Successful Software Quality Management

Solving this problem set is simple: business managers must clearly understand the quality requirements of their products, be willing to make appropriate strategic decisions about them, and then put in place a quality management function. In the past, this has meant funding an independent software quality management group that does not report to engineering, and insists on disciplined behavior during the whole process. The group is typically used as a measurement and control mechanism.

Traditionally, an executive-level vice president, director, or manager of quality probably reported directly to the business manager. This provided adequate budget, experience, and power to enforce quality disciplines, and act as a gate for product release cycles. Currently, quality is often approached by integrating the quality functions into development teams via senior quality people, and establishing a clear, appropriate process for control of quality during development. While this can improve the organization's ability to develop high-quality products on time and within budget, it does not provide an objective, independent view of product quality to the business manager.

Alternatively, strong business managers can require that the quality function (usually just a test group) report to them directly. They can hire a vice president of quality to work directly for them, and manage the test function. They can ensure that the development vice president also views product quality management as important and sees the need for an independent quality function.

In the end, the business manager must spend a significant amount of effort and dollars to develop a strong QA organization. Three years ago, for example, one CEO of a leading software company placed QA directly under him. Unfortunately, the QA manager was not strong enough, and a major release was shipped with significant problems. Only then did the CEO finally understand the caliber of manager required, and it took another few months to find that person. Now the company is in the rebuilding phase, and the jury is still out on the success of this approach. It is actually unusual that a business manager would make these decisions. Instead, most continue to struggle with this problem but never really solve it.

For business managers to succeed in the software business, both internal and external quality management functions require the following characteristics:

■ The business manager's clear definition and enforcement of a quality policy

■ Authority directly from the business manager, and independence, at least within the organization

■ Team stability and maturity as evidenced by pay, promotional opportunities, and team tenure comparable to development; an understanding of the business of developing successful software products; and earned respect from the whole organization

■ Ongoing investment in generic software testing and QA skills

■ Ongoing investment in tools and process improvement for the QA and test functions

■ An incentive structure that reinforces both effectiveness and efficiency in the QA and testing functions

If a company spends its resources in meeting these requirements, it can and will maintain a powerful quality assurance function equal to the other elements required for product success. However, these investments are often difficult for organizations to justify, and they require sustained interest by the business manager. A viable alternative is to outsource some or all of software quality management, software quality assurance, or quality control to a third-party specialist in this area.

Outsourcing some or all aspects of the software quality management function is an emerging approach to the quality problem that has evolved naturally. This solution recognizes that the quality function must be done well, but it need not be a strategic internal competency. Quality management, quality assurance, and test comprise a discipline, complete with a generic methodology, process, and tools. Companies must determine whether it is a strategically good investment for them to outsource, or to develop and maintain this functional expertise themselves — which is an expensive proposition.

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