How Quality Assurance Concepts Can Improve Your Business
Quality Assurance. Sounds scary and expensive (and very boring), doesn’t it! Fear not! In this article, I’ll break down what QA entails and show you why aspects of it relate to you and can be important for your business.
A little later, I will discuss the various types of QA Tests and simple ways that you can adapt the to other facets of it to your business, in ways that may not be immediately apparent. For now though, let’s just get the main questions answered.
What is Quality Assurance and why should you care?
True QA considers how something will work when Human Nature is taken into account. Yes, yes, yes. You’ve told people how they should do things. But like you, they either didn’t bother reading the instructions, read what little they thought they could get away with, or read the lot, took the training, and still think they can figure out a better way to use your product or navigate your system than the way you prescribed.
Basically, you are one person. Just because you think something should be done a certain way, it does not mean that the other 7+ billion people on the planet will actually do things that way. So you need to get inside of other people’s heads make sure things work in the no matter how people chose to navigate. If this means creating a few error messages, then that’s what you must do. Just ensure that glitches are ironed out before you go live.
But everyone talks about A/B Testing!
Just to clarify – This is completely different from A/B Testing! They are entirely different things, each useful in their own way.
For those of you who have never quite understood what A/B Testing is, or have steadfastly ignored the myriad of articles on the subject, here is an excellent, beginner’s guide from Maxymiser.com, and here are the two paragraphs that spell out the basic concept:
The QA mindset cannot be siloed!
In business, when all are bound by a common goal, and most are functioning within parameters that preceded them, adopting a QA mindset can help you to see things nobody else will think to look for. It will not enter most people’s minds to even consider that the business into which they are moving, could possibly have an at worst flawed, or at best, not 100% perfect model. That’s why when you look at the offerings on people’s websites, try as they might to stand above the crowd and capture attention, most look remarkably similar to each other, and entirely unremarkable!
The Analogy: Cooks who don’t follow recipes
Is this you? Do you perhaps use it as a guide, but refuse to be bound by it? Perhaps you discern the flavours of a dish you have enjoyed, and try to create your own version without seeking the step-by-step guidance of a recipe?
Do you see the analogy here? If you want to re-create a version of all that has preceded your new business, read the how-to lists and various guides. Read studies. Follow them to the letter. Or mix and match various proven concepts. It could be very successful for you. If you want to be unique, be bold enough to intuit how you might introduce a new twist. Make it your mission to boldly go where no one has gone before! Just be mindful that if you don’t utilise that QA mindset, your Enterprise may just explode!
How you can adapt Quality Assurance to your SMB
Before talking about some different types of tests, it would be useful to establish the concept of Use Cases. I had previously discussed them here at an intermediate level. Here is the simplest definition of a Use Case for the probable majority whose head is already close to exploding from the volume of ‘stuff’ everyone is telling you that you just have to know. It is adapted from the original IT usage, to websites, and comes from usability.gov:
A use case is a written description of how users will perform tasks on your website. It outlines, from a user’s point of view, a system’s behavior as it responds to a request. Each use case is represented as a sequence of simple steps, beginning with a user’s goal and ending when that goal is fulfilled.
Hungry for more? Here are the results of my Google search.
There are multiple types of QA Tests, including:
1. Unit Testing:
a) In the Corporate World, this involves breaking down all processes into individual components, and testing that each performs as designed/desired.
b) For you SMB: Decompose every aspect of what you seek to achieve, into the smallest units of action. Basically, anything which requires a click of any kind. I’m guessing that you aren’t going to test every tiny thing. But you should know every moving part. You may be surprised at just how many possible actions you and your visitors can make.
2. Negative Testing:
a) In the Corporate World: In QA methodologies, you always include negative tests. These are designed to prove that things that should not work, do not work. Sounds perhaps a little redundant? It is anything but!
b) For your SMB: The most dangerous thing for any business is the false affirmative. True, it doesn’t reflect well on your business if things that should work, don’t. But how much worse might it be if people find paths which should not exist, in order to accomplish things you don’t want them doing? Think hackers here! How secure is your site to attack?
c) The compliance equivalent is the false negative, where something that should fail, doesn’t. In that world, such an outcome can lead to loss of customers, fines and/or bad publicity. Don’t for a moment doubt that your business could be adversely affected by similar issues!
3. End-to-end Testing:
b) For you SMB: This is important! Just because individual elements of any process work as expected, it doesn’t mean that each handoff from one element to the next also works. More on this, in the Process Flow section, below.
4. Stress Testing:
a) In the Corporate World: You might call this volume testing. For a Trading application, this would be the pushing through of many trades at once, to simulate a surge. How might a system that usually handles less than 100 transactions a minute, suddenly deal with, say, 5,000 or more?
b) For you SMB: What if your business gets some great publicity or you have a very successful launch? Might you get hit with hosting overage charges? Put this on your checklist if your traffic has increased or an upcoming event could cause it to.
What if your site, or your host, is the target of a cyber-attack? Yes, this has happened to some small businesses, so yes, it could happen to you! Is your host up to it? Do you know that for sure? At the very least, add security. Captcha may seem like a nuisance, but it might just save your website from being hacked. Talking of which, when was the last time you backed up your site?
5. Regression Testing:
a) In the Corporate World, this involves keeping a script for all tests related to previous versions of the software, and ensuring that one change does not impact a system in unexpected ways.
b) For your SMB: The lesson to be learned from this is that if you change one thing, something apparently unrelated may stop working.
i) Think interactions – does the new plugin that you just added interfere with some parts of one you have been using all along? This does happen!
ii) Also think version control, where some plugins may no longer be supported or perhaps no longer work as before, when you upgrade or change your theme. And the same can happen in reverse: a plugin upgrade doesn’t interact as well with your theme.
The Bottom Line
This Regression Testing concept can be applied to people, as well as tools. Does a new function you have added, impinge on another? To use an analogy from English Football, an excellent new player addition can impact an already high performing player, if the new guy naturally does some of what the incumbent was already doing. Many a team has actually been downgraded by such ‘improvements’.
The decomposition exercise mentioned in #1 (unit testing), above, should minimise the chances of this, but you should always be prepared for the unexpected. The earlier you catch any problems, the less impact on your business, and generally, the easier (and cheaper!) it is to fix.
And do you have gaps or unnecessary redundancy in your daily workflow? How did you come about your current processes? If it was piecemeal, as is the case for most people, chances are you are papering over gaps manually, and with a few tweaks, you can achieve more, doing less. In a nutshell, could new elements be added which in turn save you more time?
There are ways of mapping your needs, your processes and your workflows. Do they gel with your Use Cases? Are you using your time as effectively as possible?
Thinking of looking further into QA concepts for your Business?
Want to up your game to give you a leg up on your competition?
Do you have the mindset described above where you can do this for yourself, with or without a little nudge?
At a high level, I have discussed above how many Quality Assurance concepts can be applied to your business.
If you are intrigued in any way by this, please leave your comments and I’ll be happy to engage in conversation.
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