Software Testing vs. Quality Assurance

Woman is working on her computer.

As the digital world is evolving at a very fast pace, for organizations it has become extremely important to ensure that the software they develop is reliable and secure.

In recent years, there has been a bit of misunderstanding when it comes to speaking about software testing and quality assurance. People from the IT industry would usually know which is which, but for people who work in other industries, these two are usually perceived as the same thing. To make sure that everyone is on the same page, let’s break the myth of what software testing is, what quality assurance is, and what are the differences and overlap between the two.

Software Testing

Software testing can be defined in many ways, depending on the source of the definition, but, most often, if you want to define what software testing is, it would be something like:

Software Testing is a method to check whether the actual software product matches expected requirements and to ensure that the software product is defect-free. It involves the execution of software/system components using manual or automated tools to evaluate one or more properties of interest. The primary objective of software testing is to identify errors, gaps, or missing requirements by comparing the actual software behavior against the specified requirements.

It is very important to have the software tested before it is released, as software that has been properly and thoroughly tested would ensure that it runs better while minimizing frustration for the end users. This would ultimately result in fewer users over time, creating a bad reputation, financial losses, and potential legal issues.

The main objectives of software testing are defect detection, ensuring quality, and making sure the software meets the requirements and expectations. All of the objectives are rather self-explanatory.

So to sum up, the software testing process only focuses on the software itself, and not on the whole set of processes that are happening around it. It mainly focuses on the quality and the correctness of the software. As the tester executes the test cases, they try to make sure that no unexpected behavior has been encountered.

Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance (QA) is a concept found in many industries, not just IT. It has its roots in the manufacturing industry, where it became a formalized practice and has since been successfully implemented across many others, such as the chemical, food, construction, and, of course, the IT industry.

The quality assurance process is ISO-standardized to make sure the system as a whole is effective and efficient. When processes are standardized, they reduce costs and increase efficiency, while decreasing potential errors. Also, by sticking to certain regulations, a lot of legal issues can be avoided.

It has a wider definition than software testing, including within it the quality ensuring part - testing, verification, and ensuring the quality of the deliverables, but apart from that it also involves defect prevention, instead of detection, verification of processes, procedures, as well as standards that are suitable for the project, making sure they are implemented correctly.

In other words, quality assurance covers the process of requirement management, meaning, they would have to ensure they are well-defined, complete, and aligned with the expectations of the stakeholders. Common tasks are making sure that communication within the team is at a certain level, ensuring adherence to the process, methodology, standards, and best practices, or simply giving suggestions on which tools should be used, communicating and cooperating with the client, and writing, editing and maintaining documentation. In addition, the process also covers performance measurement and metrics, which include analyzing the metrics to identify trends, potential issues, and areas of improvement, while also monitoring stakeholders' satisfaction and feedback to address concerns.

The main aim of quality assurance is to help the team in creating quality products and services that meet the needs, requirements, and expectations of the clients, and, therefore, gain their loyalty and trust.

Differences between Software Testing and Quality Assurance

Cost is not exactly the best difference between the two, but depending on the context of the project, generally, quality assurance costs less. By default, preventing defects costs less than detecting, documenting and fixing. But regardless, even with the best quality assurance practices, thorough software testing is usually advised. If a company initially invests in good quality assurance practices, that can lead to great amounts of savings further down the road. This way of managing would optimize all the processes, introduce measures to prevent issues from arising and increase overall efficiency across the project.

The software testing process, on the other hand, inflicts more costs from dedicating resources, and subscriptions for tools, equipment, and such. After the initial investment, the cost that would have to be covered is for improving the testers’ skills and knowledge, maintaining testing environments, and updating testing tools.

In regards to effort, while QA and software testers both are very focused on ensuring quality products, their scope can be very different, which may impact the necessary effort. If many daily repetitive processes are set to be automated, such as the common duties of a software tester, in the beginning, a large effort has to be put into creating the automation framework, but in the later stages, the effort would be minimal, as the task can be completed by a push of a button.

In most cases, the only written documentation that software testers have to write is the defect reports in a tracking management tool, including the test cases to be executed as well, but on some occasions, they might be involved in creating or contributing to other types of documentation, such as test plans or test strategy documents. In some cases, they would have to write manuals for the software in order to help the clients understand some more complex features or functionalities. As for the QAs, their job also covers documentation creation, however, they are more focused on making sure that all the quality processes are covered and noted.

Risk is something that everyone is trying to avoid, or, if that is not possible, at least try to minimize it. Detecting issues and bugs after they have been created is of course a higher risk, that would require additional efforts in order to mitigate. This is the case with software testing, but when it comes to quality assurance, the processes are usually set in a way to prevent risks before they occur. Therefore, quality assurance is slightly less risky than software testing, as well set quality assurance processes tend to be preventative and proactive, rather than reactive, allowing for errors that might not be the simplest to fix.

Time-wise, software testing is generally known to take more time, as opposed to setting up processes of good practice and following them. But of course, setting up the quality assurance processes is not always known to be the easiest thing, so in regards to time, they both can be quite time-consuming.

Areas where Software Testing and Quality Assurance overlap

Both approaches ensure high-quality products by providing error and bug-free products, or, at least, bringing the number of errors to a bare minimum, as edge-case issues are difficult to predict.

Improved user experience is also what characterizes both approaches by attempting to make the product more appealing to the maximum number of users possible.

Another area where they share overlap is in planning and strategizing. When it comes to software testing, a well-planned testing process and strong testing strategy are crucial for successfully identifying all the weak spots of the product and fixing the defects. Same with quality assurance, if the whole process is well planned and a solid strategy has been made, then the product has a higher chance of being well received by all the stakeholders.

Some areas, such as collaboration, knowledge sharing, and communication, are usually taken as a given, but it is still worth giving them a proper mention. By collaborating in both approaches, the rapport between the team members is getting stronger, mutual trust is built at a very high level and people are getting more comfortable with themselves, opening up more and filling each other’s knowledge gaps. For the benefit of better knowledge-sharing, it is wise for everything to be noted in a single document, regardless of whether it is in physical form or just put together in some online management tool, the most important thing is that everyone can revisit these pages and answer their own questions.

We have all heard the story of bad blood between the software testers/QAs and developers because of bad communication, but nowadays companies try hard to mitigate that and have specially assigned people to improve communication within the teams and organizations. Having overall good communication means that half of the job has already been done.

Constant improvement in personal and professional regard is something that is also very substantial for both approaches. If working according to the Agile methodologies and having those “rituals” that come with it, such as daily standup meetings, sprint planning, sprint review or sprint retrospectives, providing and giving feedback about the job, as well as the ways people work, communicate and interact, make it so that this constant improvement is almost inevitable.

Nowadays companies that are, and want to stay successful constantly invest in their people in order to continuously grow and become better than yesterday. I think we have all read the anecdote of a CEO and CFO talking:

CEO: We have to make sure our people get proper training.
CFO: Those are rather expensive! What if we pay them, they learn, and leave the company?
CEO: And what if we don’t pay and they stay???

In conclusion, every project or product dictates a unique approach that would be ultimately chosen, depending on the availability of the resources and the financial frames. But even in the most perfectly set quality assurance process, software testing is still needed, if not required, in order to make sure that no stone is left unturned. This is the most often recommended approach because of several factors. By combining the two, the overall quality of the product and the processes get better improved, and the documentation is kept up to date. Of course, that prevention, combined with detection, leads to fewer flaws and issues later on, making the maintenance of the product after it is released much simpler. Engaging the resources early on in both approaches also brings good results by discovering the weak spots as soon as possible. As they are integral and inseparable, they should always be used hand in hand, ensuring a quality product is done with the best practices.

But at least we learned how to distinguish between the one and the other.

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