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Embracing the 'Shift Left' Model in Software Testing

Shifting Left means testing early in the development cycle, to identify bugs when they are easier and less expensive to fix.

Embracing the 'Shift Left' Model in Software Testing

The concept of "shifting left" has become a touchstone in the realm of software development and testing. It emphasizes integrating critical processes like testing earlier in the development life cycle and underlines the significance of quality assurance from the get-go. 

But what does it really mean to 'Shift Left' and how can teams achieve it effectively?

A Paradigm Shift

'Shift Left' is not merely a buzzword - it's a paradigm shift. By integrating testing early in the development cycle, teams can identify bugs earlier, when they are easier and less expensive to fix. 

This proactive stance to testing not only enhances the software's quality but also streamlines the development process.

It’s a known fact that the cost of fixing bugs increases as the development process progresses. Studies like the IBM Systems Sciences Institute’s findings suggest that defects found at the testing phase can cost 15 times more to fix than those identified during the requirements phase, and up to 100 times more if identified in the maintenance phase! So, the logic is simple: test soon, test often and save a lot of time and effort (and consequently a lot of money!)

Source: IBM System Science Institute

Synergizing Roles: Developers, QA Professionals, and Collaboration

To effectively ‘Shift Left' you need a collaborative effort. Developers must design with testability in mind, ensuring that the software can withstand the rigors of real-world usage. QA professionals, on the other hand, must hone their skills in monitoring and analytics tools to discern patterns and anomalies in user behavior. This collaborative environment fosters a culture of quality, where every stakeholder is invested in the software's success.

Testing early can take various forms. From unit testing by developers to integrated system testing by QA teams, each approach serves to fortify the software's integrity. Let’s look at more detail what each entails.

Unit Testing: 

Unit testing serves as the foundation upon which reliable and robust software is built. By integrating unit tests early in the software development life cycle (SDLC), developers take a proactive stance in ensuring that each piece of code operates as intended before it is integrated into the larger system. This granular level of testing, which involves isolating and verifying the functionality of individual components or "units" of the software, aligns perfectly with the preventative ethos of 'Shift Left'. It allows teams to identify and resolve defects immediately, significantly reducing the downstream impacts that such defects could have on integration testing, system testing, and user acceptance testing stages. Not only does this practice lead to a more stable development process, but it also aligns with cost-effective development practices by catching and mitigating issues at the earliest possible stage, where the expense of remediation is at its lowest. Unit testing in a "Shift Left" paradigm exemplifies the principle that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, setting the stage for a more agile, efficient, and quality-centric development lifecycle.

Integrated System Testing:

Integrated system testing is a critical phase within the 'Shift Left' approach, emphasizing the importance of holistic system integrity early in the development process. As the name suggests, integrated system testing involves the examination of combined parts of an application to evaluate the system's overall behavior and its compliance with specified requirements. Within the 'Shift Left' paradigm, this type of testing is not left as an afterthought or final hurdle before deployment; instead, it is strategically moved closer to the development phase where the system's interconnected components are evaluated. By conducting these tests earlier, QA teams can detect interface defects, data flow problems, and functional inconsistencies when the cost and complexity of fixing these issues are considerably lower. This ensures that as individual units of code are being developed and tested, their ability to operate cohesively in a complex system is also being validated. Consequently, this approach minimizes the risk of significant integration issues late in the SDLC, which can lead to delays and increased costs.

Setting the Stage to ‘Shift Left’ 

The keywords here are integration and automation. This means making sure processes are tightly knitted and that automation reduces the overhead as much as possible. To achieve this, teams need a robust set of tools and a well-orchestrated process: 

  • Test automation frameworks (like Selenium, Playwright or Appium) provide the needed automation to allow teams to execute a suite of tests efficiently, in a repeatable and reliable way. 
  • Continuous integration tools (like Jenkins or Travis CI), support the deployment processes and follow the necessary steps including triggering the automated test suites (particularly important for processes like Regression Testing)
  • Version control systems are at the core of this approach. They enable teams to test often, integrate changes seamlessly, and maintain a consistent quality baseline.

Automated testing tools that facilitate parallel testing are game-changers since they dramatically reduce test run cycles, allowing QA teams to follow the mantra of 'test often, release often.' without having to worry too much about how long the test runs will be. Having the capability of running tests in parallel is not just a luxury - when selecting your test execution solution, ensure that parallel testing is available. 

Element34: Supporting your ‘Shift Left’ Journey

We’re strong promoters of 'Shifting Left' and we’ve built our solution to effectively support QA professionals in this shift:

  1. By enabling tests to run in parallel, we drastically cut down test run times without escalating costs. Our commitment to cost-efficiency means that your testing cadence can increase while keeping your costs under control.
  2. Our platform is a living ecosystem, constantly updated with the latest browser versions. This ensures that your continuous testing efforts are always in sync with the market's pulse.
  3. You can easily connect your CI/CD systems to ensure that the test execution is tightly integrated with your delivery process, and tests are triggered automatically without wasting a second!
  4. Developers can run manual tests on any browser/version, effectively supporting comprehensive functional testing as part of their unit tests. 
  5. By having the test environments behind the firewall, developers and QA teams can test applications without exposing early stage environments to the outside world.

In a world where software needs to be delivered faster, cheaper and with quality, our focus is to empower developers and QA professionals to test with confidence as soon and often as possible, while staying secure, compliant and protecting your intellectual property.

To learn more about how SBOX can help you shift left, schedule a personalized demo.

FAQs:

How does 'Shift Left' testing affect the overall project timeline and deliverables? 

Implementing a 'Shift Left' testing approach can significantly influence the overall project timeline by potentially reducing the time required for the testing phase and enabling earlier detection of defects, which can lead to quicker fixes and reduce the need for extensive rework at later stages. This can streamline the development process, making it more efficient and possibly shortening the time to market for software products.

What specific challenges might teams face when implementing a 'Shift Left' approach, and how can they overcome these challenges?

Teams looking to adopt 'Shift Left' testing might face challenges such as adjusting to new workflows, acquiring the necessary skills for earlier testing, and fostering collaboration between developers and testers from the onset of the project. Overcoming these challenges typically involves training, establishing clear communication channels, and gradually integrating 'Shift Left' practices into existing workflows to ensure a smooth transition.

What specific tools and technologies are recommended for implementing a 'Shift Left' testing strategy?

Implementing a 'Shift Left' testing strategy effectively involves using a mix of automation tools, continuous integration (CI) platforms, and testing frameworks designed to facilitate early and frequent testing. Tools such as Selenium for web testing, Jenkins for CI, and JUnit for unit testing are commonly recommended. These technologies enable teams to automate tests and integrate them into the development process from the beginning, ensuring that testing is an integral part of the software development lifecycle.

Lee Walsh
Lee Walsh
Director of CS
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