Monday, August 14, 2006

The art of being an SQA Representative

According to the CMMI Key Practice "Process and Product Quality Assurance" the SQA Representative is a "objective" and "is the eyes and ears of senior management". This document tries to explain how these two goals of being an SQA Representative can be achieved

Get the buy-in of the team

The first thing that the SQA Rep needs to do is to get the buy-in of the team that he is not there to create trouble. This is a total people management problem and I know this is easier said than done. A few things that have helped me are
  • Don't go in acting like the teacher who has come to punish the misbehaving pupils. Try and act like the understanding father who is there to solve his child's problems..
  • Take time to understand the teams process - read their process documents, encourage them to talk about their process
  • If they are non compliant try and understand why they are non compliant - talk to them about the issues they face and get into a discussion as to how it can be made a compliance and talk about timelines.
  • Appreciate them for any process that you find good and not seen before
  • Give them suggestions of how things can be implemented
  • Always be sympathetic to their cause - they have their own pressures and deadlines
  • Explain to them the importance of having a process - give them examples of what would happen if the process is not there
  • Be patient with process non-believers - you cannot make them believers over night - work with them process by process and they will become believers - it takes a lot of time and patience and believe me it is possible.
  • Sometimes be liberal but make notes of minor non compliance - For example let us say that an SCM audit was done a long time ago - I will not give a non-compliance the first time I audited the project. I would give a yes for it and make a note that if there is no audit done before the next audit then I would give a non-compliance that way you are giving them time to do it. If there is something that can be immediately implemented ask them to implement it in sometime and tell them that you would check back in a couple of days.

Should have a sound understanding of the organizational process

First and foremost the SQA Representative should have a very good understanding and knowledge of the Quality Management System. The SQA Representative through the audits is required to give an insight into the process being followed by the project. For this reason the SQA Rep needs to understand the process that has been defined.

You need to believe in processes

It is very important for the SQA Rep to believe that process is important and that it is good. It is often said that a sceptic is a bad preacher - hence if the Rep does not himself believe in the process then he can never preach the virtues of having the process. If the SQA Rep is a sceptic then the objectivity of the entire exercise is also lost.

Be Responsible and truthful

The project team that is being audited needs to have a belief that the SQA Rep is responsible, truthful and knows what he is talking about. It is essential for the project team to believe that you have not come to cause trouble. Report things as you see it - write notes in the remarks section clarifying your stand. As an SQA Representative you have a very powerful tool in your hands in the form of the audit and you should use this with caution and responsibility. The SQA Representative is a person trusted by the senior management to report things as they are.

Be Objective

The SQA Representative has to be objective. He needs to report what he has observed. If there is any decision made on things that are not black and white then the SQA Rep needs to explain the rationale of his decision in the remarks column. The Rep should never go with pre conceived notions of how things are. He should take his time in understanding the process, the stage at which the project is and report the process compliance as is.

Open minded

Be open minded. It helps a lot to put yourself in the shoes of the project that is being audited before passing judgement. Try and understand the issues the project is facing and be sympathetic but yet be firm in your observations. Be open to discussions and new ideas. Do not be forceful in your thoughts. Try and understand if the suggestions you are making are applicable to the project. Do not go with any pre conceived notions of the state of things in the project.

Report what you observe

Report only what you observe. If you are unsure of something or need more information to substantiate your views then ask for it. Do not make inferences on information that does not substantiate your judgement. You should be careful not to let the project feel that they can get away with anything they show you. You should be sharp to observe things like the date the file was created, by cross examining team members about stuff, by asking team members questions about content of the reports they have prepared and so on.

Question the process not the people

The SQA Rep is auditing the process and not the people in the project. Leave the "You" out of the audit questions. If there is a non compliance do not get personal about it. Try and understand why the non compliance occurred and fix the process.

Help the project address non compliance issues

When a non-compliance is identified in the project help the project understand what the non-compliance is and also if you know how the non-compliance can be fixed. When the non-compliance is identified it is necessary to come up with the action plan to fix the non-compliance and to also come up with the date by which the non-compliance can be fixed. Do not try and force your ideas on the project to fix the non-compliance. What ever you give to the project is only suggestions and it is ultimately for the project to decide if it wants to implement the suggestions given by you or to go with their own ideas.

Ask open-ended questions

I find it very helpful to start off my audit with open ended questions like "Tell me about your process from the time you get the requirements to the time you deliver." or "Tell me how you plan for the project" or "How do you ensure all your requirements are designed, coded and tested ?" and so on. Each of these questions in one go answers a lot of questions in your checklist. For clarification you can always ask close ended follow up questions. This way the checklist does not seem as long and the participants of the audit do not feel they are attending an exam. It feels as if someone is curious about their process. Do not go about the questionnaire question after question you will get bored and the members of the team attending the audit will get bored by the time you get to the 25th question of the questionnaire if not earlier.

Bring variety into your audits

Make changes to your style of auditing. Some of the innovations that I try out are

  • Question different members of the project team at different audits at the end of the day the entire team has to know the process
  • Take a requirement and follow it through from requirements to release and see the process that was followed
  • If some one say that he has done an SCM Audit or some Plan then ask him to tell you the contents of the document so that you would know if he really did the document.
  • If the process is already there then try and investigate the documents further to get a better understanding of the projects and also the process that they follow.

Do not argue

If there is a difference of opinion leave the issue as it is and get it clarified by a higher authority. Do not pursue any arguments its just not worth it !!!


Revathy Nair said...

Hi Sudeep,

The article is an eye-opener. If you could give me some ideas as on how to gain more training on performing the SQA role effectively, it would be great.

Thanks in advance,
Revathy Nair

Revathy Nair said...

BTW, My id is

Sudeep Dsouza said...

@Revathy - The little knowledge I gained during my one year stint of playing the role of an SQA is detailed in this article. I really dont have much to share other than to enjoy this role and be patient.

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