Most managers, and some ‘Agile’ coaches, I encounter shudder when the subject of quality comes up. They think quality hampers delivery. In some ways they are right, you do want to achieve balance, avoiding polishing too much because it can cause being late in delivery (in mission critical projects it may be better to over polish if the cost of failure is high).
Some managers may shudder because, ooops I may have been found out and I’ve been pushing my teams to push out code which is not really ready.
Other managers, maybe the inexperienced ones but not always, have no idea what quality is. They tend to believe the lies their development teams’ say when they say it’s ‘unit tested.’
As a manager, quality is one of if not your biggest concern. Addressing quality is an economic concern as well and managers are responsible for economic outcomes. Bad quality will slow down your team. But not just that, it will also slow down your organisation.
How does this occur? How does it slow down your organisation? Well I’ve seen this time and time again when I come to a new client. Work is at a stand still and when I dig a bit deeper I see the same issue appear.
Yes, teams are overwhelmed with work. So limiting WiP will help. Using workflow mapping and lean techniques will identify bottlenecks. Yes address those. Importantly, in the bottlenecks I find that the reason for those delays is the negative feedback of poor quality.
I see upstream, product ideas waiting to be developed and tested with the customer because there is a wave of poor quality slowing down the delivery pipe. Overwhelmed with defects teams struggle to pull new work into development. When they do eventually pull that work in, it is developed with such poor quality or worse the facade of quality (e.g. formal QA) that it further feeds into the negative feedback loop.
That loop gets even slower to run such that it turns into ‘3 month Stabilization’ phases or an entire quarter whereby the organisation freezes any new releases into production to avoid an outage.
These sort of mitigating steps often occur after some sort of disaster has occurred which has its root cause in poor quality. One big example is releasing a new version of software such that it shuts down an assembly line at a factory and affects thousands of customers who are prevented from using their mobile devices. The cost there was millions of dollars.
So asking for quality is easier said than done. Or does it have to be that hard. Usually workers are over-burdened. So limit WiP as was mentioned earlier. But then ask for quality. Now that they are not over burdened they can put their efforts into producing quality output.
Give teams the space to improve and they usually will. Sometimes as a coach I can give them some training and they will do it all by themselves (this interview demonstrates this) to a point, and sometimes being involved with them is needed from the outset or when levelling out or stalling out occurs.
In my experience, results can happen very quickly. For an organisation I was recently involved with it took three months to go from a cycle time per feature of 40 days to 3 days. This involved addressing quality and bringing in aligning practices from extreme programming and specification by example. Reducing WiP and batch size also assisted. This happened in stages, guided by data from a Cumulative Flow Diagram that mapped the stages of delivery and guided improvement efforts. The first stage got it down to 9 days (by applying WiP limits, Policies on size and changing the Test Strategy) and then, the next stage, amplifying the unit testing practices to remove an archaic and slow UI testing bottleneck (sunk cost fallacy associated with that) really accelerated the flow of work.
AgWorld, the published case study, did it in 6 months. They did chose to do for themselves which is fine. They can achieve a lot more with a coach who can bring the practices quicker and help avoid stagnation which does tend to happen as well.
Find a slow process, you more often than not find poor quality. Address quality and just observe how things get better for everyone.