but does not work for business applications because there is a usually only a single instance of the production software running at a time.

Unfortunately, there really is no other alternative except to spend more money to test a build. Upper management is not going to fork over the money unless there really is a need to be 99% bug-free on delivery day. This is usually not the case unless you are shrink-wrapping. And let's face it, you're not.

If that is not enough to dissuade you, in addition to extra money, if you are looking at a dedicated QA staff, you will also have extra lag time between the finishing of a build and its delivery (you cannot test a build before it is finished, at least, not the QA I am talking about here). The QA staff must be handed the build, and the developer team must be handed back a list of bugs, at which point the process repeats. In the meantime, the team has moved on to a new build, and is no longer focused on the old one. So deliveries end up being delivered half-way through an iteration instead of on iteration boundaries.

I have found that if you patch any bugs the users do find (that are important, see my last post) in a reasonable time with a reasonable attitude ("thanks for reporting that", "must have slipped past our two days of testing"), the users will not mind. Instead they will worship the ground you walk on for reducing QA time and given them more effort to spend on new development. Pause not.