Re. Quality/validation

Subject: Re. Quality/validation
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 08:52:55 -0600

A few thoughts for the anonymous poster who asked about a
disfunctional quality assurance process.

The QA people aren't doing their jobs, and the QA manager
doesn't understand this. Try to demonstrate how QA is
falling down on the job. Collect lots of examples of the
important things that they're missing, and a parallel list
of the trivia that they're catching instead. Try to
convince them that the former list is the important one,
and explain why. This is delicate interpersonal stuff,
because you must convince them of the problem without
rubbing their noses in it.

If that doesn't work, you probably have to take the same
evidence one step further up the chain of command. Request
the review in person, not in writing, and ask for
confidentiality; ideally, the manager should present this
to the QA manager as a management-sponsored review of the
effectiveness of the review process. It may be obvious that
you initiated the review, particularly if you couldn't
maintain amicable disagreement in the previous stage, but
don't make any enemies you don't have to make by being a
public whistle blower.

The manager of the QA manager should be willing to
intervene in the process. In a case like this, you need to
cover your ass pretty thoroughly, which is why you need
hard evidence. The two lists I mentioned above are a good
starting point; other list members may have additional

Another weak link in the chain is your expert reviewers.
You noted that the quality of the reviews is highly
variable, and two things can help here:

First, get the QA manager or someone higher up the chain to
make QA part of the performance appraisals or use some
other trick to make it important to the reviewers; if
reviewers don't do a good job, and you can demonstrate
this, it will reflect on them and someone else can crack
the whip. You're not necessarily trying to get them in
trouble; if you can spot a problem here, such as poor time
management, too much work, or an intractable programming
problem, you may be able to get management to devote
additional resources and lighten that person's load.
Everyone benefits that way. Again, don't rub anyone's nose
in a problem... this only works for puppies, and not well

Second, work on how you present material for review.
Dropping 300 pages unannounced on someone's desk on Friday
afternoon and asking for comments by Monday won't get you
too far. (Ridiculous extreme, but you see the point!)
Giving a week's notice that two small chapters will arrive
on Monday with a Friday deadline is more effective. A few
more tips on getting a better review:

1. Edit the text first so that reviewers aren't tempted to
spend more time on your typos and style than on the facts.

2. Provide concrete instructions about what to review, not
a generic review request. "Review Chapter 12" is useless;
you'll get far better results from "review pages 12-34 for
the following technical details: all steps technically
correct, no new features added since last design meeting...

3. Don't ask for reviews of anything that you can review
yourself. For ex., if you have a product/design spec.
sheet, don't ask reviewers to spot if you've missed
documenting anything on the sheet. Develop a good,
comprehensive style guide for your authors if you don't
already have one, and do an internal check against the
guide before you submit anything for review. There's little
excuse for typos in a review manuscript.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of our
reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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