Continuous Testing: How to Measure & Improve Code Quality

One basic but important customer expectation is that their software product should be of very good quality

Categories: Testing and QA

Software engineers naturally strive to write code that is not only functional but also of high quality. However, ensuring code quality can be a challenge, especially when working on complex projects with multiple developers. This is where continuous testing, an essential process for measuring and improving code quality, comes in.

Continuous testing is a methodology that involves ongoing code analysis, in order to identify and fix issues as they arise rather than waiting until the end of the development cycle. By integrating this process into our development workflows, we can catch potential issues early on and achieve not only higher-quality code but faster development cycles, as well.

In this article, we will explore the importance of continuous testing and how it can help us measure and improve code quality. We will discuss some of the key metrics used to measure code, the greatest challenges you’ll have to overcome, and common mistakes to avoid.

Common Barriers to Code Quality

Managing Complexity

As software systems become more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that every part of the codebase is high-quality. This is particularly true in large-scale projects that involve multiple developers working on different parts of the system. As the codebase grows, it becomes more difficult to understand, debug, and maintain, which can lead to quality issues.

Ensuring Consistency Across the Codebase

When multiple developers are working on the same project, it's important to ensure that they are all following the same coding standards and best practices. This can be challenging, particularly in larger organizations where different teams may have different approaches to software development. Inconsistencies can lead to quality issues, as well as increased development time and effort.

Balancing Code Quality with Business Needs

While high-quality code is desirable, it's not always possible or practical to achieve perfection. Developers must balance the need for high-quality code with the business needs of the organization. This can involve making trade-offs between code quality, development time, and resource allocation. Sometimes, speed and agility are more important than code quality, especially in fast-paced environments or when responding to urgent business needs. Balancing these factors can be a delicate task, requiring careful consideration and a nuanced understanding of the organization's goals and priorities.

Recommended reading: In Software Engineering, How Good is Good Enough? by Dr. Jim Walsh

Scaling Testing

While automated testing has become more prevalent in recent years, it can still be difficult to create comprehensive test suites that cover all possible scenarios. Additionally, manual testing is still required in many cases, which can be time-consuming and error-prone. Incomplete or inadequate testing can lead to quality issues, such as bugs and performance problems, that may only become apparent after the code has been deployed.

Maintaining Documentation

While documentation is often overlooked, it is an essential part of maintaining high-quality code. Documentation provides context and guidance for developers who may be working on the codebase in the future. However, creating and maintaining documentation can be time-consuming, particularly in rapidly evolving systems.

Technical Debt

Technical debt is another challenge that can impact code quality. Technical debt refers to the accumulation of shortcuts and compromises made during development that can impact the quality and maintainability of the codebase. Technical debt can arise due to time constraints, changing requirements, or other factors. As technical debt accumulates, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain code quality, as well as slowing down future development efforts.

Staying Current with New Technologies and Best Practices 

As software engineering continues to evolve rapidly, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest developments in technology and best practices. Staying up-to-date requires continuous learning and experimentation, which can be time-consuming and require significant effort. It also requires an investment of budget from the company, and tends to be early on the chopping block when executives are looking for places to trim costs. However, failing to stay up-to-date can result in quality issues and missed opportunities for improvement.

What is Continuous Testing?

Continuous testing is a software development methodology that involves continuously monitoring and analyzing code to identify and fix issues as they arise, rather than waiting until the end of the development cycle. 

The goal of continuous testing is to ensure that software is of high quality and meets the organization's requirements, while also reducing the time and effort required to find and fix defects.

How Does Continuous Testing Improve Code Quality?

When you implement continuous testing in your development process, you use automated tools to analyze code continuously throughout the development process. These tools can detect a wide range of issues, including coding standards violations, security vulnerabilities, performance bottlenecks, and other issues that can impact code quality.

This enables organizations to catch and fix issues earlier in the development cycle, reducing the risk of defects and improving code quality. Continuous testing can also help to ensure that code is maintainable, scalable, and secure, and can help companies meet their regulatory and compliance requirements.

Continuous testing is often used in conjunction with other development methodologies, such as continuous integration and continuous delivery. By integrating these methodologies into a unified workflow, organizations can ensure that their software is of high quality and is delivered quickly and efficiently.

How to Measure Code Quality

The best code quality measurement practices are proactive rather than reactive, and ongoing. Let’s take a look at the different ways to measure code quality and the pros and cons of each approach.

Code Reviews

Code reviews are a manual approach to measuring code quality, in which one or more developers examine the code for adherence to coding standards, performance, readability, maintainability, and other factors. Code reviews can be time-consuming, but they offer a comprehensive view of the codebase and can provide valuable insights into the quality of the code.

Automated Code Analysis

Automated code analysis tools are designed to identify potential issues in code by analyzing its structure, syntax, and other characteristics. These tools can identify issues such as coding standards violations, security vulnerabilities, and performance bottlenecks. Automated code analysis tools are fast and efficient, but they can be less accurate than manual code reviews and may produce false positives.

Recommended reading: Which Software Metrics to Choose, and Why?

Code Coverage

Code coverage measures the percentage of code that is executed by tests. This metric is useful for identifying areas of the codebase that are not adequately covered by tests, as well as detecting bugs and defects in the code. Code coverage is a quantitative approach to measuring code quality, but it is not a comprehensive measure of code quality and should be used in conjunction with other metrics.

Technical Debt 

Technical debt is a metaphorical term that describes the accumulation of shortcuts and compromises made during development that can impact the quality and maintainability of the codebase. Measuring technical debt involves identifying and quantifying the trade-offs made during development and the impact they have on the codebase. Technical debt can be measured using tools such as SonarQube or CodeClimate.

Cyclomatic Complexity

Cyclomatic complexity is a metric that measures the complexity of code by counting the number of independent paths through the code. This metric can help identify areas of the codebase that are overly complex and may be difficult to maintain or modify. Cyclomatic complexity can be measured using tools such as McCabe IQ or SonarQube. See the guide below to learn more:

Click to read What is Cyclomatic Complexity? How to Calculate & Reduce it? | GlobalLogic


Continuous improvement means rather than fixing quality issues as they surface in reports, you tackle them proactively and commit to detecting and fixing them as they occur. Apart from quality plugins used with automated builds, IDE plugins and CI plugins help a great deal in achieving the holistic agenda of clean code.

Committing to continually reviewing and improving your testing practices helps ensure the delivery of high-quality software that meets the needs and expectations of users and will make your business more sustainable over time. Here are a few tips for implementing continuous testing in your organization:

  1. Make testing a collaborative effort: Involve your entire development team, including developers, testers, and quality assurance professionals, in the testing process. This can help ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal and can improve the overall quality of your software.
  2. Automate as much as possible: Automation is an essential part of continuous testing, as it enables you to run tests quickly and efficiently. Invest in automated testing tools and frameworks, and make sure that your tests are easily repeatable and scalable.
  3. Use metrics to measure progress: Define metrics that help you track progress and measure the effectiveness of your testing process. For example, you might track the number of defects found, the time it takes to fix defects, or the percentage of code coverage achieved.
  4. Continuously evaluate and improve your testing process: Take a continuous improvement approach to testing and evaluate your testing process regularly. Look for areas where you can improve and implement changes that can help you test more effectively and efficiently.
  5. Foster a culture of quality: Quality should be a core value of your development team. Foster a culture of quality by setting high standards and expectations for your team, and by recognizing and rewarding quality work.
  6. Stay up-to-date with industry trends: The software development industry is constantly evolving, and it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies. Attend conferences, read industry publications, and engage with other professionals in your field to stay informed and learn new techniques and strategies.

Learn more:




Nitin Unni

Associate Vice President, Technology

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