How to identify and manage software testing risks

  January 05, 2017

The entire job of software testers focuses on risk mitigation. Test design and development centers around which test will optimally mitigate risk. Can automated testing best ensure thorough testing and validation? How can team procedures avoid risk? These are questions whose answers determine the quality of deployment.

Risk is the future of uncertainty among events that have a probability of occurrence and a potential for loss. To protect business interests the quality of software applications, QA testers must be able to quickly and accurately identify and manage software testing risks. The three fundamental steps in managing these concerns are:

Create a list
Before testing software, one of the most effective feats QA teams can perform is risk identification that brainstorms which anticipated coding or performance could probably or possibly disrupt software or system functionality. According to Software Testing Help, risk identification, which includes anything that can possibly render the deployment ineffective, ultimately prevents loss of ROI. Risks may include:

  • Tight timelines
  • Undefined project scope
  • Insufficient resources
  • Continuously changing requirements
  • Natural disasters

While some challenges are easier to handle than others, precisely knowing the nature of difficulties allows for better anticipate of their occurrence.

"It is good to document the identified risks in detail so that it stays in project memory and can be clearly communicated to project stakeholders," industry expert Inder Singh wrote. "Usually risk identification is an iterative process. It is important to re-visit the risk list whenever the project objectives change or new business scenarios are identified. As the project proceeds, some new risks appear and some old risks disappear."

Plan your execution
Once QA teams have researched and examined potential risks, they can outline procedures for risk management. Potential risks can be ranked by their cruciality to software functionalities and system operations. A plan to mitigate risk by avoiding the probable or possible deficiencies and conditions that would cause application or system failure can be integrated into testing procedures.

Industry expert Meet Agarwal noted in a piece for C# Corner that some strategies can include:

  • Avoiding the risk
  • Transferring the risk to a risk specialist
  • Accepting the consequences of the risk
  • Reducing the risk's negative effect

In addition to avoiding risk, risk management enables the QA team to quickly respond and mitigate threats to performance which could otherwise destabilize deployment and stakeholder expectations. While addressing risk mitigation options is almost never appealing, long-term in-depth concentration on risk management can be critical to the success of a team's project.

Use test management to handle risk

Risk can appear at any time. QA testers must consequently be able to handle risk in an efficient and timely manner. Tight development schedules not only demand quick attention to risk, but also require timely risk management that ensures effectively-executed solutions to unanticipated issues, preventing a dethroned or delayed project.

For QA, some of the most critical issues may spring from test execution while undertaking a software testing process. The right risk management tools allow QA teams to better prepare for unforeseen circumstances and consequences. Test management tools, often help testers prioritize risks and issues while ensuring that other members are continually aware of the testing situation. Spreadsheets and charts are insufficient to reduce redundancies, or to specify risk in detail. Risk management specifications can include:

  • A high number of test builds,
  • Insufficient regression time
  • Unavailable prerequisites
  • Incomplete validation
  • Unresolved, misapplied, unrecognized metrics

Using test management tools, testers can better handle these risks through collaboration that brings about actionable solutions.

Risk mitigation can often be collaborative, with an entire team devoted to creating the list before a project is launched. These risks may also need to be adjusted as the software testing project progresses. Flexibility here will be essential to ensuring that QA teams can meet and appropriately respond to any situation that may arise for more expedient risk mitigation and limited downtime.

"Test execution is one of the most important phases of any project, the results from this phase determines the quality and enables decision for the management for go-nogo," industry expert Prem Phulara wrote. "As testing teams are owners of this phase, they should raise any risk that may hamper test execution and delay the release."

"The objective of risk management is to reduce different risks related to a pre-selected domain to the level accepted by society," Agarwal wrote. "It may refer to numerous types of threats caused by environment, technology, humans, organizations and politics. On the other hand, it involves all means available for humans, or in particular, for a risk management entity (person, staff and organization)."

Prepare for the unknowable

QA teams must in addition handle unanticipated risk. These are most commonly reduced into two issues – the Anticipated Unknowns and the Unanticipated Unknowns.

Anticipated unknown risks are circumstances of which the QA team is generally aware, but unaware as to whether the risk will show up in a specific test project or procedure. This lack of knowledge may be due to ineffective communication with clients and stakeholders.

Unanticipated unknown risks are those of which the organization has no awareness. Unanticipated unknown risks commonly occur when new technologies with which the QA team has no experience are introduced into a project.

Mitigate risk through planning

Software risk planning is crucial to the success of QA testing and the resulting deployment. Set up a testing plan that highlights workflow procedures that contribute towards risk mitigation.

Risk management process

Image Source: Tutorials Point

Success in mitigating software risk stems directly from upfront assessment of project challenges:

  1. Define measures effective in lowering or preventing risks.
  2. Define measures to reduce the impact of unalleviated risks.
  3. Through automated testing, continuously monitor software and system performance to quickly identify risks.

Specify risk

Let’s look further into specifying risk mitigation. When Quality Assurance is entrusted with developing a strategic testing plan, it is also entrusted with effectively addressing the risks associated with software development.

Software testing for a deadline presents pressure and time constraints are a constant challenge for QA teams. Integrated testing, or testing during software development iterations, is one way to find problems early, better ensuring quick and effective fixes. Integrated testing works best with the incremental agile development process, where small units of development are completed in sequence as virtually deliverable products.

In addition, prioritizing testing sequences by placing functionalities more crucial to software performance at the front of the testing queue, goes far towards mitigating risk. To best determine the priorities of a testing sequence, first determine the level of risk, including the following risk categories:

Scheduling Risk: Testing projects are not efficiently or completely scheduled to meet the deployment deadline. Inefficiency in scheduling can include:

  • Inaccurate time estimates
  • Improper assessment of required tool resources
  • Improper assessment of required manpower resources
  • Unanticipated expansion(s) in project scope
  • Inaccurate identification of complexities, functionalities, or operations

Budget Risk: Required investment is inaccurately anticipated, including:

  • Inaccurate Cost Estimation: Certain required items excluded from the estimation of costs
  • Cost Overruns: Unanticipated expenses, or inaccurate estimation, have cause unanticipated expenses
  • Expansion of the project scope: The project scope is expanded to include initially unanticipated expenses.

Operational Risk: Ineffective processing, system failures, or unanticipated circumstances define operational risk. Causes include:

  • Failure to establish testing priorities
  • Conflicting test priorities
  • Insufficient resources
  • Improper training
  • Improper communication among team members
  • Improper communication with enterprise stakeholders

Technical Risk: Technical risks often lead to functionality and performance failures. Some causes include:

  • Continually changing requirements
  • Lack of technical resources
  • Product complexities

General Risk:

  • Changes in market strategies
  • Changes in government regulations
  • Changes in customer demands and interests

Software Risk Identification

Image Source: International Software Test Institute

Treating Identified Risk

At times risk is identified after-the-fact. When risk happens despite upfront assessments, it can possibly be treated in one of four ways:

  • Risk mitigation – Renewed planning to avoid the risk.
  • Risk acceptance – The risk was not eliminated in prior releases, and is therefore accepted in the current release.
  • Risk transfer – Outsourcing the solution to a specialty risk-treatment company.
  • Risk surrender – Postponing the application development for a later release, significantly impacting by reduction enterprise ROI.

Risk is the expectation of loss through possible inoperability. Caused generally through lack of communication, information, planning, tracking, management, or allowance for time, software risk is the possibility of enterprise loss due to lack of functionality in software development.

The loss caused by a failure to mitigate risk can include:

  • Missing the deployment deadline
  • Reduced ROI
  • Increase in product cost
  • Poor quality software
  • Failure to meet contract obligations

Avoidance of loss, or risk mitigation, is best ensured by incrementally reviewing the testing plan, procedures, modules, and metrics to assess how precisely risk planning was executed:

  • Were risk mitigation measures effectively defined and executed?
  • How effectively did measures designated to risk mitigation ensure successful deployment outcomes?
  • Were measures to reduce the impact of unmitigated risk defined and executed?
  • How effective were the measures designated to reduce the impact of unmitigated risk in ensuring successful deployment outcomes?
  • What steps can be taken to improve risk mitigation in future projects?

The follow-through is to effectively integrate the fixes into current and future testing procedures.

Analysis Solutions

Planning for future QA projects should always include analysis of previous projects. Incrementally locating issues before the deployment of completed unit components prevents the existence of software deficiencies, or at least prevents deficiencies from becoming conspicuously apparent.

Upfront analysis identifies software risks that could even be responsible for crashing entire systems, preventing:

  • Loss of revenue
  • Customer dissatisfactions
  • Costly time delays
  • Data inconsistencies
  • Lost data
  • Failure to fulfill contracts

To avoid the dreaded outcome of failed software or systems, especially when an immense amount of time and financial investment are at stake, dedicate resources to risk mitigation through effective and efficient software testing. Stringent upfront planning significantly strengthens testing procedures, while automated test management capabilities assure test continuity. Automated testing capabilities quicken response times, stabilize component functionalities, identify several unknown weaknesses, efficiently test multi-tiered systems, and best ensure infrastructure stability.

Ensure that your organization has taken steps to effectively manage risk mitigation that best ensures best facilitates timely deployment and enterprise ROI. Software risk mitigation is critical to enterprise success in an increasingly competitive marketing environment. Effective risk mitigation can place an organization in the lead of industry competition for customer engagement.