When we talk about producing a “quality” product, what do we actually mean? Is it easy to use? Fast enough? Flexible? Does it work the way we want and produce the results we expect? Consistently? Here are some factors to consider when trying to address the “quality” of your project.
In many cases, lack of project success can be attributed, not to budget and schedule failures or functional deficiencies, but to oversights and omissions in the capabilities delivered. The quality factors, often referred to as non-functional requirements, identify the expected levels of performance for the planned change across the entire operating spectrum. Use the quality needs and expectations to shape the planned solution from the initial phases through to implementation. Get the quality factors right for satisfied clients.
The quality factors mentioned here have been adapted from the Quality Assurance Institute and other sources and provide a framework for analyzing and establishing stakeholder expectations and priorities on a number of critical fronts. Feel free to add your own favorites.
For each quality factor, it is important to establish specific, measurable goals to which all key stakeholders subscribe early in the change life cycle. In fact, multiple goals for a given factor may be required to reflect differing stakeholder and functional needs.
Authorization means assurance that data is processed in accordance with management’s intent. There is both general and specific authorization for the processing of business transactions and data access.
For example, NASA’s 80,000 workers are actually a minority of the computer users with an account on some space agency system. There are also the scientists who log in remotely from universities around the world, as well as corporations and foreign space agencies that partner with NASA on specific projects. Because the creation of these accounts wasn’t tracked systematically, NASA was able to offer only a “best guess” at the total number of users: about 275,000.
Audit trail refers to the capability to substantiate the processing that has occurred. The processing of data can be supported through the retention of sufficient evidential matter to substantiate the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, and authorization of data.
For example, Diebold Election Systems admitted in a recent California state hearing that the audit logs produced by its tabulation software missed significant events, including the act of someone deleting votes on election day 2008.
Correctness refers to the degree to which the data entered, processed, and output is accurate and complete. Accuracy and completeness are achieved through controls over business transactions and information. The control should commence when a transaction is originated and concludes when the transaction information has been used for its intended purpose.
You may have heard the story about a programmer at a financial institution who changed the interest rate calculation to three decimal places, deposited the amount from the third decimal from every interest calculation into his account and the first and second decimal amounts into the clients’ accounts. Everything balanced! But was it correct?
Continuity of Processing
Continuity refers to the ability to sustain processing in the event problems occur. Continuity of processing assures that the necessary procedures and backup information are available to recoup and recover operations should the integrity of operations be lost due to problems. Continuity of processing includes the timeliness of recovery operations and the ability to maintain processing periods when the business process is inoperable.
In 2012, the Northeast US was hit by Super Storm Sandy and many businesses were out of commission for days and in some cases, weeks. How many of those businesses had a continuity plan that got them up and running successfully? How many spent millions of dollars trying to recover their processing streams?
Service levels mean assurance that the desired results will be available within a time frame acceptable to the user, including response times, availability, quality and consistency. To achieve the desired service level, it is necessary to match user requirements and expectations with available resources. Resources include technical capabilities as well as people, facilities and a variety of logistical and enabling services.
Target’s ill-fated venture into Canada is a telling example of service failure. It will cost the organization in excess of $5 billion. Supply chain, inventory and pricing ills disappointed customers and drove them to competing retailers. The services provided never met with customers’ expectations.
Security means assurance that resources will be protected against accidental and intentional modification, destruction, misuse, and disclosure. The security procedure is the totality of the steps taken to ensure the integrity of assets from unintentional and unauthorized acts.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, and the more recent Panama Papers that revealed the secret offshore deals arranged through the law firm Mossack Fonseca demonstrate yet again why security matters should be top of mind for all stakeholders on all change initiatives.
Compliance means assurance that a solution is designed in accordance with organizational, regulatory and legislative methodologies, policies, procedures, and standards. These requirements need to be identified, implemented, and maintained in conjunction with other requirements.
It seems there are compliance failures reported in the press every day. For example, Barclays Plc was fined twice in one day for client account failures in the U.K. and the U.S. It agreed to pay a total of $77 million in penalties.
Ease of Use
Ease of use refers to the amount of effort required to learn, operate, prepare input for, and interpret output from a business process. It deals with the usability of the process to the people interfacing with the process. Each interface, process and user can have a different ease of use need.
For example, after Bank of America required online customers to use a new log-in mechanism to thwart phishing, calls to the bank’s service centers climbed by 25%.
Portability refers to the need for and effort required to transfer a process or data from one environment to another, for example, from a head office environment to client sites, or a disconnected notebook computer or handheld device.
For example, with the multitude of devices individuals and organizations now use in their daily lives, from desktop and notebook computers to tablets and smart phones, services and apps are now available to ensure consistency of personal bookmarks and login information across the platforms.
Coupling refers to the need for and effort required to interface one process or technology with all the other processes or technologies which either it receives data from or transmits data to.
We see new examples of coupling dependencies every day with the emergence of cloud services and the Internet of Things.
Scalability refers to the ability of a process or system to grow beyond the initial target volumes and continue to meet all other quality targets. Scalability includes both manual and automated components, covers both peak and average demand and should address all pertinent factors including number of users, transaction volumes and mix, data volumes and physical locations.
We hear frequently about new or enhanced services, both technological and physical, being overwhelmed when unprecedented demand exceeds expectations and capabilities.
Flexibility refers to the extent to which future changes in business function or technical capability can be made without time-consuming, complex or costly changes. Flexibility includes the effort, time, cost and processes necessary to deliver the expected change and satisfy the other Quality Factor targets.
For example, Ontario’s welfare system was re-designed for hundreds of millions of dollars a number of years ago and the new system didn’t even allow for a rate increase.
Localizability (or internationalization) refers to the need for many solutions to adapt to a variety of languages, cultures and conventions. Many of the above factors will need to be assessed in the context of local needs and any unique requirements addressed.
A solution designed specifically for one location may have difficulty adapting to new circumstances (e.g. new languages, cultures, regulations) at significant time and cost if future localizability needs are not addressed up front.
That’s a lot of stuff to cover but it’s information that can be critical to ensuring a successful change. So, remember to ask each key stakeholder about their needs and expectations on each of the quality factors. Initially you may just get blank looks. But as each stakeholder ponders the factors, you’ll build a collective and comprehensive understanding of how the factors relate to the planned change. Just make sure that all stakeholders agree with the collective view you get. You will get the quality factors right!
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.