I have been a quality assurance manager in the IT industry for more than a decade. Over that time, I have seen a dramatic change in delivery models and corresponding expectations. Many articles talk about how to adapt to the changing operating model from the delivery perspective. But I want to raise the topic of changes required from the perspective of a quality manager/assurance manager/process manager. It's Agile all around, and the person appointed as the quality assurance manager must adapt, learn, and respond as quickly to situations as the delivery teams by following Agile principles.
The role of the quality manager
The role of the quality manager is usually confused with testing. Quality manager, quality assurance manager, and quality consultant are several titles with the same roles and responsibilities that I have assumed over the years. (I will be using "QM" interchangeably for quality manager in this article.) In today’s Agile world, the QM is a person who acts as a process enabler, mentor or trainer, facilitator, auditor or reviewer, tracker, reporter of status in regard to various project parameters, and — more importantly — a consultant.
Changing times and expectations
In the classic role, the QM was the inspector who walked down project streets, caught a noncompliance, and raised a red flag. I remember those times when the success of a QM was judged by how many project conflicts he or she tackled.
The expectation was to predict a customer escalation. If the QM failed to predict the escalation, the individual was not doing his or her job. Though there might have been a defined vertical hierarchy of manager to senior manager to program manager to onsite manager, why bother them when you have a quality manager?
The QM made his or her presence known by raising the maximum number of nonconformances, conducting the maximum number of audits, and raising red flags. The more red status flags, the better the performance of the QM. Even though the projects might have been going through difficult issues, why concentrate on resolving the issue when you could simply highlight it?
The focus was more on documenting evidence than on collaborating with teams to unearth the facts.
I see a major shift in expectations, which has been gradually evolving in the last few years. Everyone is moving to an Agile environment, with an increase in markets and user needs.
What must change
Today's effective QM analyzes the project’s data and relies on data-based outcomes that have easy acceptance.
The QM must transform to:
- Become an enabler who simplifies processes rather than complicates them
- Become a guide or subject matter expert who resolves issues
- Generate and present all output in an Agile manner
- Create frequent deliveries
- Accept change
- Create a collaborative environment
- Create solutions that are smart, simple, and relevant to today’s needs
Success factors of a QM
What follows is a summary of the success factors of a QM. These success factors gain more importance as the industry changes.
Quality Charter: A QM’s contract
QMs should create a quality charter. The charter is the contract between the QM and business or management.
- Define 4–5 main areas of work based on the current role’s expectation, type of customer, type of gaps that you need to fill, and how the critical areas will be managed and governed.
- When you have defined the larger view in the charter, flesh out the details in collaboration with management and business to align with expectations for those areas.
- Divide your charter progress in phases, as you will not be able to do too many things simultaneously.
- Always prioritize projects and tasks, and get that prioritization approved by the right stakeholders.
- Continue to add to the list of activities and share the status with stakeholders.
By following these practices, the QM is aligned with the charter, which is designed together with business and management to track progress.
The dual role of subject matter expert
Quality management is a specific domain and requires unique knowledge and skills.
- You are a successful quality staff member if managers or project stakeholders come to you to get their impediments, issues, or queries resolved and to ask for your guidance as an expert.
- QM is now looked upon as the one-stop authority with answers to any process-related queries.
- The knowledge quotient is the main success component, and I would suggest that every aspiring or current QM go through industry standards such as Capers Jones, Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI)/ISO handbooks, PMBok/Prince2, and so on. These help build domain competency.
- Practice without knowledge leaves a big gap, which is exposed sooner or later. CMMI and ISO all are excellent models or standards for knowledge and to learn what is the right way for implementation. However, they must be earned for the right reasons (to actually acquire knowledge) and not simply for the sake of getting certified.
Skills such as analysis using Excel have become important because they provide numerous opportunities to unearth decision-making scenarios and help present critical information in more effective and simpler ways.
- There is a vast repository of data produced in projects that require various analyses and correlations to form judgments and decision points.
- Correlate project performance to profitability; maintain a correct pyramid structure, cost analysis, resource allocations as per contract, productivity baselines compared to industry standards, analysis of defects; derive suggestions from this to present to the customer. Monitor not only SLAs but business KPIs, continuous service improvements, and their indicators.
- Customers compare vendors based on data. They are asking vendors to support their claims with proper data and are installing their own tools to capture this data.
- Maturity Level 4 of the CMMI model talks about quantitative project management (QPM). The same method and statistical analysis that QPM recommends is now a major part of data analytics or predictive modeling. Since these terms are now mainstream, we think that the concept is something new, but the fact is that CMMI has been telling us to do this all along.
- The right data analysis exposes the critical areas to focus on and also enables us to create effective action plans.
- The QM no longer must emphasize the need to fill a gap when the gap will be shown clearly through data.
- The data analysis activity will be a pull rather than a push.
Resolution and Agile governance
- To guide the project and enable PMs to openly communicate their issues, the focus on audits must change. Consult to provide the necessary support/guidance instead of using nonconformance to flag it to management.
- The QM must help with effective root-cause analysis (RCA) rather than check only whether there is compliance.
- Encourage projects leaders to raise issues at the right time so that the QM can help with the resolution and can also raise the issues with the right people to gain their support.
- RCAs that are provided too late are not effective. Agile governance helps with not only identifying the issue but also resolving it, thus making the RCAs more effective.
- A timely response to the team and customer is essential.
- Run daily stand-ups or an introspection for 10 minutes to disclose your own progress and priority of the day.
Collaboration: A people-person.
Although the focus is on reviews and audits, collaboration at all levels has become increasingly important
- Interact with teams.
- Be on the floor to talk with and listen to people, and learn about what is actually happening.
- Refrain from relying only on what has been documented.
- Focus on effectiveness rather than compliance to processes, audits, and certifications.
The shift is definitely from an auditor role to a consultant and enabler role.
The importance of communication
Communication is an important part of this role. It’s a people’s role in which the QM talks and interacts with team members, senior management, and customers. Communication with and the distribution of relevant data to the right stakeholders is invaluable.
I don’t think there is much change in this area, but certainly the above-mentioned skills of analysis and presentation help.
Good alignment of information with stakeholders
Aligning with business and management needs is critical to the success of the QM role. Data or content presented to business or management is of less importance if it is not aligned with their goals and expectations. The misalignment will diminish the value of your role.
"Relevance of information" has become an integral part of the role because what and how to present should depend on the audience and the receiver of that information. The one thing everyone is short on is time
. Unless and until the audience understands and aligns with "What’s in it for me?" they will not acknowledge or appreciate your work.
Simplicity: The five-minute rule
Simplicity in work and while presenting is important. It reduces ambiguity and increases the spread and coverage of information.
I follow the five-minute rule while presenting to senior management. Whenever I have a discussion with management, it is important that they understand and relate to my presentation in the first five minutes, otherwise their interest level drops quickly and the topic becomes irrelevant.
The battle is won or lost in the first five minutes, so make the presentation simple, short, and crisp but complete and relevant. Be assured that making things look simpler yet effective is not that easy. Regardless, the QM should definitely strive to achieve this.
Innovation through acceptance of change
Another thing people are short on is patience. Be innovative and add to your activity list by driving initiatives and improvements. The initiative may be small, such as starting a process help desk for managers or sending weekly notifications about important and relevant areas.
Simplify templates or documents, which will save time for the implementers, and share knowledge of accessible skills, such as becoming a wizard in Excel.
Projects are continually changing to meet customer expectations, so the QM also needs to keep abreast with current alignments. Therefore, change through initiatives and improvements keeps everyone interested and engaged, and keeps your role alive.
Monitor and control via dashboards
From the QM’s perspective, one of the most important aspects is showcasing the progress of his or her work.
Use the dashboard to:
- Run frequency-based reports, trackers, calls, and meetings
- Collaborate with your stakeholders, learn their renewed/updated expectations, and better align with them
We all are working in Agile mode, in which our requirements and expectations may well change, and it is expected that everyone keep up with the changes.
The PMO and the quality manager
A thin line exists between the project management office and the QM, as the analysis part of PMO skills is also on the list of expectations for an effective QM.
Personally, I am still going through the transformation whereby the analysis, enabler role, training, and data representations are highly appreciated qualities.
What's in a role?
The QM role is tuned in to what your current organization wants, which can include audits, analysis, trainings, tracking, and reporting. This is where the quality charter helps, as every organization is different and has different expectations.
It is always best to use experience to illuminate the next steps or define the path within your own organization.
I wish you all the best in this changing role!