How to Evaluate Software Quality Assurance Success: KPIs, SLAs, Release Cycles, and Costs

Dennis H. by Dennis H. on 07/26/2021

How to Evaluate Software Quality Assurance Success: KPIs, SLAs, Release Cycles, and Costs

Have you ever evaluated QA success?

Software quality assurance is a crucial part of the software development process. It ensures that software products meet the set standards of quality in an organization. However, while software quality assurance is undoubtedly desirable, it can also be quite expensive.

This article will review how you can evaluate your quality assurance and provide a good return on your investment. But first, let’s see how QA influences software releases and why you may need to evaluate QA success.

The Influence of QA on Software Release Cycles

A release cycle comprises different stages from development and testing to deployment and tracking. Long release cycles can be detrimental in very competitive markets. Thus, organizations often look to speed up their release cycles.  

However, a focus on speed could lead to a decrease in the quality of the products. Nevertheless, by implementing best practices in software release management, you can shorten your release cycles without sacrificing quality. Here are some ways to do that.

Document Your Release Plans

Documenting release plans is a great way to ensure that everyone is on the same page. A release plan should contain your goals, quality expectations, and the roles of participants. 

After documenting your release plans, ensure that all team members can access, reference, and easily update them as needed.

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Automate Processes

Automating manual and repetitive tasks can be a great way to speed up your release cycle while maintaining quality. QA automation frees up valuable human resources, which you can then reallocate to work on other high-priority tasks.

Some possibilities include automated regression testing, code quality checks, and security checks.  

Create Consistent Release Cycles

After assessing the state of your release process, create a regular release schedule.

Doing this will help create a routine system that your teams can get comfortable with. End users will also know when to expect updates and are more likely to engage with the latest releases.

It’s often a good idea to have a short release cycle with small, frequent changes rather than a long one. Having a target release plan will help your teams work towards the release dates while achieving current goals in the release cycle.

Develop and Optimize Your Release Infrastructure

Hidden bottlenecks in your release infrastructure could slow down the deployment process. Thus, you must optimize your delivery infrastructure and implement practices such as continuous testing and testing automation.

Conduct Release Retrospectives

A release retrospective involves reviewing the processes in past releases to extract insights that can help you improve those processes in future releases. Release retrospectives provide teams with an open environment to analyze past problems and create strategies to avoid them in the future.

However, to ensure that your release cycles are consistent and that they run smoothly, you may need to evaluate the effectiveness of the QA in your software development.

Software Quality Assurance
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Why You Should Evaluate Software Quality Assurance Success

It’s essential for improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your testing processes.

Analyzing your current system by using metrics can help you understand which areas need improvement. As a result, you’ll be able to make wise decisions for the next phase of the process.

Without the use of metrics for quality assurance, it would be challenging to measure software quality. And if you don’t measure it, how do you know that your strategy for quality assurance is working.

 

What Are Software Test Metrics and Why Do You Need Them?

Software test metrics are standards of measurement that QA teams use to assess quality in software development projects. Tracking them provides quick insights into the testing process and helps estimate a QA team’s effectiveness.

You cannot improve what you cannot measure.

Quality metrics in software testing enable just that—improved QA processes. In return, optimizing QA processes helps budget for testing needs more efficiently.

As a result, they can make informed decisions for future projects, understand what needs to be improved, and make the necessary changes.

So, what kinds of metrics can help you make these decisions?

 

Types of QA Metrics

There are a lot of QA metrics that are more or less valuable for your current scenario, that is, the current state of your project. A metrics value can be defined by how actionable it is—the measurement can result in improvement—and if it can be constantly updated.

Here are a few metrics examples that can be relevant to your project in its current state:

  • Mean time to detect – how much time, on average, it takes your in-house or outsourced QA team to detect problems. The earlier you discover an issue, the cheaper it is to fix it.
  • Mean time to repair – how much time, on average, it takes to fix a problem. This time also equals the downtime when your product or service is not working while you’re losing money and possibly jeopardizing your reputation.
  • Test reliability – how valuable is the test feedback. Basically, a reliable test is consistent in measurement and can be replicated.
  • Escaped defects found – how many defects weren’t caught by the QA team during production but were found after release.

How do you know which metrics to use for your project? Once again, it all depends on which ones are most relevant and objective for the current state of your project. However, note that there is a difference between metrics that help evaluate the quality of your software or organization and ones that evaluate the effectiveness of your QA team.

Diving deeper, a way to measure the latter is setting KPIs.

 

How to Evaluate Quality Assurance with KPIs

Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are set measures of effectiveness, in this case, of quality assurance in software testing.

KPIs are generally helpful for evaluating QA effectiveness. However, they’re not ideal for all scenarios. Here are some cases where measuring KPIs is most beneficial:

  • You’ve been executing a testing process for some time. KPIs aren’t beneficial when testing is in the early stages. However, if you’ve been implementing a testing process for a while, measuring the KPIs will help you see what areas need improvement.
  • You’re planning to introduce new testing processes. Measuring your current processes’ KPIs will help you know what goals to focus on with the new procedures.
  • You have a large testing team. Working with a big QA team involves the distribution and management of testing tasks. Measuring KPIs will help you ensure that the process is efficient and keep team members on track.  

 

Most Common KPIs

The following are some of the most commonly used KPIs in evaluating the performance of QA:

Active Defects

This KPI is used to measure the number of defects that are new, open, or fixed. A low number of active defects indicates that the product is at a high level of quality. The testing manager sets a threshold value beyond which the team must take immediate action to lower the defects.

The process of finding, counting, categorizing, and resolving defects is known as defect management. This process includes capturing the required information, such as names and descriptions of defects. Once the team captures the data, the defects are prioritized and scheduled for resolution.  

Automated Tests

This KPI tracks what percentage of tests are automated. The higher the percentage of automated tests, the better your chances of detecting critical bugs in the software. The testing manager should determine the threshold for this KPI based on the type of software and the calculated cost of automation.

Some examples of automated test metrics include:

  • Total test duration – the time it takes to run all automated tests.
  • Unit test coverage – how much of the code is covered by unit tests. 
  • Path coverage – the number of linearly independent paths covered by tests.
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Covered Requirements

This KPI measures the percentage of requirements that are covered by one or more test cases. The goal should be to get every requirement covered by at least one test. The test manager monitors this KPI and specifies what should be done when requirements cannot be mapped to a test case. 

Requirements are often described in a coverage matrix—a table containing the requirements and links to the corresponding test cases. These matrices are helpful when the requirements are substantial or not clearly documented. They also come in handy when new team members have to get familiar with the requirements.

Using a requirement coverage matrix allows the test manager to have all the requirements in one resource that all team members can access. It makes the work of the developers and QA engineers easier and helps ensure that they take all the requirements into account.

Percentage of High/Critical and Escaped Defects

Escaped defects refer to issues that escape detection during testing and are found by the consumer. The team should analyze these defects to improve the process and prevent similar occurrences. 

Tracking the rate of escaped defects can reveal a need for better or more automated testing. It could also indicate that the development process needs to be slowed down to allow for more extensive testing.

Percentage of Rejected Defects

This metric refers to the percentage of defects found by a tester but rejected by the developer. Defects could be rejected if they’re irreproducible, incorrect, or have already been reported.

Rejected defects waste a lot of time, making the test team less efficient. They can also lower the morale of the testers as it makes them look unprofessional. If the number of rejected defects is high, the testers might need to be trained further or provided with updated documentation.

Time to Test

This KPI is used to track how long it takes a feature to move from the “in testing” stage to “complete.” Thus, it helps measure a feature’s complexity as well as the effectiveness of the testers.

All these KPIs help measure how effective your QA team is at identifying defects in your software product without repetition and how much time the testing takes. These KPIs are crucial when you intend to hire QA services from an outsourcing company.

QA Measurement Metrics
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How to Choose a Company for QA Outsourcing

Outsourcing software QA services can be a great way to save time and money while focusing on your core activities. However, the quality of the vendor you choose will directly impact the ROI of quality assurance outsourcing.

Here are some factors to look out for when evaluating software quality assurance companies.

  • Testing Infrastructure. Ensure that the QA services company has a suitable testing infrastructure for your product, such as the necessary software, operating systems, hardware devices, testing tools, and certified test procedures.
  • Portfolio. Take some time to review the vendor’s portfolio. Critically examine its experience, existing clients, mission, and reputation. You’ll want to look for companies that are well established and have a good reputation.
  • Customer Relationship. Look for companies that have a partnership-oriented approach to their business. Such companies work hard to cultivate and maintain healthy customer relationships with their clients. As a result, you’re more likely to have a pleasant experience and develop a long-term relationship with such kinds of vendors. 
  • Flexibility and Scalability. Ensure that the company has a flexible business model and can handle changes in testing requirements. Such flexibility will come in handy as your testing needs evolve.
  • Security. Only consider vendors that provide a highly secure environment in the areas of network security, ad-hoc security, database security, and intellectual property protection.
  • Documentation Standards. Ensure that the vendor adheres to the necessary QA documentation standards. For example, they should adequately document test results, reports, plans, scripts, and scenarios and provide you with easy access to the documents.
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These factors may seem obvious to business-savvy professionals. But if you don’t account for them when choosing a third-party vendor, you might be losing time and money that could otherwise be invested into actual quality assurance.

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The Cost of Software Quality

Aside from vendor fees or in-house specialist salaries, the cost of software quality is all your expenses on ensuring the quality of your software products. Understanding what these costs are will help you budget for them properly.

Let’s take a look at the different types of QA costs.

Types of QA Costs

The main software QA costs include prevention costs, detection costs, internal failure costs, and external failure costs. 

  • Prevention Costs. These are the investments an organization makes to prevent quality problems. Prevention costs include training developers, error proofing, root cause analysis, and improvement initiatives. 
  • Detection Costs. These are the costs of the software quality control processes that aim to find and resolve defects before the software is made available to consumers. They include the costs associated with inspecting and testing codebases, as well as help desk costs.   
  • Internal Failure Costs. Internal failure costs are the costs incurred in resolving defects before the product gets to the end user. They include wasted time, delayed projects, and the costs of reworking the defective product.
  • External Failure Costs. External failure costs refer to the costs associated with delivering low-quality software products and services. They include returns, warranty claims, lawsuits, and a damaged reputation.  

Ways to Cut QA Costs and Improve ROI

The cost of software quality can add up pretty quickly and become a substantial investment. Here are some tips that will help you minimize costs and maximize ROI:

  • Start testing as soon as possible. It’s important to start testing as early as possible to keep QA costs to a minimum. Early testing reduces the chances of discovering critical defects after release. In addition, the costs of fixing flaws in the later stages of development can be up to 30 times more than fixing them during the design and architecture stages.
  • Automate testing wisely. Automating testing can be an excellent way to save costs during development if your product is stable. Even if your software product is dynamic, you’ll benefit from automating as many tests as possible. Test automation results in improved efficiency, allowing QA engineers to deliver bug reports quicker so that the development team can start fixing defects sooner. Automation also enables you to have better test coverage.

When implementing test automation, avoid rushing to automate every single test immediately. Instead, carefully consider your company’s testing needs and calculate the ROI for test automation. 

  • Keep an eye on hidden costs. When setting up a budget for a project, look out for hidden expenses that may appear during testing. For example, your product might have unique features that your testing engineers aren’t familiar with. To test it correctly, they’ll need to spend time learning about the product resulting in adoption expenses.

Other possible indirect expenses include infrastructure costs for testing tools and maintenance expenses. These hidden costs could take up a substantial part of your budget. Thus, you’ll need to keep an eye on them and look for ways to incur fewer hidden expenses.

  • Choose your QA team wisely. The quality of your QA team has a significant impact on the ROI of your QA. Thus, you’ll need to consider several factors when choosing a team to outsource your software QA needs. These could include their portfolios, reputation, and testing infrastructure.
  • Evaluate your QA success. Doing this will enable you to figure out how to improve your testing processes and make better decisions.

Another thing to consider, aside from costs, is proper agreements with a third-party company.

How to Draw Up a Contract With an Outsourcing QA Company

A Service-Level Agreement for quality assurance, or QA SLA, is the part of a written contract between you and a software QA company that specifies what you expect from the service provider and the process for conflict resolution.

Usually, these are made to ensure availability of resources. For example, an SLA might include how quickly the provider can expand a team if a project’s scale increases.

Why You Need an SLA

Contracts are a no-brainer, but a QA SLA will help you ensure a few outcomes:

  • Service quality. An SLA allows the client to set their expectations for service quality and easily measure the service provider’s performance. As a result, the QA team can be held responsible for poor performance.
  • Clear communication. Clear communication is essential for successful collaboration between teams. An SLA helps ensure that communication methods and schedules are agreed on beforehand, resulting in smoother communication.
  • Documentation of the best procedures and practices. Best practices are often more likely to be followed when they’re clearly stated in a written document. An SLA enables the service provider to provide its employees with a quick reference document for best practices.
  • Mutual protection and peace of mind. An SLA gets rid of assumptions and provides all parties involved with peace of mind. Thus, you can rest assured that your organization’s interests are protected if things go wrong.

Major Components of an SLA

A Service-Level Agreement for software QA outsourcing often consists of two key components—QA services and management.

Service elements include:

  • Specifics of software quality assurance services provided. This includes a list of clearly defined individual services with a description of the service, who and to whom delivers this service, and when an individual service is required.
  • Conditions of service availability. This part should define the schedule when each entity involved in the agreement is available in a time of day, time of week, and time zone format.
  • Responsibilities of the parties involved. These are obligations that each entity is legally responsible to fulfill.
  • Cost/service trade-offs. 
  • Standards of service. These define what are low and high performance levels, taking into account the estimated workload.

Management elements usually include:

  • Measurement standards. These are clearly defined methods of assessing the work.
  • Reporting processes. These include the reporting types and format, i.e., who reports when and how.
  • A conflict resolution procedure. This is a method for resolving client-vendor conflicts from identifying the disagreement to defining resolution responsibilities.
  • A mechanism for updating the contract. This is a note of how changes can be initiated and implemented in a signed contract.

Costs budgeted, agreements made, now let’s see how the process of outsourcing QA works on a few real-life cases.

A Practical Use Case of Success Metrics

The benefits of established goals and metrics are most noticeable on long-term projects. While shorter projects (a performance and load testing session before a product’s launch) might benefit from a “one and done” approach, long-term partnerships with QA teams require consistent communication and clearly established goals.  

A good example of this in TestFort’s project portfolio is our continued work with Shutterfly.

When Shutterfly approached our team, their key goals were to shorten their release cycle and optimize their QE process and resources. This meant that our team had clear objectives:

  • Ensure a QA process that would enable two-week release cycles
  • Build and maintain a lean QA team where all resources are used efficiently
  • Adopt a QA workflow that fits with Shutterfly’s development team

With our success metrics clearly defined, we began building the team and establishing a QA process. This included creating test plans, templates for QA documentation, and enlisting qualified engineers to fill key positions on the team.

Over the course of our work with Shutterfly our team has extended to 10 QA engineers and is led by a dedicated project manager. Our responsibilities have also expanded to creating a suite of automated tests to further improve testing efficiency.

You can read more about our work on this project in our interview with Shutterfly’s Director of Quality Engineering.

Conclusion

Quality assurance in software development is essential for the development of high-quality products. However, to ensure positive ROI, you’ll need to:

  • Ensure that you’re using the right QA metrics to evaluate your product/service.
  • Set KPIs to evaluate the effectiveness of the QA team.
  • Hire the right specialists if you intend to outsource QA services.

TestFort is a software quality assurance company with over 150 skilled QA engineers and nearly two decades of experience in automated and manual testing. 

Written by
Dennis H., QA Team Lead at TestFort.

Dennis is a result-oriented professional with 8 years of experience in quality assurance and a rich technical background in eCommerce, telecom, entertainment, and healthcare projects. He gets a kick out of optimizing QA processes and building test strategies. Our clients are always happy to see Dennis coming up with another way to cut costs and improve ROI on their projects.

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