If you attended the Software Test & Performance Conference in Boston last September and you walked through the exhibit hall, chances are pretty good that you were asked for an opinion about offshoring and testing. QualiTest Group, a global testing and QA consultancy, and a conference sponsor, surveyed more than 200 people about the perceived effectiveness of their QA teams in relation to their proximity to developers and users.
The survey defined offshore testing as that which is “provided at a remote site often located in a different country and continent.” Onshore testing is defined as “provided at the customer site or at a dedicated test center within a two-hour drive from the customer site.” Of the respondents, 82% were managers, directors and other technical personnel directly involved with the QA and testing activities.
According to Yaron Kottler, CEO of QualiTest U.S. and author of the survey, the first question was intended to verify a basic conception about the practice. “The main reason companies turn to offshore testing solutions is to reduce costs. The survey findings concurred with this premise,” he said, citing that more than 86% of respondents agreed or somewhat agreed that [reducing] cost is the driver for offshore testing.
With that affirmed, the questions then examined factors that affect the total cost of testing, the first of which was geographical proximity. “We asked the survey participants whether the geographical closeness of the QA and testing team to the development and domain-experts teams has an effect on the quality of the system delivered,” said Kottler. More than 88% believed that close proximity of QA teams improves product quality.
Next was management attention, a high cost factor for any project. The thinking behind this question was that if a particular testing solution requires less management attention, it could significantly lower the cost of the entire project. “The survey asked which requires less management attention—offshore testing or onshore testing,” Kottler said. The results were close, and ultimately counterintuitive. Onshore testing was thought by 55% of respondents to require less management attention than farming out the service elsewhere. You might think the opposite were true, since offshore teams have their own managers. But other studies I’ve seen also say this isn’t so, and STPCon attendees are clearly up to speed on the downside of sending tasks out the door.
We’ve long been told—and have come to know by experience—that good communication is the key to the success of any project. So Kottler asked whether people believe there’s a difference between offshore and onshore testing in terms of the number of communication problems. More than 60% believe that onshore testing can eliminate most communication problems. This too goes a little against the grain of intuition, but is perhaps easier to understand. While managers should never cut back on communicating with staff, they’ve got the extra hurdles of time zones, geography, customs and language to jump when dealing with people in foreign lands. The next one’s a no-brainer. Nearly 80% of respondents believed that keeping the testing in-house also lets managers maintain more control over what’s going on. “Delivering a project on time is achieved by tightly controlling the project throughout its life cycle, [and] late delivery can have devastating effect on the project’s budget,” said Kottler.
Not as many believed that more people equals better quality. “When there is a need to increase the level of the testing, there is a natural desire to increase the number of personnel,” Kottler said. “However, increasing expertise and professionalism may be a more effective solution.” Close to 60% claimed that onshore testing can actually maintain or improve the level of testing with fewer people than offshore testing would, he said.
Most QA and testing professionals at the conference agreed that onshore QA and testing can increase quality, which Kottler said might indicate a management misconception regarding the actual, total cost of the QA and testing effort. “In light of this survey, there might be a need to reevaluate whether offshore testing is indeed the most cost effective alternative in comparison to onshore testing,” he said.