Quality has always been a key aspect of product development. No matter what it is we are building, there are quality ideals that organizations want to meet to satisfy users properly. These could be related to usability, functionality, data integrity, and security. Ensuring those ideals are met is what is called quality assurance. And, of course, the more complex the solution is, the more elaborate the quality assurance tends to become.
Predictive software development presented the phase-gate approach in which the complete solution had to be developed before verification and validation. The testing cycle was laborious, and if implementation issues were discovered, correcting them was expensive, especially when the defects were found in the late stages of the process.
Agile frameworks have improved software development by reducing the time to market, accelerating ROI, and shortening the feedback loop. Additionally, agile frameworks have brought forth new ways to harness quality assurance and achieve better and quicker results.
Agile Fosters Collaboration and Product Iteration
One of the 12 principles of agility states that teams aim to deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale. Frameworks achieve this through iterative cycles called sprints or iterations. The idea behind them is that teams can show the user the achieved increments through a set cadence to identify whether the outcome is as expected or if the changes identified will better suit the requirement.
This ongoing iterative review of the built product fosters a collaborative quality mindset in which teams closely involve the user to guarantee that what is being built meets the expected requirements and achieves results. Teams can also quickly address changes identified during each incremental review instead of waiting for the entire solution to be developed and reviewed. Eventually, this helps reduce costs and helps teams assess the product quality iteratively.
Another aspect of the iterative model is that it enables a constant PDCA process in which the team plans and commits to the next achievable goal, executes according to the defined goal, checks the outcome, and, if required, acts to adjust outcomes. In frameworks such as Scrum, this PDCA process occurs through the sprint and within each of the standard ceremonies.
Throughout the agile process, there are countless checkpoints where the whole team, including the user, can get together and guarantee that the quality of the product and process is ideal and generates the expected value.
Benefits of Agile Methodologies
As mentioned before, predictive software development methods caused testing or quality validation and verification to be carried out in the latter stages of the process, allowing for costly defect corrections. Agile frameworks, on the other hand, promote strategies such as a shift left quality model or a test-first development approach.
In the first strategy, the idea is to move quality evaluation early in the development process. Rather than carrying out testing efforts during the established testing stage, teams keep a constant quality verification mindset throughout the iterative development cycle. For example, during refinement or planning of meetings, the whole team, including the QA experts, validates the correct understanding of the request and guarantees that the Acceptance criteria are coherent, testable, and meet user expectations. They also certify the requirement against the definition of Ready and ensure it complies with all needed checks. Similar activities are executed during the cycle.
The second strategy, test-first development, looks for a testing mindset using approaches like TDD and BDD. They encourage teams to think about validating the solution before developing it. This focuses on ensuring the solution is developed by considering the test scenarios or behaviors it should comply with.
Ultimately, the sooner defects are discovered, the faster they can be mitigated, and the more cost-effective the development effort will be.
The Impact of Agile Methodologies on Quality
By promoting early and continuous testing, Agile methodologies enable teams to identify and address defects early. This proactive approach prevents issues from escalating and reduces the overall cost and effort of fixing bugs. The iterative nature of agile development allows for frequent feedback loops, enabling teams to adapt and make necessary adjustments to improve quality.
Another significant impact of agile methodologies on quality is the emphasis on collaboration and communication. Agile teams work closely together, including developers, testers, product owners, and stakeholders, fostering effective communication and shared understanding.
This collaborative approach helps identify and mitigate quality issues more effectively. By involving stakeholders early and frequently, Agile methodologies enable teams to gather feedback and incorporate it into the development process, leading to a better fit between the software and customer expectations. The collective ownership of quality among team members contributes to a more comprehensive approach to ensure high-quality software.
Measuring Product Quality Improvements
We’ve gone over ways in which agile helps to improve quality, but it’s critical to know how to measure quality improvement to determine if actions are achieving expected results.
Let’s review four simple metrics to measure the quality of Agile frameworks.
This metric helps determine how happy the customer feels about the product they are using. It can be gathered through surveys and feedback from media channels. While this does not seem like a typical quality metric, it indicates that customers usually don’t like using products without security, containing errors, or that are of poor quality. So, happy customers can be a good indicator of whether the product we put into their hands meets their expectations.
Agile frameworks allow for shorter feedback loops since we are developing small increments and either having it reviewed by a Product Owner or VOC or by putting it as quickly as possible in the hands of users. This enables us to constantly measure customers' satisfaction and what areas need improvement in the following iterations.
Escaped defects measure the team’s quality control efforts and show the number of bugs, errors, or defects a project has once it is in production. It’s very important because it highlights how well-tested the product is before production, the smaller the number of escaped defects, the greater its quality level.
This is a useful stat for Agile methodologies that can be reviewed periodically. Teams can even carry out root-cause or problem-solving workshops to identify how to improve product quality and then compare measurements to validate whether the proposed solutions successfully increase product quality.
The code coverage metric measures how much of a project’s viable code your unit tests cover.
Going back to the TDD and BDD patterns, when teams are encouraged to have a test-first mindset, they will keep track of metrics like this to understand how much code the tests are covering, which, in turn, creates more efficient testing processes. Before every deployment, teams can set up quality gates to ensure that the code that surpasses the barrier can be promoted.
The cycle time measures a user’s story or feature's time to move from initiation to completion. It reflects the efficiency of the development process and is an indicator of quality. Shorter cycle times suggest a more streamlined and effective development process, reducing the time for defects to arise and ensuring faster delivery of high-quality software.
- Agile enables better quality product quality assurance by reducing feedback loops and allowing for more checkpoints in the iterative development cycle.
- The shift left quality model and test-first development approaches promoted by Agile frameworks help detect and mitigate defects sooner, which allows for a more cost-effective development effort.
- The collective ownership of quality among team members contributes to a more comprehensive approach to ensure high-quality software.
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