Risk-based Testing: Key Strategy for Complex and Business-critical Software Development Projects

Developing bug-free software, especially for complex and mission-critical applications, is always a challenge. However, quality assurance in software development has evolved to the point where the number of system defects can be significantly reduced.

In enterprise projects, specification-based, efficiency-based, and structure-based test design methods have dominated. However, risk-based testing has played a minor role. Given the increasing complexity and scope of software, the question arises under what conditions risk-based testing could play a greater role.

Risk-based testing, as defined in the ISTQB glossary, focuses on risk types and levels when selecting, prioritizing and applying test activities and resources. The strength of risk-based testing lies in the targeted detection of defects in system or software components with the highest risk. Efficient control of test activities such as test specification, test scripting and test execution enables a focused test strategy. Transparent communication throughout the process, involving project managers, customers and other stakeholders, contributes to excellent results.

Weaknesses of risk-based testing

However, risk-based testing also has weaknesses, particularly in the identification and selection of tests to be performed. The approach is not sufficiently systematic, and the quality of the results often depends heavily on the person selecting the tests. Transparent communication alone cannot completely prevent major errors in test selection. As a result, test results are often only partially meaningful, especially when they are predominantly positive.

To systematize test selection and fully leverage the strengths of risk-based testing, new tool-based approaches rely on robust and traceable data. This data comes from a variety of sources, such as versioning tools, bug reporting tools, and structural code coverage tools. Systematic analysis of this data enables the creation and execution of high-priority tests. After the initial execution, the results can be systematically analyzed and tests can be added as needed.

When is risk-based testing suitable?

Overall, risk-based test design methods are recommended for various application scenarios. They are particularly useful for testing very large, complex software systems, and in situations where critical success aspects cannot be efficiently defined with requirements. Risk-based test design methods are also useful in situations where rapid feedback on software changes is required, where the execution of all tests takes longer than one night, and in safety-critical software systems in the early stages of development.

As the complexity of technical systems continues to increase, software development will continue to play a critical role. In the long term, risk-based testing may become increasingly important, especially if the new tool-supported approaches can be successfully implemented in practice.

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