Over 50 percent of IT programming time is consumed by application maintenance, as it has been for the past 20 years. Some of this work is for enhancements, but much of it is because applications are constantly breaking.
IT managers would like to change this calculus and move it to a point where maintenance would be no more than 20 percent, and all of those saved IT resources could be moved into new application development. But when quality assurance (QA) people try to step up on an issue with a particular app, they can get blown off by a developer who is going to place more value on hitting a deadline, even if the developer knows that the program isn't going to work 100 percent of the time.
Most CIOs understand this dynamic—and grudgingly accept it—because they too, are evaluated on the number of projects that their staffs complete on time. If quality has to slide, it usually does.
Nevertheless, there are small steps that IT departments under the burden of meeting nonstop deadlines can take to improve the quality of the applications they develop.
Use help desk analytics
No one in IT better knows which apps create the most problems than the staff manning the help desk, because they are the ones who get the calls. As a proactive measure, IT managers should put analytics in place at the help desk so that everyone has visibility of the apps that are creating the most problems. This will enable them to learn from past mistakes and to build new apps that don't have these flaws, which should reduce maintenance and support efforts. Two bottom line metrics to focus on are better customer satisfaction results and a reduction in trouble reports at the help desk.
Create executive positions and career ladders in quality assurance
Because IT departments are constantly under the gun to deliver new applications in specific timeframes, they often shortcut quality to make the deadlines. This creates an internal IT culture where quality assurance professionals are less valued — and often less experienced and less compensated — than their application development counterparts.
A strategic focus on application quality, which includes creating leadership roles on that track, can help shift things into balance. Once the IT staff sees that they don't have to switch over to application development to advance within the company, they will be more willing to commit to careers in QA.
Reward developers for quality
In addition to putting help desk analytics and QA career tracks in place, IT managers can align performance reviews with quality goals. Quality of work may not be the only area in a performance review for an application developer, but it should have a prominent place. Application quality can be objectively evaluated through the number of help desk calls an app receives, the number of times it has to cycle through QA, and the number of times it fails or has to be reworked. Because all of these elements can be measured objectively, it is easy for managers of application development to incorporate the metrics into the individual performance reviews of their developers.
When quality assumes a central role in performance reviews and is rated as an equal with timeliness and quantity of work in developer salary raises, bonuses and promotions, the culture of application development will begin to shift to where quality is more evenly balanced with quality and timeliness. Managers should also recognize outstanding quality performance on their teams on a daily basis.
At the end of the day, IT managers and the CIO are hired to meet the needs of the business and to keep business users satisfied. Much of this user satisfaction comes from applications that are easy to use — and that work the first time.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.