Embracing the opportunities of DevOps

How can DevOps help us become champions and advocates for testing and quality activities across the lifecycle?

The new world of modern software delivery, ushered in by the impact of digital disruption, offers tremendous opportunities both to improve solution quality at the desired speed and to develop new capabilities. However, as testers, we need to acknowledge that in order to ensure that software quality remains at the forefront of the mindset of everyone involved throughout the development lifecycle, our role and approach will have to change.

Cultural change is required

There is a general recognition that the cultural changes required for an organisation to successfully move into the world of DevOps/CI/CD can prove a much bigger barrier than the technical challenges.

To survive and thrive in this new world we need to develop a continuous testing culture across our function, complimenting and supporting a wider continuous delivery culture. We must become the champions and advocates for testing and quality activities across the lifecycle. This should bring what we have long sought – involvement right from the outset.

Rather than managing towards ‘hand-offs’ into segregated testing phases, we need to foster the approach of collaborative work and joint problem-solving.

The wider culture, typically adopted in this modern delivery world, of trying new approaches and tools and discarding those things that don’t work/add value, can help us in testing to also be more innovative. We can, and perhaps should, become more comfortable in experimenting with new techniques and ways of working in the quest to improve quality.

New friends and allies

The advent of DevOps also brings the opportunity to work more closely with our colleagues in operations. We share goals of protecting production and the customer from poor quality and resulting outages. Often those areas that the operations team are concerned about and want to see closely monitored are areas that we should be focussing our quality lens on too. On the flip side, the instrumenting and tools we utilise in testing may also deliver benefit to our operations colleagues.

Single view of the risk

In this world of modern software delivery and improved collaboration, we have an opportunity to develop a single, joint view of the level of risk and where this lies across the solution landscape. When we have achieved this single view, there should be much greater buy-in from our technical colleagues and senior stakeholders into our proposed approach to testing, which should be closely aligned to that same view of risk. In turn, this should avoid any suggestion that the scope of testing/QA is inappropriate and might even ‘kill the business case’.

Establishing a ‘ruthless automation’ mindset

The challenge in this new world for all disciplines including testing/QA is to think about how to automate all tasks as far as possible almost as soon as they are identified. This has been referred to by Forrester as ‘ruthless automation’. This approach of maintaining a constant eye on the challenge of frequent perhaps daily or even more frequent releases is an important shift in mindset.

Transformation from testers to quality engineers

It has been suggested that what is required to deliver solutions is actually ‘T-shaped technologists’, individuals with a dual focus. Firstly, they have their specialism, perhaps in development or more likely in our case test automation, exploratory testing or test data management, but then secondly, they must have the overall end-to-end delivery focus required. This means we will have the opportunity to develop new skills, become more technical if we have the aptitude/desire, but certainly move closer to the other functions.

We need to add value by advocating and driving quality across all of the different delivery functions and activities. From the initial story definition, through to the method of deployment, we can champion quality. This must include ensuring that the final delivery we are working towards meets all the necessary quality criteria. We have the opportunity now to re-invent ourselves and become quality engineers rather than merely testers.

Avoiding the perils of burn-out

When we establish what constitutes a sustainable pace of delivery, we need to consider not just technical considerations but our engineers and avoiding them becoming stretched beyond reasonable work commitments.

As managers, we need to ensure our quality engineers have a work/life balance that is appropriate. The benefits of an improved delivery speed could be very short-lived if in the process our talented engineers suffer ‘burn-out’ and consequently become less productive.

Embracing the opportunities

The new era should ultimately (appreciating this won’t happen overnight!) bring with it a clearing of the technical debt that previously meant being stuck with troubleshooting problematic legacy systems. This, in turn, should mean greater opportunity for our teams to work on more exciting new work.

Professional testers and those working in QA share a genuine passion for delivering quality solutions. The new world of modern software development offers us opportunities to develop new skills and have a greater influence, and ultimately play a pivotal role in delivering better quality at the speed demanded by today’s demanding and perhaps more discerning customers.

Rather than seeing the new delivery methods of DevOps/CI/CD as a threat to our existence, we need to evolve our teams and individuals to meet the challenge. Ultimately, we need to transform ourselves to become fully fledged quality engineers and in the process, earn enhanced trust and respect from our colleagues.

Written by Richard Simms, Test Architect, ROQ