The secret to building a quality-centric culture

Redefining Quality Assurance

A Principal Consultant at Saratoga, Desigan Moonsamy, reveals that building a culture of quality is what puts businesses ahead.

By Rebecca Maserow

In the current climate, there is a lack of understanding for the true value of Quality Assurance and how it transforms both product / service delivery and company. With changes in technology, the role of a QA is being redefined as it evolves, and in doing so, perceptions of Quality Assurance are changing too.

Back when technology products were on floppy disks and plastic wrapped for customers who would carefully research before they bought, Quality Assurance played a very different role than it does today. Customers would often have to wait a year before the release of a product update to address outdated, buggy software.

Today the pace of product improvement is often a matter of a daily update, with social media providing an immediate and public platform for customer feedback. The role of Quality Assurance has changed almost entirely, although the mindset of traditional businesses is slow to catch up.

Saratoga understands the benefits of QA, including the savings in terms of effort and budget. Their team includes analysts and consultants employing Agile methodologies. As a principal consultant and head of the team, Desigan Moonsamy brings a new energy to the role and structure of Quality Assurance. He feels strongly that in order to improve products and lower costs of external failure, the entire team, not just the Quality Assurance Testers need to adopt an all round quality-centric culture.

Bake it in

Desigan talks about some of the challenges of establishing a QA competency: “There is a common misconception that testing documentation is cumbersome and used only for governance requirements. QA is seen as an expense, teams are often under-resourced, and budget cuts tend to happen in QA first. People see QA as a stepping stone to their ‘real’ career; making it hard to keep good people. There’s often little respect from peers in other roles.”

Many of these misconceptions stem from a lack of understanding of the discipline. The true value of QA is sadly lost on many managers. Experience teaches that nurturing a team which is Agile and supportive from day one of a project, lends itself to improved quality.

Desigan agrees with Tim McMahon that “the quality of an organisation can never exceed the quality of the minds that make it up.” A company has to commit to building a quality-centric culture, with managers leading by example. Everyone has to believe “every process and every action internal or external, should ultimately result in the value addition to the customer and the customer’s delight … The key to success lies in how well each employee is motivated and inspired to deliver quality work.”

An essential part of a business strategy, is that quality has to be baked into the process. Quality objectives apply to the collective organisation and not just the QA team. “Testers should be working with the team to move quality injection further to the left of the delivery cycle,” says Agile Practices consultant, Leanna Howard.

A popular way in which companies have achieved this is for managers to regularly check-in with cultural ‘signals’ that are conveyed to the company. What implicit messages is the team receiving that will affect their attitude to their work and the output of quality? Teams might focus on preventative process improvements rather than laying blame. Saratoga uses a performance review process to make the benefits of good quality releases tangible to all levels.

Traits of a great quality-centric culture

The question then becomes, “how do you create a quality-centric culture, where developers feel responsible for product quality and participate actively?”

Desigan explains that while teams are considered to be Agile, individuals tend to stick to their usual silos; the function of QA is still often seen to be something the tester takes care of. Quality should be seen as a team goal, it’s everyone’s problem to solve. “At the end of the day it’s all about mitigating problems with the product, these problems affect both testers and devs alike. There are different proven methods to implement a quality-centric culture, but they all start with Project Managers implementing Agile methodology.”

At Saratoga, Desigan has built a cross-functional QA team; the team self-organises to increase and decrease capacity as is needed. Cross-skilled individuals make calls on ambiguous problems finding the right route to long term solutions, organically maintaining quality and releasing superior products at the end of the day. This is understood to be successful only with the support of the whole team.

Perceptions are slowly changing, Quality Assurance as a profession is more visible and is viewed increasingly as a genuine career option, not just a foot in the door. Desigan quotes Gary Benkenstein, Project Manager and Agile champion at Saratoga, as saying “When you start, you’re a full stop. Then you develop into an ‘I’ and gradually build out the top part of your ‘T’. Saratoga’s approach to quality provides a well-rounded consulting service to our clients, not just siloed BA/QA/PM services.”

Desigan’s ultimate goal at Saratoga is to develop Principal Consultants that become delivery specialists. Experts who can come in and help the client deliver in multiple capacities. “I believe this is what separates us from the pack, our guys are cross-skilled. There is room to specialise, but we see that kick in only once a solid QA foundation has been built.”


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References:
McMahon, T. May 2012. A Lean Journey. Creating Quality Focused Culture.
December 2014. Rand In Repose. The QA Mindset.
Kurey, B. & Srinivasan, A. April 2014. Creating a Culture of Quality.
Howard, L. May 2015. PlanIt. Minimising Cost of Quality through Agile.