Assessing Quality Risks and Estimating Test Effort

A typical objective of testing in all projects, Agile or traditional, is to reduce the risk of product quality problems to an acceptable level prior to release. Testers in agile projects can use the same types of techniques used in traditional projects to identify quality risks (or product risks), assess the associated level of risk, estimate the effort required to reduce those risks sufficiently, and then mitigate those risks through test design, implementation, and execution. However, given the short iterations and rate of change in Agile projects, some adaptations of those techniques are required.

Assessing Quality Risks in Agile Projects

One of the many challenges in testing is the proper selection, allocation, and prioritization of test conditions. This includes determining the appropriate amount of effort to allocate in order to cover each condition with tests, and sequencing the resulting tests in a way that optimizes the effectiveness and efficiency of the testing work to be done. Risk identification, analysis, and risk mitigation strategies can be used by the testers in Agile teams to help determine an acceptable number of test cases to execute, although many interacting constraints and variables may require compromises.

Risk is the possibility of a negative or undesirable outcome or event. The level of risk is found by assessing the likelihood of occurrence of the risk and the impact of the risk. When the primary effect of the potential problem is on product quality, potential problems are referred to as quality risks or product risks. When the primary effect of the potential problem is on project success, potential problems are referred to as project risks or planning risks[Black07][vanVeenendaal12].

In Agile projects, quality risk analysis takes place at two places.

  • Release planning: business representatives who know the features in the release provide a high-level overview of the risks, and the whole team, including the tester(s), may assist in the risk identification and assessment.
  • Iteration planning: the whole team identifies and assesses quality risks.

Examples of quality risks for a system include:

  • Incorrect calculations in reports (a functional risk related to accuracy)
  • Slow response to user input (a non-functional risk related to efficiency and response time)
  • Difficulty in understanding screens and fields (a non-functional risk related to usability and understandability)

As mentioned earlier, an iteration starts with iteration planning, which culminates in estimated tasks on a task board. These tasks can be prioritized in part based on the level of quality risk associated with them. Tasks associated with higher risks should start earlier and involve more testing effort. Tasks associated with lower risks should start later and involve less testing effort.

An example of how the quality risk analysis process in an Agile project may be carried out during iteration planning is outlined in the following steps:

  1. Gather the Agile team members together, including the tester(s)
  2. List all the backlog items for the current iteration (e.g., on a taskboard)
  3. Identify the quality risks associated with each item, considering all relevant quality characteristics
  4. Assess each identified risk, which includes two activities: categorizing the risk and determining its level of risk based on the impact and the likelihood of defects
  5. Determine the extent of testing proportional to the level of risk.
  6. Select the appropriate test technique(s) to mitigate each risk, based on the risk, the level of risk, and the relevant quality characteristic.

The tester then designs, implements, and executes tests to mitigate the risks. This includes the totality of features, behaviors, quality characteristics, and attributes that affect customer, user, and stakeholder satisfaction.

Throughout the project, the team should remain aware of additional information that may change the set of risks and/or the level of risk associated with known quality risks. Periodic adjustment of the quality risk analysis, which results in adjustments to the tests, should occur. Adjustments include identifying new risks, re-assessing the level of existing risks, and evaluating the effectiveness of risk mitigation activities.

Quality risks can also be mitigated before test execution starts. For example, if problems with the user stories are found during risk identification, the project team can thoroughly review user stories as a mitigating strategy.

EstimatingTesting Effort Based on Content and Risk

During release planning, the Agile team estimates the effort required to complete the release. The estimate addresses the testing effort as well. A common estimation technique used in Agile projects is planning poker, a consensus-based technique. The product owner or customer reads a user story to the estimators. Each estimator has a deck of cards with values similar to the Fibonacci sequence (i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, …)or any other progression of choice(e.g., shirt sizes ranging from extra-small to extra-extra-large). The values represent the number of story points, effort days, or other units in which the team estimates. The Fibonacci sequence is recommended because the numbers in the sequence reflect that uncertainty grows proportionally with the size of the story. A high estimate usually means that the story is not well understood or should be broken down into multiple smaller stories.

The estimators discuss the feature and ask questions of the product owner as needed. Aspects such as development and testing effort, the complexity of the story, and the scope of testing play a role in the estimation. Therefore, it is advisable to include the risk level of a backlog item, in addition to the priority specified by the product owner, before the planning poker session is initiated. When the feature has been fully discussed, each estimator privately selects one card to represent his or her estimate. All cards are then revealed at the same time. If all estimators selected the same value, that becomes the estimate. If not, the estimators discuss the differences in estimates after which the poker round is repeated until an agreement is reached, either by consensus or by applying rules (e.g., use the median, use the highest score) to limit the number of poker rounds. These discussions ensure a reliable estimate of the effort needed to complete product backlog items requested by the product owner and help improve the collective knowledge of what has to be done[Cohn04].

Source: ISTQB® Foundation Level  Agile Tester – Syllabus Version 2014

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