Quality Assurance (QA) has been historically associated with the operational and financial performance of businesses. The ultimate objective of QA is to ensure that the stakeholders’ needs are met and continuously improved by removing deficiencies. When QA is administered through engineering-led processes, products, and people, it becomes Quality Engineering (QE).
On the other hand, Innovation is the application of experiences, knowledge, ideas, and methods to generate new capabilities, new ideas, and new experiences. Innovation keeps businesses alive. It provides companies with a competitive advantage and is important for growth.
Gone are the days when the Corporate R&D department was the single source of innovation to firms. Innovation responsibilities have now spread across the corporation. QE teams are well-positioned to facilitate the innovation process across the company, along with their primary responsibility – quality orchestration.
Here are the top defining factors that set up Quality Engineering organizations as a major source of innovation to firms:
1. Business-outcomes-driven QA will naturally force creativity
The strategic impacts of Quality Engineering can be demonstrated by improving business outcomes and reducing the cost of quality. Unless Quality Engineering drives improved business outcomes, it will be viewed as a “necessary waste” of resources. To do that, quality engineers should participate in end-to-end quality orchestration. If Quality Engineering is only part of the life-cycle activity, it is mostly a project- or resource-based process that puts it in a silo. As product/software lifecycle processes are integrated with business processes, quality orchestration is a necessity across the lifecycle, forcing the level of collaboration required for innovation.
2. Innovation is all about timing and speed
History has proven that innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be new; it just has to be done at the right time and at the right cost. DevOps philosophy forces software development and IT operations to come together and work in harmony. DevOps models increase companies’ speed to market, cutting the time to test while significantly reducing the cost of delivery. Companies with a well-established DevOps model can become a true engine for innovation. Quality engineers in the DevOps model are in a unique position to produce new ideas so that the innovation lifecycle can progress in parallel to the DevOps cycle.
3. Social Quality Management Vs. Technical Quality Management
Technical Quality Management processes dictate mechanical methods, tools, and processes for assurance activities, whereas Social Quality Management processes refer to social/behavioral attributes that involve management, employee training, learning, cross-functional collaboration, and teamwork. Research proves that Social Quality Management has the potential to influence not only product development and organizational processes but also the ability to innovate. Hence, it is important that quality engineers have or develop “soft skills” that range from collaboration and critical thinking to communication.
4. Diversity in Quality Engineering unlocks value
Diversity unlocks innovation and drives the market growth. Diversity comes in many forms, including but not limited to gender, age, country of origin, and academic background. If Quality Engineering teams lack industry understanding and the ability to visualize the views of different customer demographics, their innovative ideas and experiments won’t result in impactful progress. For faster experimentation of innovation ideas, only cross-functional, diverse teams can help. Though QA teams are set up to access the multi-disciplinary teams within the organization, the QA team itself should have a multi-disciplined talent mix.
5. Governance that promotes collaboration, prioritization, and experimentation
Management by Measurement is critical for any process to develop, mature, and continuously improve. Performing an outward-facing analysis to understand the market, competitors, and peers is a critical step that will help define performance and innovation targets. Establishing a formal governance process to track the innovation activities is critical. Organizational changes may be required to have better control of quality orchestration and to promote continuous collaboration, learning, and experimentation so that value demonstration is optimally high. This is important because many ideas contributing to innovation end up as incremental improvements in the way QA is done rather than disruptive ideas or creating new products or revenue streams. Hence, establishing proper controls will help apply priorities to innovation-generating initiatives.
6. Innovation synergy with test processes and infrastructure
Companies that run an effective DevOps model have the advantage of running the DevOps cycles for both the delivery pipeline as well as innovation activities. Due to the inherent nature of DevOps philosophy, the development itself would be agile and incremental. Hence, changes that result from the innovation cycle can easily be adopted and “rolled back” in case of failure.
Companies with matured QA organizations would probably have a decent test environment that is helpful for testing activities and innovation experiments in a studio-like setup. Having the right test infrastructure and test data is critical to getting accurate feedback about the quality and behavior of the application or the ideas being tested. The same is true for innovation experiments.
7. Reward in a way that Quality Engineering teams don’t take their eyes off Quality Assurance
Nurturing an innovative mindset requires a motivated workforce. Spreading the innovative spirit requires a formal way to recognize quality engineering individuals and teams that are making a difference. Though it is important to reward and recognize fruitful ideas that arise out of QE teams, the rewards program should not encourage engineers to take their eyes off their fundamental business commitments – i.e., quality assurance. Rewards and recognition help build trust between employees and management. Research proves that it is the recognition of employees that truly builds a culture of innovation.
8. Co-innovation enhances the possibility of success
Quality Engineering is built on partnerships within an ecosystem. When it comes to innovation, the probability of success is maximized when two or more organizations join forces to solve a common problem. Co-innovation happens between customers, partners, and teams with complementary skills. If the idea is to solve the problem of a particular customer, involving that customer in the co-innovation process will pay off beyond just solving the problem alone. Co-innovation with partners will bring together a complementary portfolio of products/services to address common problems or opportunities.
9. Attracting superior Quality Engineering talent maximizes success
There is an increasing trend in wanting QA engineers to have development skills with the quality mindset, in the spirit of improving productivity, achieving speed, reducing risks, and improving cost. For QE teams to be innovative, we should address three factors. (1) Address the resource- and skills-shortage. “The Great Resignation” complicates this issue even further. (2) Address the cross-functional technical skill mix in quality engineers as QE becomes a multi-disciplinary necessity. (3) Address the need for future QE trends such as no-code test automation and AI-enabled testing. It is important that we continue to nurture the QE workforce in emerging technologies. Narrowing the choice of technologies when pursuing innovation will be counterproductive.
10. Executive commitment to innovation culture
For organizations to excel, they need a culture and the mechanism that constantly embraces new technologies, kindles the passion for knowledge, and eases barriers to creativity. Executive commitment is a must. When innovation projects have the Executive (and/or customer) endorsement, it helps in (1) risk management, (2) cross-functional resource availability as required, (3) allowing QE teams to work on innovation projects, (4) making creative people accountable for the organization’s objectives, and (5) promoting rewards and recognition.
It will be very difficult to embed a culture of innovation within the fibers of the quality culture from the inside out. Unless QA/QE processes nurture the innovation mindset, organizations cannot take advantage of the effective learning that results through quality orchestration. With the knowledge and experience of products, processes, and business models, coupled with strong interpersonal skills, Quality Engineering teams are well-positioned to be a major source of innovation to companies.
Anbu Muppidathi is the President and CEO of Qualitest Group, the world’s largest AI-powered Quality Engineering company. A technology veteran with more than 30 years of experience in digital transformation and technology modernization, Anbu has world-class strategy, operational and go-to-market expertise. Before joining Qualitest, Anbu served at Cognizant as its Global Head of Enterprise Cloud Application Services, Global Head of Quality Engineering and Assurance, and North American Banking & Financial Services.