Shift Left Testing for Improved Product Quality
In today’s agile and volatile business landscape faced with increased demand and competition, software development teams are expected to iterate projects faster, reduce time to delivery, and cut down testing costs, while continuing to improve the high-quality end-user experience. Ensuring quick adaptation to evolving market conditions and changing end-user requirements is vital to the success of any project. Employing a shift left testing approach is key to accomplishing rapid high-quality software releases.
What is Shift Left Testing?
Up until the late 1990s, a typical software development process was sequential, this meant that software testing only came into play at the end of the project’s lifetime, and not frequently enough. More often than not this was the root cause of a project running out of time and budget. Shift left testing has presented itself as the ideal solution to this problem.
Employing a shift left QA strategy is about pushing testing towards the earlier stages of software development and conducting tests more often in the development cycle – shifting left, so you can immediately verify the validity of your code. Activating your QA team earlier in the cycle allows for the early identification and fixing of defects and bottlenecks, helping development teams reduce the number of bugs and increase the quality of code so the deployment phase can be free of code patching. Enabling a faster and more cost-efficient product delivery.
Benefits of Shift Left Testing
Roughly 85% of code defects are introduced during the coding phase. Therefore, should testing only happen at the end of the development phase, a lot of time and money will need to be invested in stabilizing the product, often leaving the product full of code patches and this can negatively impact future code expansions or service additions.
Now let’s understand the benefits of shift left testing.
- Reduced Costs Involved in Development and Testing
A report published by the Consortium for IT Software Quality found that glitchy software in the U.S. cost $2.26 trillion in 2018, taking up nearly 80% of IT budgets. Typical testing and development models end up spending millions to revise, redo, and fix work they thought was ready for launch.
Larry Smith, the founder of the shift-left concept claimed that bugs are cheap when caught early. In a typical Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), testing is performed at the end of the product development cycle. As mentioned earlier, the cost and implications involved in bug-fixing would multiply based on its stage of discovery. According to Larry Smith, bugs have to be discovered early before they become undiscoverable.
Once you shift left, testing is considered an essential part of every phase of product development. Implementing the best practice of unit testing by your developers raises the bar on code quality and reduces errors in the initial work by aligning coding with early test cases. When code is constantly analyzed during its writing stage and defects are fixed upon discovery, there are fewer of them to fix after the final testing cycle, ultimately costing less for the company. Some may even argue that the impact to brand damage and customer retention loss if the software fails, is far greater than that of its development cost.
- Embrace Automation to ensure Product Quality
Another great benefit of shift left testing is the ability to use test automation tools from the first phases of the process. Not only automation is fundamental for a shift-left testing strategy, but it will also improve timely collaboration between developers and quality engineers. Test automation scripts help reduce manual testing on every new feature the development team introduces, enabling developers to write tests faster and effectively perform regression testing as early and often as required. Agile automation testing also provides quicker feedback on the stability of new code and helps decrease human errors and production issues while increasing the speed of delivery and the quality of the final product.
Implementing a Shift Left Strategy
- Build quality gates
Quality gates enable the consistent, automated, and continuous evaluation of software quality, they can be employed to embody benchmarks in the software delivery lifecycle. Key processes are effectively divided into distinct phases that are defined and evaluated by specific, measurable, and achievable success criteria that must be met before moving to the next phase of the software delivery pipeline. This empowers development teams with a high level of control over the quality of the product, essentially meeting the objectives of all operational stakeholders. Quality gates also enable quick fixes upon discovery, it will automatically stop the continuous delivery of a development pipeline when an error is detected.
- Demand Planning
Demand planning is an integral element to any shift left strategy, it serves as a starting point for test analysts to provide a predicable view of demand on lifecycle tasks. Testers effectively collaborate with management and operational stakeholders to finalize the budget, plan test strategies, and resourcing. Ultimately leading to the successful accomplishment of project goals and standardized thresholds of product quality.
- Static Code Analysis
Static code analytic is a fundamental aspect that is implemented with a shift right approach and is best done via automation before it moves to QA. The analyzer validates code against basic code structure to ensure it is aligned with predefined standards and guidelines. This enables the identification of bottlenecks and issues early in the project's life cycle before they become too costly to fix. Static analysis often looks into the following issues:
- Programming errors
- Violations of commonly followed coding standards
- Syntax anomalies
- Security issues
Is Shift Left the way forward?
The answer to this question varies from business to business. Businesses can adapt the shift left approach in stages by introducing some of its practices and methodologies. Shift left testing has opened the doors to increased efficiency, reduced cost, and higher quality, ensuring all team members are equally responsible for creating high-quality software. This approach has proven itself in achieving faster delivery of robust products with greater scalability.
The benefits of shift left testing are clear and tangible. By detecting and fixing defects early in the software development life cycle, development teams can deliver higher code quality, increased efficiency, and cost savings while promoting a culture of change in the organization by transforming from traditional quality assurance to new-age quality engineering practices.