Software product quality directly impacts customer retention and brand reputation. A flawed release, even a single software defect, can have a cascading effect on your business for years to come. Money is lost and business costs increase as users demand additional tech support and you are bogged down in endless cycles of patching and fixes.
To avoid those outcomes, preventative medicine is the best strategy. And for software releases, intelligent testing is how that strategy is carried out.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the Software Testing Life Cycle (STLC) and how it reduces risk for the enterprise and increases the efficacy of every release. Savvy CIOs and IT Managers who understand STLC can cut costs, improve product quality, and accelerate release schedules.
As we dive deep into the life cycle of software testing, identifying the goal and deliverables of each of its phases, you will see exactly how to leverage software testing to improve processes and add value across the organization.
What is STLC?
The Software Testing Life Cycle is a quality assurance (QA) methodology that tests a software product or system for usability, with the goal of ensuring a smooth and successful rollout for each new release. STLC detects glitches, problems, errors or other software defects that may impact user experience, as well as potential software vulnerabilities that can undermine data security.
The current STLC methodology was developed to enforce testing standardization as development teams have embraced agile methodologies, in place of the traditional waterfall method.
Software Testing and the Waterfall Method
Traditional or classic software delivery methodologies, including the waterfall model, are based on development stages. These stages provide a logical progression of work, strictly linear and sequential. One phase cannot begin until the previous phase is complete. This rigid process enforces discipline, provides clear guidelines, and aids early software development, particularly when managing the massive teams typically involved.
Testing is a distinct stage in the waterfall model, separate from the other phases – like concept, design, and implementation. Work must be completed in the testing phase before the project moves forward, ensuring the usability of the software.
Introduction of Agile
Companies needed more flexibility, speed, and responsiveness during development, while their teams got larger and more specialized. Waterfall and a strictly linear development process just didn’t cut it anymore.
Agile was developed in response to these changing needs and the maturing software industry.
Agile refers to an iterative and incremental process, with short cycles of constant product improvement. At the end of each cycle, work is evaluated and new goals are defined for reaching a release-ready product in the next round.
This gives companies more flexibility. The team can quickly and easily adapt their work to goals set before each cycle, while the availability of a usable product at the end of each round can shorten release cycles.
There is no distinct testing stage in the agile model. Testing is done concurrently with programming and other development tasks.
Software Testing and Agile
Testing standards supporting the agile methodologies and ecosystem were developed to ensure the quality of every software release. They became known as the Software Testing Life Cycle.
In agile, specific team members aren’t typically tasked with software testing. Instead, every developer is expected to conduct testing as part of their work cycle. Clean builds of the software are loaded several times a day using automated compilation and unit test execution tools. This is known as continuous integration.
In other words, agile developers test, but they aren’t testers.
The Software Testing Life Cycle provides a standardized, sophisticated and robust testing process that can be used in the short, iterative cycles of agile development. It standardizes and defines goals and deliverables for each phase of pre-release testing, which is carried out concurrently with the software programming.
The 4 STLC Phases
Each organization that adopts agile must also consider how its software testing strategy meets project requirements. The goal is to ensure the highest quality product possible, using available resources, and without increasing project costs.
While organizations may adapt a testing methodology to meet specific needs, the following STLC phases provide a basic framework for the agile Software Testing Life Cycle.
Phase 1: Planning
The goal of the planning phase is to identify the scope and requirements of testing.
A thorough understanding of project feasibility is necessary, with each requirement studied and a test developed to ensure the requirement can be met (with the understanding that some requirements might not be testable). Management and review of this process should be implemented to ensure the best outcome.
When the planning phase is complete, you should have a plan for testing that addresses critical areas of the project deliverables.
Challenges to Planning in the STLC
Many testing projects fail in the scope and planning phase.
What should be a careful review of a project’s requirements can easily turn into wild speculation, as the team struggles to determine success criteria. Some planners underestimate the amount of testing required for the project, increasing risk and leading to unexpected failures in the released product. Other project managers test too much, wasting resources and clashing with team members.
Scope creep during testing can also lead to many problems. In fact, according to a recent survey, 31% of all testers report testing more than necessary to ensure a quality release. This leads to project delays, higher costs, and frustration during the project.
Planning Best Practices in the STLC
- Consult key business users when determining the scope of testing.
- Utilize user feedback to identify critical business processes.
- Make sure the test plan includes testing for those critical business processes, as they take up most of the user’s time and resources.
- Identify common issues or problems that negatively impact user experience.
- Plan testing with a focus on a clean user experience for critical processes.
- Plan testing that ensures the product fully addresses user needs.
Benefits of Planning in STLC
With a sound test coverage plan, focusing on key requirements, you can save both time and money during the project. Your testing will target critical areas, providing a higher return on your investment and reducing project duration.
The project team should also understand the core testing priorities. By setting these priorities before testing begins and gaining team members’ agreement, you can eliminate problems before they occur.
Phase 2: Implementation
During the implementation phase of STLC, detailed test cases (or test scripts, as they are often called) are created.
Test scripts should use the requirements determined in the planning phase, as the feedback from key business users provides a foundation for real-life, up-to-date use cases. Each script should be based on a business process or critical product function.
At the end of the implementation phase, you should have test scripts that cover all the core requirements of the project, each based on a real-life business process.
Challenges to Implementation in the STLC
Test scripts written in the implementation phase of the Software Testing Life Cycle cover both manual and automated testing.
Automated testing is designed to keep pace with the rapid deployment and release schedule of agile development. Faster testing methods and special software control and manage the execution of tests, increasing the speed of testing. Typically, automated testing is used when scripts are repeated, the tests are done using different data and conditions several times, or the testing is tedious and difficult to run manually.
Despite the perceived benefits, there are challenges associated with automated testing. Automation is expensive and can be time-consuming to implement. Depending on the business complexities, there may be limited benefits to automated testing.
Errors in automated testing can lead to significant problems and expensive mistakes. An enterprise that relies too heavily on automated testing, or attempts to automate processes that should be manually executed, will increase the cost, length, and risk of their project.
These challenges have led many enterprises to question the return on investment (ROI) for automated testing.
Maintaining the engineered test scripts can also be a challenge. Over time, business processes will change, especially when they are dynamic. If the team doesn’t install a process to update the test scripts or use the most recent and relevant user data, testing will become flawed and obsolete.
Implementation Best Practices in the STLC
- Use business processes, rather than simple instructions, for a more user-friendly and comprehensive testing scenario.
- Each test script should be based on real-life use cases and business processes, rather than product functionality.
- Consult with users and business process owners to ensure the validity of the test case.
- Build a process to maintain and update test scripts to ensure they continue to be a powerful tool for users and the project team.
Benefits of Implementation in the STLC
Test scripts can be an annoyance for many developers, programmers, and IT professionals. However, they represent a critical step in the testing process, especially when scripts are built on real-world business processes.
Carefully plan when to use manual testing and when to use automated testing to optimize your return on the testing process. Selecting the right method for each test script will reduce costs.
Phase 3: Execution
During execution, the team will conduct the testing. All discrepancies will be logged, and defects identified. Discrepancies are measured as the difference between the actual and expected test results.
Testers will follow the test plans developed in the first phase and use the test scripts written in the second phase. Tests should be executed strictly following the plan, with all discrepancies, defects, bugs, problems, and errors logged as soon as they are identified. Defects and discrepancies should be mapped to the test cases and then retested to ensure the validity of the test results.
At the end of the execution phase, the entire test plan should be completed, with all defects identified and documented. This document, a defects report, is an important tool for managing the project and ensuring a high-quality release.
Challenges to Execution in STLC
Many of the challenges related to the execution phase of the Software Testing Life Cycle relate to documentation, consistency, and technology.
Often, in the rapid pace of development and release, testing becomes a low priority. The team will sacrifice critical testing to get the release out the door faster, which can lead to problems that are only discovered later.
According to a recent survey, IT testing decision-makers in the United States and the United Kingdom identified difficulty using software and testing tools as the biggest challenge to successful test execution. Tools that aren’t user-friendly and require extensive, time-consuming training for non-technical testers can increase the cost and limit the efficiency of testing.
Execution Best Practices in STLC
- Log the testing done to support every requirement.
- Verify that requirements have been met in the product, using a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM).
- Use the RTM to analyze the work done on a project. With this analysis, the QA team can better estimate later work cycles, unnecessary and redundant rework can be eliminated to lower costs, and projects will have fewer defects and problems.
Benefits of Execution in STLC
Managing and identifying the defects in a software release is the goal of the execution phase. The preparation and work done in the planning and implementation phases result in a more effective and efficient execution.
Processes are standardized, ensuring testing is completed and the team has every opportunity to identify defects before going live. Completion of an effective execution phase thus results in a higher quality software release.
Phase 4: Evaluation
In the evaluation phase, the team will report on, monitor, and analyze the defects identified in the execution phase. The status of each defect is documented in the project record.
The evaluation phase should provide insights that help the team better understand the impact of the defects on the product, as well as the risk and effort involved in fixing them. This will allow them to make an informed and proactive decision on defect mitigation and better control the project’s costs.
At the beginning of each cycle in the agile model, work on the defects will be pulled into the cycle or placed in the backlog. Testing, defect mitigation, and programming are done concurrently in agile, but the evaluation phase ensures critical defects aren’t lost in the rapid pace of work.
The report developed in the evaluation phase helps meet the goal of proactively managing defects. Their status is monitored and the steps taken to correct them are documented.
When the evaluation processes are complete, the team should have a record of each defect, detailing its risk and final status in the product. The test cases, or scripts, should be linked to the test results, creating a comprehensive risk management report.
Challenges to Evaluation in the STLC
Often, the development team will focus solely on the software and technical aspects of defects and bugs. The business processes that drive the requirements behind the product aren’t considered. This creates a gap in the record and an incomplete evaluation of the risk of each defect.
Ultimately, the software is a tool for the users and not just a collection of executable code (which is why it was important to include a use case for each of the test scripts). Without considering the business processes and requirements, the development team risks negatively impacting the usability of the product as they are eliminating defects.
As noted by participants in a survey of IT leaders in global enterprise organizations, a lack of business-oriented testing reports is the top challenge they face in the evaluation phase.
Evaluation Best Practices in the STLC
- Test scripts and use cases should be the foundation of your evaluation phase.
- Directly link the test results to the test scripts developed in the implementation phase and used in the execution phase.
- Track and monitor each of the defects for a risk management report, noting each of the stages a defect goes through (being worked on, retested, and evaluated), which is known as the Defect Life, or Bug Life, Cycle.
- Maintain a record of defect impacts, which can be used in future projects to more accurately scope and plan work before the project starts.
Benefits of Evaluation in the STLC
The evaluation phase is critical to producing a working software product and eliminating unnecessary expenses.
The result of the evaluation phase should be an impact analysis that enables the project team to better manage the project and your costs while ensuring a higher quality, working product with each release. In addition, the risk management report can be used to more accurately assess future projects and develop best practices that drive continual improvement.
Optimizing Software Development with STLC
The focus of agile methodology is producing working software products through short iterations using less documentation. As discussed earlier, this provides more flexibility for the project team, as well as better change management.
Another benefit of agile development is the ability of the IT team to rapidly release products at the end of each iteration. As a result, the enterprise can provide business users with a steady stream of value through new functionality and updated, customer-centric product releases.
This is known as continuous delivery.
Continuous Delivery for Agile
With programming, testing, and integration occurring concurrently in the agile model, the IT and development team can quickly and efficiently respond to business needs, delivering value in a matter of days, rather than months or years. Such a rapid release schedule, however, requires continuous delivery, continuous integration, constant testing, and continual pipeline analytics.
Companies that implement an effective Software Testing Life Cycle can better meet the demands of an agile model, giving them a competitive advantage with high-quality product releases at the end of each development cycle. As they adopt continuous delivery and rapid iterative development, many companies are therefore turning to tools that can help them implement, monitor, and manage their Software Testing Life Cycle.
Optimizing the Value of the Software Testing Life Cycle
Application testing solutions provide a framework for implementing the STLC, reducing testing effort without sacrificing the quality of the final release.
Panaya’s Test Dynamix is an application testing solution that standardizes testing across the enterprise. It accelerates the testing process by providing digital tools and support for critical stakeholders:
- Real-time alerts regarding testing processes allow managers to proactively eliminate bottlenecks before they impact project timelines.
- Test managers have real-time visibility and granular data across all test cycles.
- Cross-functional teams collaborate in the system to accelerate test execution and eliminate downtime.
- Test data is automatically captured and documented, ensuring compliance for internal and external auditing.
- Smart defect management automates monitoring and proactive notifications for rapid resolution and improved quality assurance.
With agile-ready Test Dynamix, testing processes are standardized, everyone collaborates on the same system, and silos are eliminated. As a result, the business works not only faster, but better.
Are you ready to accelerate project delivery and increase software quality using the Software Delivery Life Cycle (STLC)? Experience Panaya Test Dynamix to see what enterprise agility and application testing tools can do for you.