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Andrii Kravchenko, Automation and Manual Quality Assurance Engineer

Feb 13, 2024 14 min read

Risk Based Testing: Importance And Benefits

This article will discuss risk based testing, its advantages, and the risk management process in software testing. 

Risk Based Testing

Competition in the software development industry is highly intense. To achieve success, companies strive to create products of the highest quality with minimal costs. However, addressing this challenge is nearly only possible with an effectively tuned QA process.  The issue arises as deadlines and budgets often don't allow quality assurance specialists to thoroughly test all application features equally. They must decide which tasks require more effort and time and which do not require meticulous attention. How do they make these crucial decisions? There are more optimal choices than relying on the subjective opinions of team members. Determining goals and prioritizing effective testing strategies is facilitated by risk based testing.  

If you are still getting familiar with this approach, stay with us. This article will discuss risk based testing, its advantages, and the risk management process in software testing. 

What is Risk Based Testing? 

Let's begin by recalling what risk entails. By risk, we mean the possibility of an event occurring that could hurt the project. The level of risk is determined by two factors: the probability of the event occurring and the magnitude of the damage it could inflict.  

The risk level can be a reliable parameter for prioritizing software testing efforts. With unlimited possible test scenarios and limited resources, it makes sense to exert maximum effort in testing the most-used functions first, as their failure could cause the most harm.

In other words, the QA team must answer two questions about each function:  

  1. How frequently is this function used?  
  2. How significant would the damage be if it does not work as expected?  

Let's consider a scenario where quality assurance specialists test a banking application. They are tasked with checking the operation of two functions:  

  1. Find transfer: This function is used frequently, and its incorrect operation would significantly impact the business.  
  2. Find the nearest ATM: This function is used less frequently. While users might need clarification if the application shows an ATM across the street from its actual location, such a minor error is unlikely to substantially impact the company's operations.  

The QA team needs to put more effort into testing the first function. It is a highly simplified example (in reality, applications are much more complex, and specialists must test hundreds of elements). However, it vividly illustrates the essence of risk based approach in testing.  This approach allows for resource optimization and maximizes the benefits of testing. By prioritizing tasks, quality assurance specialists rely on the results of a preliminary risk assessment.   

So, risk based approach in testing prioritizes the testing of features and functions based on the risk of failure. It's a strategy that focuses on the areas of the software that carry the highest risk, helping teams use their testing resources more efficiently.

Why Perform Risk Based Testing? 

Risk based testing has multiple purposes. It aims to establish a framework for open communication between stakeholders regarding software project risks. This framework aids in setting a standard communication protocol within the team, making risks visible and more straightforward to address.

Risk based approach in testing is necessary because it is often only feasible to exhaustively test some aspects of software applications within the given time and budget. Using a risk-based testing approach, testers can identify and assess the critical areas of software applications likely to cause issues.

Adopting risk based testing approaches can assist in thoroughly testing the software applications within the given time and budget and ensure that the most critical issues are resolved before the software applications are released to users. Risk based testing in software testing can help identify and mitigate risks early in development. It can effectively minimize the cost and impact of defects found later in the development cycle or after the software application is released.

Types of Risk During The Software Development Process 

It is crucial to understand the types of risks that can directly impact the quality of software applications and identify potential issues. Risk based testing in software testing can be classified into two types:  

Positive Risk  

These events have the potential for better deals in the future and positive impacts on software projects or goals. For example, new technology can increase efficiency, reduce labor, and lower organizational costs. 

Negative Risk  

These factors can negatively impact a software project and result in significant losses, such as team issues, economic downturns, etc. 

The adverse risks pose a threat to the success of software projects. With risk based software testing, you gain insight into these risks to mitigate them and ensure the quality of the software application.

Below are the groups of adverse risks the team encountered during the software development process.  

  • Product Risk: This involves the need for more explicit and stable requirements and the complexity of the application itself. It can result in a mismatch between the functionality of the software and the expectations of end-users, leading to an unsatisfactory user experience. 
  • Project Risk: External dependencies, such as contracts, personal issues, and contractor delays, pose risks to the software application budget, timeline, and delivery.  
  • Process Risk: This risk is associated with managing internal software applications, including inaccurate estimates, underestimated project complexity and delays, and non-negotiable deadlines.  

The QA must identify and mitigate the damaging risks that could impact software applications' success. Now, let's delve into the details of the risk management process in software testing. 

Software Testing Risk Management Process 

The risk management process may vary depending on the company and the complexity of the developed product. However, it typically involves the following stages:  

  • Risk Identification: The initial step involves creating a comprehensive list of everything that could go wrong. Quality Assurance (QA) specialists compile this list through requirements analysis, brainstorming sessions, consultations with experts, drawing from previous project experiences, and more. The primary objective at this stage is to identify as many potential threats as possible.  
  • Risk Assessment: The team analyzes the risks once the list is compiled. Specialists evaluate each potential threat based on the probability of occurrence and the potential damage it could inflict. Risk matrices are often employed during this stage (we will delve into this concept in the following section).  
  • Response Planning: After identifying and assessing risks, the next step involves devising a plan to prevent them. Using the gathered data, the QA manager can formulate a testing strategy. Modules, elements, and functions prone to significant risks will undergo meticulous testing. The assessment results also determine the level of expertise required for specific tasks.  
  • Risk Monitoring: At this stage, specialists actively identify new risks, reevaluate previously identified ones, and adjust the response plan accordingly.  

Now that you better understand the software testing risk management process let's delve further into the risk prioritization and risk matrix. 

Risk Prioritization and Risk Matrix 

Risk prioritization and using a risk matrix are crucial aspects of effective risk management in software development and quality assurance (QA). Let's delve deeper into the concepts of risk prioritization and the risk matrix: 

  • Risk Prioritization: To prioritize risks, you must assess and organize them based on their possible impact and likelihood. The goal is to focus resources and efforts on addressing the most critical risks first. Several factors contribute to effective risk prioritization: 
  • Impact Assessment: Evaluate the potential impact of each risk on the project. It could include financial implications, project timeline, and overall project goals. 
  • Likelihood Assessment: Assess the likelihood of each risk occurring. It involves considering historical data, expert judgment, and other relevant information. 
  • Risk Categories: Classify risks based on severity and frequency. It helps in grouping similar risks and addressing them collectively. 
  • Risk Urgency: Consider the urgency of addressing certain risks. Some risks may need immediate attention, while others can be monitored and addressed later. 
  • Resources and Constraints: Consider the available resources, time constraints, and budget limitations when prioritizing risks. It ensures a practical and feasible risk mitigation plan. 

Risk Matrix 

A risk matrix is a helpful tool that visually represents the likelihood and impact of potential risks. It usually displays a grid with one axis indicating the probability of an event occurring and the other axis showing the potential impact the event could have on the project. The matrix is divided into different zones or risk levels.  

 

 Risk Matrix Example

Risk Based Testing In Agile  

Risk based testing in Agile is highly beneficial when completing testing within defined sprints to maintain software quality. It also helps establish a framework that allows QA, developers, and other stakeholders to discuss the risks. It separates risks so that they can be identified and addressed. It considers consumer and development needs when determining what constitutes a risk and highlights the most important features to customers. Moreover, it provides a hierarchy of testing criteria for managing budgets, negotiating timeframes, and avoiding delays. It is also in the best interests of customers and business owners, as risk-free software promotes high-quality user experiences and income streams.

All of the above can be accomplished in a limited amount of time with risk based testing, allowing the implementation of the core spirit of Agile development and testing.   

Common Mistakes with Risk Based Testing  

There are several ways to isolate, analyze, and evaluate risk, which can take different forms – depending on context. But regardless, there are common mistakes to avoid.  

  • Delaying risk analysis until late stages, instead of starting it during planning and development.    
  • Inaccurately determining the acceptable level of risk. 
  • Only focusing on high-risk areas.  
  • Failing to identify and address risks that may affect future performance. 
  • Not ensuring that those involved in risk assessment have enough experience or knowledge to fully understand the impact of the results. 
  • Neglecting the importance of using the right resources to effectively cover vulnerable points. 

Advantages of Risk Based Testing  

The usage of RBT brings several advantages to the testing organization. Some are listed below: 

  • Running the tests in risk order gives the highest likelihood of discovering defects in severity.  
  • Preventive activities can be started immediately as problem areas are discovered early in RBT. 
  • With limited time, money, and qualified resources, testing concentrates on the most important matters first, thus delivering the most optimal test by selecting better strategies and test objects/cases.  
  • In RBT, the focus is not only on the risk associated with the information system's functionality but also on business risks. 
  • Since RBT provides a method to prioritize tests against deadlines, Test cases can be reduced and focused on the most critical areas. In other words, testing is effectively prioritized against what is essential to your business. 
  • Communication (Test Reporting) occurs during testing in a language (risks) that all stakeholders understand. 
  •  It offers a negotiating instrument to clients and test managers alike when available means are limited.  
  •  RBT provides clear information on test coverage. Using this approach, we know what has yet to be tested and how much business risks this mitigates.  
  • RBT provides a Flexible Approach as the data, information, and knowledge decision cycle adapts well to change.  
  •  Allocating testing efforts based on risk is the most effective way to minimize the residual quality risk when software is released. Risk based testing involves selecting the appropriate tests from the infinite number of available tests. 

 

Measuring test results based on risk allows an organization to determine the residual level of quality risk during test execution and make informed decisions regarding the software release. RBT approach involves addressing tests with lower risk levels first, gradually progressing to tests with higher risk levels. This helps reduce the test execution period and minimize the potential increase in quality risk.

Continuous monitoring of risks can help determine the status of the project and its quality. These benefits allow the test team to operate more efficiently and in a targeted manner, particularly in time and resource-constrained situations. 

Disadvantages of Risk Based Testing 

Although risk based software testing has several advantages, it also includes some disadvantages. Here are some of the disadvantages of RBT: 

  • Unrecognized risks or risks assessed as too low may cause problems. 
  • Attaching a test to an identified risk may be difficult if the risks are too abstract.  
  • Some mitigation may require much cost and more time. They add more problems to the project than they're worth in terms of the problems they help detect.  
  • Risk assessment can be subjective, relying on expert judgments rather than objective measures, which may lead to uncertainty.
  • It is challenging to identify and select the right stakeholders for risk assessment. 

For What Kinds Of Projects Is Risk Based Testing Most Suitable? 

Risk based testing is most suitable for various types of projects, including:

Large-Scale Projects 

With their myriad functionalities and complexities, large-scale projects can often make exhaustive testing a severe challenge. In such cases, testing every functionality with equal emphasis might be impractical or impossible due to resource and time constraints. Risk based software testing becomes an invaluable asset with its inherent prioritization approach, ensuring that critical components are rigorously assessed while optimizing resources. 

 

Projects with Tight Deadlines 

When projects are pressed for time, making every second count is crucial. Risk based testing ensures that efforts are directed towards functionalities that pose the most significant threat in case of failure. This targeted approach can expedite the testing phase while ensuring that the software's most vulnerable parts are thoroughly examined, facilitating timely project completion without compromising quality. 

Projects with Clearly Identified High-Risk Areas 

Specific projects inherently come with well-defined high-risk areas. For instance, financial applications involving transactions or health-related systems handling sensitive patient data. In such cases, the repercussions of software failures can be catastrophic. Risk based software testing offers a framework to ensure these high-risk areas are the primary focus, providing stakeholders with the confidence that critical aspects are thoroughly validated. 

Complex Systems with Multiple Integrations 

Software that integrates with multiple external systems or has numerous interdependencies can be challenging to test. Each integration point or interdependency can be a potential point of failure. Risk based testing helps identify which of these integration points are most crucial. It ensures they are tested thoroughly, which ensures smooth interoperability and reduces the chances of integration-related issues. 

A Risked Based Testing Example 

Let's work with a real-life example to understand better where risk based testing can help. For example, a doctor's office creates a patient registration form. The patient registration form asks the patient many questions and contains their personal information. As such, if there were any data breaches, the doctor's office could be held liable, and the resulting breach could have severe consequences. 

Our first step is to identify the risk. In this case, the risk associated with the patient registration form is the potential for data security breaches. 

Once we have done that, we must then assess the risk. We assess the risk based on its severity and likelihood. In this case, the risk severity is high due to the sensitivity of the personal information collected, and the likelihood is medium, considering potential vulnerabilities in the system. 

Now, we can define a test scenario. To address our potential risk, we can design a test scenario that focuses on testing the security controls of the patient registration form. The test scenario could involve the following steps: 

  • Fill in the registration form with valid patient information. 
  • Attempt to submit the form without completing all mandatory fields. 
  • Attempt to submit the form with invalid or malicious input. 
  • Verify that the form accepts valid input and rejects invalid or malicious input. 
  • Check if the entered data is securely transmitted and stored. 

Finally, we can execute our test. We execute the defined test scenario using appropriate test data. 

Following this, we monitor and report to maintain effectiveness. We must monitor the test execution and record any security vulnerabilities or data leakage observed during testing. Document the results and provide detailed reports on identified risks, their impact, and potential recommendations for improvement. 

Risk Based Testing: How to Increase the Quality of a Software Product 

Implementing risk based testing in software testing can significantly contribute to increasing the overall quality of a software product by focusing testing efforts on areas most critical to the project's success. Here are steps and strategies to enhance quality through risk based testing: 

Risk Identification 

  • Description: Thoroughly identify and document potential risks associated with the software project. 
  • Impact on Quality: Comprehensive risk identification ensures that all aspects of the software, including requirements, design, and implementation, are considered for potential issues. 

Detailed Risk Assessment 

  • Description: Assess the identified risks in severity and likelihood of occurrence. 
  • Impact on Quality: A detailed risk assessment helps prioritize risks based on their potential impact on software quality. 

Create a Risk Based Testing Matrix 

  • Description: Develop a matrix that visually represents the risk ratings and categorizes risks into zones (very high, high, medium, low). 
  • Impact on Quality: A well-constructed matrix provides a clear roadmap for focusing testing efforts on areas that pose the highest risk to quality. 

Prioritize High-Risk Areas 

  • Description: Prioritize testing efforts on areas with high severity and likelihood ratings. 
  • Impact on Quality: By prioritizing high-risk areas, critical issues that could significantly impact software quality are addressed first and fixed. 

Define Targeted Test Scenarios 

  • Description: Identify and design test scenarios targeting high and medium-risk areas. 
  • Impact on Quality: Targeted testing ensures that critical functionalities associated with identified risks are thoroughly tested, improving the overall quality of those functionalities. 

Integrate Security Testing 

  • Description: Include security testing as part of risk based testing approaches, especially for high-risk areas. 
  • Impact on Quality: Addressing security risks directly contributes to the robustness and reliability of the software, enhancing its overall quality. 

Continuous Monitoring and Adjustment 

  • Description: Continuously monitor testing progress and adjust the strategy based on evolving risks. 
  • Impact on Quality: Regularly adapting the testing approach ensures that the testing effort remains aligned with the changing risk landscape, improving the overall quality of the testing process. 

Documentation and Communication 

  • Description: Document the risk based testing approach, including identified risks, testing strategies, and outcomes. Communicate this information to stakeholders. 
  • Impact on Quality: Clear documentation and communication ensure transparency, fostering collaboration among team members and stakeholders. 

By integrating risk based testing approaches into the software development lifecycle and following these strategies, organizations can focus on the most critical aspects, improving software quality and reducing the likelihood of critical issues impacting end-users. 

Conclusion  

The risk based testing approaches show that the tester's primary goal is to avoid overlooking faults regardless of severity or priority. Things have changed, and testers must now work smartly and comprehend the needs and preferences of customers and users. They must thoroughly research the product to determine which features are most commonly utilized in production, which revenue-generating path is most vital, and how to secure and safeguard clients from production challenges and business hazards.  

As a result, the risk based approach in testing teaches the testers that testing everything extensively does not imply that testing is complete. The tester must provide timely testing while mitigating critical and substantial business implications.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the risk in software testing?

Risk in software testing refers to potential actions or elements that might lead to undesirable results. These actions and elements may not become visible, weakening the system and making it vulnerable to defects and failure.  

How can a risk based approach in testing be used to support continuous improvement in software development?

It identifies continuous risks and areas of improvement and incorporates them into the software development process.  

What are the different types of risks?

Two categories of risks are associated with software development: positive risks, which entail opportunities to improve software stability and sustainability, and adverse risks, which are threats that must be mitigated to protect the system.  

How can we improve the quality of applications by using risk based testing?

Risk based testing prioritizes quality and early testing to enhance final product quality. Learn more in the article.   

For what kinds of projects is risk based testing most suitable?

Risk based testing suits projects that optimize testing resources, focus on critical areas, and ensure efficient test coverage. Find more in the article. 

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