In the face of increased demand and competition, software development teams are expected to iterate faster each project sprint. Iterating faster creates a market advantage because it means you can adjust quickly to evolving market conditions, changing end-user sentiment, and an unforeseeable black swan (like a global pandemic). However, increased software delivery speed cannot come at the expense of a high-quality end-user experience. Employing a shift left testing approach is the key to achieving both speed and high-quality software releases. 

Employing a shift left QA strategy means testing earlier and more often in the development cycle. Shift left often implies that developers are taking on more testing responsibilities vs. QA teams – but the strategy actually encourages collaboration over siloed duties in the software development lifecycle. 

There are two best-practice process changes needed to implement shift left: increase unit testing by your developers to raise the bar on code quality, and activate your QA team earlier in the development cycle.

Why incorporate shift-left testing?

Brand reputation, cost savings, and increased security. A report published by the Consortium for IT Software Quality found that buggy software in the U.S. cost $2.26 trillion in 2018 and takes up nearly 80% of IT budgets. That’s a logical consequence of using the typical development model, where testing occurs at the end of the cycle right before release.

The study estimates that the technical debt, just the cost to repair broken code, of an average-sized application of 300,000 lines of code (LOC) is $1,083,000. This represents an average technical debt of $3.61 per line. Typical testing and development models end up spending millions to revise, redo, and fix work they thought was read for launch.

Shift-left testing can reduce costs significantly by testing and fixing earlier in the development process. It reduces the number of bugs and errors in the initial work by aligning coding with early test cases. Code is analyzed constantly, and defects are fixed as they’re discovered. There are fewer of them to fix after the final testing cycle, which ultimately costs less for the company (nearly 100 times less, according to some surveys.) 

​​It’s much easier to fix in code when developers are still writing code. If developers are knee-deep in writing while performing unit tests, teams are already poised to make minor fixes without having to go back into the writing stage.

Compound the cost savings with the immeasurable cost of brand damage and customer retention loss if the software fails. The actual cost of brand failure via software failure is hard to estimate, but it’s safe to estimate millions of dollars more in lost revenue, renewals, and conversions. 

So how do you avoid billions of dollars in losses? Try a shift left testing approach.

How to shift left on your QA strategy

QA has evolved from a distinct testing role to one that ensures quality throughout the whole development lifecycle. Testing and QA are about more than just getting to launch — it’s about optimizing development for the market. Incorporating a shift-left approach to testing can do that by moving to test earlier in the software development life cycle (SDLC) and creating a more collaborative approach to development.

Before the project starts

Product managers should bring QA teams into pre-planning meetings to start defining testable use cases that can be used alongside development activities. Getting involved this early helps QA determine an automated testing strategy for later phases of the SDLC, like including API and component testing, automated GUI tests, and unit testing. Advanced planning also reduces manual testing needed later, ensuring it’s only used on elements that truly require it. 

Early involvement helps QA set the base testing strategy early, so fewer tweaks and changes need to be made later in the final testing stages. It’ll also reduce developer time spent on debugging and decrease test failure rates.

During development planning

As development teams plan their activities and sprints, testers can identify functional and non-functional testing requirements. These tests can be done either during development sprints or as part of other automated testing packages later. 

Example shift-left approaches at this stage include:

  • Business-driven development (BDD): QA works with product owners to develop test cases that ensure all features are included in planned testing.
  • Automated testing: Testers can develop new test scripts to validate new features or capabilities and include them in build or deploy activities. Because they’re automated, developers can run them instead of having QA engineers run regression tests at the end of a release process. 
  • Release testing: Before shifting to production, devs can leverage automated testing to capture more bugs before release.

During dev sprints and work cycles

QA teams can help break down development tasks into test suites and user stories to help developers focus on the product’s or sprint’s core functionality. Also called test-driven development (TDD), this approach ensures all code passes testing before being promoted forward and reduces compounding errors and bugs that take longer to fix later.

Testers match the test cases to the project and business requirements and developers code based on the tests. The code is tested when it’s ready, either through automated or manual testing, until it passes. Only then do developers move on to the next phase of work. 

Adding a shift left testing approach to your QA strategy can benefit more than your testing team. In agile and CI/CD processes, shift-left can be a valuable resource for streamlining the development process and increasing product quality. A shift-left approach helps everyone focus on prevention and optimizing the life cycle from the start of every software project. A stable software application is better for your business than always patching code. 

If you can shift left, you might be wondering if there’s a shift right strategy. Shifting right is the notion of testing after release and during operations to maintain quality. While many companies embrace shift left as a priority, teams can embrace both, shifting right while shifting left to remain agile.