What Is Shift-Left Testing? A Guide to Improving Your QA

The concept of shift-left testing and how it can improve the quality of your product. The importance of automation combined with shift-left testing: benefits of using DogQ as a powerful testing tool with many capabilities.

What Is Shift-Left Testing? A Guide to Improving Your QA

The software development industry demands better quality in a shorter time, and DevOps specialists recommend shift-left software testing, also known as early stage testing. One more way to adapt to customers’ expectations and business needs is to bring the Agile methodology combined with early testing.

In this guide, we will explore the meaning and benefits of shift-left testing for your development processes, product success, and customer satisfaction. We will also provide some tips on how to quickly implement shift-left testing strategy into your development cycle. In addition, we will touch upon the important subject of QA automation in web development and introduce DogQ as a codeless automation testing tool with a wide range of capabilities.

What is Shift-Left Software Testing and What Is the Idea Behind It?

Testing will always be a critical part of software development. According to Statista, companies around the globe invest in various QA activities around 23% of their IT budgets.

Software testing practices have changed incredibly over the years, because of higher quality expectations, testing tools evolution, and other factors.

There are two common ways of handling software development and testing processes:

  • A traditional approach that implies coherent stages with a fixed scope of work.
  • An agile approach that means working in sprints and being flexible.

In a traditional approach, such as Waterfall model testing, the product is checked for bugs and usability problems just before the release. This often means delays, additional work of many team members, and project cost increases. Why does it happen? Because some unpredicted issues are inevitable and they need to be fixed before the product goes into production.

A shift-left approach in testing allows the development team to prevent many problems, improve the quality of new software, and shorten its time to market. This sounds like a magic solution, isn’t it? When you realize what a shift-left testing strategy is, you will be amazed at its simplicity and brilliance.

The idea of shift-left testing was inspired by the necessity of making release cycles shorter while providing excellent quality.

What does it mean to “shift-left” in testing?

Let us look at the traditional software development lifecycle: you will notice that the Testing phase is placed at the very end. In other words, it is shifted to the right.

Traditional software development lifecycle

As in English and many other languages people read from left to right, it also affects how we understand time, so the steps on the left side feel earlier than the ones on right.

The shift-left approach allows you to bring testing into the development process earlier, easier, and more effectively.

How does shift-left testing work in practice? First and foremost, it means that developers run various tests by themselves before pushing new code to version control. The product quality can benefit a lot if you shift-left performance testing, regression testing, smoke testing, acceptance testing, unit testing, and other kinds of software testing.

So, is the “shift-left” methodology really some kind of magical solution? Does it help to sort out every problem with product quality, delivery speed, team members’ efficiency, and customer satisfaction?

It is crucial to note that a simple change of places is not enough – a shift-left testing process should be a continuous activity throughout the whole development cycle. It is the best implementation of Agile methodology.

How do the shift-left approach and Agile methodology work together? They can enrich one another when properly used. Further in this guide, we will talk more about shift-left testing in Agile, but for now, it is important for you to understand why software development teams welcome the shift-left strategy in software testing.

Why Does DevOps Recommend Shift-Left Testing Principles?

When you start testing earlier, a lot of positive changes immediately come into effect. These changes touch upon all aspects of software development, testing, and maintenance.

DevOps specialists can give you some valid reasons why a shift-left testing approach is one of the best scenarios that can happen during a software development lifecycle.

What are the best things about early testing, from a DevOps engineer’s point of view?

Best things about early testing

1. Creating a better working environment for developers. Shift-left testing allows you to maintain a quality codebase. As a result of that, your team will be able to conduct efficient development and testing activities.

2. Removing waiting times for QA teams. As you practice shift-left software testing, your QA specialists don’t have to wait until coding is finished. Instead, they can conduct tests during development.

3. Writing more unit tests, as recommended in the Testing Pyramid framework. When your team moves testing to the left, they have more time to invest in unit tests to ensure a better quality of the software.

4. Increasing the quality of software. When you detect issues earlier in the software development process, you can find more effective solutions to eliminate these problems and make your product work stable.

5. Providing opportunities to use test automation tools. Early-stage testing creates scope for automation, taking the load off your QA team, leaving time for more challenging tasks, and reducing human error. Team members can write and maintain tests in a breeze using a QA automation tool. If you are looking for one, check out this test automation tools list we prepared.

6. Increasing test coverage. Shift-left testing provides opportunities to write multiple test cases and conduct them at the same time. As a result, you will cover more instances for testing and ensure the stability of the code.

7. Speeding up the delivery. The earlier you find bugs, the more time your team will have to fix them. As a result, fewer issues appear later, and the time between release cycles reduces.

Many companies underestimate a shift-left approach to software testing. The reason for this common problem is the lack of knowledge about how the team conducts development processes and what risk factors may arise.

DevOps specialists say that it is crucial to have a clear understanding of at what point mistakes and bugs appear in the code.

According to any development team’s experience, more than 80% of issues occur during the coding process. This is why DevOps specialists say it is vital to start testing as early as you can.

However, if you take testing as a distinguished phase after all the coding is done, your team will face a lot of patching and fixing. This way, you will have to spend more time and money to ensure stable work while the product release will likely be postponed.

What happens if you move testing to the left? We are going to describe some positive changes in different aspects of product development.

When You Choose Shift-Left Testing: Benefits and Improvements

What does life look like when your team starts testing earlier than usual? The main areas where you will soon realize the benefits of shift-left testing include:

  • Productivity;
  • Quality;
  • Customer satisfaction;
  • Time to market;
  • Budgeting.
Shift-left testing benefits

Team members’ productivity. When you adopt the principles of shift-left automation testing and test-driven development (TDD), testers don’t have to wait until developers implement everything. The QA team has plenty of opportunities to be more productive in testing activities, try new and innovative methods, conduct more tests, and use QA automation advantages to their full potential.

Quality and satisfaction. As you apply shift-left performance testing and run tests during and after the development, there are fewer bugs and performance issues, and less fixing and patching, meaning that the overall quality of the final product is much better than it is within a traditional development cycle. Moreover, a stable platform is key to higher customer satisfaction.

Time and cost. When you shift-left security testing and other types of software testing, you finish the development processes sooner and reduce the time to market for your platform. In addition, early detected problems are relatively cheap to fix, and that can significantly cut your development costs.

Shift-Left Testing Principles in Agile: Best Practices

Agile-driven development usually goes in two-week sprints and requires QA engineers to perform testing after each sprint. Therefore, it is a successful implementation of the shift-left approach.

The Agile methodology works very well with test-driven development (TDD) and shift-left testing strategy. According to TDD, you have to write sufficient tests before creating a certain piece of code. It helps to quickly verify how valid the code is.

Let’s talk about best practices for shift-left testing in Agile. Here are some quick tips from our professional QA team with over three years of experience.

Shift-left testing best practices

Tip #1: Start with good planning. Prepare all the team members, craft working strategies for devs and testers, and make your software development lifecycle friendly to Agile and shift-left testing principles.

Tip #2: Set clear standards. Your development team should have a solid understanding of writing pre-development tests. Developers should also know what items and scenarios they are supposed to test themselves. It may be helpful to use this checklist of testing. We also recommend setting clear standards on how the devs should forward issues to the QAs: for example, the golden rule is to add some context or explanation. Make sure that all the specialists are always on the same page.

Tip #3: Introduce the static code analysis. Static analysis means checking the structure of the code for errors, wrong syntax, security problems, etc. This is an excellent practice if you want to streamline software development processes, adopt Agile practices, and shift-left in testing. It is also important to ensure that the code complies with certain standards, rules, and guidelines of the project.

It is important to realize that static code analysis should not be performed manually – it quickly becomes mundane, slow, and error-prone. How do you provide the analysis without errors, quickly and efficiently?

Automation is the most efficient way to do static analysis and apply the shift-left strategy in software testing. The software can, for instance, scan the code for various issues, from programming errors to inconsistency in predefined rules, before a developer hands it over to the QA team.

Tip #4: Provide feedback. All team members involved in the shift-left testing process should receive feedback throughout the whole software development lifecycle. This way, your team can kill two birds with one stone – ensure better test coverage and prepare themselves for similar projects in the future.

How to Adopt a Shift-Left Strategy and Where to Start

Are you ready to try testing earlier? It is important for you to understand the differences between continuous testing and shift-left testing. While the first one is conducted during both the development and post-production stages, the idea of left-shift testing is tied to the early stage when developers write code and QA specialists test it.

Continuous testing and shift-left are closely connected, so it will be perfect if you follow the principles of continuous testing in your project as well.

If you are already thinking about how to implement shift-left testing in your organization, these are some ideas for you to get started.

How to adopt a shift-left strategy

Let developers start testing activities. Remember that the main idea of the shift-left approach in testing is to start testing as early as you can. Introduce a practice of testing smaller code units before merging. This way, the main branch will contain cleaner code and the whole project will eventually have fewer mistakes.

Bring QA engineers early on. If you want to use the shift-left testing approach effectively, make sure you invite QAs for brainstorming with developers. Both parties can benefit from this – QAs see the big picture which helps them write better tests, and developers understand what bugs and problems they may encounter.

Make sure QA specialists have basic coding skills. They don’t have to be experts but it is important for testers to understand the basics of coding, just like developers should know how to write test cases and run basic tests. Testers that can read and write simple code and developers that can run basic tests, both contributing to an increase in product quality, are a perfect implementation of the idea of shift-left testing in Agile.

Introduce the concept of testability. Agile software development and left-shift testing require the full collaboration of programmers and QA engineers. For example, every developer should remember that the code should be as testable as possible. Such an approach makes testing activities more effective and allows developers to think about possible issues in advance.

Embrace automated testing. Automation can take the load off your testing team and quickly provide you with precise data on various qualities of the code. Thanks to automation, you remove human error, speed up development and testing processes, and bring your product to a timely release. Codeless automation tools became one of the promising test automation trends because they are user-friendly to all team members, developers, and testers alike.

Select the right testing tools. It is hard to say which tools are best for performing shift-left testing because the choice will depend on your purpose. For example, JMeter is widely used for stress testing and load testing. Selenium is a popular tool for regression testing and generally for checking web applications. If you are looking for a solution to provide test automation, there are lots of effective tools, including DogQ.

Improve Your Testing Process with DogQ

Can the concept of shift-left software testing be the best solution for your organization? It depends on how your team is determined to implement it in everyday activities. All changes require a certain time and effort, and the best you can do is to prepare a clear plan on how your team will start testing earlier to ensure higher quality.

DogQ is a codeless test automation tool for website testing that allows your QA team to conduct different types of web testing, including end-to-end, regression, and functional tests, as well as automated UI testing.

DogQ is designed to cater to the needs both of small startups and mature companies. It's a powerful tool that can be handy for QA professionals and extremely useful for beginners and non-technical specialists.

Do you have any further questions about early stage testing activities or automated testing? The DogQ team will be happy to provide you with first-hand information based on real-life web development and testing experiences.