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Risk-based Testing: A Strategic Approach to QA

There is no doubt that Formula 1 has the best risk management of any sport and any industry in the world. – Sir Jackie Stewart

This quote mentions the epitome of managing risks, and there is a lesson in it for us to strive and be better at our own game, i.e., software testing.

What is a Risk?

Before we delve into understanding risk-based testing and its mitigation, let’s first grasp the concept of risk. So, risk refers to the possibility of unfavorable events or circumstances that could impact the successful development, deployment, or functioning of a software application or system. Risks can stem from software defects, technical challenges, security vulnerabilities, usability issues, compliance requirements, or resource limitations. These risks could disrupt the software’s reliability, performance, security, user experience, or regulation adherence. Risks can be a reliable parameter to plan, schedule, and allocate testing efforts.

Risks can be categorized as:

Positive Risks

Positive risks, also known as opportunities, are circumstances or events that have the potential to bring favorable outcomes or benefits to a project, organization, or individual. These risks can present opportunities for growth, innovation, competitive advantage, or improved performance. Examples of positive risks include entering new markets, implementing new technologies, pursuing strategic partnerships, or exploring innovative ideas.

Negative Risks

Negative risks, also called threats, are circumstances or events that can harm a project, organization, or individual. These risks pose potential harm, adverse consequences, or obstacles that hinder achieving goals or objectives. Examples of negative risks include market downturns, security breaches, regulatory non-compliance, supply chain disruptions, or natural disasters.

Negative risks present a potential threat to the successful execution of software projects. The groups of negative risks the team encounters during the software development process are:

  • Product risks arise from inadequate clarity and stability of software application requirements and complexity. These risks can cause a mismatch between the functionality of the software application and the expectations of end-users, leading to a subpar user experience.
  • Project risks stem from external dependencies, such as contractual issues, personal matters, and contractor delays. These risks impact the budget, timeline, and delivery of software applications.
  • Process risks are associated with internal software application management, including inaccurate estimates, underestimating project complexity and delays, and non-negotiable deadlines. These risks can impact the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the software development process.

So now we know Risk, let’s see what Risk-based Testing is.

What is a Risk-based Testing?

Risk-based testing (RBT) is an approach to software testing that focuses on prioritizing testing based on the likelihood of risks. It involves evaluating risks associated with the complexity of the software, its importance to the business, how frequently it is used, and areas that are more likely to have defects. This approach helps identify critical areas that require special attention and allocate testing resources accordingly.

Risk-based testing analyzes the software application to identify potential risks impacting users or businesses, such as defects, failures, or security breaches. These risks are then assessed based on their likelihood of occurring and the potential impact they can have on the system. Functions and features that are deemed critical undergo more thorough testing compared to less important or lower-risk areas. By focusing on high-risk areas, testing teams can prioritize their efforts and concentrate on the parts of the software that are more likely to experience problems or issues.

How does it differ from other testing approaches?

Risk-based testing primarily focuses on conducting test activities based on the risk level associated with different application features. It differentiates from other testing approaches in different ways:

Testing Parameter Risk-based Testing Approach Other Testing Approach
Test Coverage Focus on the most critical areas of the application Focus on a broader range of application
Prioritization Based on risk level Based on functional requirements
Risk Assessment It is an ongoing process throughout the SDLC Not much emphasis on risks
Test Execution Focus mainly on high-risk scenarios Focus primarily on critical functional areas.

When to use Risk-based Testing?

Risk-based testing can be implemented in any of the following situations mentioned below:

  1. Projects with limited time, resources, and budget constraints.
  2. Where risk-based analysis is utilized to identify vulnerabilities like SQL injection attacks.
  3. Projects having security testing in cloud computing environments.
  4. New projects with high-risk factors like lack of technological experience or insufficient business domain knowledge.
  5. Effective where incremental and iterative models are being followed.
  6. Projects with poor understanding of features, subpar design, inadequate time planning, or insufficient resources.

Risk-based Testing Process

This approach prioritizes testing efforts based on the probability and potential impact of risks. Let’s go through each step in this testing process.

Risk identification

This process entails recognizing, categorizing, and organizing the risks with the highest threat level. By reviewing requirements, user stories, project documentation, workshops, checklists, brainstorming, interviewing, Delphi technique, cause and effect diagrams, lessons learned from previous projects, root cause analysis (RCA), and engaging with business analysts, the potential risks associated with the software can be effectively identified in the risk-based testing approach.

Risk Assessment

After identifying the risks, the next crucial step is to evaluate them by considering their likelihood of occurrence and potential impact on the system. It is vital to assess the level of uncertainty associated with each risk and prioritize them based on their significance. This can be achieved through various techniques, such as utilizing risk matrices, maintaining risk registers, or conducting probability and impact analysis. Once the risks have been identified, categorized, and sorted, they can undergo analysis to determine their likelihood and potential consequences.

Risk Prioritization

After identifying the risks, the next crucial step is to evaluate them by considering their likelihood of occurrence and potential impact on the system. It is essential to assess the level of uncertainty associated with each risk and prioritize them based on their significance. This can be achieved through various techniques, such as utilizing risk matrices, maintaining risk registers, or conducting probability and impact analysis.

Test Planning

A comprehensive risk-based test plan that clearly defines the testing objectives, scope, test cases, and strategies for addressing the identified risks is created in test planning. This includes specifying the testing approaches and selecting relevant tools and frameworks. Additionally, allocate the required resources, such as testing environments, personnel, and timeframes, to ensure the successful implementation of the test plan.

Test Case Development

After Planning, the subsequent step is to create test cases that specifically target the most critical threats. These test cases should focus on testing the software’s functionality that is most susceptible to the identified risks. The testing process becomes more effective by addressing the highest-priority risks through targeted test cases.

Test Execution

Once the test cases have been developed, the next step is to execute these test cases. This involves performing risk-based testing activities according to the test plan, focusing on testing the critical functionalities and features that have been determined to have higher risk levels. The execution of test cases involves running the tests, recording the results, and diligently tracking any issues or defects discovered during the testing process.

Once this step is completed, the process can cycle again as new code, features, and functionality are added to the application. Automation testing is vital in automating and executing critical scenarios for every new release. We will dive deep into the automation part later in this.

Risk Mitigation

It is a process to minimize the impact of risks or potential threats, which involves removing or reducing risks to an acceptable level. Collaboration with stakeholders is crucial in identifying and implementing suitable risk mitigation measures. The risks identified during testing are addressed by implementing preventive or corrective actions. This can involve refining software requirements, enhancing design, modifying code, or implementing additional security measures.

Test Monitoring & Control

Risk-based testing activities are continuously monitored, and the progress is tracked. Repeating the testing activities means the effectiveness of risk mitigation is measured and adjusted further if required. Also, any new emerging risks are constantly monitored.

Reporting & Communication

Reporting should focus on residual risks, documenting and conveying the outcomes of risk-based testing activities to stakeholders. Deliver comprehensive reports that outline the identified risks, their impacts, and the corresponding mitigation actions undertaken. Additionally, communicate any valuable recommendations or insights acquired during the testing process to facilitate informed decision-making and improve future risk management strategies.

Use Case of Risk-based Testing

Suppose you are working on a new online banking application. This application has various features such as money transfers, loan management, account information, customer support chat, and digital wallet services.

Step 1: Identify Risks

As a first step, you and your team would brainstorm all potential risks. For our online banking app, high-impact risks might include:

  • Security breaches (e.g., unauthorized access to users’ sensitive banking data)
  • Functionality risks such as failure in money transfer functionality or inaccurate display of account balances
  • System downtime or unavailability

Step 2: Assess and Prioritize Risks

Each identified risk needs to be assessed to understand its impact and likelihood. Typically, you can use a scale (e.g., 1-5) to grade risks based on these two factors.

For example, security breaches could be very likely (4) and have a severe impact (5), giving them a high priority.

Step 3: Plan the Testing Approach

With the prioritization in place, the next step is to plan your testing efforts accordingly. For the banking application, you might decide that extensive security testing (penetration testing, security scanning, etc.) is needed to prevent unauthorized access.

Step 4: Allocate Resources

Next, allocate your resources (time, human resources, equipment) based on risk priority. More resources would be dedicated to high-priority risks.

Step 5: Execute Tests

In our scenario, you would first ensure all security tests are carried out before moving on to the functionality checks in money transferring or account information display based on priority.

Step 6: Re-evaluate Risks

After your testing uncovers defects, the risks need to be re-evaluated. Some risks may decrease as fixes are applied, while new ones may emerge, requiring a return to Step 1.

Step 7: Report

Throughout the testing process, comprehensive documentation and reporting are necessary to keep all stakeholders informed about the risks that have been mitigated and which are still pending.

Benefits of Risk-based Testing

By identifying and analyzing system-related risks, it becomes feasible to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of testing. Let’s see the benefits of risk-based testing:

Maximizes testing efficiency

Risk-based testing ensures efficient resource utilization by directing testing efforts toward the most critical areas of the software. This approach enables testers to concentrate their time and energy on the application’s high-risk areas likely to impact users significantly.

Identifies defects earlier

By implementing risk-based testing, testers can identify defects and vulnerabilities earlier in development. This proactive approach prevents severe issues from arising later in the cycle, thereby increasing the software quality.

Enhances stakeholder confidence

Risk-based testing, through its prioritization of critical areas, is vital in building stakeholder confidence in the software application. This approach showcases a solid commitment to quality and reliability. By diligently focusing on the areas most likely to impact users significantly, risk-based testing instills trust and assurance among stakeholders.

Faster time to market

The Risk-based Testing (RBT) approach facilitates faster time to market by prioritizing the essential features for testing and ensuring their availability in a shippable state early in the development cycle. By focusing on critical functionalities with higher risks, RBT allows quicker validation and verification of these features, enabling organizations to deliver a functional and reliable product to the market sooner.

Reduces costs

Risk-based testing can reduce the overall costs associated with the application release. When all the factors mentioned above are considered, the total cost for the development reduces automatically.

Common Mistakes with Risk-based Testing

Let’s look into common mistakes that need to be avoided while performing RBT:

  • Performing risk analysis at the end of the product development process is a common mistake that should be avoided.
  • Another common mistake is inaccurately determining the acceptable level of risk.
  • Inexperienced or insufficiently knowledgeable individuals involved in the risk assessment may need help fully comprehend the impact of the assessment results.
  • Failing to identify risks that can impact future performance is a common oversight in risk-based testing.
  • Exclusively concentrating on high-risk areas is a common pitfall in risk-based testing.

Role of Automation in Risk-based Testing

Automation tools play a pivotal role in risk-based testing, offering numerous benefits throughout the testing process. You can use intelligent, AI-powered test automation tools such as testRigor for efficient test creation, execution, and maintenance.

Firstly, testRigor allows the execution of many test cases, particularly those designed for high-risk scenarios, parallelly across multiple devices and browsers. This capability ensures maximum coverage, enabling thorough testing. Additionally, testRigor’s support for cross-browser and cross-platform execution allows for quicker completion of coverage, optimizing time efficiency.

Secondly, testRigor helps create test scripts faster in plain English; even your manual testers can quickly create automation test scripts using testRigor without any learning curve. Generate test scripts in plain English, eliminating coding dependency through generative AI. So, be it a business team, management team, or stakeholders, anyone can effortlessly create test scripts. Furthermore, test cases can be organized into separate suites and executed for every new feature release, ensuring that high-risk scenarios are thoroughly tested in each release cycle.

testRigor helps generate unique test data (supports 50+ in-built data types) that align with identified risk scenarios. This capability ensures comprehensive testing of critical areas and enhances the robustness of risk-based testing.

Additionally, testRigor provides detailed reports on a step-by-step basis with screenshots, test execution videos, failure reasons, and error logs in real-time, thereby facilitating effective communication and data-driven decision-making for risk mitigation strategies.

Final Thoughts

Risk-based testing offers a practical solution for allocating finite resources, considering the time and budget limitations in software testing. By identifying high-risk areas, this approach enables allocating testing resources where they are most needed. Additionally, integrating automation tools like testRigor further enhances the benefits of risk-based testing.

With testRigor’s capabilities for cross-browser and cross-platform test case execution and easy test script creation, risk-based testing becomes even more efficient, resulting in improved effectiveness and overall testing efficiency. By prioritizing testing based on potential risks, it improves the effectiveness, efficiency, and overall quality of the testing process, resulting in higher-quality software and an enhanced user experience.

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