Risk-Based Testing: Identify, Prioritise and Manage Software Testing Risk

Are you trying to manage your testing department better? Do you want to streamline testing activities into a single direction? Maybe it is time to choose your preferred testing approach and follow it religiously. It is time to understand risk-based testing and the software testing risk involved. 

Testing is a crucial part of the software development process. It can make a software from a defective product to a finished and satisfying asset for clients. Every software developing company is familiar with the importance of testing. 

However, It is the most ignored activity in the software development process. The testing process needs to be dynamic and adaptive. Companies often forget to modify their approach based on the project requirements. 

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One approach gaining rapid popularity is risk-based testing. 

Risk-based testing is one approach to handle software testing risk. The methodology is useful for many project types, and we will be focusing on it in this article. But to understand this particular approach, let us first look at different types of testing methodologies.

Now that you know the types of testing approaches let us jump to risk-based testing, which is a type of functional testing category.

Risk-Based Testing

A risk is a potential problem that may arise in the future. It is an undesirable event that can happen or not happen. Risk is the main contributor to instill fear in minds. A risk turning out to be true often leads to losses. 

That is why we need to be aware of the dangers of the situation and be ready for them. This applies to software testing process too. The concept of risk-based software testing comes from the general idea of being cautious with the activities which involve high risks.

Risk-Based Testing is the approach of prioritizing the examination of those aspects which possess a high risk of failures and deformities i.e. software testing risk. The plan runs on the idea that significant bugs and errors are more critical to eliminate first. 

In case of lack of time when complete testing is not possible, Risk-Based Testing helps in removing most troublesome bugs and prepares the software for primary use. A further detailed examination can continue through maintenance testing. 

With Risk-Based Testing, the user does not have to stop his work in case of any bugs. The user can carry on with his operations while the team removes the remaining minor issues with the software.

Risk-Based testing is a faster way of producing satisfying testing results and is very useful when the deadline is tight. The approach gives priority to errors based on their probability of occurrence and impact on user's working experience.

When to use risk-based testing over other types?

Risk-Based Testing is useful in the following cases:

  • When the project is highly constrained concerning time, cost, and resources. Preparing software at the correct financial cost is also essential. RBT helps in achieving this.
  • When the program is full of testing challenges due to new technology and complex structure.
  • When the project is a new kind for your testing team, and there are several risks in the project which needs highly accurate identification.

Types of software testing risk

A large part of the risk-based analysis is identifying the threat. To fix a potential bug, you first need to see it. So it is crucial to understand different types of risk in software testing and where to find which risk.

  • Schedule Risks

Schedule risk is the software testing risk related to time and resource planning of the project. It can cause a massive loss to the company or even shut down the project.  Schedule Risks are of high priority due to their vast negative impact. The reasons of schedule risks are:

  1. Underutilization of project resources or improper allocation of resources. Shortage of funds can happen when two projects share resources among themselves. 
  2. Wrong estimation of time and faulty project schedule can lead to schedule risks. The extra time taken into the project caused due to external factors or internal activities.
  3. An unexpected increase in the scope of a project. Either due to new complexities or limitation of skill base for upcoming tasks.
  • Budget Risk

All software development companies are operating for profit and cannot survive without it. Budget risk is the software testing risk associated with the profit levels of a company. Reasons for budget risks are:

  1. Unexpected expansion of project scope, causing an imbalance in monetary plans.
  2. Double accounting of costs due to underutilization of resources. Utilizing resources to the fullest is vital for keeping up with your budget plan.
  3. Incorrect estimation of Project budget attributing to inexperienced planners and management.
  4. Delay in project submission can inflict some penalty charges. These charges reduce the revenue and subsequent profits from the project.
  5. Wrong financial tracking of the project can lead to additional charges. Proper accountants who give profitable advice from time-to-time are useful for a software firm.
  • Operational Risks

Also known as Procedural risk, this software testing risk is associated with day-to-day activities of software development and maintenance. These risks usually arise from the faulty implementation of process plans. Other reasons include: 

  1. Lack of team spirit and coordination.
  2. Lack of training to employees for the latest technologies available in software development markets.
  3. Ineffective conflict resolution and absence of harmony in the organization.
  4. Improper communication channels between team elements.
  5. Confusion among employees regarding their job specifications, responsibilities, and methods to be used.
  • Functional risks

These are the software testing risks related to the performance and functional abilities of the software. Functional risks are also called Technical risk or performance risks. These names easily define the features of this risk category. Technical risks occur due to a lack of performance and unstable software platform. Some reasons for these risks:

  1. A budget anomaly can force companies to reduce the functionalities of the software. Thus budget risks and technical risks are directly related.
  2. Confusion among developers between increasing functionalities and improving performance (speed, security, etc.) can degrade their work quality.
  3. As the deadline comes close, the speed of software completion increases. This may affect the quality of software by bringing down the overall functionalities and performance level of the project.
  • Programmatic Risks

Programmatic risks are the software testing risks arising from external factors of the business firm. These factors are not in the control of the software testing team. It is a matter of luck if these risks turn true or not. These are also caused by unavoidable dangers as they cannot be anticipated with surety in advance. Some examples of Programmatic risks are:

  1. A significant change in government policy affecting the testing works
  2. Change in market trends and customer expectations
  3. Running out of funds due to the economic meltdown of the firm. This condition is not in the hands of the local testing team.

These risks are unavoidable but can be prepared by constantly monitoring government movements and predict future changes, Staying in touch with customer needs, and keeping track of competitor's activities and progress. These sneaky activities can go a long way in minimizing the effects of unavoidable risks.

There are many other types of risks in risk-based software testing. Reading about these main categories will give an idea about where to look for threats and what are the reasons for these threats. 

Stages of Risk-Based Testing process

The task of risk management is a systematic process. The steps are just a general guideline and not strict rules. It is broken into several different levels or measures which are proclaimed to be a sure-fire testing method. The process involves four general steps:

risk based testing process

Identifying the software testing risk

Probably the most crucial stage of the process is Risk Identification. By identifying a software testing risk, we lay down the foundation for the next steps. Identification is essential for a solution. 

We have already looked at different types of risks associated with the software testing process. Risk Identification is lead by QA department heads in brainstorming and recognition sessions. 

The main motive of brainstorming sessions and meetings for risk identification is to prepare a list of all the risks in software. These risks are not yet classified according to their impact on software quality and experience. 

The preparation of a detailed list requires the joint effort of all the testing members. It is ideal to have many minds working together on risk identification. Testers with firsthand experience in software can contribute most towards software testing risk identification. There are six identification techniques commonly used in the software development industry.

Through Brainstorming

As mentioned, brainstorming sessions are a good option for risk identification and list preparations. Brainstorming sessions are useful in knowing the ideas of all participants. A productive brainstorming session should be short and precise. 

Pressure and the intense environment will push the creativity of individuals even better. All modern companies use brainstorming sessions for problem-solving and opportunity mapping. 

The brainstorming session should facilitate the free flow of information. When the flow seems interrupted, it should be stopped. Conducting the second half after a short break can refresh the attitudes and bring out more results. 

Recording everything said in a brainstorming session is vital to ponder upon after the meeting. Some elements will be clear after you go through the records of the brainstorming session in privacy and peace.

Workshops for risk identification

Workshops are a practical form of brainstorming sessions. In brainstorming, participants sit together and use their mental prowess together. Workshops are a more structured and systematic approach. 

Workshops have a facilitator for the sessions. The workshops are most useful with a group of 10 to 15 participants. These workshops bring similar or even better results than usual brainstorming sessions. The possibility of conflicts in workshop sessions is lower than in brainstorming sessions.

Learning from experiences

It is an inexpensive and hassle proof method of identifying software testing risk. Experiences are our greatest asset when it comes to learning. These experiences teach us valuable lessons and prevent the same mistake in the future. 

Analyzing hazards and identifying them through past experiences requires active record keeping. The previous records of the organization are easy to understand for people who worked in the company at that time. 

Risk identification done in the past of the company can be referred to find similar risk. It can also give you information about risks that are tough to handle or were not treated correctly in the past. You can learn from the mistakes of past identification processes in the company.

Interviews within the company

Interviews are even more structured than Workshop and brainstorming sessions. They are a great way of talking to testers and knowing their views personally. Interviews are often conducted after a brainstorming or workshop program to understand the points of participant one-on-one. 

Many participants feel better and more confident to talk in person than addressing a crowd. Interviews will bring out enhanced risk identification points from such members. They help in considering every standpoint of participants in the testing process.

Templates and checklists

These are the ways to start the risk assessment process in a calm and mild form. Lists are based on past experiences and involve lessons that are learned through these experiences. Checklists can be custom-built or copied from online and offline sources. 

Templates are alternate to checklists and let you match the required activities with finished activities. They allow comparing the actual work with checklist items. Templates and checklists are time saving and efficient methods of risk identification.

Independent Assessments

Independent assessment refers to a higher external expert in risk identification to make sure that all aspects of risk-based testing are covered in the first step. While there are many specialization benefits of hiring assessment personnel, it can be very costly. 

Moreover, he or she may not match with your company's working styles. Independent assessors have their identification approaches. This method of risk identification is useful in supercritical projects where a mistake can lead your company into criminal grounds. 

For instance, when a company develops software for safety-oriented fields like medical science, where proper precautions and regulations are strict and mandatory.

Choosing the method for identification of software testing risk depends on your situation. If your company has a lot of experienced testers and professionals, you do not need to go for Independent Assessment. 

Conducting Interviews is the right choice in these cases. When budget and time is sufficient, then Independent assessment is correct. A brainstorming session can be used for gaining initial risk data, and so on. You have to choose the thoroughness levels of your risk identification based on available skills, time, and financial situation.

Risk impact analysis

The main feature of risk-based software testing is the prioritizing of risks for selective action-taking. Risks with higher impacts receive priority over the minimal ones which can be treated in the maintenance testing phase without any problem to the client. 

During this step, the testing team analyses the probability of an unfavorable event associated with the software testing risk and the magnitude of its adverse effects. A high likelihood with significant impact means that urgent action needs to be taken and vice versa. 

The risk probability is multiplied with monetary losses to the firm due to the event. The derived digit is considered the risk score. Higher scores receive more attention, and I solve first. Risk analysis and assessment aim at quantifying risk into numbers for easy comparison.  

However, quantifying the impact into a monetary benefit is not possible always. That is why organizations often use grading the impact into High, medium, and low. Increasing the number of grading levels produces more accurate results. It requires the need for higher data about the effects of the event. 

For instance, you can use a 7x7 grid, with seven levels of impact and probability on the X and Y axis. Risks can be quickly graded and plotted on the grid network. The risks appearing on top right corners need immediate attention. The risks on the bottom left area can be ignored for now. 

The software testing risk with impact levels in the middle of the grid needs more assessment. Their impact and severity are judged on additional factors to decide their priority level. 

Mitigation of software testing risk

After identifying and grading a threat, it is time to act upon the treatments or solutions. At this step, organizations make plans to tackle the situation in case a risk turns real. 

Mitigation and contingency are essential for managing the risks in any situation. Mitigation is the steps taken that reduce the impact and defects caused by an unfavorable event. Contingencies are reserve plans prepared if Plan A does not work. 

Contingency planning is essential to mitigate a software testing risk. There should be multiple contingency plans to keep your organization safe and survive prosperously.

Organizations need to build Mitigation actions and contingency plans based on the nature and severity of a risk. It implies that every threat requires a customized plan to tackle. You can take inspiration from past experiences, but the new action will need to have a touch of personalization. 

Mitigation actions cannot be blatantly copied from the past because the software testing environment is constantly changing. One technique of history might not work on today's risk at the same level. The type of software testing risk also influences mitigation activity.

For instance, suppose there is a Scheduling risk. The time limit for the project is shallow; there are chances that testing will take a severe blow if design work consumes a longer time. The probability of this risk is high, and the impact will also be high. 

The software delivery will not be on time, there will be quality issues, and the whole software can face rejection due to this. Mitigation plan needs to be oriented towards time management and getting more time from the client. 

One right action is that the testing team should start preparing their work while the design team is working on the product. QA team needs to do the planning and keep all the tools and techniques ready. As soon as the product passes design, the QA department can start its work and save a lot of time. 

Another action is to add buffer time to schedule to slightly increase the available team for testing. There is a need to communicate the urgency of the software to the design team. 

Mitigating software testing risk is more of a management activity. Proper supervision and action taking skills are required. Experience in problem solving and presence of mind can make you an expert risk mitigation planner.

Risk Monitoring 

Risk Monitoring is a continuous process of keeping an eye on different risks at different steps of software development. The testing process continues for a long time, sometimes as an after-sales service too. 

In danger based testing, we solve the high impact risks first and leave the rest of the risks for later. Risk Monitoring handles these low impact risks and provides small mitigation plans for them. 

Besides, it also checks the presence of a high or medium impact risk and delivers the news to the planning team. In prosperous and responsible organizations, the testing team performs a continuous job and keeps reporting the risks to management. 

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The management can deliver the complete risk management process again on the reported situation. Monitoring of risks continuously also gives confidence to other departments of organizations. They can rely on the testing department for correcting the path of development. 

The risk monitoring step also involves analyzing the risks solved and deducing essential conclusions for the future. An ideal testing team is expected to find the root of risk and find preventive measures. 

These measures can be added to the development cycle from the next project. Risk Monitoring helps in sustainable testing with resource generation for future projects.

Advantages of using risk-based testing

There are many advantages of following a risk-based approach like:

  • Improvement in the quality of software. All essential and primary features of software tested on priority making the software flawless on the surface.
  • Risks are monitored even after testing. It helps management in keeping track of the quality of the project.
  • Risk-based testing can provide excellent results even when left incomplete due to the short timeline.
  • Any significant software testing risk is eliminated in time helping in punctual delivery.
  • An adverse situation can be solved in the middle of other processes without disturbance. Other tasks are not stopped as testing is done on one by one basis.
  • The risk management process keeps getting more relaxed with every step. It streamlines the quality assurance job and gives speed to testing works.

Disadvantages of Risk-based software testing

There are few minor disadvantages of this approach too like:

  • If a risk is left undetected during the identification stage, it can cause lots of problems in the future of software. If the risk turns to an actual event, the software performance and functionalities can be heavily disrupted. It emphasizes the importance of the first stage of risk management. Identification of risk is the most crucial stage in the whole process.
  • Judging the threat level of software testing risk for giving priority is too subjective. The process of grading is intuitive and can lead to wrong treatments of significant risks. Sometimes, a risk's impact is not clear even if it is substantial. Such uncertainty can be left unchecked in risk-based software testing. 

Risk-Based Testing and Agile Development

Testers are often given a lot of testing work at the last moment. The time limit is short, but the quality required is high. Testers always complain about low time resources for testing work. It is a global phenomenon. 

If all the testing staff is engaged in such situations on a single software, then it will be highly uneconomical. What to do in such conditions? Risk-Based Testing is the answer. 

Testers need to conduct tests and make the most critical changes in limited time. This makes Risk-Based Testing suitable for the agile development process, which aims at delivering software in the lowest possible time. 

Risk-Based testing goes hand-in-hand with agile software development processes. RBT is equally dynamic and helps the testing team to adapt to prevailing conditions.

The speciality of agile development is its unconventional ways of software creation. Agile development does not lay out strict steps and sequence of work. It believes in collaborative work between departments to increase speed and agility. 

In agile development, the teams are cross-functional and independent. All departments work together with the right people filling the jobs. At a more in-depth look, Risk-Based Testing is one of the best options to go with Agile. 

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This testing approach has changed testing from the last step task to a well-spread work. Now, the testing process begins right from the beginning, and it goes well beyond the delivery of the product. 

All decisions collaborate, and management takes an active part in making testing more accessible. There are no conventional rules in risk-based testing. The similarity between agile development and Risk-based testing is stellar. The two fast-paced approaches work together flawlessly.

Conclusion about Risk-Based Testing

Risk-based testing has made the work-life of testers easier and more productive. It is not possible for the QA team to do a complete testing analysis on time. 

The limited-time and vast topics of testing make it almost impossible to remove bugs from entire software before delivery. 

Risk-based testing allows testers to choose critical focus points by risk analysis efficiently. RBT is the revolution of software development. New risk analysis methods are continually being evolved to judge the impact of risk better. 

Carrying out software QA by eliminating software testing risk is the most efficient method for your agile software development.

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Grzegorz Kłos
Grzegorz Kłos - Apphawks Co-founder
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