Reducing Risks & Boosting Quality with External Evaluations

Reducing Risks & Boosting Quality with External Evaluations

Finding flaws in one’s own work is not easy: Image trying to write a critique of a paper you just have written. Doing this is a risky proposition because finding flaws in one’s own work is usually counter to the human mind. Likewise, the testing of a new software and/or hardware project shouldn’t be entirely done by the project team. PMs know that testing new software and/or hardware products before they’re released is an important part of risk management, but determining precisely what the project team should evaluate and what independent experts should evaluate can be more complicated.

The Project Team’s Role

I believe project teams should do their own testing for the first two phases of the development process: unit testing (the isolated testing of each path of code) and functional testing (the testing of each function). The PM must plan and establish a trackable process for these activities so that the outcome is to be predictable which has a direct impact on the success of independent testing. “A bad beginning makes a bad ending.” – Euripides

The Need for Independent Testing

The final three phases – component, system, and regression tests – should be done independently by someone outside the project team. Component testing is when the components are evaluated together. System testing is an examination of the product in a total systems environment with other software and/or software combinations. Regression testing is the final examination. It verifies that all the functions of the product work as intended, and the quality and performance of the product is tracked.

The point of component-system-regression testing is to find defects or shortcomings in your final product. Having an independent in-house team or an external third party to do this is best for several reasons:

  • They are more likely to find errors. Project teams can lack the motivation for evaluating their own work: a mindset of wanting to expose errors or defects and the ability of thinking outside of the box. They might assume no errors exist, and we know that finding flaws in one’s own work is not easy! Finally, external testing finds more defects compared to testing performed by the project team.
  • They can be faster. Experts (e.g., Underwriters Laboratories) specialize in testing, and this experience and speed can reduce time to market.
  • They can discover the unexpected. Learning that the product does something it’s not supposed to do is valuable information – but it’s not something that project teams might think to look for.
  • They often have more experience and certifications than project teams. Testing experts likely have better tools, debuggers, tactics, and techniques. Relying on these professionals also eliminates the potential for conflicts of interest, so the testing can produce unbiased findings. In short, you have access to the best testing talent.
  • They will push a component or system beyond the limits of its specified requirements to determine the load under which it has bottlenecks and/or how it fails. This validates error management routines, and ensures that a software or product functions properly, even when it receives invalid data.
  • They will conduct usability testing to make sure the user interface is easy to use. This is important for successful implementation and user satisfaction.
  • They will do security testing if confidential data is involved. This will make sure hackers can’t find any backdoor ways into the system.
  • They can provide data for the customer’s quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) review functions. Such data also can help to identify potential savings.
  • They can provide evidence in legal proceedings. For instance, if there are patents and product liability claims, you will have external, verifiable information in your records.


External testing is about reducing the risk of project shortcomings and playing a pivotal role in enhancing end-user satisfaction. It increases your chances for overall success and decreases operational life costs (e.g., the hassle and cost of hiring and training testers is eliminated, and flaws can be corrected more quickly to increase accuracy), which makes it a valuable investment. Your thoughts in the comment section below are welcomed.

Related Content

Why Impartial Testing is a Non-Negotiable

Avoiding Root Causes of Troubled Projects

Read more articles by Ronald B. Smith, PMP

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Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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