The Blueprint for Effective Software Quality Management: An Interview with Neeraj Tripathi

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Neeraj Tripathi, vice president of Global QA at Infor, goes over the principles of effective software quality management. He explains how to measure customer satisfaction and how active QA involvement eliminates defects early and shifts quality left.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. I’m joined by Neeraj Tripathi, the VP of Global QA for Infor. Today we’ll be speaking on the principles of effective software quality management. Neeraj, thank you for joining us. First, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Neeraj Tripathi: I have been in the IT industry for more than twenty years now. I was fortunate to start my career with IT consulting companies. Working for these IT consulting companies allowed me to work with different clients and domains, spread across the globe with new problems and challenges to solve. Working with many clients on different stages of project/program also allowed me to do software development, project management, onsite/offshore sourcing strategy, and building QA COE.

Couple of years back, I got an opportunity to set up a QA organization from the scratch for one of my clients in the US and after successful completion of that assignment, I continued to get many more opportunities to build independent QA organization or set up TCOE/QA COE. One of my recent jobs was to lead and manage 700 or more QA organizations for the Fortune 10 company, where I centralized the entire QA organization spread across different LOBs and developed mature shared services organizations with pre-defined SLAs and KPIs.

Josiah Renaudin: How do you effectively measure customer satisfaction, and what do you feel are the best methods for not only meeting expectations, but exceeding them?

Neeraj Tripathi: There are many ways customer satisfaction can be measured based on products and offerings you have in the marketplace. Key customer satisfaction metrics are customer retention, reduction in clients facing issues, and repeat customers. If you are getting customers referrals, then you are certainly exceeding expectations. Quality of your products and the ability to fix issues quickly both play vital roles in all of this.

Josiah Renaudin: Can you define what you find to be the ideal “enabling environment,” as well as how to properly celebrate or promote success?

Neeraj Tripathi: I think the ideal enabling environment is where resources are aligned with the organization’s objective, motivated to do the right thing and they have adequate resources and support available for them to do the job. Celebration is one of the key aspect of building enabling environment and believe me it is not difficult and should be done by breaking down large and long term deliverables into short term milestones & accountability to provide sense of accomplishment and recognize resources for their effort and leadership.

Josiah Renaudin: Nurture empowerment is a term you’ve brought up in the past. How often have you seen management fail to properly recognize team members, thus reducing the team’s overall effectiveness?

Neeraj Tripathi: I would say very often, and I might have done the same in my career. What I learned and would like to share is that while recognition is important, what is more important is to share the actual effort and behavior this resource or team is recognized for. If we are not clear in our message and not consistent then we risk reducing the overall effectiveness of the organization.

Josiah Renaudin: How can active QA involvement both eliminate defects early and shift quality left? How early should the QA team get involved?

Neeraj Tripathi: I think the answer is simple: that QA should be involved starting during the requirement phase. What is lacking based on my observation is “active QA involvement.” I’ve seen QA get involved by attending requirement meetings, but if they do not have any tangible deliverables from those meetings, then those meetings are not productive and QA teams miss the boat to understand, challenge, and evaluate requirements for testability and/or contribute for better requirements.

By finding defects in the requirements, design, and development phase, teams not only eliminate defects early, they shift quality left to apply quality measurement and defect elimination from the testing phase to early phases of the SDLC.

Josiah Renaudin: Let’s touch on agile, since it’s such a popular methodology. How do you build a customer and user experience process into an agile environment? Can customer feedback become a bottleneck in the process, and if so, how do you avoid that?

Neeraj Tripathi: Great question. Making sure that you are listening to your customers and incorporating their feedback has to be part of your software development lifecycle, irrespective of methodology you follow. Here are two key approaches.

Proactive:

  • If possible, make your customer rep. one of the stakeholders signing off on test strategy (testing scope, types of testing, tools, etc.) and plan.
  • For highly engaged customers, ensure they or their representatives are part of review and sign-off on test conditions/cases.
  • Work together to build entry/exit criteria for the different testing phases.

Reactive:

  • Engage with your operations team and be part of your organization’s operations call, or facilitate meetings with your customer success managers on a regular basis to keep track of all the customer issues and priorities. Not all issues may be software quality related, hence tracking down software quality-related issues is of the utmost importance.
  • For all customers, the found software quality issues have to have a detailed root-cause analysis and plan to mitigate these issues systematically by adding/updating your test strategy and entry/exit criteria.

For an agile environment, it is important to have robust and automated regression, as customer requests and enhancement are already being tested iteratively as part of agile development. Business-critical functions and customer feedback should constantly be incorporated into the regression to ensure that a new release is not going to disrupt your customer’s environment/applications.

Josiah Renaudin: Innovation is important when it comes to team evolution and creativity. However, some new ideas do more to slow the process down than provide a new spark. How do you determine within a team what ideas are innovative and what ideas are actually going to stymie workflow?

Neeraj Tripathi: All ideas and innovation should go through the pilot and POCs before they are put into action for any large program. What’s really important is to encourage the team to produce new ideas, pilot and share recommendations for the roll out. What really worked well for me and my team is to identify two or three key issues/bottlenecks and have team come-up with solutions in terms of process, tools, technology, etc.

Josiah Renaudin: How important are repeatable and reusable processes for workflow?

Neeraj Tripathi: It is important to ensure that we are not always dependent on learning how to do, what to do, and whom to reach for most of the tasks. I think anything which needs to be done more than two or three times a day and by different users should be documented for consistency and possibly automated for and efficiency. To increase speed to market, it is important to build reusable artifacts (test cases, data, automation scripts, etc.)

Josiah Renaudin: Every team is different, but what one tip can you give us right now that you feel will have the greatest impact on a wide range of teams when it comes to effective quality management?

Neeraj Tripathi: Agree, and not one solution suites all, but if I need to identify only one out of many things we should be doing for effective quality management, then I would say QA teams should be best buddies with their customers and focus on “customer experience.”

NeerajNeeraj is an information technology leader with significant experience in design/delivery of cost-effective, high quality solutions that generate business value. Key capabilities include strategic/long term planning, establishing business partnership, building and managing IT/QA CoEs. Unique ability to envision, develop and execute organizational strategies that drives growth, productivity, cost reduction and advance technology capabilities. Customer-centric with the ability to initiate profitable alliances with global vendors and suppliers.

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