How QA teams can build a culture of quality: 8 key routes

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Shane Patrick, Director of Quality Assurance, Jama Software

Achieving product quality is a major challenge for quality assurance (QA) teams across the tech industry. Creating a culture of quality throughout your organization and making it part of the organizational DNA is the only reliable method to ensure that quality targets are met. The benefits of creating a culture of quality at your organization extend far beyond simply testing the product. 

Companies with a strong culture of quality see 46% fewer mistakes than those without, according to Harvard Business Review. This translates into real business value: For every 5,000 employees, improving your quality culture can save up to $67 million.

While achieving a culture of quality at the organizational level is the ultimate objective (and not achievable by QA alone), here are best practices and actions that teams can follow to get closer to the goal.

World Quality Report 2018-19: The State of QA and Testing

1. Provide actionable data

Having solid metrics that are tied to true customer satisfaction indicators is a critical step in getting buy-in across the organization and will bring credibility to quality concerns or improve the satisfaction that customers have with the product. Tying these metrics to areas such as customer retention, upsell opportunities, customer churn, and revenue is also key. 

Many QA teams simply measure engineering effectiveness by find/fix rates, bug density, deferral rates, etc., but best-of-breed teams relate these measures to customer satisfaction indicators that will give the full picture of quality effectiveness. Simply measuring engineering effectiveness is a bean-counting approach that misses the objective of capturing the impact that quality has on the customers using your products.

2. Align stakeholders

Knowing who your stakeholders are and how they affect quality within their role is another major key to success. Providing actionable data to the right influencers will inform decision making that drives quality across the organization.

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3. Participate in cross-functional meetings and processes

To have a voice in the organization, QA needs to be at the table for cross-functional meetings and processes such as:

Roadmap grooming and planning meetings

This is a great opportunity to ask question about code before it is implemented. The most efficient and productive opportunity to find bugs is before code is written. The secret to success is to ensure that code meets customers’ expectations and will be testable. Oftentimes, organizations think this involves too many opinions and perspectives and happens too early in the process. In reality, this is the best time to ask the questions that assure that quality will be achieved.  

The daily triage

Each day, have a cross-departmental meeting that includes folks from each functional group to decide how to deal with customer-affecting issues (escalations) or defects found by QA (based on internal testing) to decide if an immediate resolution is required. This team typically consists of support, QA, and product teams but should also include any functional group that hears or addresses quality concerns from customers.

Grooming team

Assemble a grooming team that’s focused on tackling the totality of issues affecting product quality across all products over time (often referred to as technical debt). This team will analyze and prioritize issues and have the authority to feed them through the product roadmap and Scrum planning for resolution. Whether it’s about specific bugs, enhancements, or ongoing issues, sharing input and ideas across departments helps facilitate learning and strengthens awareness of quality.

Zero tolerance for delays

QA should advocate for the customer and help the organization avoid the temptation to defer issues that will impact quality. Sometimes, it’s out of your control based on things such as time-to-market pressures, but whenever possible, encourage the organization to fix issues immediately. Deferring known issues only leads to accumulations down the road. You’d be surprised how quickly 10 issues can turn into 100, which is why proactivity is key.  

4. Have clear policies and definitions that advocate for quality

Setting policies for deferral based on the severity of an issue can provide the guardrails that will remove emotion when making a decision about whether an issue can be deferred or not. Criteria for your severity levels should consider the following:

  • What impact will an issue have on the customer? (Does the issue cause a crash? Does it present a problem regarding data integrity, data loss, or security?)
  • What is the material impact to the organization?
  • What is your exposure? (How likely is it that the issue will occur, and how many customers will be affected?)
  • Is there a reasonable workaround? 

Note: Avoid the temptation to defer lower-severity issues because they are minor. A significant number of lower-severity issues can have a large impact on customers’ perception of quality over time and degrade the usability of the product.

5. Define ready

Have a clear definition of "ready" that includes criteria that describe whether requirements (acceptance criteria) are testable and clearly state the users’ expected experience before the team attempts to provide a solution.

6. Define done

Have a clear definition of "done" that includes criteria that describe whether all validation activities have been completed with acceptable results. This should include whether unit tests have been added, functional testing is complete, performance implications have been considered, data integrity validation has been completed, security validation has been completed, automation tests are passing, and regression implications have been considered, as well as any other forms of validation that need to be considered before the story should be closed.

7. Invest in the right tools and infrastructure

To have a truly world-class QA organization, you need to invest in the tooling and infrastructure that will deliver repeatable and reliable results. Being able to provide accurate data that is timely for decision making is critical to characterize risk and provide insight into quality. The more confident decision makers are regarding QA results, the more likely they are to understand and act on the data.

8. Do not delay

The sooner you get started on a culture of quality, the better.

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