Educating executives about quality

Leading Quality book

Mom and apple pie“Quality” is like Mom and apple pie. Ask a CTO what level of quality she wants her organization to deliver, and she’ll say something like, “The best possible quality, of course!” But what does that mean?

In my experience, most business stakeholders, C-level executives, and even many managers of development organizations have only a vague understanding of quality and what it really means to the business and its customers. They rarely understand testing, beyond a vague idea that “we should automate all that testing so we can get rid of the manual testers and that painful testing bottleneck”.

It’s sad how often a development manager has told me they want the best quality, but when I probe deeper, their team doesn’t have continuous integration, they aren’t doing proven practices like test-driven development or indeed even any kind of unit tests, and they have the idea that hiring a Software Development Engineer in Test will solve all their quality problems.

The whole company owns quality

For many years I’ve been keen to educate all these people in the management hierarchy about why quality matters and why they should support the huge investment usually needed to help software delivery teams gain the ability to consistently deliver an appropriate level of product quality. It’s not only about how many bugs are found in production. It’s about producing a product that solves customer problems, It’s about making the business successful. And, it’s about nurturing a learning environment where we all get to enjoy what we do on a daily basis.

Janet Gregory and I (and many others) have been saying for a couple of decades now that quality is the responsibility of the whole team, and that extends to the whole business. As testers, we’re in a position to help non-testers, especially managers and business stakeholders, learn about different testing activities and how they add value for the business. We can help executives understand why we need to slow down now to go faster later.

And today there are lots of resources to help us do that. The Modern Testing Principles from Alan Page and Brent Jensen articulate well the idea of testers as quality coaches and consultants. Janet’s and my 10 Principles for Agile Testers support testers in helping their delivery teams build quality in. Among the other resources are two short books and one longer one which I think will engage managers at any level, and help them understand why they need to invest in quality.

Agile Testing Condensed: A Brief Introduction

Agile Testing CondensedYep, shameless plug for Janet’s and my new book. It’s under 100 pages, so even busy executives can give it a quick read. A big part of our motivation in writing it was to have a small book that managers would be willing to pick up.

In our little book, we explain important basics to build quality into your product, including testing early and learning from production use. We cover the whole continuous loop of software product and feature development, from testing feature ideas to see if they are viable and well-thought-out, to using feedback from production to improve quality.

We included a chapter with short essays from some leading testing practitioners on how the role and job of testers is evolving, including this idea that we help everyone in the business understand the need for quality.

Leading Quality: How Great Leaders Deliver High Quality Software & Accelerate Growth

Leading Quality bookRonald Cummings-John and Owais Peer learned the hard way why quality matters – they co-founded a startup that went bust because the product quality was poor. Their book is aimed at managers, execs and business stakeholders, giving them the basics of testing and quality. And it is also a nice short book.

What’s especially important is that it helps all of us remember to focus on business outcomes. Our customers don’t care about bug counts or test coverage. They care whether their problems are being solved. And the business cares about achieving success metrics. What indicators correlate with customers buying our product? Is our testing aimed at achieving those indicators?

The book is available in ebook, print and audiobook. I love the audio book, it’s fun to hear how excited Ron Cummings-John is about testing and quality as he reads the book!

This book reminds us of the importance of leadership and vision in building a culture of quality. This leads me to the last book I’ll mention in this post.

Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps – Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations

Accelerate bookDr. Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Km evaluated several years’ worth of results from the State of DevOps Survey to show what Science says about how teams succeed with quality. I am so thrilled that Science backs up what I have experienced for the past few decades. When teams own quality together, and work together to make sure the right testing activities are done at the right time, they can deliver small increments of value to their customers incredibly frequently, at a sustainable pace.

The book explains all the data, then explains the transformative leadership needed to build the culture to support that kind of success. Again, the audio version of the book, read by Dr. Forsgren, is awesome. It’s not a really short book, but it’s not awfully long either. If your “higher-ups” aren’t willing to read the book, encourage them to check out the TL;DR version, the executive summary of the 2019 report.

Getting buy-in to invest in quality

This is already a pretty long post, but if you want more ideas in how to “sell” your managers and business stakeholders on the need to do what it takes to build quality in, I have a recent post on the mabl blog about getting management buy-in. It has more references that will help you influence key decision makers. Learn to speak the language of your business. Learn what matters to them, and show how better product quality will help the business achieve success.


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