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INSIGHTS / Articles

Agile: A Unique Opportunity for Quality Professionals

 20 Apr 2023 
Agile: A Unique Opportunity for Quality Professionals Agile: A Unique Opportunity for Quality Professionals
Agile: A Unique Opportunity for Quality Professionals
INSIGHTS / Articles

Agile: A Unique Opportunity for Quality Professionals

 20 Apr 2023 

Everyone is adopting agility practices. Unfortunately, for many, they are not doing it well - even those that have been trying for years.

One of the key blockers stated in both the 2022 State of Agile Report and the DORA 2022 Accelerate State of DevOps Report was the lack of leadership support or understanding. Put another way, “organisations with teams that feel supported through funding and leadership sponsorships tend to have higher organisational performance”.

The DORA report stated:

“Organisational and team culture - High-trust and low-blame cultures, as defined by Westrum, tend to have higher organisational performance.

Every organisation has its own unique culture, and our research has consistently shown that culture is foundational to an organisation’s success and the well-being of its employees. Culture is also a necessary aspect of DevOps since, at the most basic level, DevOps is about tools, practices, and how people work together to develop and deliver software quickly, reliably, and safely.”

Extracts from the 16th annual State of Agile Report, further mirror this view:

According to 89% of respondents, high-performing Agile teams have:

People-centric values, clear culture, tools, and leadership empowerment.

The other side of the Agile story is where organisations see challenges, or better yet, opportunity to make improvements. The survey showed that culture, leadership, and consistency are three key challenges to successful Agile adoption in an organisation:

  • 39% - Leadership not understanding or putting up roadblocks
  • 31% - Lack of clear priorities and/or clear directions
  • 31% - Business teams not understanding what Agile does

How can we help?

As the reports are saying, and from the experience I have gained working as an Agile Coach with our clients, organisations are struggling to maximise unlocking all the benefits from Agile. One of the biggest benefits is accelerating quality delivery, and this is where we, as quality professionals, have a wealth of expertise.

Lack of leadership to enable efficient and effectively implementing Agile gives us a unique opportunity to unite quality professionals to drive collaboration and unravel the mysteries of Agile culture and mindset change.

The key is for us to provide “Quality Assistance”.

The International Software Testing Qualification Board (ISTQB) has defined Quality Assistance in the context of Enterprise Agility in their certification, “Agile Test Leadership at Scale”, and the definition can be found in their online glossary, as “an approach to quality management that focuses on a quality culture throughout an organisation.”

How can we do this?

We need to continuously invest in high quality through appropriate testing and automation. Critically, we need to leverage building quality in and shift left principles. The picture below summarises all of the quality practices where we can lead the Enterprise teams in optimising, changing culture and growing a quality mindset.

Let’s not just talk about these “buzz” words but instead help our organisations to embrace and act in accordance with these changes in mindset. This applies not just to the testing team, but everyone on the team and across the whole enterprise.

We need to help people understand what Agile is and how it will positively affect their work. This is best done through leadership - roll up your sleeves and show them what to do, how to do it and what value they are going to get from doing it. Lead through example by assisting, coaching and collaborating to accelerate quality products to reach your customers.

You will be surprised that once you help one person, then a team, then another team how suddenly everyone wants to be on these teams or a part of this change. If they see teams delivering faster and to a higher quality, they will want to know how to do it too. But, most importantly, they will see you having fun, reducing risk, and working in a sustainable way with everyone contributing to achieving the same goals.

Here are some examples that have worked for teams I have helped as part of successfully transforming to better ways of working through agility:

Quality assistance

Quality management ties together disciplines like testing, quality assurance (QA), quality control (QC), and quality improvement, as stated in the ISTQB Foundation syllabus (ISTQB®, 2018). In the Lean Lexicon (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2014), Total Quality Management is described as a management approach in which all departments, employees, and managers are responsible for continuously improving quality. Moving from QC to quality assistance is a success factor for businesses (Gartner, 2018).

Quality assistance moves the responsibility of testing and quality management to the whole team as part of empowering business agility. Test professionals become enablers rather than the primary doers. Some practices to support this mindset change are:

  • Static reviews of all requirements. Walkthroughs, technical (peer) reviews, and inspections should be undertaken by the Product Owners (PO) with the whole team to ensure that there are no errors, missing, or ambiguous requirements. The team should have a common understanding of these. A common checklist to build the right product is INVEST (“I” ndependent, “N” egotiable “V” aluable, “E” stimable, “S” mall, “T” estable).
  • Working with developers to test first. After confirming that you have the right requirements, the quickest and therefore the cheapest way to ensure defects, which are waste, do not get into the code is to test at the source. This may be through adopting Test-Driven Design/Development (TDD), Behavioural-Driven Design (BDD), or simply by pairing (tester/dev or PO/dev) to have the right coverage of unit tests.

Quality coaching

Quality Coaching is a conversation between a coach and one or more of the persons being coached. It focuses on identifying and dealing with challenges related to quality, the flow of business value, and customer collaboration.

Coaching is important in organisations that undergo significant change, such as changing from a classic program and project-driven organisation to an organisation moving toward business agility. It allows people to explore their previous beliefs and bias, and find the way that they can add value in the new paradigm.

Generally, the norm in coaching is that the person being coached implicitly knows the solution to a particular challenge and, therefore, the coach helps the person reach that conclusion themselves. But coaching can also be implemented collaboratively where there is less emphasis on reaching a goal or solution, and more emphasis on gaining understanding and insight.

The coach can put themself in the position of the person being coached to understand that person’s perspective, and then link it to the coach’s perspective and position in whatever they are exploring. Some Agile events already support this collaborative approach, such as retrospectives. Quality coaching can also be used outside team events on a one-to-one basis, such as when teaming up with an individual to discover a better way of working.

This is not the same as training or facilitation, both of which can of course provide value. Facilitation is a skill used to help people reach an outcome or decision by supporting individuals through interactions. The facilitator’s task is to lead people to use their specific knowledge and skills for this purpose.

Quality leaders need to engage teams in conversations about improving the processes for quality deliverables and allow them to discover and implement solutions to quality problems. A training trend is micro learning, where people can incorporate short learning sessions throughout their day. The leader must design different learning experiences suitable for the trainee, the knowledge they are required to understand, and the skills they need to gain.


  • Facilitate a value stream mapping workshop with participants from different teams, first training the technique, and then coaching them by asking questions about the different steps in the value stream.
  • Community of practice (CoP), where the expert groups’ main goal should be to work with delivery teams to spread knowledge and behaviour aligned to the business values. A CoP is a way to engage, identify, and support your agility champions and innovators, and help the organisation become Agile, providing a space for learning and experimenting at the grassroots. They bring energy to change and are collaborative in nature so gaining wider buy-in of transformation, as everyone has an opportunity to be heard and contribute.


Automation, “shift left” approaches, continuous testing, and other quality activities are necessary to keep pace with the incremental deliveries of customer-focused organisations. Continuous testing is the process of incorporating automated feedback at different stages of the software development life cycle (SDLC) in support of better speed and efficiency when managing deployments.

Test automation supports four fundamentals, as can be seen in our automation model.

We need to streamline the test process for Agile teams. This has three components: focusing on business risk, identifying and mitigating bottlenecks, and optimising your tests. We do this by:

  • Automating testing throughout the CI pipeline;
  • Shifting left;
  • The team taking responsibility for quality; and
  • The Test Automation Pyramid (pictured).

Other examples that we can use are:

  • Pair Automation - Similar to the concept of Pair Programming and applying it to automation. In one scenario, Engineer 1 (E1) is the navigator, and Engineer 2 (E2) is the driver. E2 can focus on the coding itself, and any syntax errors can be easily identified and fixed by the E1 (who has more experience) in real-time. By this pairing, the two can focus more on bigger problems, such as the implementation of the build rather than coding. This is an effective method of transferring and sharing of knowledge between team members. Immediate and constant peer review feedback, resulting in code quality review without the additional time usually spend on scheduled peer review sessions which could go back and forth.
  • Improvements in coding standards - Testers pairing and collaborating with developers to build quality in with coding standards across all code, that includes automation scripts and some non-functional tests.
  • Building products for automation - When testers work with the developers, supporting unit testing, then they can ensure that the code is built in such a way as to aid the use of automation, rather than refactor code later or make automating tests harder by not having the right hooks.

The goal of continuous testing is to evaluate the quality of the software as part of a continuous delivery process, by testing early and often.


The State of Agile Report 2022 highlighted that:

“Respondents told us that when they are satisfied with Agile practices in their organisation, certain things are going well. The most common result satisfied people see is increased collaboration (69%). It’s easier to do their jobs with others. The second most common result that slightly more than half experienced is better alignment to business needs (54%)”.

Collaboration is not just about working together - it is more than that. To collaborate is to commit to the possibility of producing an outcome greater than one that would be developed in a silo.

Make the common goal about producing a quality product for the customers, so that everyone has a shared vision of what we are delivering and are committed to this. Then guide the team to understand how each of them can contribute to this to excite your customers.

Within a recent programme of work, I was involved in, we introduced a new process that we called “Pathfinders”. We managed to drive 3000+ defects to closure across multiple test levels and types all running in parallel - SIT, end-to-end, UAT, performance, and operational readiness. We needed to take a different approach to defect management due to the complexity of the architecture, solution, and the number of delivery vendors who were all releasing into the integrated test team.

To effectively manage this, we agreed with programme leadership and business stakeholders to review priorities, and focus on actual key issues which could help to unblock multiple tests using a risk-based approach focused on critical functionality as determined by the product owner. We grouped defects by functionality, formed cross-functional teams across the major workstreams, and picked up defects together on war room calls as one team.

This collaboration between many third-parties and the testers themselves allowed the resolver teams to get resolution of all similar module defects in one go, thereby affording efficiencies to get defects turned around quicker than the previous processes. It also encouraged interactions between the teams to get real-time answers and or demos of issues, often identifying fixes in the calls.

We identified all resources who were required to drive solutions, who then joined our daily “war room” calls to enable the resolution of defects much more quickly. We were able to bring down average defect turnaround times of over fifteen days to less than five for these “pathfinder defects”, and sometimes even quicker.

This allowed us to optimise resource utilisation through appropriate collaboration across teams whilst increasing the throughput of critical and key blocking defects.

Agile champions

State of Agile Report 2022 states:

“There are also challenges as organisations scale Agile practices to other parts of the business such as Engineering, Business Operations, HR, or Marketing. When we asked specifically about barriers to adopting Agile on the business side of the organisation, the biggest concerns were not enough leadership participation (42%), not enough knowledge about Agile (40%), general organizational resistance to change (40%) and inadequate management support and/or sponsorship (39%).”

Where organisations have corporate champions for Agile, and senior leadership that understands and buys in to the process, these are leading indicators of success, even if Agile does well at a grass roots level.

Along with limited Agile leadership, company culture is another challenge that came up. 40% are dissatisfied with Agile at their organisation, as statistics show that Agile practices frequently clash with company culture. In fact, according to the State of Agile Report 2022, company culture is listed as the leading “cause of unsuccessful delivery with Agile”.

We as test professionals need to shift from the traditional roles, such as test managers, test coordinators, QA engineers, and testers, and work with teams to coach the necessary quality management-related skills, and competencies throughout the organisation, rather than doing all the testing.

With quality as a key driver for enterprise agility, we can become Agile champions at whatever level that we work from, within the teams to leadership, and sitting on the steering and executive organisational committees. We need to become the voice of quality advocating quality practices throughout the product lifecycles and across the business.

With business agility, there is a focus on preventing rather than finding defects to optimise quality and flow. This shift in mindset and, to some extent, culture is where organisations find challenges.

As Agile champions, we are uniquely placed to move all parts of the business to this paradigm. We can help teams understand the value and cost savings associated with this shift.

Start by celebrating the lack of defects found during testing, as earlier phases in the lifecycle have built the right product the first time. Testing then provided confidence to the business based on a product risk assessment, rather than finding defects and retesting fixes.

Some examples are:

  • Championing component testing for correct test coverage and a “shift left” mentality
  • Facilitating the creation of a library of automated scripts so that teams can share these assets across teams, promoting re-use
  • Introducing common tools across the organisation that integrate, provide visibility, and synchronise information
  • Creating personas that can be used by the business when writing requirements, and for testing to ensure the right coverage

In conclusion

Quality professionals are uniquely qualified to become leaders, or support leaders, in harnessing the benefits of Agile.

When you put quality at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it will accelerate delivery and delight your customers. And when you provide guidance, inspiration, and motivation for everyone within the enterprise, it will help to improve their knowledge and skills about quality and testing.

If you aren’t already doing most or some of the things mentioned above, then just remember that organisations that have developed a continuous approach to quality with high levels of collaboration and automated tests have:

  • Earlier engagement of quality activities, building quality in rather than testing it out
  • Reduced hand-offs for test activities that slow down value delivery
  • Continuous testing throughout the lifecycle, which reduces the overall cost of quality

Leanne Howard

Business Agility Practice Director

Embed Quality in your Agile Delivery

No matter where you are on your Agile transformation journey, we offer a broad range of consultation, assessment, training, and coaching services that enable your teams to deliver better outcomes faster, embed quality in every iteration, and adopt 'shift left' practices.
Find out how our Agile Quality experts can help you understand your Agile maturity and fast-track your journey to Agile success with quality embedded throughout. .


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