The notion of a “QA team” can set up unrealistic expectations about who “mandates” quality and who is “responsible” for quality. We know quality by indirect means of how things function or provide value; not as a result of the actions of a team. Does that sound silly? Let’s talk about it.
One of the worst things that can ever happen to a quality function or test team is a credibility gap. When perceptions of quality take a hit — whether internal or external — you are on a bad path. Here I don’t want to talk about how you get out of that situation. What I want to do is talk about how you can avoid getting into it in the first place. But I want to talk about it at the level that it really matters. This means talking about morals and values. But this is tricky because such discussions are fraught with peril and subjectivity. Yet we need to tackle these head on.
In my last post about what tests are for I talked a bit about the ability of test writers to be nimble in terms of getting quality-focused information — usually as a result collaborative discussions — encoded into readable tests that focus on intent rather than implementation. All of that’s easy to say but test writers sometimes have a hard time figuring out how to exactly do it in the context of the collaboration possibilities in their environment. Here I want to talk a little about the core ideas, backing them up with an example.
So it’s obvious we need quality assurance, right? Okay, it’s true that quality is a dynamic concept that is contextual and situational. And, in a way, you can never really know the “actual” quality of an application in some universal sense. This is partly because quality is a value judgment based on the eye of the beholder. And it’s probably true that quality is not open to some absolute definition. (Similar to how other abstract words like justice, beauty, democracy, and so on are not absolute concepts.) But still. We obviously need some way to assure this beast we call quality. We obviously need a team called Quality Assurance.
I mean, it’s obvious. Err … right?
Who is “responsible” for quality? This is one of those interesting questions that on the surface of it seems really simple to answer depending upon your viewpoint … and yet the question itself hides a few thorny issues. In my experience, most people who claim they are part of a “Quality Assurance Team” are not aware of these issues and thus perpetuate a lot of false thinking regarding the question itself.
It’s very important to think about what this question actually implies. How this question is considered directly ties in with how we think about the notion of responsibility and about how we communicate that notion to others.