Quality Framework – Five Interrelated Views on Quality
This article is based on an earlier published article ´Quality Framework´, in 2005 in The Netherlands, written on behalf of the SPIder Foundation, the Dutch SPIN (Software Process Improvement Network). At that time in the SPI community, there was a discussion about product and process quality. The majority had the opinion that product quality should not be addressed by SPIder because it was classified as strongly related to disciplines such as software architecture requirements analysis, software development and testing and Quality Assurance. Some others had the opinion that quality is part of ´everything´, and therefore is not strictly related to software but also applicable to other engineering artefacts and even to the organization, culture and even people.
This revised and extended article outlines quality by presenting the Quality Framework with five interrelated views on quality. Some questions and remarks about the relation of quality with the SPI (Software Process Improvement) profession are listed. Also Business Analysts should have an overall knowledge on the subject of quality. This will be discussed in a new chapter, added to this article.
Quality, as area of interest, is applicable at almost ´everything´ that organizations do and people deliver. To set boundaries and to bring in structure in some degree, a generic Quality Framework has been set up (see figure below). Four entities are defined in this framework: STAKEHOLDERS, POLICY, ORGANISATION and MEANS. As will be explained later these entities are closely related to each other.
Note: In this article no distinction has been made between product and service. Together there are addressed as: Products & Services. Of course there are some difference but this does not matter for the discussion about the Framework.
In this Framework also two circles are depicted; these circles partition the four quadrants in several areas of influence: outside world (environment) and inside world (management control and operational control).
Note: Entities under control are depicted as ovals, entities outside control are depicted as squares.
A last view is a distinction in a DEMAND and SUPPLY side. The two upper quadrants more or less direct what the two lower quadrants have to accomplish. These views will be elaborated successive later.
Four interrelated entities (view 1)
In this Framework four quadrants are distinguished. Each quadrant has an entity depicted by a square. The STAKEHOLDERS (quadrant 1) have a Customer Demand which determines the strategic, production, commercial, personnel and financial POLICY (quadrant 2) of an organization or company. The company´s management must define a strategy (Vision, Mission) which Products & Services will be provided to what classes of Customers, in which product/market combination, realised in what kind of organizational form and produced with what kind of MEANS. Subject of Customer Demand are the effects of Regulation Agencies such as legal, fiscal and environment requirements. These effects influence Customer Demand. Consider for example the cost of recycling which presses on the product and thereby influence the demand of that product. The POLICY determines the Direction for the ORGANIZATION (quadrant 3) such as by means of Goals & Objectives and Plans.
ORGANIZATION is about the internal structuring in divisions and departments, functional groups, regional geography, etc.. The ORGANIZATION provides Facilities to be applied by MEANS (quadrant 4) and based on several Means of Production, transformed to Products & Services to deliver to STAKEHOLDERS (which completes the quality circle). With MEANS you can think of Resources such as grounds, buildings, productive capacity, patents and licences, but also of People. Next time the STAKEHOLDERS again pursuit a Customer Demand which may be the same as last time or slightly modified based on experiences of the STAKEHOLDERS with the use and acceptance and added value of the Products & Services. The entire process is recurrent. The arrows drawn in the circle combining the four entities depict that this is a continuous process.
Time dimension (view 2)
The Framework also has a view on time. The affairs such as defined in the Framework also has a time dimension (not depicted as such in the figure). The organization learns from experiences in the past, with all facets and aspects of ´quality´ as depicted in the Framework. By way of evaluations conducted by Market Researchers and supported by customer satisfaction measurement, the Customer Demand shall become more and more clear and the process ´behind it´ shall more and more be able to respond faster and more efficient to the Customer Demand. However, when new technologies are brought in, existing Products & Services are succeeded by other ones, again one must learn from experiences and again a new optimum must be found. There is always movement, change has become natural. This is applicable for social developments, such as changing industrial relations (new competitors), changes in customer preferences and improvement of the standard of living. And for economic changes (growth, stagnation, changes in legislation, free trade, trends of selling at a global scale etc.), including the effects of the Internet.
Three spheres of influence (view 3)
As mentioned previously, the Framework also depicts three spheres of influencing power. This view provides another section of the Framework than the view of the four entities, but it is closely related. Everything which lies beyond the outside circle is part of the environment of the organisation or company (we use organization here as the process of delivery of Products & Services and not the way of organizing this process). We will see that quality measures are only or mostly applicable at the inner word and not at the world outside. However, in this article it becomes apparent that quality should be directed stemmed on Customer Demand being one of the more important, even most important Stakeholders! In other words, quality is most efficient addressed out outside-in instead of inside-out.
The outside world of an organization exits out of a network of parties, such as collaborating or competing companies, suppliers & subcontractors, clients in the business column, consumer associations & special interest groups, but also financers, shareholders, trade unions and federal agencies have a stake that must be taken into account. And of course Customers and Regulatory Agencies are part of the outside world! A company is not able to (directly) control its environment and the most it can do is influence it.
There are other elements which have an influence on a company, as made clear by Market Researchers. Concerning the Customer Demand a specific company shall have a certain amount of bargaining power on its own behalf to influence the Customer Demand of the Product & Service within her market and within its business branch or column. Nevertheless there are almost always Competing Companies who also influence the market. Besides, nearly always substitutes for Products & Services to be delivered can be found. As an example, a car can be ´replaced´ by a train if the Customer Demand is about transportation. Everything lying within the outer sphere can directly be influenced by the company. Here, the delivery of good quality will have the most likely effect at the end result, justified quality Products & Services. For instance a car manufacturer can determine colour and type of model of a car it wants to produce – and vary in these – but shall not be able to supply a train or another means of transportation than a car.
The inside world of an organization – that which the organization can determine and control by herself – is about the various divisions, operational companies, and various departments when you look at the ORGANIZATION entity. The number and the way internal parties are organized strongly depends on the type of organization or company and on the size and type of Products & Services that is produced. Also the POLICY and the way MEANS will be deployed will differentiate strongly for each organization or company. This also effects the way the quality is handled.
The distinction in the two inner spheres has been made to mark the difference between the long term focussed, strategic/tactical (´Management Control´) steering component, and the day to day execution (´Operational Control´) component, the production of the organization. Each area places its own requirements on quality and provides feedback to POLICY. Matters such as motivation and collaboration, control and rewarding, reporting and communication are important aspects which must be filled in adequate to get an efficient and effective production of Products & Services.
Demand vs. Supply (view 4)
Another view is given by the distinction in a Demand and Supply side. The two upper quadrants, STAKEHOLDERS and POLICY, more or less direct what the two lower quadrants, (ORGANISATION and MEANS) have to accomplish. The STAKEHOLDERS represent the Demand side, the MEANS the Supply side, while POLICY and ORGANIZATION facilitate the relationship Demand/Supply to find the correct match and balance. Because POLICY has a long term, strategic perspective, it must anticipate on changes in the marketplace and from the environment. It normally takes considerably time to make or adjust and implement (strategic) plans. It may even be needed in ORGANISATION to change the functions and roles, responsibilities and authorities, or to relocate tasks between people and even to change the organisational and communication structure itself. When as a result of changes new equipment is needed by MEANS to support the changed situation such as an increase in Demand, it normally takes great investments in money, effort and management attention to change the Means of Production to meet the new situation. These kind of changes are very expensive and are measured in months, even years to accomplish. Changes may even affect people’s behaviour, the culture of the company. This is not done easily and fast.
Dotted connections (view 5)
The last view depicts some ´short cuts´. The dotted connections in the Framework go from quadrant 1 to quadrant 3 and from quadrant 2 to quadrant 4 (see direction of the arrow heads). Some STAKEHOLDERS directly communicate with ORGANIZATION without interference from any POLICY (quadrant 1 to quadrant 3). Consider a helpdesk where questions and problems from customers are taken care of, a service organization supporting customers in implementing and use of some Products & Services, or informal contacts between persons from the angle of stakeholders who maintain business or private contacts with representatives of the organization.
For MEANS it must be able to adequately interpret POLICY to take the right decisions at the right moment (dotted line from quadrant 2 to quadrant 4), without interference of ORGANIZATION. Consider standards and norms and other measures of automated control which are handled, the choice and quality of people (such as skills of operating personnel) and choice of resources (advanced techniques). A standard must be considered as the formalization of a certain policy. The company´s policy should more or less be ingrained in the people who perform the process. In ´standard´ decision making situations people have to be able to independently (within certain limits), handle affairs by their own. In the case where each problem and every question are addressed by management level, the communication channels upwards will clog up fast. There are distinct tendencies recognizable that people in organizations more and more must be able to decide independently about issues occurring in their work. The complexity of the world has become such high that management cannot control everything top down any more and must mandate to take a course of action to lower operational levels in the organization.
Relation with the SPI/QA (BA) discipline
What is the actual relation with these disciplines? Of course everything is about quality but where can business process improvement benefit most and in which situation is a link with ICT, software development and Business Analysis? This will briefly be discussed below.
The STAKEHOLDERS have a demand for an organisation (quadrant 1). How they do that and in what way the organisation picks this up is subject for improvement when it appears that ´errors´ are made in such a way that this becomes critical for the continuation of the organisation. As an example, at the time of launching the new Airbus A380 to the market place, the airplane may on his maiden flight have booked good results, (technical all will eventually work well), whether or not the Airbus A380 in the end will be successful in the market place was at that time difficult to estimate and even today still remains to be seen. In this situation it´s a question of quality in a broad sense. The new Airbus A380 is the ultimate end product of the production process of Airbus Industries and as such subject of many facets of quality control and management. But this does not guarantee a business success!
Defining goals and creating (strategic) plans as part of POLICY (quadrant 2) shall normally not directly be the domain of the Business Analyst, but new developments such as ISO9000:2015 and Lean Six Sigma point out that processes are continuously subject of improvement and for that reason are specifically directed by the Business Goals. This applies as well as for time to market as to producing in an economic efficient way (cost control and cost reduction). This business focus also applies to CMMI where at level 4 quality is set in also directed by the business goals. There surely is a recognisable link to quality.
In quadrant 3 the ORGANISATION is the focus point. When you mention organization you also mention business functions, business processes and procedures, functions and roles of people, responsibilities and authorities of management, together with applicable methods & techniques. These organization assets are mostly stored in a Quality Management System. A QMS must be implemented in such a way it is both efficient and effective. Here there is a concrete link to the trade of the IT professionals. Consider applicable process quality models such as CMMI, SPICE, ISO9001:2015, and ISO25000, but also approaches such as BPR and TQM.
In quadrant 4 the MEANS are the focus point. An example of a Means of Production is the process of system or software development. This is the production process in the ICT domain. This is founded on a whole world of experience which from early days always had a distinct link to the trade. Quality Control in the production process in the physical world (tangible products as made by industry), already exists since the days of Taylor . When you mention quality you mention Taylor and vice versa! The software world can still learn a lot from the industrial domain, but on the other hand it is also possible that well-tested ICT approaches can be of use in other domains as well. People are a subdivision of means. People are subject to HRM but are sometimes by some people handled as company assets which must have measurable qualities to be able to be of efficient use in the business process. The call for certification of several disciplines (project managers, architects, developers, testers, requirements specialists and Business Analysts, and so on), and the competence development as a consequence of this tendency, are actually subject of Quality Control and improvement.
What about quality in a restricted sense?
In a restricted sense you can think about quality of matters such as inspection, examination, assessment, or sampling, or in more specific ICT terms: verification, validation, test and acceptance. Terms such as waste and spoilage stem from the industrial world but the concepts behind them are usable in the same way and are nowadays more often handled in the world of ICT. The leading question is where do we position SPI/QA (BA) best in the Quality Framework? What´s in scope and what is out of scope and where should we make the emphasis as seen from a community´s perspective? Therefore I close this article with a number of intriguing questions and postulations.
- To what extent are methods, techniques, and tools regarding to quality, of use in other areas than in MEANS?
- Are principles of quality control for the greater part the same or just different for various production processes of Products & Services, which also may be organised differently?
- What can the one domain learn from the other domain when we address quality? In other words, can a generic component be distinguished and what´s its size compared with specific components?
- Is “fitness for use” and “value for money“ only applicable for EXTERNAL customers (and not for INTERNAL customers) and also only for commercial companies, or also for non-profit and government organisations?
- Are statistical techniques for process control which are applied successfully in the one situation also automatically applicable in other situations, and would it be possible to benchmark results?
- Differ verification methods from validation methods and does it matter if this is employed on software (development), or arbitrary any other engineering discipline, respectively by producer or consumer (customer)?
There are more similarities than differences is my personal conviction! .It should be possible to extract more synergy from this?
What’s in for the Business Analyst?
Business Analysts should have an overall knowledge on the subject of quality. And always be aware of their interrelations.
When you look at the literature on Business Analysis you can see an emphasis on Business Requirements. Mostly the discussion is about the ´WHY´, the business case or business justification to spend time, money and (critical) resources on a sometimes ´risky´ venue, versus the ´WHAT´, the way information needs of customers should be covered. The latter subject is the area of User and System/Software Requirements, of Use Cases and process and entity models. A Business Requirement should be written as independent from the current state as possible, the way things are currently implemented. But at the same time the Business Requirement should be very clear in specifying starting points and limitations. Such as which departments will be affected by a change and which ones not, which processes must remain intact and which ones must be modified, merged or withdrawn. And is it allowed that a change will affect the way people work or is this prohibited, or in contrast known in advance that there is a need to change the work carried out by people, to improve people´s skills by stimulating their creativity and sensibility for change, and even to move working locations and change terms of employment of people? And what about legislation? Regulatory agencies have a demand on companies.
All these things should be addressed with Requirements! Outside the IT (engineering) domains, we normally are not used to draw up formal requirements. At least not in a way as done for software and system development. Consider outsourcing and offshore where complete activities of companies are split up, arranged in another way to suit best the new business model of the future state. The question than is how to make up Business Requirements? You can start with a green field discussing what can be done, but what you need is to envision a situation where Products & Services are delivered to customers in a more advanced way. This may take several steps or increments. The experience with each realized step provides input to the subsequent step.
Another discussion in the community is requirement versus solution. Some practitioners believe that requirements may never address the way things can be designed and implemented; others have a different opinion. Beware that the Business wants a solution to the ´problem´ of realization a new business opportunity, implementing changes in legislation, handling a merger, etc., and from early start solutions are envisioned, alternatives discussed and assessed towards business goals and benefits. To produce ´things´ in the real world it is better to define ´open´ requirements with as less limitations to the current employed way of working as possible, especially in the beginning of a project.
However, Business representatives, BAs and other specialists often have a problem to envision the future. They are accustomed to their imperfect processes (and even don´t see the flaws any more or do not care of their ineffectiveness), and, as a consequence, may also have a ´tunnel´ vision which prevents out-of-the-box thinking. And in a lot of situations organizations do not know how innovations can bring benefits to their companies and also do not know how existing technologies can be used in a way they supports their business more efficiently and effectively. As a consequence research is needed together with site visits, benchmarking other companies, prototyping new ways of working. One must be able to learn, to make mistakes and to adjust. So feedback is of vital importance. Better short feedback loops than longer ones to be able to redirect if necessary.
At the moment there is a lot of attention for Agile. User Stories, short cycled projects and continuously delivery of software is popular in the community. The challenge is how to make an organization agile/lean! Lean Sig Sigma (LSS) can help and is also very popular. It started in industries but nowadays LSS is also and more and more applied in administrative and governmental settings.
There has always been an emphasis on automated processes in the area of Means of Production. Bulk processes which can easily be standardized and reduced in complexity are first candidates for improvement. It is not really more complex to change Organization processes: address needs for personnel training and development and (re)allocation, but we are not accustomed setting up requirements for ‘soft’ aspects
There must also be enough attention to the change necessary to come from the one situation to another. One way to deal this is setting up Process Requirements. With Process Requirements you can specifically address aspects such as: communication, user participation, conversion, implementation and also temporarily extra staff needed for the transformation. With Process Requirements you can even address the process of system or software development. When you define quality of Products & Services in advance and you have a quality process, you may have a quality result for all stakeholders!
Final question of course is ‘Does the Quality Framework really helps the BA doing his or her job?’ I surely believe it benefits to have a holistic picture over the company you support as a BA. Its bottlenecks, how things were arranged in the past, success and failures, cultural aspects, how your suppliers contribute to the end result, knowledge, maturity and skills of your colleagues and managers, style of management, way of decision making, ways of engagement with Stakeholders, and last but not least, be sure you know your Customers, whether internal or external!
All reactions to this article are more than welcome. Just send me an email with your reaction to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, MARTIN MULLER
Martin has a background in Business Economics and a broad working experience in business transformations. For more than 30 years he worked in The Netherlands for an international software delivery organization as a project manager and trainer in project management, strategic advisor, management coach, process improvement specialist and Quality Assurance manager.
In the quality community Martin is a well-known and recognized person with a strong affinity and drive for quality, processes and people. For the SPI foundation in The Netherlands Martin published on subjects as quality, requirements and command and control of (outsourced) IT. Martin also set up an IREB CPRE Requirements Management correspondence course for IMF, International Management Forum, a Dutch Business/IT correspondence courses training provider. For BAE Martin wrote an article ´Outsourcing IT, Business Control, and the Changing Role of the BA´ about his experiences in an offshore program.
Martin extensively worked in the area of Business and IT improvement as a transformation manager and requirements expert. He is a highly regarded expert on requirements management and software development methods & techniques and is currently writing an inspiring, practical management book on Requirements Engineering for Business use. This non-technical book addresses RE from outside the IT domain. It provides insight in practices and cuts down organizational and technical complexity in a way organizations can really benefit and obtain success from their own insight in RE.
For BAE Martin wrote an article ´Outsourcing IT, Business Control, and the Changing Role of the BA´ about his experiences in an offshore program.
Martin frequently engages in change programs and CMMI implementations and supports line & project management and clients on process improvement, organizational change, Business & IT alignment, performance and productivity issues, quality measurement and benchmarking.
Martin can be found on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/pub/martin-muller/4/103/821