Collaboration can be tough for any software company. That’s why developers came up with continuous integration to solve problems as they occur. But can this process be used in other ways? For example, how can you use continuous integration in QA?
By “QA,” we of course mean “Quality Assurance.” Often, this question is flipped. People look for ways to assure the quality of their continuous integration process. But it may help to turn the problem on its head and look for a way to improve QA and make sure you’re offering the best solutions possible for customers.
What Is Continuous Integration?
Continuous integration (CI) is a software development practice in which coders frequently move their projects into a shared repository. The frequency varies, but this practice often occurs several times per day. Ultimately, CI has two main goals:
- Build your software automatically
- Give quick feedback about its quality
Automation and testable code are at the core of smart CI use. This includes automatically building on code commits, executing test suites for each build, consistent test environment handling and more. The process results in immediate feedback, historical records and accountability.
Most teams use some sort of version control, but these systems do not detect software defects quickly. Other times, coders write unit test suites to raise accountability, but this is often a one-off fix and can be tough to turn into a workflow. CI resolves both issues.
CI adoption often starts with the development team writing small, easily tested portions at a time. The CI system then builds and tests the software continuously, often at scheduled points or with a triggered update. After the tests, the system gives feedback via statistics, output logs, post-build steps and so on. Some advanced systems even update issue-tracking software or send emails to staff.
What is Quality Assurance?
Quality assurance (QA) is the process of reaching or upholding a desired level of quality in a service or product. This is not just a last-minute check of core features. It’s crucial to focus on every stage of the process, from growing ideas to long-term maintenance.
There are plenty of steps in between, but here are three prime points in the process where QA plays a large role:
By taking care throughout these three stages, a company has the best shot of dodging harmful mistakes and defects. And that is one of the most important factors in creating excellent customer experiences and earning loyalty down the road.
Advantages of Continuous Integration in QA
It’s easy to spot the benefits for developers, but what about other teams on the project? Specifically, what about continuous integration in QA?
To the QA team, the reasons for having a thorough CI system are many, solving problems often tied to code turnover. When building a new software solution — for example, adding an SMS channel to a contact center — CI can be used in 13 key ways.
1. Organized Test Packages
The first and largest set of roles CI plays is in testing. The QA staff writes test packages and maintains them within the CI system. This allows them to run automatically during every successive build. Keeping QA tests in one place makes them well organized and easily accessible when needed.
2. Automated Testing
Along with keeping tests organized, the logical next step is running them when needed. Test packages, hosted in the QA repository, can be maintained by multiple staff members and automatically executed when new code is added. Automation ensures all code works properly and reduces employee workload.
3. Automated Regression Testing
The CI system also naturally serves as a facility for automated regression testing suites. Regression testing is done when a developer makes changes to software that modifies functionality or repairs a bug. This means CI doesn’t just work for new solutions. It’s beneficial as a QA tool even for long-standing products.
4. Substantial Regression Test Suite
And the system builds upon itself with each new-found software defect. By automatically adding new test cases, CI quickly builds a substantial regression test suite, which runs automatically against new code. In other words, the solution gets smarter as it goes because it has more experience to rely on.
5. Integration Testing
Although feature-based unit tests make for an obvious transition to the QA environment, the strength of CI systems lies in their flexibility. Not restricted to simple code-level unit tests, CI systems can even perform integration testing — testing interdependent platforms at once as a group. When one code updates, tests run immediately and detect any regressions across the system.
As the last type of test, smoke tests monitor the system. Smoke tests determine whether core functionalities work or not. In other words, does the solution “catch fire” or “produce smoke” when you turn it on. It’s a basic test but important to ensure the most important features work properly.
As a point of emphasis, all of these tests happen automatically. When planning additional tests, consider champion-challenger testing, like the one this pharmacy used to optimize its SMS solution.
7. Detect Software Defects
Finding defects is the core goal of quality assurance. Fortunately, using continuous integration in QA can help with that, too. All the tests described above are designed to find defects. But with CI, software defects can be also be traced more easily to the source through issue-tracking software.
8. Automated Deliverables
Deliverables can be automatically generated and made available to a wider audience. Thanks to automation, different tests — including alpha or beta testing — can be included at more stages of development.
9. Automated Deployment
A CI system can even include automated deployment. The system tests deployment scripts after every build to ensure no kinks arise when code moves to other environments.
10. Creating a Document Standard
If automated unit testing — which tests individual units of source code — is integrated into the process by developers, then the quality of code can be held to a documented standard. And those standards can further help to improve the quality of your solutions.
11. Self-Documenting Code
Automated unit tests even become self-documenting code, cutting down on reliance of subject matter experts and the risk of incomplete documentation.
12. Automated Reporting
Automated reporting can even be built into the system. By cutting down on the amount of time QA spends compiling results, CI ensures stakeholders have reliable, up-to-date information.
13. Health Monitoring
Finally, by scheduling reports often enough, CI actually serves as a rudimentary platform for health monitoring. Combined with in-depth tests on new software, CI creates a clear picture of your solution’s health.
Better QA, Better Software, Better Experience
Anyone in a large company knows how hard it is to unite all developers under one method. But due to its flexible nature, adding continuous integration in QA can be a huge help, as it meets the needs of many teams.
That should also be the case with your communication technology. It should all work together, regardless of the providers, using a strategy called “channel agnosticism.” Check out this next blog to read more about the benefits of a channel-agnostic platform.
And if you’re looking to develop a new communication solution — like IVR, contact center or proactive communication — consider looking to a provider like West, who is committed to using continuous integration in QA. Call or text one of our experts at 800.841.9000.
At the beginning of a project or added to existing tools, choosing continuous integration for QA can dramatically cut costs and testing time. Plus, you’ll be improving effectiveness and reliability to create the best solutions possible for your loyal customers.