Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Software Quality Process, part 1 of 3: Creating docs and bugs

This is post 1 of a series on software QA and Test, seen from the process perspective. Links to parts 2 and 3 will be added here as I finish writing and posting those parts. I use the term “Test” with a capital T to mean the test and QA org, the person or people responsible for measuring and communicating quality.

Software is about telling computers what to do with information. The scope of these posts is about the pure information part of that, so I’m skipping over hardware-related issues, but methods described here could be applied to hardware + software systems as well e.g. the mobile-device business.

Early in the software development life cycle (SDLC) Test needs to be involved, to listen and learn, but also to influence. Important questions for Test to address include: is the product testable? Can the team arrive at a good-enough measure of quality soon enough to ship? Where are the biggest risks? Where would the customer pain points likely be, and can these be mitigated with design decisions that are made early in the SDLC?

One product of these meetings is the Test Plan. The Test Plan needs to include either a link or links to a readable, maintainable, high-level view of the product, probably graphical for efficiency, or include a product description itself at a high level – but not both! The goal here is to have enough information that a new team member can quickly figure out what’s going on without being a burden, and there’s something that people can quickly refer to, but to minimize duplication of information, be as agile as makes sense for the product space, and not to spend too much time documenting or making pretty diagrams.

The Test Plan would continue with a strategy for characterizing the quality of the product with sufficient confidence that it becomes OK to ship. There’s much more to this than just finding bugs. the Test Plan must address ALL aspects of the product that can affect quality in any way, including security issues, integration, installation, deployment, scale, stress, usability, discoverability, and so on. More on this “characterizing quality” think with part 3 of this series to follow.

The Test Plan should contain scenarios to describe the product from the perspective of the end-user, or the client business, or services on which it depends, etc. It could contain test cases, too, but a more agile approach is to have the test cases exist as self-documenting entities in the source code. Modern build systems can generate simple docs from the code that are accessible to decision makers on the team even if they don’t have (or choose to build for themselves) access to the actual Test source code.

The Test Plan is generally the first important product from Test for communicating around the software team what Test is up to, and provides a framework for the characterization of the product quality I’ll address in part 3. The rest of this post is about bugs…

Bugs are created as necessary to communicate quality issues around the team. Here are some qualities of good bugs:

·         The title is succinct, descriptive, and includes keywords (to be searchable)

·         The bug is atomic, so addresses just one fix in one code change or change set

·         The bug is clear and has enough detail for the intended audiences, primarily program managers and developers, but also other people in Test and executives

·         The bug has screenshots if that helps at all with making the bug understandable, e.g.

o   A screenshot of a GUI as seen by product end-user

o   A screenshot of a section of an XML document, formatted and colorized per the IDE used in the developer team, if the bug relates to that XML

o   A screenshot of some specific code as seen in the IDE

·         Links to related, dependent bugs, or bugs on which this bug depends

·         Links to tests cases and/or test case failures if those are maintained in the same database

·         Links to documents

That could potentially add up to a lot of work from Test, and very big and detailed bugs. Watch out for too much detail, though; one of the risks of creating these bugs is that it could be too specific, when the problem that the bug reports is part of a larger problem. Addressing the bug as a sub-problem when the bigger issue gets unrecognized risks losing track of the issue, which could create rework and/or product quality risk.

Bugs are work items that have state, e.g.

·         New

·         Active

·         In progress

·         Fixed

·         Postponed

·         Duplicate

·         Won’t fix

·         Closed

As they “bounce” around the group to be handled by team members asynchronously i.e. when the time is most efficient for them. But, they also create a searchable record of product quality issues, a record of which areas Test has been working on the product, and inform the decision of when to ship product.

The product will ship with unfixed bugs! (If not, it hasn’t been tested, and it probably shouldn’t ship at all.) This will be addressed in the following posts.

There are two more posts to this series:

The Software Quality Process, part 2 of 3: Triaging bugs, and bug flow
The Software Quality Process, part 3 of 3: Quality Characterization, Bugs, and When to Ship

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