Everyone’s a Risk Analyst
I watched a video about software security and it had me thinking about risk. So, I thought I would write a quick blog post about some of my thoughts. This is a personal opinion post and rant about team responsibility in revealing risk.
As a member of a software delivery team one of my many responsibilities is to reveal risk in the application before its released. I wasn’t asked to specifically reveal risk. Actually, as part of my current position I was asked to write automated tests that prove the application works as specified by the business. Well, I do that, but the business really wants know the risk in shipping a release. If we ship, will it work, will there be profit sucking bugs, reputation destroying issues…? Can we trust that we can push the big red deploy button without the release blowing up and hurting instead of helping the business and our customers?
I understand that I can not reveal all risk, but I try to reveal the most damaging risks. There is no way we can uncover all risks, we can never be 100% certain that we are risk free, but there is value in every team member searching for risk, revealing risks, verifying the most damaging risks are mitigated, and providing information to the team to evaluate the risk of a release.
Even though I write automated tests, I cannot in good faith rely solely upon automated tests to reveal risks. In order to write automated test I have to know how to run scenarios manually. If I am going to run scenarios manually, I should also explore the application for risks outside of the specification checks I am automating. My true value to the business is realized when I am able to explore the application and observe its behavior with my own eyes in order to identify risks not covered by requirements and specifications. Automation is good, but it can only catch known risks. So, I manually test the application and manual testing will never go away no matter how much automated coverage I achieve.
If I am working as a feature developer, I have the most responsibility for catching risks. If my code doesn’t work, I have to fix it. So, why not invest time to make sure the code works before I send it down the pipeline. If I have to wait for feedback from someone else down the delivery pipeline, it becomes harder to switch context and remember the details of the change. Testing as I code gives me the fastest feedback and the least amount of context switching.
Also, its cheaper to fix an issue as I am developing it than later after someone else has spent time testing it. So, having testing as part of my development workflow reduces cost. I further reduce the cost of software delivery by automating the tests that I use to check my work. Then it becomes faster to rerun the tests and the tests can be leveraged in an automated build to check for regressions.
When I believe I am ready to commit, after I have manually explored the effect of my change and have identified, triaged, and mitigated high priority risks, after I have automated my specification checks, then I can commit my work. When I commit I am saying that I have exercised due diligence in revealing risks in the code I deliver.
As a Business Analyst, I can prevent risks by not introducing them in specifications. I can reduce risks by involving users, developers, QA, and business stakeholders early in my analysis of changes to the application. Even though I provide awesome specifications, I am engaged during development and available for testing at all points in the SDLC. My specifications are only as good as I understand the application and understanding comes from usage and interrogation of others that understand the application and how it will be used. If I am going to explore the application to help write specifications, I am going to explore the application outside of the specifications to help my team uncover hidden risks.
As a Quality Analyst, I am the last line of defense before a release is given to our users. Even though quality is in my title, I am not solely responsible for quality since quality is a large component of the risk analysis my team does. I reduce risks with my talent for exposing quality related risks. If I didn’t have to deal with shortcomings in specifications and the application’s development, I could take more time to freely explore the system and uncover risks. Many times my testing amounts to activities that could have been automated like specification checks and regression tests. I am the professional risk analyst on the team, but because quality is in my title, on many teams I have been reduced to a human checker instead of a professional risk analyst.
I am a developer who recently switched my title to automation engineer. I am really a QA that writes a lot of code. I have always had an extremely high regard for QA. As an independent contractor, on many of my contracts I didn’t have the luxury of a QA and it hurt. When I first worked with a good QA, my development world changed. I learned how to test my work just by watching them and reading their bug reports. I’d say that my time spent with a couple of these world class QAs was worth more than anything I have learned from other developers. Now that I see first hand a little of what they do, I have even more respect.
When I identify new risks, it is up to the product team to categorize it as a true risk, bug, defect…or as something we can ignore. My value to the team is not identifying bugs or rejecting tickets, but providing information on the risks I have identified in the application. If I have done my work, I would also provide supporting evidence that helps others to observe the risks I identified.
If you hold QA accountable for bugs they did not add to the system, you don’t understand the role of QA. If bugs escape to production, it is not QAs fault, it is the teams fault. You can’t place blame on one person or role. Everyone, Dev, BA, QA, Product Manager…etc should be included in the pre-release hunt for bugs. If a bug gets by the team it is the team’s fault.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to reveal risk from my experience as an entrepreneur and developer. I strengthened my belief in this idea from studying “Titans of Test” like James Whittaker, Michael Bolton, Cem Kaner, and James Bach. If you are on a software delivery team, you are a risk analyst. In agile teams everyone is considered a developer. The titles are gone and the team shares in all responsibilities. There may be people that specialize in certain activities like writing code, specs or tests, but everyone should be involved in all aspects of delivering the product. There may be people on your team with test or quality in their title or job description, but everyone on the team is responsible for the risk and therefore quality of the applications. So, if you are involved in software delivery, get in touch with your inner tester and explore your application because quality is a team sport and you are a risk analyst.