Testing in the Software Development Life Cycle

Testing in the Software Development Life Cycle

 

The purpose of testing is to reduce risk.

 

The unknown factors within the development and design of new software can derail a project and minor risks can delay it. By using a cycle of testing and resolution you can identify the level of risk, make informed decisions and ultimately reduce uncertainty and eliminate errors.

 

Testing is the only tool in a development's arsenal which reduces defects. Planning, design and QA can reduce the number of defects which enter a product, but they can't eliminate any that are already there. And any kind of coding will introduce more errors since it involves changing something from a known good state to an unknown, unproved state.

 

Ideally testing should take place throughout the development life cycle. More often than not (as in the waterfall model) it is simply tacked onto the back end. If the purpose of testing is to reduce risk, this means piling up risk throughout the project to resolve at the end – in itself, a risky tactic.

 

It could be that this is a valid approach. By allowing developers to focus on building software components and then, at a later date, switching to rectifying issues it allows them to compartmentalise their effort and concentrate on one type of task at a time.

 

But as the lag between development and resolution increases so does the complexity of resolving the issues (see “Test Early, Test Often” in the nextchapter). On any reasonably large software development project this lag is far too long. Better to spread different phases of testing throughout the life cycle, to catch errors as early as possible.

 

Traceability

 

Another function of testing is (bizarrely) to confirm what has been delivered.

 

Given a reasonably complex project with hundreds or perhaps thousands of stake-holder requirements, how do you know that you have implemented them all? How do your prove during testing or launch that a particular requirement has been satisfied? How do you track the progress of delivery on a particular requirement during development?

 

This is the problem of traceability.

 

How does a requirement map to an element of design (in the technical specification for example) and how does that map to an item of code which implements it and how does that map test to prove it has been implemented correctly ?

 

On a simple project it is enough to build a table which maps this out. On a large-scale project the sheer number of requirements overwhelm this kind of traceability. It is also possible that a single requirement may be fulfilled by multiple elements in the design or that a single element in the design satisfies multiple requirements. This make tracking by reference number difficult.

 

If you need a better solution I would suggest an integrated system to track requirements for you. There are off-the-shelf tools available which use databases to track requirements. These are then linked to similar specification and testing tools to provide traceability. A system such as this can automatically produce reports which highlight undelivered or untested requirements. Such systems can also be associated with SCM (Software Configuration Management) systems and can be very expensive, depending on the level of functionality.