Thursday, October 10, 2013

Turning QA into Leaders

July 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dr. describes the burgeoning integration of technology into the medical field with the very human art of listening to the patient. Listening to the patient, he proposes, is a key driver to reducing the ultimate expense of medical cost to both patient, doctor, and medical infrastructure.

Patients are generally unskilled at self-diagnosis.  Likewise, software projects do not run themselves. The quality of leadership and experience necessary to know when to implement tools and who to bring onto the team is a delicate balance between creating the vision behind a product and driving a timeline that will give users what they want. The quality of an enterprise web application or internet web site is measured by both a checklist of functionality expected from the product but also the experience that the user has with the product. The end-goal of a web product is to both help the user get what they want and do so in a fun, engaging fashion.

So who drives this leadership?

The obvious answer is management. It’s easy to glance up the conference room table at the project manager with a look that says, “I don’t know what to do here. Good luck.” Project managers are trained in process and measuring project state – the PM role is not designed to be a driver of innovation, although some Project Managers are quite innovative.  Likewise, one might also look to the business champion or other senior leaders to provide this guidance. Usually well-intentioned, these senior executives are usually double booked with meetings all day and don’t have the time or resources to dip down into project teams to provide the guiding hand that a web product needs. Developers, programmers, and product managers are all also caught up in the content of their own goals and daily work. So who does that leave?

Barry A. Doublestein, MD, Chairman, The Institute for Leadership in Medicine, describes the finder points of leadership as “strategic foresight, thinking, and desigh; visioneering; change; global integration; creativity; innovation; and human capital development.” Going beyond management, Doublestein suggests, is about a “true commitment to training strategic leaders from within.” This frame of mind is just where I sense the science of Quality Assurance sits today: a great potential to step into the game of enterprise software development and play a much stronger strategic role.

A testing organization can choose to be just that – gateways to production pushes, the last toll booth before sign-off, the heralders of the wand that blesses a deployment. There is nothing wrong with this model. In my experience, today’s larger web software projects demand more of QA, and rightly so. I propose that a QA organization can be much more than just a testing team.

As a QA organization grows to become familiar with the intricacies of the architecture, advantages, and limitations of a web software product, they will be in a unique position to not only develop a gut sense of the products’ architecture, but they will also be in the best position to represent the end user. QA can put on their User Hat and really get into the shoes of the different classes of users working with the web product to get a job done. Admin users, regular users, power users: with the guiding hand of an experienced QA manager, QA can build both the imagination behind the variety of testing and the distribution of feature-driven test coverage necessary to evaluate the product. This puts QA in a powerful position as thought leaders for what should happen next.

Product managers won’t have a fully-baked notion of exactly what they want their web application to do. They’ll have a vision, they will guide a design, and they will think deeply about what is delivered versus what they thought they want. QA has a place at this table should they choose to assert themselves – whether project management knows it or not. Gentle suggestions from QA, when presented in a manner of “Have you considered this option” or “I have an idea about this work flow, what do you think about this scenario” are almost always received with thoughtful acknowledgment.

As with most things, what you’re selling isn’t as important as how you sell it. QA will naturally develop not only a subject matter expertise with the product under development, but will also build a strong sense of software development process and checklists that must be followed consistently to uphold a promise of stability and feature-rich experience to the user. Step out of the “tester role” and assert yourself to leverage this power – you will find that project teams give a deep thanks and respect to QA organizations that provide insight and forethought in addition to testing and evaluative services on enterprise web projects.

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