QA vs.Testing: Antagonism or Symbiosis?
The header above was the theme of the last Belgium Testing Days in Brussels on March 12-14. During the call for papers for this conference, several months ago, I was in the middle of having SOx compliance established for one of my projects. The theme caught my attention since it represented one of my feelings on the compliance process at the time.
I work at an internationally operating bank which has a few consequences for the context in which I work. The most obvious consequence is that a bank uses either financial software or software that enables financial processes. As a result the (in-house) developed software gets extra special attention with regard to accessibility (or perhaps rather inaccessibility), integrity and confidentiality (AIC). Every piece of software that is built or bought by the bank gets a so-called AIC assessment and depending on the result of the assessment and certain amount of checks, controls and measures are mandatory.
The AIC assessment itself is essentially internal to the bank. But being a bank, and especially being an international bank, this means that on top of the internal regulations all kinds of external government and financial market regulations are imposed on it. The bank QA department translates these regulations or standards into internal processes and rules. For most of the high level business processes such a translation seems fairly straight forward. These processes are often both described and measured at the same way as the regulations. It gets more difficult if you drill down into the organization and start taking all the contributing activities and tasks into account such as in my case the development of software or more particularly the testing of software.
One of the financial organizations common responses is to apply and design standards and procedures together with any number of deliverables.
These standards are prescriptive of nature. They tell you in general terms what their idea is. But, depending on your QA department it gets more specific. They tell you what you must do, how you should do it, in what order you should do it and how you should call it.
The so designed procedures and processes describe the steps you are supposed to do given some standard situation. And since seeing is believing they also formulate how you should proof that you followed the process. In many cases such proof is the delivery of a number of deliverables. Deliverables can be a lot of things, but typically they are in the form of documents, test ware libraries or reports. Given a certain standard they follow a fixed format both in terms of content, that is what should be described, and in terms of lay-out, that is how it should be described.
To my experience for the most part the somebody defining the standards to be used, the procedures to be followed and the deliverables to be created are not the developers or testers nor the customer, but is a typical staff department:
The Quality Assurance department
I see quality assurance not as a singular activity. In my opinion it is a group of activities. Activities that have a difference in focus.One part of quality assurance is focussed on making the chosen framework useable and applicable within the organization. QA as the designer. The second part of quality assurance is closely related to this as it acts as the controller of what was previously designed. To this end it translates the designs into to points of measurement and puts values to the measurement results. QA as the controller. These two might go by different names in some organizations, like quality management, but in my opinion this still is part of quality assurance. The third part of quality assurance is the part in which the actual software development related activity is taking place. It is the part that also executes the previously designed steps and reports back on them. QA as executor.
At this point QA starts to be seen as testing which is captured in the following definition that is often used for both:
The process of validating and verifying that a software program/application/product meets: The requirements that guided its design and development; works as expected; and can be implemented with the same characteristics
This definition has a certain appeal. It is understandable; it is similar to other process oriented methodologies; it aligns with the QA concept. But in my opinion it limits testing to checking.
The previous definition is not the definition I would use for testing. In my opinion the kind of information testing provides depends on the what the stakeholder values as important for the softwares quality. Therefore my definition is:
Software testing is a means to provide information to someone who matters about the product or service under test in a certain context at a certain time.
If I apply this definition to my AIC, SOx compliant context I find that the current solution QA has offered me does not meet this definition. Do not get me wrong I understand and agree that the change process and software development should be both traceable and accountable. I do however not believe that the solution is to enforce processes, procedures and deliverables that are judged by their presence and adherence to layout. What matters is the content that they should be presenting.
Not the process story but the testing story should be told
This example describes in summary which measures the SOx team and I agreed on that are required by software development projects, and specifically testing, necessary to comply to Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOx) regulation.
A SOx regulation review is targeted at the state of software development and testing at the moment of release to production. The intermediate states or progress steps in establishing traceability and documentation compliance are out of scope for the investigation.
Testware management for manual testing follows the guidelines as summarized in the following steps:
- A test plan or a similar structure identifies functional test objects that, minimally, covers the functionality as specified in the requirement or change documents.
- For each of these test objects specific test activities are logged
- The test structure identifies the release, individual RFC’s and relates them to the test activities.
- A full and complete overview of test objects, test activities and the test results should be established prior to release of the changes to production. This can be either in a testware management system, like preferably HP QC, or in another reviewable form
- All tests should either have passed or if not passed have a logged defect and or stakeholder decision attached that indicates that this is acceptable to go into production at this point in time
In essence the testware management for automated testing follows the same guidelines as manual testing. Main difference is that the way of documentation is adapted to the structure of automated testing:
- A test automation tool or input data sheet used by the test automation tool shows the automated tests with a reference to the test object, functionality or RFC that they test
- A log file (preferred), or checklist, shows whether the tests have been executed and if they have passed or failed
- A full and complete overview of test objects, automated tests and the final execution of tests with test results should be established prior to release of the changes to production
- All tests should either have passed or if not passed have a logged defect and or stakeholder decision attached that indicates that this is acceptable to go into production
- If for automatic testing a self designed tool or framework is used the functionality of the tool and the execution of the test cases should be validated by peer review. Results of the review should additionally be captured in the test report
The above steps should result in the following deliverables:
– Basic testware describing the test design, test execution, test results and defects
– Test Report, containing an advice for release
You might have noted that there is no mention of describing tests in advance, of following test scripts, nor of following standard or using templates. The SOx compliancy team’s focus is not on how the testing is executed during the project. Its focus is to see if the implemented changes are tested and that the executed tests and test results can be matched to them. Their aim is to establish that the changes do not have an unexpected or undesirable effect on the companies annual balance or regulatory capital. To that end they check if the changes are implemented as intended.
The SOx compliance essentially asks for what James Bach describes as three stories that describe the testing story:
- A story about the status of the product
- A story about how you tested it
- A story about the value of the testing
The only thing now left for me is to convince the QA department that even when I have not followed their standard and procedures and not used their templates I have thought about the reason behind their questions and am still able to supply the information they need. Only a bit faster and more naturally.