QA is short for Quality Assurance. As the definition suggests, quality assurance refers to the attitudes and processes needed to ensure ready for market software products perform as they had been envisioned at the design stage. QA enables the delivery of the highest possible quality in software products.
The above is just a brief QA definition. What does QA stand for? The meaning of QA is a lot more than just testing. Let’s take a wider look at what else is included in QA.
What does QA Stand for?
QA is a mindset
QA in software involves much more than a just long list of testing activities. It is primarily a mindset that should be embraced by you and your entire team. QA incorporates anything and everything that can have an influence in creating high-quality software products, such as processes, procedures, tools, people, and standards. A Quality Assurance definition is having a permanent finger on the pulse for any potential weakness. A QA mindset allows testers to identify opportunities for improvement in all areas.
If your team regularly pushes out new features for a product but never revisits them to identify options for further quality improvement, regardless of whether they have bugs or not, you have a quality problem. This is because, above everything, the job of QA is to confirm the reliability of a product. Introducing new features can destabilise a build so revising under each new addition is essential to be sure everything still works as intended.
The purpose of QA is to confirm reliability
A QA mindset is brought into play before any code has been written. For example, when a new user sign-up page is being designed, acceptible parameters need to be specified in advance and not left to chance. At the end of testing when the product is due to be released, it would be unwelcome to have to backtrack to questions about the minimum number of characters permitted for the new user’s second name, if in practice, a two-lettered second name was processed as an error. QA can help steer the development process and minimise pre- (or even post-) launch testing time by creatively exploring likely and feasible inputs.
When presented with a series of specs at the start of a build, anticipating the correct procedure path from a legacy perspective is usually straightforward. On websites, we know where to click – or should do if the designer is following form. Writing tests to cover expected paths are unlikely to throw up any challenges but with variables, a creative QA mindset will list and then to write tests for common user mistakes, as well as rare and unexpected inputs. Doing so enables error codes and messages to be prepared and in place for these circumstances, as well as for the less obvious, with the software’s reliability remaining uncompromised.
When planning and designing QA tests to run during any stage of the software development life cycle, there are four areas to target. Questions to ask of each area concern the product’s reliability, and thus user satisfaction.
- Does it reliably conform to the product design aims?
- Does it continue to perform reliably despite any input errors?
- Are the speed and performance of the product reliable, even under load?
- Is reliability diminished under higher than average load and load time?
Testing doesn’t create value – it defends it!
Testing alone can’t guarantee a high-quality product. If quality wasn’t present in the first place, no number of bug eliminations will create what wasn’t there. Think of an app that’s free of bugs (rare, but not impossible). It runs quickly, has a slick UI, but does not help users achieve what they need to. Despite cosmetic successes, would you still consider it a high-quality application?
In QA, testing doesn’t necessarily add value to a product; it ensures that the value as designed, is present and working well. To support this aim as a tester, your job in Quality Assurance is to implement wide test coverage and to always speak up when you identify an area of weakness in the product or process.
QA encompasses the entire development process
With requirement gathering at the very start of the process, and all the way through to maintenance, quality must be the focus. Maintaining this standard involves using a wide range of testing techniques, documentation, and processes. Once processes have been defined, it’s the responsibility of QA to identify any evident faults in the process and correct weaknesses to ensure continuous improvement. A skilled QA professional keeps an eye on the bigger picture and can help your team to hone in on quality issues across the board, from communication to code. The entire development process is prone to weaknesses that need improvements in quality. It is QA’s role to keep this at the front of everyone’s mind.
As we’ve seen, QA or quality assurance is not only about testing. This wider view comes from the belief that every part of the software development life cycle can have an influence on quality. Maintaining a QA mindset can help build quality into the product from the start. If you discover late on that you have a quality problem, hiring a quality assurance team at that point is not the best answer; this approach is more of a band-aid response. Instead, solve the problem at a deeper level, preferably in advance, by nurturing a QA mindset at company level.
When hiring, be sure to appoint quality-focused people, and regularly take a step back to make sure that everyone involved is heading in the right direction – towards quality.