To establish quality thinking in a company, employees must be involved in developing measures and selecting testing tools. A guest article by Avenga CEO Jan Webering in “Computerwoche”.
In the “age of the customer”, quality is the most important criterion for the success of a digital service. Today, every consumer can easily compare competitors’ prices, product information and services within a very short time. If they fail to find what they are looking for straight away, because, for example, a website, online shop or platform is confusing or takes too long to load, they can switch to a competitor’s offer with just a few clicks. To meet the ever-increasing demands of users, companies must therefore constantly keep their digital offerings up to date and make them available for different devices and browsers.
To gain employee acceptance, it helps to involve them in the process for selecting new tools.
In practice, this challenge often means the development cycle of bug fixes and enhancements is not strategically planned. Instead, day-to-day business is tactical, as deadlines have to be met and live connections guaranteed.
As a result, for example, previously defined processes and programming standards are not adhered to, or bug fixes are partially made during operation and without documentation. This complicates the later integration of new features and functions into existing systems, which in turn results in new errors and incompatibilities. This almost inevitably leads to a vicious circle.
Quality assurance and related testing are essential to address the root causes of this self-reinforcing process, as well as to provide reliable and high-quality digital services sustainably.
After the numerous personal conversations with the large companies’ employees one can get the impression that the importance of quality assurance is acknowledged and, as a rule, sufficient budget is available for purchasing tools which support it. The responsible decision-makers therefore only have to discover which solution best meets the needs of their company or department – at least this is the theory.
Practice shows, however, that the selected tools far too rarely deliver the desired results. This is often due less to inherent weaknesses than to the fact that they do not optimally support the way employees work. Especially in the areas of quality control and development, there are numerous software monoliths which are designed to support a wide range of tasks, but do not represent the optimal solution for special requirements.
This is made more difficult by the fact that some oversized instruments often prescribe a fixed work and procedure and, unlike simple application software such as Word or Excel, do not allow employees to use only those functions which they actually need. However, experience has shown that employees find amazingly creative ways to work around tools that interfere with their workflow. But how do decision makers recognize the right tool for employees’ needs?
Successful quality assurance always begins with the employees. They are the experts in their field and usually know what they need. They know how they work in their day-to-day business and can therefore often provide valuable information about the advantages and disadvantages for them of a particular solution.
Especially with warmer weather outside, and legs already dangling in the lake, staff motivation often dips.
To avoid expensive training, companies should not only pay attention to the purpose of the software. Equally important selection criteria are, for example, the employee structure, the previously common form of cooperation and the existing know-how in the team. Even if exactly the same goals are to be achieved in two different companies or departments, the best possible measures and preferred tools do not have to be identical.
A practical example of this shows how important it is to win the support of the employees even, at a first glance, in the case of marginal changes, and what positive results this approach leads to. The customer’s development department works in weekly cycles, with an inventory being made every Monday and new work packages distributed.
In order to guarantee the quality of the work performed, the team relies on a four-eyes principle. A standardized checklist is processed to determine whether all assigned tasks have actually been completed properly. In order to ensure the greatest possible transparency, the list is available to both the controller and the developer during their work. Normally, an acceptance protocol would be created in the course of the review process, but the responsible persons in the company have refrained from doing so.
In order not to introduce a corresponding document without the approval of the employees, the quality management decided to systematically record the tasks to be performed and to check the results for efficiency and quality.
It quickly became clear that the error rate was well above an acceptable level despite the checklist review. Since many work steps built on each other and development could not be continued until the defects were rectified, there were repeated delays.
Possible causes were:
Without a protocol, however, it was almost impossible to discover a causal connection between the discrepancies that occurred time and again. After this problem had been demonstrated with various examples, the necessity of written documented acceptance was not only acknowledged, but demanded by some developers themselves. In the following weeks, the protocol introduced subsequently identified and eliminated various sources of error, so that both the output of the team and the quality of the work performed increased significantly.
This example shows it is far more promising, if employees are involved as early as possible in the search for solutions, to define quality objectives as such and then to insist on measures to comply with them. This is because when selecting measures and tools, it is not only the objective that is decisive, but also the individual corporate culture, the team structure, existing communication channels and the expectations of the team members. In order for a quality mindset to develop, these factors should be taken into account.
This is why it is important to design measures that are actually supported by employees within a company. Only then should tools be jointly sought with which they can be implemented. In addition, the motivation of employees to use a tool increases enormously through their participation in the selection and decision-making process. This also applies, of course, if the quality objectives change over time and measures and aids have to be adapted.
[This article by Avenga CEO Jan Webering first appeared in “Computerwoche”.]