The Magnificent Seven

Best Practices for Delivering Delightful QA Service

Being an external QA partner in the games industry is a significant challenge, especially if the objective is to deliver the best outcome for clients by overseeing the end-to-end process. Owning the scope of work means having the ability to set the initial parameters of project delivery and having the flexibility throughout the delivery process to adjust it. This is not easily achieved, since it takes time to build trust with your client, you often must operate from a fixed budget and you must utilize proprietary solutions/tools to deliver optimal testing. To retain execution control and deliver the best outcomes to your clients, here are several best practices to employ:

1.Be the Expert. The expectation is that you know what you need to do, how to do it and that you are well-prepared with all that is necessary to plan, execute and report. So, once the project starts you must demonstrate you can take the lead, you have the competence and depth of expertise we normally ascribe to a consultancy. Ask key questions in regards to the project, find what the client wants and identify means to exceed their expectations. You could deploy a dedicated resource pool of certified testers to deliver extraordinary results in a specific testing area, as means to demonstrate your competence. Make sure you know your trumps and use them wisely.

2. Speak the Same Language. Setting the ground on terminology takes some due diligence, and sometimes once you feel you reached consensus, people start to use these terms for something else, especially when working with clients. So, it’s good to know the industry standards first and use those as much as possible in your communications, in your documentation and in your reports. It demonstrates professionalism, good knowledge and the client already uses those and can compare you with other potential vendors. Also, it shows that you know the industry, its terminology and you have the capability to apply it properly in your work. Avoid using acronyms, especially those developed internally as they may have no meaning for the client and can create annoyance, close communication lines and increase avoidance. For example, if you refer to a certain standardized checklist you should rather explain it than using its name or acronym.

Amber QA uses well-defined terminology that we centralized, defined and explained it in detail on our wiki. Our internal repository of knowledge is part of our secret sauce: shared with the partners, new hires, and routinely used even by seasoned test professionals.

3.Build the Plan. Time spent on planning is critical, extremely useful and must be done as soon as possible at project start. Despite the potentially limited level of information you have about the project, put together a test plan. Use the available data and take an end-user perspective in your approach. Rely on your subject matter experts to fill the information gaps. Use historical data and team metrics and KPIs to support the logic behind the numbers you share with the client. Reference existing test strategies, processes, methodologies and procedures to be followed. Make your assumptions visible in the plan, since this will help you in the future for structuring conversations and then request additional information and work to secure a transparent communication exchange with the client. A well-prepared plan should follow industry standards and include: version, owner, goal, references, deliverables, entry and exit criteria, test strategy, test scope, coverage plan or test scheduler, tools and workflows, types of testing, test automation, risks and mitigation plans, staffing, assumptions and dependencies. As Gary Rudz says: “Success is when everything that goes wrong fits in your plan.”

4. Be Flexible. There are always multiple ways of solving one problem. In this case, you must find the middle ground between the optimal test plan and the expected cost. Your main proposal will be the optimal one, representing the best and complete service you can provide for the project. The second one should be a reduced form of the first one that includes services and areas where you are the absolute expert with touching points on the rest. Always mention the downsides if the optimal plan is not put in place. Provide details about the value add of the optimal plan and please keep in mind that value means good balance between quality, cost and time. If you favor one or two, you must make a deliberate choice to de-prioritize the third one.

5. Offer a Free Pilot. I personally take this as an opportunity for my team and me. It would be a cost we pay to learn new things, build professional relationships, take people outside of their comfort zone to challenge them and keep them engaged. On the business side of things, it’s the best way to engage a new partner. A free pilot will provide the chance to calibrate, adjust, correct and perfect the plan. It can be the foundation stone, part of your “elevator pitch” as an outsourced partner team in real work environment. It will show aspects that may be important to client and missed in previous discussions. It also allows you to show your mastery of the subject matter and the best way you can secure the trust of your partner, in a low-risk setting for them.

6. Be Data Driven. Track project data, set KPIs and metrics to follow, use historical information and map the impact on business. Decisions based on data are examples of professionalism; it inspires confidence and is probably the most critical aspect in owning your part as an external partner. It will increase the client’s loyalty and trust in you and your services. Performance indicators and metrics must include both QA specific ones such as bugs per hour, task validity, defect capture rates as well as production and development ones (bug sealing, fix rates, and others), since together they will offer a comprehensive project perspective to the people who make business decisions.

7. Always Improve. If you secured the contract and you covered all the points above, then focus on improvement. To strengthen the relationship and to always be the first option for your client, you must build in your team a strategy and a culture of continuous improvement. Create a survey about your services and ask your clients how you’re doing. Over 90% of the teams are surprised of the survey results, while less than 10% got the answers and ratings they expected. Create 6 months’ action items based on the survey results and your business goals and work on them. Make it transparent to your partners, report progress periodically and after 6 to 12 months conclude and run the survey again!

Owning QA means owning decisions over planning, execution and reporting in the benefit of the project and the partner. Your partner’s success is your success.

So, to recap on how to own QA as an external partner:

1. Be the Expert — if you are not, stop… make sure you know what you are best at.

2. Speak the Same Language — keep it simple, don’t use acronyms, rely on industry and known standards to explain your work.

3. Build the Plan — “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, wrote Benjamin Franklin.

4. Be Flexible — your first option is never the client’s option.

5. Offer a Free Pilot — test yourself, prove yourself, come up with something new and add value.

6. Be Data Driven — articulate your decisions and rely on data.

7. Always Improve — the only constant is change!

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