As companies grow, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that tasks and the people who perform them are organized in the right manner. Even the most skilled of workers tend to perform poorly when they aren’t directed as to where to concentrate their efforts on. And as with every other task and role in a company, QA teams are no different: Organization is thus key to ensure effective testing.
The debate on how to organize a QA team often slides into a debate between two methodologies: Dedicated QA vs Matrix Driven Testing. Although neither is perfect, understanding the value and shortcomings offered by both methodologies can help us make a much more informed decision regarding which scheme to implement in our own firms.
Dedicated QA is the traditional method of testing that has been followed industry-wide historically. Dedicated QA teams are usually organized in one of two ways:
Under this form of organization, the QA team is organized around the product it works with. That is, QA teams are divided and organized appropriately for each unique product or feature being produced by the firm. A team testing one product or feature does not involve itself with the testing processes of another product or feature. Each testing team functions autonomously and independent of the others.
Under this form of organization, testers are organized based on their skill set. That is, all testers will be treated as the same entity while the managers will be treated as another entity and so on. Any testing related issue belonging to any of the firm’s many products will have to be dealt with by the same team of testers. All employees with similar skill sets will have to share their responsibilities on all occasions.
Depending on the type of organization chosen, the value offered by traditional “Dedicated QA” can vary.
Value of Product-based QA - The autonomous nature of departments allows for efficient responses to changes along with a great deal of flexibility - especially in firms offering a diverse range of products. The problems or developments related to one product will never affect the quality assurance of another product since testing for each of the products is independent of the other. Moreover, it allows for testers to develop a product-domain specialty.
Value of Functional-based QA - Functional-based QA, at the very outset, provides efficiency. Since all the testers possess similar skill sets and knowledge, anyone of them can handle any issue regarding any of the firm’s products. Especially in smaller firms with limited diversity of products, functional-based QA allows for easy quality assurance since all the departments are frequently in contact with each other and will this know of the others’ problems/requirements - which can then be promptly identified by any & every tester available.
Dedicated QA: The Shortcomings - The binary nature of Dedicated QA means that we can never truly take advantage of the value offered by both methodologies.
Shortcomings of Product-based QA - Very often, product-based QA creates a divided atmosphere within the same firm. QA teams belonging to one product will compete for resources with QA teams of other products. Moreover, hiring-redundancy is a real problem. Testers with same skill sets, who could have been used for other products, will be stuck working on only one product. This results in HR having to hire more testers for other products despite already possessing the necessary manpower.
Shortcomings of Functional-based QA - Functional-based QA demands that all testers be well versed with all the firm’s products and their respective demands. For large firms with a diverse product range, finding testers with adequate competency can thus be a huge challenge. It is also difficult for testers to develop a specialization. Furthermore, since all testers have to work on all products, any delays in resolving quality issues of one product will affect the schedules of all other products. Decision making also suffers due to lack of horizontal communication.
Bridging the differences of Functional and Product-based QA is an approach that has taken over the industry by storm in recent years: Matrix Driven Testing.
Unlike traditional dedicated QA teams, the Matrix driven QA teams are linked both horizontally and vertically, that is, they offer both product-based and functional-based divisions of QA. While Dedicated QA teams report either to their product leader or their functional leader, Matrix Driven Testing creates a dual leadership format where testers report both to the product leader as well as functional leader. Both leaders are given equal authority regarding the direction of work.
To begin with the obvious, Matrix Driven Testing offers the best of both worlds. Each product is given its own importance, ensuring that quality issues of one product do not affect the other. At the same time, it also cultivates specialists who slowly but steadily get a clearer idea of product-specific quality requirements and can thus work effectively with any product’s issues over time. Shortcomings of Dedicated QA are also dealt with effectively: there is no redundancy in hiring while still ensuring that adequately skilled manpower is always available.
The dual leadership nature of Matrix Driven Testing can stall progress if there is a clash between both leaderships. There is often a possibility of competition between product and functional QA requirements, leading to potential deadlocks. Furthermore, implementing efficient communication at both horizontal and vertical levels necessitates a lot of meetings - a factor that requires a great deal of intervention from the management while potentially slowing down the overall testing process.
No approach is without flaws. Although Matrix Driven Testing deals with all shortcomings of Dedicated QA, it poses its own shortcomings in that it requires adequate resources, efforts, and contingency plans to be implemented correctly. Ideally, resource pool of the parent firm, the limitations, and the quality requirements of the product range and should all be weighed against each other before triangulating on which organizational structure will ensure highest quality of products.