The Business Value of Quality

Traditionally, when talking about the quality of our software, of our product, we discuss how we can ensure a certain level of quality. In this context quality is seen as a minimum requirement. The business value of quality from this perspective is in the prevention of potential losses, e.g. by downtime of a platform.
Today, we can see that this picture shifts dramatically. More and more companies move to a devops culture and we can see the same “shift left” happening in the QA space. Likewise, today’s businesses need to react fast to changes in the market. New technologies emerge faster than companies can pick them up.
We want to talk about a high quality product in this context. The high standard in our products does not just ensure our business and mitigate potential risk. High quality in our software allows us to build better software faster. It makes today’s product more resilient to changes in the future. We change our perspective and do not think how to ensure a certain (minimum) level of quality. But how high quality enables our business.

This talk is a shared effort with my colleague Nina.

Joint forces of the analysts: improving the quality of software even before its built

Sometimes people say that QAs are the headlights of a project. The developers are the train engine and the BAs are the map of the surrounding area – they know where the train in the night shall ride. And it will somehow get moving. But with headlights that inform you early on about potential obstacles you can maybe find another route on your map.

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Source: wallpaperpulse.com

Sometimes people say that QAs and BAs and devs work on the same product – just in different times: The BAs have really good idea what is coming next. They are constantly thinking about the product in one month – rather in the future. Devs are working on the product of the next days, max. next week – thus the immediate future. And you as a QA usually know best how the product behaves today – you know about the present product.

When it behaves unintended you talk to the same stakeholder as a BA who identifies intended behavior changes to be implemented. It is incredible useful to bring these perspectives together!

Usually, QAs know their way around today’s product in details and can point out weaknesses that can be fixed with new requirements as well as shortcuts when introducing new features. That is all incredible valuable for the BA. The outcome for the QA? If you consequently collaborate on analysis and story writing (to some extent, it’s not necessary to type the story together) you can think about weird edge cases and scenarios already long before the story is implemented and discuss the desired behavior with the BA right away. Baking quality in can be so timesaving!

Again, you cannot make up all possibilities in your head, you will still need to conduct some creative, exploratory testing. But by working with BAs at the beginning you reduced this effort by 60, 70 or sometimes 80%. Your work load after development decreases, because quality already increases before the software is developed. Well done!

How we do “Quality” at ThoughtWorks Germany

Thanks to the other QAs in ThoughtWorks Germany for contributing thoughts to this topic over the past months: Sarah@DizMario, @Nadineheidrich and @bratlingQA


What is testing?

Testing is a method to analyze the quality of a given software. It is a method that is applied after the software is developed. If the software has an insufficient level of quality, yet another cycle of development & testing is needed to increase and measure the quality again.

Testing is bug detection.

Metaphor: Testing is like putting chocolade on a muffin, but exclusively after baking it.

What is QA?

There are other methods that can improve / increase the quality of a software while it is developed. Those methods decrease the amount of cycles of development & testing that are required  to reach a certain level of quality.

QA is bug prevention.

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We want to consider chocolade while baking and only put some additional on top.

How we are testing

In addition to the tools and processes that allow us to build high quality software from the first line of code (see below), we have the highest standards for testing software. As mentioned before,  we are well aware that testing can only analyze a software’s current state and show the presence of issues/defects. Another cycle of development is needed to actually improve the quality. That leads to the known problem: whenever the testing is “successful”, the cycle time of stories increases and the delivery of a new feature needs to be postponed.

To minimize this delay, we apply the most efficient testing approaches to provide fast feedback for developers. This reduces the overall time to market of new features. With these methods we are able to reduce the cycle times significantly while improving the overall quality of the software in different projects:

  • Our tests are fast and effective. We run Unit-, Integration and End-to-End tests in a well shaped testing pyramid. This allows us to quickly check if our application behaves as expected. Writing the right tests on the right level reduces the time we need for regression tests from days to minutes. This includes – amongst other things – a 100% automation of regression tests.
  • Of all the tests in the pyramid, we take special care of the integration tests (of different services) to assure the architecture’s resilience. One of our favorites are the consumer driven contract tests. They allow different teams to work independent with loosely coupled services while ensuring that the entire system behaves well altogether.
  • For us, testing is an integrated activity within the software development team and not an independent, separate discipline. There are two ways to get a story tested:
    1. When a story needs QA attention, you move the ticket into a “QA” or “ready for QA” column. The person who is in the role of the Quality Analyst then picks up the story as soon as possible.
      (this is push & role-focused ⇒ that is the Scrum-way with experts in the team)
    2. When a story needs QA attention, you look out for the capability in the team. Any person with some capabilities in testing (often but not always the QA) rotates into the story.
      (this is pull & capability-focused ⇒ that is the Kanban-way with cross-functional people in the team)

      Guess what. I prefer the 2nd approach. The 2nd one is real team-play. And it decreases the cycle time of a single story and thus increases your velocity! Devs will learn (more) about testing and QAs can pair on the programming part, eg. to sort unit- and integration tests into the pyramid ⇒ baking the chocolade inside.

  • For exploratory testing we do not always apply the same standard methods but acknowledge the individual context we are in. Only then can we make use of the various advantages of different test methods. We find all kinds of tools in our box: Behaviour Driven Testing, Acceptance Testing, End-To-End Testing, Scenario based Testing, User Journey Testing, Integration Testing, System Testing, Risk based Testing, Penetration (Security) Testing, UX testing, performance Testing, Guerrilla Testing…

How we do QA

As mentioned before, we really need to learn all about testing. And its a mastery to study. However, its only a (small) part of our job and every day live. Besides testing we look into other things, as we know that good software is only the first step towards a high quality product.

We create a culture in the team, where the aspect of quality is an important asset for each team member. In this context we can address the team’s current needs with a wide set of processes, frameworks and tools that we as ThoughtWorkers already use or create if they do not yet exist (e.g. Selenium).

We acknowledge that we cannot build defect free software.  Hence, we focus on defect prevention and establishing an overall quality mindset. We assure a high level of quality in software through tools and processes that allow us to prevent defects and find errors fast:

  • Well designed services to ensure a resilient architecture. There are so many things to work on if you want to improve the resilience. You can have the best software without bugs. It wont help you if your servers are down for the bigger part of the day. From a QA point of view, we are interested in circuit breaker (self-healing systems), feature toggles, well designed APIs and a kick-ass monitoring:
  • Monitoring! This is so important. And so many people think that “only” Ops should care. What a misunderstanding. Constant monitoring of all services and environments is a shared discipline to be able to react quickly on any arising issue. No matter how good you test (see above), some defects will slip through to production. The best way to reduce their impact is a combination of a good monitoring and quick deployment. If we are able to release a fix fast (= best case: 20 min after a bug is found), we can reduce the impact significantly. This is what monitoring is for. Learn more in this podcast.
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  • We have a strong focus on Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployments best practices, such as fully automated regression testing. You can read all about it in the other post as well as talk in Ljubljana.
  • Test Driven Development for high test coverage and fast feedback during development is also an important thing to notice. While most developers know that a tests are written first in TDD, not all know about the testing pyramid, much less of its benefits. Hence, a pairing of QA and dev while practicing TDD can be of high value. This is how you bake quality in!
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  • I just mentioned the consistent pair programming. Pairing allows best designs and fewer defects from the beginning. Make sure to rotate frequently and across the roles. Pairing is a general activity for most tasks in a team. Pair-programming is just one of them.
  • We love Feature Toggles™. They give us maximal control over the features in production and canary releases. A very easy method I usually use is to give chocolate while the standup to the pair that implemented a toggle the previous day. This is a fun way to talk about it, remember it and give a sweet incentive to build it in when it was forgotten. If you find the time to use them it will make your lives much easier. You will not need rollback strategies any more and it is a very, very good safety net. Quality “assurance” at its best!

The mix for the win.

Of course we combine the two aspects of QA and testing. And this is the biggest challenge for us. Where to focus at what point of time. Where do we need more attention and what part of the application / system / team is running smooth? Ultimately,  we try to pick the right tools and create the right mindset to build a high quality product.

Are we only Test Manager?

This is a translation of the original blog post that I wrote with Diana Kruse, Natalie Volk and Torsten Mangner. While writing this blog once more just in another language, I took the liberty of adding some personal notes here and there.


In every development team at otto.de there is at least one tester / test manager / QA… or however you would call the person, who is shaping the mindset for quality.

Until recently, “test manager” was the dominating description at Otto – a very rigid and bureaucratic term. Although the intention was good to emphasize that we do not only execute tests, but we also manage them! Meanwhile, even managing tests is only a very small part of the value we deliver.

In a bigger workshop Finn and Natalie, two of our “test managers” picked up on this contradiction and worked things out. We were sure that it would not be sufficient to write “agile” in front of test manager. Hence, we developed a new understanding of our role that looks and feels like this:

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We are the teams’ Quality Coaches

We support the teams to understand “quality” as a collective responsibility. We achieve this by working intensively with all roles of the team rather than talk about generic concepts. We establish knowledge and practical approaches regarding the topic of quality.

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We See Through the Entire Story Live Cycle

Together with the team we take care that our high standards of quality are regarded long before the development of our product starts: We suggest alternative solutions during the conception of the story and indicate potential risks. We avoid edge-case problems later on by thinking about them while writing the story. We pair with developers, so that we know that the right things are tested in the right place. Thus, we have more time to talks to our stakeholders and users during the review. With the right monitoring and alerting we are able to observe our software in production.

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We Drive Continuous Delivery / Continuous Deployment

One central goal is to deploy software to the production environment as risk free as possible. Therefore we try to change as little of our codebase as possible and roll out every single commit automatically. We are using feature toggles, to switch on new functionality independent of these deployments. This has two major advantages: we can roll out our software to customers (almost) at the speed of light and get fast feedback for new developed features.

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We are Balancing the Test Methods of the Testing Pyramid

We know how to test what on which level of the testing pyramid. We use this concept to create a lot of fast unit tests, a moderate number of integration tests and as few end-to-end tests as possible. This does not only speed up our pipelines but it makes our tests more stable, more reliable and easier to maintain.

Additionally, in our tool box we can find all kinds of tests (acceptance tests, feature tests, exploratory tests), methods (eg. test first, BDD) and frameworks (like Selenium or RSpec). We know how to use those tests, methods and frameworks on all levels of the testing pyramid.

(as a side note: this indeed implies to run eg. Selenium tests on a unit test level if applicable)

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We Help the Team to Choose the Right Methods for a High Quality Product

Being specialists, we know all (dis) advantages of different methods and can help the team to benefit from the advantages. We learned that pairing will enable knowledge transfer, communication, faster delivery and higher quality.  Besides pairing, test driven development is one of the key factors to create a high quality product from the beginning.

Flexible software can only emerge from flexible structures. This is why we are not dogmatic about processes and methods but decide together with the team what mix of processes we really need to get our job done.

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We are Active in Pairing

We do not only encourage our developers to pair, we also have fun pairing ourselves. In tThis way we can point to problems even while the code is being written. To avoid finding all edge cases only during development we also like to pair and communicate with Business Analysts, UX-Designers and Product Owners. Together with the operations people we will monitor our software in production environment.

The pairing with different people and different roles allows us to further develop our technical as well as domain knowledge.

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We Represent Different Perspectives

By taking on different positions we prevent unidirectional discussions. We try to avoid typical biases by challenging assumptions about processes, methods, features and architectures. This enables us – from time to time – to show a different solution or an alternative way to solve a given problem. It helps us to reduce systematic errors, money pits and to objectively evaluate risks while developing our software.

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We are Communication Acrobats

We are the information hub for all kinds of things inside and outside the teams. We make special, constructive use of the grapevine, a phenomenon that practically occurs in every company with more that 7 people.

We are enablers for communication. This may be the communication of a pair of developers, between many or all team members or between teams throughout the organization.  By facilitating this coordination we can reduce obscurities about features or integrations of systems and hence get our software into a deliverable state faster.


After developing this role, we engaged more and more of our “agile test managers” with this concept. They were so enthusiastic about it, that they wanted to apply for the job once more right away. The only thing missing was a good name: As in every cross functional team we have different specialists and one of those people is the driving force for high quality we found the perfect name: the Quality Specialist.

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(Side note: the German term for “quality assurance” (QA) is “QualitätsSicherung” (QS). Using the same abbreviation made it even easier to adopt the new term.)

Quality Specialist is a very well fitting name for this stretched role. Although we are broad generalists, our core value lies in shaping a quality mindset and a culture of quality in a team.

Those were the first steps on a very exciting journey. The next thing to do is talking with other roles in order to find out how this new comprehension of the role changes our daily work. Furthermore, almost no one fulfills this role description today. Thus, we need to grow, level up and reflect on our development. The most fun part is that we can learn a million things in different domains from different people.