Quality-driven means Customer-driven
By: Claude Fenner
The bottom line as far as quality is concerned, is a satisfied customer or end user. Within a business, certain organizations are responsible for setting customer expectations, typically marketing, sales, and support. Other organizations, such as software development and professional services, are in charge of fulfilling expectations. The essence of customer-driven quality ultimately boils down to all of these organizations working together to meet or exceed customer expectations.
The quality organization should always play an active role in making sure the right things are happening along the entire chain, from marketing through software development and on to support. This means proactively looking up and down the chain for potential expectation mismatches. It means engaging other organizations to anticipate where problems are likely to be introduced. It means influencing other organizations to proactively make adjustments that will eliminate expectation mismatches.
The challenge is to aim the quality organization at exactly the
right information sources
Getting to customer-driven quality means being selective with existing information and proactively creating new information sources.
Here are some guidelines about choosing sources that produce a good customer perspective. The best results are achieved when you use a mixture of them all.
Existing sources - always beneficial
Customer Defect Data: Look at this data if the software is already in production. Besides showing you specific bugs, this data often reveals important usage patterns previously unseen by the QA team.
Existing sources - beneficial in moderation
Functional Specification: Use the spec in moderation. A well written spec is always a great asset, but it can drown a team in details, causing them to overlook important usage scenarios. A poorly written spec is worse, most often because it is incomplete. The written word is seductive and QA teams often become over-dependent on it as their golden standard.
Internal Defect Data: Internally discovered defects are useful as long as they are justified and prioritized against customer realities.
Caution: Donít become over-dependent on these information sources, because they provide the least amount of information about how customers use the software.
New sources - excellent for customer-driven quality
Customer Proxies: A customer proxy is someone who can truly stand in the shoes of customers. Usually these people are business analysts, account managers, and inbound marketing and sales personnel. They are a vital information source especially if the software is new and not yet in production.
Technical Support: Use tech support to find out about "defects" that are not being reported because workarounds exist.
Customer Profiles: Look at future events at customer sites that could break the software. Usually these are due to planned expansion, technology changes, and shifts in load.
QA and development organizations can be
their own worst enemy
Quality organizations, engineering teams, and outsourcers are often guilty of ignoring the interests of customers by focusing on their own inward-looking quality metrics. While good internal processes are essential to the successful operation of a business, bear in mind that quality is ultimately about creating an excellent customer experience.
Letís look at a case where an existing QA team I acquired started off hopelessly bogged down and incapable of operating with a customer-driven perspective.
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