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    14 Essential tips for crafting a winning Quality Assurance strategy

    Discover the best practices for Quality Assurance with our guide on creating an effective QA strategy. Learn about test automation, testing tools, and more to ensure software quality.

    When was the last time you thought, "I wonder how our quality assurance is [fill in the blank]." You can fill in that blank with anything, and chances are the answer is... you haven't been thinking about your QA.
    QA is a critical part of delivering excellence to your customers, whether you sell physical goods/services or digital goods/services. But what exactly goes into building an effective QA strategy? From test planning and prep to automation and tools, your QA strategies have several moving parts that must all work cohesively.
    In this post, we provide 14 key tips for developing a robust QA strategy that finds—and fixes—critical issues early, helping you deliver better products and services to your customers.

    What is a QA Strategy and why is it Important?

    A QA strategy is a living document that outlines the testing methods, processes, tools, teams, and responsibilities that, when met, lead you to your quality goals. The overall goal of a QA strategy is to ensure that, by the time your digital products reach your customers, the products function as intended, are free of defects, and present no major risks to end-users.
    Having an effective QA strategy is non-negotiable for several reasons, such as:
    Finding defects early and keeping costs low: Fixing bugs earlier in the development lifecycle is far cheaper than locating and fixing problems when a program is already in production.
    Generating greater customer satisfaction: High-quality products with minimal defects give users more enjoyable experiences, leading to improved customer loyalty and retention.
    Enabling faster releases and version updates: Comprehensive test automation and an efficient QA process helps engineering teams release new versions safely and frequently.
    Building institutional testing knowledge: With documented processes and shared learnings, effective testing knowledge stays with your organization rather than individuals.
    Now you know what a QA strategy is and why it's important, but how do you go from there to executing a QA strategy?

    14 tips for a successful QA strategy

    Building a successful quality assurance strategy for your team requires quite a bit of upfront planning and documentation—it can't be rushed. But when you apply the following tips, the results speak for themselves.

    1) Define clear goals and metrics upfront

    What does success look like? Describe this first, then set clear QA goals with metrics focused on risk mitigation, coverage, timeliness, and confidence. Example metrics include:
    Percentage of test automation coverage of critical user journeys
    Lead time between defect discovery and resolution
    Number of critical or blocker bugs discovered in production
    Aligning on goals upfront helps you measure your progress and build data-driven iterations.

    2) Document your QA process

    A documented QA process is the foundation for consistent, high-quality testing. Clearly define each phase, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and UAT. Outline specific phase handoff criteria to reduce gaps.
    Each phase should also have detailed:
    Testing scope and coverage metrics
    Team members and associated responsibilities
    Test environments
    Data requirements
    Also, clearly outline the number, frequency, and criteria for entrance and exit.

    3) Create QA testing scenarios and test cases

    Break down the types of testing your QA strategy will encompass, such as:
    Outline the testing scenarios, cases, and data requirements to sufficiently cover each type of testing.
    Test case management tools like TestRail, qTest, or Zephyr can help you centrally document and store your test cases, allowing for version control, assignment to testers, execution tracking, and reporting.

    4) Build a dedicated QA team

    Hiring specialized QA testers rather than relying solely on developers to evaluate their own code leads to more objective, comprehensive testing. Build a centralized QA team with specialized skills in:
    Test planning
    Tools configuration
    For optimal results, maintain a healthy ratio of one QA engineer for every five to seven development engineers on staff, and scale your centralized QA team as engineering expands to keep pace.

    5) Make testing visible through reporting

    Visibility into quality metrics, test coverage, and escaped defects is vital for the whole team, from product managers to leadership. Build transparent QA reporting dashboards to boost accountability for fixing defects and improving processes.
    Automate status updates on test executions, defect reports, and product quality KPIs, and review these reports with your team frequently to stay aligned on quality goals.

    6) Prioritize test automation

    Comprehensive test automation allows for consistent regression testing, faster release cycles, and optimized manual testing time for more exploratory types. Automated functional testing tools like Selenium or commercial tools can help you ensure you've covered all critical user journeys.
    Define an automation coverage goal for critical paths—80% is a good goal. Allocating dedicated resources to writing and maintaining test automation frameworks helps prevent brittle tests.

    7) Use the right open source tool

    The open-source community offers fantastic testing tools, such as:
    Stitching together open-source frameworks for API testing, performance testing, and test reporting is much easier on your team and your company budget, rather than building something from scratch.
    The open-source community is one that relies on the collective feedback of its users. Report back to the developers of the tools your team relies on. Your contributions can help collectively improve the QA tooling industry—and that's good for everyone.

    8) Consider commercial tools for advanced use cases

    What if your use case requires something more? While open-source solutions cover testing basics well, consider commercial tools like BrowserStack and SauceLabs for parallelized cross-browser testing or BlazeMeter for easily scaling API performance tests.
    For advanced reporting needs, tools like qTest provide enterprise dashboards and analytics right out of the box. Depending on your testing complexity, commercial tools can offer increased reliability and faster time-to-value.

    9) Align QA efforts with a "Shift Left" philosophy

    Shifting left in the software development industry means moving testing to an earlier date in the development process; as in, moving testing dates "to the left" or earlier on the calendar. Adopting a shift left philosophy helps your team discover bugs sooner and release stable versions faster. Work closely with the developers and write unit tests as they code features. Perform ongoing integration testing as code is committed rather than waiting until project completion. Testing as you go helps you avoid building on top of error-ridden code and shortens your QA feedback loops.
    Provide your developers with the tools they need to run automated regression tests often. A shift left approach transfers quality closer to the source, increasing overall efficiency.

    10) Create a realistic testing environment

    Testing in an environment that mirrors real-world use cases helps you uncover any defects and map those problems to actual user scenarios. Using a reality-based environment also helps you identify key dependencies, such as similarities within:
    Third-party services
    Specialized hardware
    User data models
    Network infrastructure
    When you can identify these dependencies, you can recreate the environment needed to mimic production.
    But recreating large-scale production environments can be challenging. In these cases, it's important to clearly document all of the differences between the testing environment and the production environment to investigate bugs discovered during testing.

    11) Define defect severity and resolution process

    Classifying a defect based on its level of severity offers clarity in your QA testing process: Is this just a cosmetic flaw? Or is the issue something deeper that blocks users from the product's full benefits? For example, severity can range from critical bugs that crash an app to minor user interface (UI) fixes. Establish an SLA for addressing issues based on severity.
    For instance:
    Critical severity: within 24 hours.
    High severity: within 5 days.
    Medium-High severity: within 7 days.
    Medium severity: within 10 days.
    Medium-Low severity: within 15 days.
    Low severity: within 20-30 days.
    Standardize tagging, descriptions, reproduction steps, and handoff from QA to engineering to streamline the remediation process in your tracking tool. Use reporting tools to communicate these timelines and alert the team when deadlines are approaching and updates have been made.

    12) Perform exploratory testing and usability studies

    While test plans and automation focus on predefined scenarios, exploratory testing takes a less strict approach and helps teams discover edge cases. Set aside time for QA team members to experiment with the app without any constraints.
    Similarly, conduct usability studies and ask for qualitative feedback directly from users. Observing how real people interact with your product offers clues that help enhance experiences in future versions.

    13) Build a culture of quality with engineers

    Quality is everyone's responsibility—not just the QA team! Build a culture that values comprehensive testing end-to-end. Incentivize developers to achieve strong code coverage with unit tests. Recognize engineers who proactively self-discover and resolve defects upstream.
    Creating shared ownership of quality saves time, reduces friction between teams, and delivers better user experiences. Lead by example from a management level by refraining from rushed releases with minimal testing.

    14) Continuously improve and iterate

    The thing about quality assurance, like anything in business, is that there's always room for improvement. To keep your QA strategy moving forward and constantly delivering the best end product:
    Measure frequently.
    Assess against your QA strategy goals and continuously improve upon the last iteration.
    Re-evaluate your processes, tools, and team structure as your company scales to support quality testing.
    Identify automation opportunities as manual efforts become unscalable over time.
    As flaws slip through into production, conduct blameless post-mortems focused on strengthening current prevention barriers. Work collaboratively across development, quality assurance, and production to improve quality.

    How is AI leveraged in modern QA strategies?

    Advancements in AI and machine learning are reinventing areas across the software lifecycle, including test automation. AI testing solutions like Applitools Visual AI and Functionize automate visual UI testing and intelligent QA test creation.
    By coding test scenarios rather than test cases, AI systems can dynamically generate and run thousands of tests adapting to changes in the app. Bots even log and categorize defects automatically through computer vision and machine learning. As QA strategy evolves, expect AI to handle increasingly complex and time-consuming testing needs.

    Overcoming the top QA strategy challenges

    While vital for delivering exceptional products, creating a solid quality assurance strategy brings immense challenges, including:
    Achieving testing comprehensiveness while constraining budgets and timelines.
    Managing test data at scale and adhering to compliance regulations.
    Overcoming bottlenecks of limited available test environments.
    Preventing flaky automated tests that require high maintenance.
    Building expertise across evolving types of testing such as accessibility and globalization.
    Planning ahead, investing in the right tools and processes, and institutionalizing testing, can help your organization overcome these obstacles over time. Committing your teams to quality products yields the highest customer satisfaction results and product market fit.

    QA strategy best practices for execution

    Beyond the 14 tips we shared above, consider these additional best practices for bringing your QA plans to fruition:
    Schedule testing phases appropriately in release timelines.
    Gather continuous test feedback from multiple team perspectives.
    Enforce repairing defects before closing—don't just log an issue.
    Review effectiveness of test scenarios, data, and environment frequently.
    Build relationships between QA and engineering based on shared quality goals.
    Automate deployment of code merges into your test environments.
    Phase test data and environments to production scale.
    Reward identifying vulnerabilities early—don't penalize.

    How to get started with a QA Strategy

    Developing an end-to-end quality assurance strategy requires thoughtful planning, expert personnel, and modern tooling. Here's a checklist to guide you:
    Launching a successful QA practice takes careful preparation but pays off in happier customers, dedicated developers, and satisfied stakeholders. Use the comprehensive tips in this guide to craft a smart testing strategy tailored to your organization's needs and priorities early on. Investing in quality assurance will serve your customers, product growth, and bottom line for the long run.

    Do you need a partner for your QA Strategy?

    Whether launching a new product or refreshing an existing one, integrating quality assurance from the onset prevents painful issues later.
    You can provide exceptionally reliable, secure, and accessible digital experiences by prioritizing your QA strategies today.
    Want to level up your quality assurance practices? Contact us today to learn how Codal can audit your current QA processes and tools, and find undiscovered opportunities. Improve, innovate, and optimize your QA strategy with Codal.

    Written by Gibson Toombs