The Implications of Using Legacy QA Tools

Why “it comes as part of the package” is not a good reason to use legacy tools to manage testing and quality

IT budget time can be tough on QA, where rapidly increasing expectations are often checked by flat or shrinking funding. In parallel, there are volatile changes to software development practices, user demands and failure risks. For years, IT often developed firewalled applications for a captive audience of employee users. Now, virtually every company is in the customer-facing software business.

These disruptions are driving new QA requirements, but teams can’t deliver continuous improvement to results, speed and scale without corresponding changes to the QA infrastructure. People, process or technology — something has to give. In a tight labor market, recruiting, training and retaining an expanded team of people may be tough. Optimizing QA tools and process offers a better and more sustainable path to competitive advantage and results.

Unfortunately, QA upgrades get delayed or denied for many reasons. The business value of QA is often poorly understood. QA is often seen as a cost center that primarily delivers back-office benefits as opposed to being a critical enabler of customer value and strategic advantage. Without a compelling ROI, demand for QA improvements is easily deprioritized as a nice-to-have enhancement…maybe next year.

The cost of high-performance quality assurance may also be underestimated. QA may be seen as a byproduct of modern development efforts. It may be expected to conjure better, faster and cheaper results, even without a dedicated budget or sustainable process.

QA upgrades may feel less urgent than flashy new releases and fast response patches. Despite radical changes to development environments and customer expectations, an obsolete QA tool may feel “good enough.”

The false “savings” of delaying technology upgrades make it tempting to postpone QA system investments. This why legacy systems often overstay their welcome. Nobody argues that finicky spreadsheets or a 10-year-old QA tool will be faster or more effective than a modern, well-integrated QA system. There’s an imagined savings – perhaps purchase cost, training, or implementation. When opportunity costs and the fear of mistakes are high, doing nothing may feel safer or easier than doing something. Unfortunately, saddling the QA team with obsolete and inefficient QA tools yields QA that is not effective, fast or efficient. QA tools on life-support don’t scale, and they can waste time that would be better spent on actual quality testing and delivery.

There are no savings in keeping a waterfall-centric system that is not aligned with agile or DevOps test cadences and requirements. Nor are there savings with an all-of-the-above approach that tries to outrun obsolescence with a patchwork of single-purpose, single-platform test apps. These one-trick ponies may look lean and nimble, but they can quickly become an unruly and unmanageable herd.

Short-term cost avoidance leads to a painful, persistent hangover for quality processes and deliverables. Postponing essential, inevitable investment needs just hobbles development and QA with excess delay, work and cost.

QA should be effective, fast and efficient. This enables faster time to market, high quality customer experiences, enhanced security and more. Forgoing a needed replacement reflects a mistaken assumption that doing so is better, faster and cheaper than starting fresh. Just because a QA tool came with the bundle doesn’t mean it’s the best solution; just because you already own something doesn’t mean it’s free. To strike the right balance, it’s important to recognize where QA delivers value, where it breaks down, and what it needs to succeed.

For years, IT primarily delivered applications to tolerant employee users. Failures were painful, but they were often siloed problems that didn’t impact critical data or customers. When software is a primary source of customer experience, QA is a critical defense that protects customers, brands and corporate strategies.

An effective QA process does not necessarily yield software that is bug-free, but it does find high-risk bugs early in the development process, when they are easiest to fix. Efficient workflows and decision-support mitigate risk and align teams with diverse skills, development methodologies and project goals. Agile, DevOps and waterfall processes often coexist within an organization, but making this succeed requires smart QA processes and analytics. While modern QA systems offer the necessary integration, automation and analytics, traditional systems do not.

QA must be fast, as it’s often a final step before release. A quick QA turnaround might mean the difference between a successful, on-time launch – or a catch-up release that’s days or even months late. Modern QA systems with automation, team engagement and process visibility help teams get better results, faster.

Finally, QA should be as efficient as possible. This creates ongoing pressure to improve team coordination and system integration, and to minimize the frequency and severity of post-release issues. The process optimization, automation and control offered by a modern QA system offers significant improvements to operational and total cost management over legacy systems.

Quality assurance investments enable teams to test smarter, more seamlessly and at scale. These improvements also position QA to be a key enabler of business strategy, by facilitating critical outcomes such as faster time-to-market, better customer experience and optimized risk management.

While there’s a cost for making a QA investment, there’s also a cost associated with not making one. Deferring a QA investment may offer a quick fix for this year’s budget, but these decisions are not made in a vacuum. How are competitors responding to their QA challenges? Are they making investments that might put you at a real disadvantage? How will your development processes evolve? Over the next 12 to 24 months, will development complexity, release tempo and quality requirements increase, decrease or stay the same? Is your current QA infrastructure strong enough to rely on, or might it fail you at a critical moment?

With this in mind, what’s the bar for a modern QA system? The right system exhibits four characteristics: it’s versatile, distributed, scalable and visible.

The right system exhibits four characteristics: it’s versatile, distributed, scalable and offers organization-wide visibility.

Versatile means it’s easy to use, consistent and well-integrated with core systems and development workflows. A modern QA system is also distributed, breaking down functional silos, allocating workloads and empowering stakeholders across development and QA teams to collaborate and efficiently deliver superior results. It’s also scalable, so QA teams and process keep pace as development speed and complexity increase. Central to this is the use of automation and cross-platform capabilities that accelerate workflows and empower team members to drive quality through the entire development lifecycle. Finally, a modern QA system has actionable analytics to optimize processes, priorities and return on investment.

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