​5 ways to inject quality control into IT production processes

Some IT managers are too relaxed when it comes to addressing IT processes and procedures that could improve performance and quality. Here's why this needs to change.

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Image: Gorodenkoff Productions OU, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Late last month, I spoke with a manager of a nutritional supplement manufacturing plant. Plants like these are known as process manufacturers because the manufacturing they perform is distinctly different from discrete manufacturing, which produces units of things such as cars or computers.

In process manufacturing, bulk ingredients are manufactured from raw materials and then transformed into products that are packaged in appropriate containers for market. Industries engaged in process manufacturing include foods, beverages, chemicals, nutritional supplements, and pharmaceuticals.

Common to the above industries is that they all follow exact recipes and formulas to produce consistent and non-variable products. To guarantee uniformity of product, manufacturers use metrology tools that measure the exact composition of ingredients going into products as they are being manufactured. They also carefully check for quality after each stage of product manufacture.

"The bottom line is that we perform both QA (quality assurance) of our products and QC (quality control) of our processes," said the plant manager.

SEE: Software quality control policy (Tech Pro Research)

Focus on quality assurance and quality control

This got me thinking about why so many IT operations focus on QA, which checks the goodness of applications and data; but less so on QC, which checks the goodness of the processes and tools that construct applications and operate on data?

Here are some examples:

  • Under tight deadlines, the applications group throws apps "over the wall" to QA, knowing the apps haven't really been tested.
  • Servers that haven't run for years are now needed—and they don't run.
  • A DBA changes a schema, but the applications group isn't notified.
  • A new software or firmware security update comes in from a vendor, but IT neglects to install the fix across its entire user device base.

All of these instances show examples where quality control could have made a significant difference in performance. Yet unlike process manufacturers, who must have a product absolutely right for market, not every IT manager feels the pressure or need to address processes and procedures in IT that could improve performance and quality of IT work.

SEE: Quality assurance checklist for outsourced projects (Tech Pro Research)

Why?

The common answer is that there are so many other pressing projects and fires to put out that there simply isn't time to review how IT gets work done. Consequently, quality control is neglected.

There are ways to inject quality control into processes that can help IT performance. Below are 5.

1. Ensure the applications group performs unit testing before handing apps to QA

Basic unit testing means that all data fields, data manipulations, and instructions in the program work, and that the programmer checked these out. Too many developers cut and compile the code and just perform cursory checks, especially when apps are being tweaked. If QA finds work that should've been unit tested but wasn't, the work should be returned to applications so that unit testing can be done. It is up to the CIO and IT managers to enforce this quality control checkpoint.

2. Require documentation of database changes, software changes, security changes, and firmware changes.

Complete documentation that anyone can follow should be part of every IT work deliverable. As part of its QA process, quality assurance should check for documentation—and turn back any work if it is incompletely documented. Again, it is up to the CIO and IT managers to enforce this quality control checkpoint.

3. Use change management systems.

There are a plethora of change management systems available in the market that companies can use to track changes in applications, databases, etc. Using this software provides IT with a modicum of automation for the change management and documentation process. If they haven't already, CIOs should invest in change management software.

SEE: Job description: Quality assurance engineer (Tech Pro Research)

4. Conduct annual reviews of your IT production processes and control points

IT work processes change over time, so it is important to evaluate these processes and the steps you have in place to assure quality operations and quality product. A good way to do this is for CIOs to have their managers of applications, database, infrastructure, and networks evaluate their respective areas for quality control process gaps so that these gaps are spotted and filled.

5. Promote a quality oriented culture and walk the talk

Quality control work in process manufacturing because it absolutely has to be done to guarantee the integrity of the product. CIOs and IT leaders who believe that quality control is equally important in IT and that it costs time and money to correct quality control missteps must stand their ground when project deadlines are tight, and there is a temptation to throw quality control overboard to finish a project when the quality isn't right.

See also

By Mary Shacklett

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 o...