Your Gateway to Exciting Quality Assurance!

Redefining QA roles: testing in DevOps

testing in DevOps
The emergence of DevOps as a software development methodology has led to significant changes in the roles and responsibilities of QA professionals. As development and operations teams adopt practices like continuous integration, continuous delivery, and infrastructure-as-code, the traditional QA role needs to evolve as well. In the DevOps model, testing is no longer a separate phase performed only after development. Instead, it is integrated throughout the development lifecycle.
In this post, we will examine how QA roles are being redefined in DevOps environments and why this shift is happening. We'll look at the key differences between traditional testing and testing in DevOps, explore new responsibilities for testers, and discuss how QA contributes value in a DevOps culture.

The Shift from Traditional Testing

In traditional waterfall development models, the QA team is separate from the development team. QA would typically get involved only after developers completed coding to verify the software against requirements. They executed extensive regression testing before each major release.

This approach had several drawbacks:
  • Long feedback loops - bugs were detected late in the process, causing delays and extra work.
  • Lack of collaboration - developers and testers operated in silos with little communication.
  1. Manual testing - much of the testing was done manually, which was slow and prone to human error.
  • Quality issues - separating testing from development resulted in quality being an afterthought, not baked into the process.

In contrast, DevOps emphasizes collaboration between cross-functional teams and applying testing practices continuously at every stage. The barriers between development, QA, and operations are broken down.
Here are some key differences between traditional testing and testing in DevOps:

When Testing Is Performed
  • Traditional - after development is complete
  • DevOps - continuously throughout the development lifecycle

How Testing Is Performed
  • Traditional - manually, focus on user interface flows
  • DevOps - automated testing, focus on code coverage

Team Structure
  • Traditional - separate QA team
  • DevOps - no isolated QA team, testers work closely with developers

  • Traditional - testing to verify requirements
  • DevOps - testing to provide rapid feedback

  • Traditional - find bugs before release
  • DevOps - prevent bugs and quality issues from being introduced

This shift towards testing early, often, and collaboratively is key to enabling fast feedback and continuous delivery of software.

New Responsibilities for QA

As QA roles are redefined, test professionals take on new responsibilities focused on quality engineering and collaboration. Here are some of the key tasks for QA in a DevOps environment:

  1. Automated Testing: Writing automated tests and integrating them into the delivery pipeline is a primary new responsibility. Test automation exercises the application continuously, provides fast feedback on quality, and frees up time for more exploratory testing.
  2. Test Infrastructure Management: In DevOps, the entire test environment and infrastructure must be coded and managed as code. QA engineers need to utilize infrastructure-as-code tools to create and maintain test environments.
  3. Monitoring in Proaduction: QA has greater ownership of quality in production. They need to monitor logs, metrics, and customer-reported issues to detect problems in released software.
  4. Writing Test Cases Earlier: Test cases are created parallel to story writing, not after. This ensures acceptance criteria are defined properly and ready for test-driven development.
  5. Performance Testing: Performance testing takes on greater importance to ensure software can handle real-world load and usage. Load tests are executed frequently and at earlier stages.
  6. Security Testing: With continuous delivery, security cannot just be a final gate. QA professionals build security into the pipeline by analyzing risks, creating abuse cases, and testing vulnerabilities.
  7. Providing Testing Expertise: QA engineers share their knowledge of testing techniques and best practices with developers, ops, and other team members. The entire team is responsible for quality.
  8. Defect Prevention: There is more focus on preventing defects from being introduced rather than finding them later. Root cause analysis helps improve processes.
  9. Customer Validation: QA representatives the voice of the customer. They ensure user perspectives are considered during planning and development. Validating with real users becomes ongoing.
  10. Test Data Management: Generating and maintaining test data is important for effective automated testing. QA is responsible for creating data sets that cover various scenarios.
  11. Coaching Developers on Testing: In a shared responsibility model, QA professionals coach developers on unit testing, test-driven development, and test automation frameworks. The result is higher quality code.

While these testing tasks have always been important, in DevOps they are more distributed across teams rather than siloed in a single QA department.

The Value of QA in DevOps

Given agile principles like collective ownership and continuous testing, some may wonder where dedicated QA roles fit into a DevOps culture. Is there still value in having QA as a distinct discipline?

The short answer is yes. While responsibility for quality is shared across teams, testers continue to play a vital role. Here are some of the key benefits QA delivers in a DevOps environment:

  • Testing Expertise
QA professionals bring deep expertise in test design, techniques, automation frameworks, tools, etc. They act as consultants on quality practices for the broader team.

  • User Advocacy
Dedicated QA team members focus on the user experience and champion those needs during planning and development. This perspective may otherwise get lost.

  • Improved Efficiency
Specialization allows test automation to be implemented more efficiently. Manual repetitive tasks can be automated to enable innovation.

  • Accelerated Feedback
Test automation and infrastructure management by QA shortens feedback loops so defects are detected rapidly.

  • Enhanced Collaboration
Embedded QA team members improve collaboration and knowledge sharing between roles. Silos are broken down.

  • Continuous Improvement
QA drives process improvement by analyzing defects, identifying root causes, and suggesting preventative measures.

  • Risk Mitigation
Rigorous exploratory testing, abuse case creation, and test coverage analysis by QA mitigate the risk of major issues in production.

By focusing on these value-adding activities, QA enables DevOps teams to achieve higher velocity, quality, and customer satisfaction. Even as responsibilities change, dedicated QA roles remain critical.

Key Factors for Redefining QA Success

As organizations aim to redefine QA roles for DevOps, what are some of the key factors to consider for being successful?

Embed QA Earlier
Involve testers from the very beginning of the development lifecycle - during planning, analysis and design. This allows them to influence requirements and acceptance criteria.

Promote Visibility
Provide access to test metrics, defect reports and production monitoring. Full visibility enables better decision making.

Focus on Business Risk
Guide testing effort based on an application's business risk and complexity, not just covering features. Take a user perspective.

Enable Collaboration
Break down barriers between roles. Develop shared goals, rotate team members, and encourage collaborative practices.

Automate Regression Testing
Automate execution of repetitive test cases. Automation frees up time for more high-value manual testing.

Test Early, Test Often
Shift testing left in the development lifecycle. Test as code is written using practices like test-driven development.

Improve Feedback Loops
Provide test feedback in real-time through practices like live unit testing. Short feedback loops lead to faster improvement.

Monitor Production
Expand testing responsibilities beyond development into deployment and production monitoring.

Analyze Quality Metrics
Measure quality with tangible metrics like defect escape rate, mean time to repair, test coverage, and regression pass rate.

Reward Quality Engineering
Recognize those who promote quality practices, not just developers who write features. Make quality everyone's goal.

Redefining QA ultimately requires a cultural shift that enables testers to provide value continuously through the product lifecycle.

Challenges with Testing in DevOps

While DevOps offers many advantages, integrating testing effectively can also pose challenges:

  1. Over-reliance on Automation: Teams often depend too much on automation and neglect exploratory testing. A balanced approach is needed.
  2. Lack of Test Environments: Spinning up production-like test environments dynamically can be complex and hardware-intensive.
  3. Skills Shortage: Demand has increased for testers skilled in scripting, automation frameworks, and CI/CD tools. Training is essential.
  4. Coordination Overhead: With smaller, multidisciplinary teams, coordinating handoffs between developers, QA, and ops can be tricky.
  5. Undefined Scope: Unclear expectations of testing scope can lead to gaps. Regression, integration, user acceptance, and exploratory testing all remain necessary.
  6. Time Pressures: Fast iterations can put pressure on testing time and lead to important cases being missed. A minimum viable test suite is key.
  7. Flaky Automated Tests: Automated tests can be unreliable and produce false failures due to environmental issues. Maintaining test suites is difficult.
  8. Lack of Upfront Planning: Minimal upfront planning causes confusion downstream around test data, environments, and scope. Some priorities still need upfront coordination.
  9. Metrics Overload: An explosion of metrics makes it hard to discern signal from noise. Focusing on a few key quality metrics is best.

With conscious effort, organizations can overcome these obstacles. It takes discipline to build quality engineering into fast-paced delivery.

Striking a Balance

Perhaps the biggest challenge is striking the right balance between speed and quality. The pressures of continuous deployment can push QA to cut corners. But moving fast should not come at the expense of rigor in testing. As QA roles are redefined, achieving an optimal balance requires considering a few tradeoffs:

Automated vs. Manual
Automation provides speed but can miss user experience flaws. Manual exploratory testing uncovers unexpected issues. Balance both methods.

Broad Coverage vs. Risk-based
Testing everything is impossible, but narrow scenarios can overlook edge cases. Focus testing on major risks and variability.

Prescriptive vs. Flexible
Strict test plans ensure a minimum level of coverage but reduce agility. Post-deployment testing should be flexible.

Prevention vs. Detection
Preventing defects upfront avoids waste, but some will always slip through. Test to prevent, monitor to detect.

Independent vs. Collaborative
Independent QA provides impartiality, but embedding QA drives engagement. Use both centralized and distributed QA.

Comprehensive vs. Minimum Viable
Being lean is key, but incomplete testing reduces quality. Define a viable test suite for each release.

By thoughtfully balancing these aspects, QA brings the right level of oversight without impeding velocity as developers deliver innovation.
In summary, DevOps is redefining QA roles by integrating testing deeply and continuously into the development lifecycle. While test automation, infrastructure management, and monitoring take on greater importance, manual exploratory testing remains essential. Dedicated QA team members continue to provide tremendous business value through their expertise, advocacy, efficiency, and risk mitigation. However, to be successful they must focus on engineering quality into the process through collaboration, visibility, fast feedback, and a culture of prevention. With adjusted mindsets and balanced practices, organizations can achieve both speed and quality. Reimagining QA for DevOps requiresdiligence, but pays dividends in engaged users, stellar customer experiences, and improved business outcomes.