What Is Shift Left Testing? An Efficient QA Strategy

Shift Left Testing

Imagine a situation where you have come a long way taking numerous correct steps and the project fails or you become out of budget due to a pity reason like wasting a lot of resources for testing at the wrong point of time. Now, such a situation can occur due to a number of factors. Traditionally, wrong planning was considered the source of such an imbalance in the software development life cycle but as the factors are more deeply analyzed, it is found that putting the focus on testing at the wrong points can turn out to be a huge reason for immense resource wastage.

Around two decades ago, there was hardly any concept of software testing or quality assurance, and “tester” was one of the rarest roles. Software developers developed the software, tested them, and released them. But, this was the scenario of the time when work was done mostly in the waterfall model that eventually turned out to be a highly static approach causing massive backlashes in the business.

To deal with the issues (e.g. longer time to market, low test coverage, unstable DevOps, lower software quality, etc.) in the waterfall model, the modern world now follows the agile work model for most tech operations. Now, the prime foundation of the agile model is the continuous integration and continuous delivery pipeline. For that, the product team has to work in small sprints to spend minimum time in every step of the entire process while focusing on continuous feedback to improve the quality of the product after the release. This looks like a great way to maintain a stable CI/CD pipeline but you must have already figured out that releasing product versions earlier means that you have to complete the quality control or better known as testing activities earlier to ensure that the functionalities of the software are working properly.

At this point of earlier testing of products, “shift left” comes in. The shift left approach means pushing the testing part towards the earlier portion of the product’s journey. The motive behind this approach is to identify the bugs during the earlier stages of codes being written rather than the later stages when the codes will get patched. Now, let’s dive into the depth of this topic.

What Is Shift Left Testing?

Shift left testing means shifting the testing part of a product development cycle towards its earlier phases. The main objective of this approach is to get rid of the traditional approach where tests were performed at the end of the software development life cycle (SDLC).

Conducting software tests at the end of the software development process leads to situations where crucial errors are found at such a later phase when spending a lot of time and resources on replanning the correction measures and implementing them will cause massive inefficiency in the overall business. The most valuable feedback in any software development process is always from the stakeholders as they are the most concerned persons about serving the best to the users. In traditional approaches, stakeholders used to get involved in checking the latest version of the software and often find out important points for improvement. Now, considering those points at such a later stage of the process will mostly need you to make some remodeling plans and implement them, which will surely end up wasting a lot of time, money, and all other resources.

What Is The Reason Behind The Name “Shift Left”?

Well, the naming of this approach is generated primarily from the reading pattern of English and most western languages. The reading or writing pattern of most western languages is from left to right. That means the beginning of a line is at the left and the end of the line is at the right. Similarly, when the agile model is being planned to arrange the steps in the software development life cycle, the first step is written at the left, gradually progressing to the last step at the right. Now, in a normal software development life cycle (traditionally known as the waterfall model), testing comes at a very later stage i.e. mostly by the last portion of the plan. In the agile model, the work is done in small cycles that make you execute planning, development, testing and release repeatedly through iterations. Executing every step of the software development life cycle in small cycles makes you perform all types of testing (e.g. unit testing, integration testing, regression testing, API testing, performance testing, acceptance testing, etc.) too at an early stage of the process. That means you are shifting the segment of running tests to the beginning of the process i.e. the left side of the plan. Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process for better understanding.

  • Businesses often conduct surveys to know the problems people are facing and find out an efficient solution to any of the problems. Now, by solution, here we mean a high-quality tech product that fulfills people’s requirements and eventually becomes a good business opportunity. So, in the first step, the stakeholders get an idea.
  • Now, the stakeholders may get the idea but they do not always know the most efficient way to execute it. Then they discuss the idea with tech professionals and some more in-depth surveys & discussions with potential customers take place to know the minute pain points so that the solution product can be planned with the objective of providing an amazing customer experience.
  • When the system requirements are identified and detailed plans are made, the developers figure out the roadmap of the steps necessary to be taken and figure out the software requirements for the same.
  • Some more analysis is done to figure out different roles for the team members and the starting point that can eventually lead to maximum efficiency of the project.
  • At this stage, the designers design the product targeting the maximum ease of operation for the end users and the maximum benefit to the business.
  • This is the stage to conduct the coding works to develop the product as well as all its features according to the design.
  • Now, testing occurs at this point to make sure that everything in the product is working as expected and the user experience is according to the plan.
  • If there is any error or flaw found during the testing stage, actions are taken to correct them and to improve the quality of the product.
  • If everything is fine, the product is released.

Now, if you write the above steps in the conventional left-to-right format, testing comes towards the right. However, the above one is the waterfall model that was the traditional approach for a long time but the present agile model works in small cycles where teams focus on “just enough” planning for a quick release, do the designing & development works, test it, QA steps take place, and a version of the product is released quickly. In this model, the quality improvement measures keep on being implemented even when the product is live. This continuous integration and continuous delivery approach makes the teams push codes for new features and updates multiple times even in a day. Hence, you can easily understand that this method needs testing to start at a very early stage of the process. That means the tests are shifted towards the beginning of the cycle or you can say that it is shifted towards the left.

How Does Shift Left Efficiently Blend With Agile Approaches?

In the previous section, you saw how shift left testing stands by the idea of testing early and you know that it easily fits in the agile approach. Now, let’s dive into the depth of this fact by analyzing different perspectives.

  • Agile methodology means working in small increments. In this method, development teams plan, write code, and release the product or any update very frequently. A normal cycle in the agile methodology can be a maximum of as long as two weeks. Often developers push updates multiple times in a single day. For every such iteration, the codes need to be tested before release so eventually, the testing part of the process has to be shifted towards the beginning. Hence, the shift left testing method fits remarkably well into the agile system.
  • Another highly effective method used in the agile system is the Test Driven Development (TDD) approach. This is the method where test cases are written first and then codes are written with the goal to pass the tests. Hence, it also coincides with the shift left testing approach.
  • You might have heard about the use of static code checker tools in agile development methods. They are used to fulfill the objective of using static analysis of code to detect issues in the parameter types or incorrect usage of interfaces. Examples of some popular static code checkers are ESLint, Linter, etc.
  • Behavior Driven Development (BDD) is another efficient approach that improves the popularity of shift left testing. BDD leads to effective collaboration among everyone involved in a project and as a result, it leads to better agility in the working of the teams and the aggressive target for faster delivery of the products encourages the use of the shift left method.

Why Is Shift Left Testing Important?

Shift left testing simply means testing early in the software development life cycle but does that early testing solve any purpose? Agile methodologies always encourage testing early because it leads to regularly testing small sets of code and provides you with a great quality product at a very low cost and effort. Now, let’s take a look at an in-depth analysis to understand what actually happens.

The identification of an efficient testing strategy is that it allows for faster and more effective debugging of the codebase. Now, as you know most of the bugs are introduced when the code is being written in the development phase. So, as per the waterfall model, when the code is tested after the development phase, the number of bugs in it becomes enormously high.

You cannot launch software with effective bugs. And, in the ideal case, the testing process is supposed to detect minimal bugs that can easily be patched. Yes, the commonly followed debugging method after the testing phase is patching because completely solving so many bugs can be extremely time-consuming and can waste an immense amount of resources. However, patching so many bugs can leave the product full of patches and will make it almost impossible to expand the code, add new features, or implement updates in the future.

As the software development life cycle progresses, the cost of finding bugs also increases. It has been proven multiple times that instead of at the early stages of the product’s journey if you consider testing it at the later stages or as late as just before the release of the product, the cost of testing it becomes significantly higher along with leaving no way other than serving an inefficient product to the customers.

On the other hand, all these issues can be got rid of just by testing the product during the early stages of the software development life cycle or in other words, by implementing a shift left approach. Hence, you can clearly understand why this method is so important for an efficient technology business.

Benefits of Shift Left Testing

You have already got the point of how beneficial shift left testing is. The prime benefits of this popular testing strategy are mentioned below.

  • It enables you to find bugs remarkably early in the software development life cycle.
  • Such quick identification of bugs allows you to achieve faster debugging along with huge savings in the debugging cost.
  • You become capable of delivering the product on or even before the planned deadline.
  • Earlier bug detection leads to an efficient debugging process that exempts you from having a product with numerous patches and a terrible codebase.
  • Delivering a product with a stable codebase within a decent budget brings satisfaction to both your user base and you.
  • As you saw in the previous section, fewer patches in the codebase make the code more dynamic and help you to easily maintain it.

Conclusion

This article clearly shows you what shift left testing is and how this significant part of modern agile methodologies is contributing to the revolution in the entire software industry. This early testing approach lets you achieve a remarkable level where you always have a completely tested version of your product to release. It also opens ways for you to efficiently detect bugs, and correct them within a competitive deadline & an easily affordable budget. Hence, in every way, the shift left strategy helps you deliver an amazing product to your customers making them truly satisfied along with improving your business.

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