File this one under the “how-the-hell-have-we-not-blogged-about-this-yet” category. A few weeks ago, BATS Global Markets Inc. had just made its IPO debut. Seconds after trading began, a software bug “disrupted trading” of the stock (i.e. it went from $16 to under a penny in seconds), prompting the company to cancel its offering. You can read more about it here.
Anyway, the incident spurred Forbes writer Ken Goldstein to re-examine the meaning of quality assurance. There’s a lot of gold in this article, but here are a few of my favorite nuggets (emphasis added):
There is no argument that we live in a world of staggering speed, where competitors race to meet customer needs and time to market matters. Innovation is always factored by the ticking clock, who gets the jump and the competitive advantage, when a cost center becomes a profit center. Information compounds on our desktops, the team with analysis paralysis most often loses to the nimble risk takers–but all this means is that in product development, the role of Quality Assurance (QA) has never been more critical.
Notice that he does not say the QA department has never been more critical. He says the role of QA. This is an important distinction which he goes on to clarify:
Here is the way I like to think about quality in product development: Quality Assurance is a Process, not a Department….
…Of course every great development company will have a final step in the process called Quality Control or Quality Assurance, but it is my sense that the QA formal group is there to be the standard-bearer for Quality and rally the company around it, putting a final go or no-go procedure in place before the world gets its hands on a product, but not accepting proxy status for an otherwise poor process. A QA department is not a dumping ground, not a remote server where code is parked as a step function or convenient checkpoint in a perfunctory release approval, not a cynical target of blame. QA is the proxy for the customer, not management, and as such must have a voice that is shared throughout a company. If a Decision Maker chooses not to listen to either the process or a warning from fully objective and independent QA stewards, you get what you get.