Quality and Agility linked by Processes

What makes an organization great is often its people, culture and its uniqueness.

Quality, is about the Customer. It is everything that builds customer satisfaction. It is what the Customer can find in our product and services and not what we are putting inside them.

The most difficult thing of working with people is to achieve the exact point at which all these items (estimation, costs, expectations, etc), are clear to each of those involved. The human being is unique, so it is normal to say that we all have different perceptions of things, even speaking the same language. How can we make sure we are delivering to our customer what they are expecting from us?

If we do not deliver what our customer needed, “Blame the process, not the people”

Often, the words “process” and “procedure” are used synonymously to describe how something needs to be done. However, when you’re developing a quality management system, they are quite distinct. In fact, quality processes, procedures and work instructions are three different concepts that form a hierarchy in quality management standards like the ISO 9001-2015. Its important to understand you need to ensure people are focused on the right processes. Not all processes are important but in the ones that are, there are key leverage points that often make the difference between success and failure.

Most people reject processes, roles, meetings because they don´t understand the beneficts of having those definitions. There are many hilarious jokes online about the unimportant work of a manager like the one I include here… I firmly believe that all this jokes are based on things that happen when processes fails.

Resultado de imagen para Program manager jokedt060211

Lets understand how it all works, first of all: your customers’ needs

It is imperative to understand what the business is all about and obtain information/knowledge about all the stakeholders and people involved in the business.

In my experience, the biggest challenge of working in software development was never the technology or learning how to implement something. The challenge was always the PEOPLE involved. This picture explains exactly the type of Waterfall life cycle development problems we used to face.

Resultado de imagen para what the customer wantedfunny_sales_marketing_cartoon_tree_swing_new_product

We often focus on moving the project forward without reassessing our own current methods of working. How can we communicate and deliver correctly to our customer if we dont? That´s when we move to Agile to get early customer feedback and deliver features incrementally, so we can make sure in short deliveries that we are both customer and developer in the same page. But what happens when we are not?

Good process is important

Business processes define how work gets done in any organization. There are two reasons why process is so key. The first is efficiency, the second reason is scalability.

The purpose of Agile

So what is the purpose of agile? Agile doesn’t mean no documentation, or no planning. Agile isn’t about iteration. Iteration is a method, not a goal. We iterate in order to adapt. Agile is about being able to adapt to changing customer needs rapidly. It’s about getting fast feedback from the customer, who is the ultimate arbiter of quality.

Agile software development is a way of organizing the development process, emphasizing direct and frequent communication, frequent deliveries of working software increments, short iterations, active customer engagement throughout the whole development life-cycle and change responsiveness rather than change avoidance.

The short feedback cycles of Agile mitigate some of the technical risks related to building the wrong thing and provide periodic milestones to evaluate requirements changes. ISO 9001:2015 has always advocated mitigating and avoiding risk; it has implicitly addressed the issue through “actions to address risks and opportunities”. It sees a risk as a positive or negative deviation from the expected.

Chaos is caused by work being disorganized with no end (or project goal) in sight. Some teams can survive on chaos and deliver results, but it is high-risk and usually only “fun” in the short term. Some of the reasons Agile teams fail in my opinion can be:

  • No or poorly definition of Roles and responsabilities 
  • The process was not defined
  • No or poorly defined requirements to clarify what to build and the need being addressed.
  • Overcommitment
  • Few project management practices performed that lead to unmanaged risks
  • Unrealistic schedule (or visibility until the last day)
  • Customer and management expectations are not accurately set so that any deadline is by default risky or unachievable.
  • Chaos created to avoid accountability

It is important to revisit the processes and put them under the microscope frequently.

What happens with the team if problems in the process are not solved?

Any problems that arise are automatically attributed to a person, instead of a process. This blame breeds distrust and stress within a team because for some reason we have grown more comfortable with questioning our colleagues instead of our systems.

When personalities are involved things get messy, nobody is able to keep a clear cut objective and focus on the problem. Once a person has been accused as being the epicentre of the problem it is difficult to reverse the thinking and focus on an achievable solution. In addition if the solution isn’t found within the work process it remains undetected and manifests into a bigger problem in the future.

Best Practises

Improve the result of your overall project and of each Agile step by adding practices to solve the problems you have experienced so far. Look at your team’s retrospective data to see which problems have been underlying trends.

  • Add use cases for high-risk requirements
  • Perform requirements peer reviews
  • Define Roles and Responsabilities
  • Adopt release planning and risk management.
  • Validate story point estimates with effort estimates, and factor in team capacity in each sprint. 
  • Analyze data for critical and chronic issues.
  • Share lessons across teams with people assigned to act on common issues and share new process steps

It is important through this process to engage all employees. Employees only support what they create. They can be engaged through focus groups where they’re given an opportunity to identify what they see as potential threats or missed opportunities. Leaders will own the outcomes only when engaged so engage them in the entire process of risk identification, prioritization, assessment and responses.

A well defined system constantly pushes us to improve.

People expect good customer service everywhere.

The next time you make a decision that will have an affect on the way you do your job, reflect upon the processes that have led you this stage. Are these processes rock steady and scalable for the future, are they all encompassing, catering for all eventualities within sales, operations, finance etc. If you include more people to a team, can they understand the origin, process and conclusion of each workflow?

Transparency means that there’s no hiding behind jazzy taglines, buzzwords, and marketing jargon. Instead of focusing on making ourselves look good, we have to focus on being good.

Management thinker Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” With a clearly established metric for success, you can quantify progress and adjust your process to produce the desired outcome. Without clear objectives, you’re stuck in a constant state of guessing. 

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