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The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the importance of business agility, across all sectors. As the dependency on technology has surged in recent months, those companies with the ready capacity to meet the disruption head-on have competed better than those without. Reliability has rarely proved a more valuable asset.

The 2010s was a decade of huge achievement in software development. Remember how long waterfall-based delivery used to take? The two-year lag times are thankfully a distant memory. But, if we’re honest, the expected progress to business agility hasn’t quite happened. Very few organisations have fully embraced the mindset and culture change that true agility requires. As such, they are yet to experience the benefits either.

The 2020s needs to be the decade when agility really kicks on. Quality and testing must play a more prominent role in achieving this transformation. This means developing a strong ‘quality conscience’, so that organisations better understand their risk appetite for defects and delays. When testing becomes normalised in every stage of production, then businesses can pre-risk undesirable events such as reputational damage. It’s a false economy to try retrofit quality.

The 2010s are behind us. As businesses and society look to move on from the COVID disruption, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and go again. Here are 9 useful ways that testing and quality can help to accelerate business agility in the next decade.

1. Automating the quality shadow

Testing, quality and automation is often viewed as an add-on, rather than an integral part of the production system. This degree of separation is a source of inefficiency. Conversely, when you run testing assets along every stage of production – the quality shadow – then the business can deliver change with greater speed, confidence and cost-effectiveness. By automating these testing assets, you also avoid the need to start and stall testing on a project-by-project basis.

2. Quality Engineering

Quality Engineering (QE) allows companies to design and build quality early into a solution, in a shift left way, making it more testable at the most critical moments. Up to 70% of defects exist in the requirements and design stages, so it is many times more cost effective to fix them there, than with regression testing.

However, there is a current lack of people with the QE technical skillsets, so it’s vital that organisations offer a relevant career pathway. That’s something we take pride in at Expleo. By developing both QAs and QEs in tandem, we help clients to create a state of Continuous Quality in their organisation.

3. User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is dead… long live confidence!

I hate UAT! After all, what kind of defects are acceptable within UAT that shouldn’t have been found earlier on? Exactly. I much prefer an approach built on incremental confidence. When you front load confidence in the first two stages of the delivery life cycle – the development team/supplier and independent testing function – then users will gain visibility of what’s gone before. Their acceptance can be secured with good business engagement.

Think of it like a soccer team. You don’t want your strikers dropping back all the time because they have no confidence in the defenders and goalkeeper. They can stay up front, waiting for the defenders and midfields to do their job. When the team has good channels of communication, strikers can also feedback useful information. If they do see a gap in defence, they can point it out – without fear of recrimination.

4. Organisational quality

In 2015, Gartner predicted that 50% of customers would dismantle Technology Centres of Excellence (TCoEs) by 2020, as they shifted to competency centres, agile methodologies and DevOps to provide business agility. Many organisations have done the dismantling, but they are yet to do the shifting.

At Expleo, our quality competency centres are based on a wheel-and-hub model, with internal functions in the ‘nerve centre’ and then resources distributed around the projects. One of the big gripes with the old TCoEs was that teams lost their preferred resources back to the central pool. Now, they can continue to work there, but with a direct link back into the centre of the wheel. The result is better-informed decisions, higher consistency and an easier distribution of lessons learned throughout the company.

5. Predictive analysis

Real-time predictive analysis will prove especially important in the next decade, in the pursuit of business agility. It can help companies to shift up a gear if product delivery is stalling. When the going is good, companies can also take proactive decisions for incremental evolution, rather than responding to signs of system fatigue. David Bowie didn’t keep changing because the album sales dried up. That’s who he wanted to be. Test process improvements should become a constant urge.

As quality professionals, we need to get better at dashboarding to report complex information in a way that the rest of the business can easily understand. Testers are like the shoeshine boy: we’re the ones who know what’s really going on. Understanding risk is what testers do all the time. We therefore need to play a greater role in the decision-making process, by revealing context insights that might otherwise pass beneath the radar.

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6. Cross-fertilisation

In the same way that QAs can learn new tricks to become QEs, they can also pick up new skills and assets from other job families such as business analysis (BA) and project management. This adds real value to clients and the business, and it’s good news for individuals too, as they can differentiate from the hordes of business analysts on the open market.

Closer ties between QA and BA mean clearer articulation of company requirements, better structured testing requirements and earlier quality validation (rather than retrofitting at the end). Good planning will ensure automation happens when necessary, and position the right people at the right time. It can also prevent defect multiplication, given a defect in a requirement can produce three in a design, and then 10 in code.

7. Embrace embedded quality

A whole new industry of Engineering Research & Development (ER&D) has emerged to push new boundaries in automotive, aerospace and defence, as the worlds of engineering and technology continue to overlap. In my own 25-year career, my employer has gone from testing the first consumer websites to testing connected cars, submarines and retractable arms on Mars landers.

This new frontier must become the new normal for testers, as the market is demanding that the two disciplines are combined. QAs and testers therefore need to be ahead of the game in how they develop and maintain frameworks that support multi-language, global solutions

8. Business and IT Quality Leadership

When the business and IT/quality operate with a master-servant relationship, the outcome is usually less successful than it could be. The business sits back and says: go make us a car. In a year’s time, they’d come back and say: we didn’t want a Mini, we wanted a Cadillac. Far better to actively participate during the prototype stages, rather than complaining at the end.

The good news is that the siloes are breaking down. Business leaders are taking a more active interest in IT, and a more active role in the delivery life cycle. Meanwhile, tech teams are more closely aligned to the strategic direction of the business. They increasingly see each other as partners in change: collaborating rather than commanding.

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9. Quality resilience from trust

The COVID-19 pandemic shows both signs of a black swan event: almost impossible to predict and so impactful that business will never be the same again. The billion-dollar question is therefore: how can the industry improve testing and quality in a way that prepares organisations for the next global disruption?

Perhaps the solution isn’t just technical. Building trust between suppliers and clients is vital for making the right decisions in times of huge uncertainty. The way relationships are built in the future will change, whereby suppliers become quality partners (QPs) instead of just providers of resources. QPs would take greater responsibility for delivery, including the performance of other contractors.

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