The Future Of Software Quality Management

In determining the future management of the software quality function, early successes indicate that the next logical development is outsourcing the entire QA function, or some appropriate portion thereof. This outsourcing model can directly address the critical cultural and management problems identified in this article. It can also provide improved quality and cost savings for the software company served.

These advantages result from the unique characteristics of the outsourced QA team. First, many of the cultural problems are solved, because the personnel belong to a company whose primary focus is software QA. In such an organization, the software QA engineer is a "first-class" citizen, with all of the status and advantages the term implies. There is a well-defined career path, with the associated training and financial rewards. Stability and maturity can develop because the QA engineers are motivated to stay with the organization and develop as first-rate professionals.

Second, the QA team is set up as a profit-and-loss center with its own competent P&L or business manager (who is the vendor's QA ma nager). Therefore, the team has a profit motive for doing a better and more efficient job of providing the customer with software QA services.

Although top-notch internal QA teams are often dedicated and self-sacrificing, it is extremely difficult for a company to financially reward them when they do a great job. QA is not a typical career path to senior management positions, and QA salary levels are generally capped below those of development. Even when a company offers a bonus plan or stock options, such rewards are only indirectly tied to the actual effectiveness and efficiency of the QA team.

By contrast, when a QA team is set up as its own P&L center, it has a very tangible financial motivation for finding the most efficient ways to be most effective at its tasks. While an internal QA manager has little incentive to terminate a "temp" when the project is complete, a P&L manager with a bonus tied to financial results does have this incentive. When equipment is no longer required to perform a testing task, the internal QA group typically keeps it for some undefined future use. A P&L manager cannot afford to keep unproductive equipment as an expense. Most importantly, a profit- motivated group with an experienced management team will find creative ways to increase effectiveness, making the customer happy, and improve the efficiency of the activities — that is, decrease costs.

Dozens of QA organizations waste thousands of dollars and hours of time attempting to automate testing — only to fail. Not only did the team lack the experience required to succeed, but there was no serious enough consequence for failure. Neither factor operates in an outsourced QA team. The costs of failure are reflected in the team's paychecks, and the relationship with their single customer is placed at significant risk. A broken promise to automate testing can cause serious mistrust, ending in potential disaster for both the client company and the outsourced QA team.

The third critical factor is the direct relationship between the outsourced QA team and the business manager of their "parent" company (i.e., the customer that the QA team came from). This alone solves both critical problems of software business managers. The very act of making the QA team independent and directly responsible to the business manager (instead of an engineering or other vice-president) places strategic emphasis on software QA. In addition, the business manager has an effective mechanism for monitoring the quality of products under development, in order to take decisive actions.

Through its direct relationship with the business manager, the QA team can also influence the overall software development process. The relationship offers power to "push back" development managers and teams who are shortcutting their own processes. This cannot happen effectively when QA reports to the same vice-president as development.

The QA team can also suggest improvements to the development process that will enhance product quality and increase effectiveness. For example, programming hooks can be added to support test automation, or the product architecture standards can be improved to enhance testability and maintenance.

Finally, outsourcing software QA can result in lowered overall costs for the client company. These take the form of improved quality and lower costs for customer support, of interim fixes and releases, and of better customer retention. In addition, because a profit-oriented QA team is more cost conscious than an internal team, the software QA organization's cost savings can be passed along to the client. Finally, in the new model of full QA function outsourcing, costs can be lowered even more, as there is more emphasis on process improvement for the entire development cycle.

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