How to build a culture of quality - part 1. vision and narrative

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Does your organization use testing as a catch-all safety net for quality? Testers can often become the gatekeepers and decision-makers regarding whether something is ready to be “signed off,” which creates silos and can slow down releases.

Nowadays, there is a lot more talk and emphasis in the testing and QA industry about shifting towards a quality engineering approach to build quality-in, and for everyone to contribute to the overall quality of what is being delivered.

To make quality a priority, you need a big shift in culture and mindset not just in a team but at an organizational level.  

But where do you even start? 

Throughout this 4 part blog series, you will learn ideas and experiences that will hopefully help you influence your teams and wider organizations to kick start that journey to a quality culture.  

We will dive into each of the four critical areas when looking to Build a Culture of Quality. These are:

  1. The Quality Narrative, Vision Statement & Core Values
  2. Quality Engineering Principles & Behavioural Values
  3. Quality Insights – Defining and Measuring Success
  4. The People – Mindsets & Skills

In Part 1, we will focus on Quality Narrative and Vision. Let’s jump in. 


The starting point: quality narrative, vision statement, and core values

I am currently the Head of Quality for Tech at Dunelm, a leader in soft furnishings in the UK. My role is to enable Dunelm’s ability to deliver high-quality customer value at speed across all the technology products we build. This doesn’t specifically include external customers, but also all our internal customers, and colleagues, who use the products we build and/or implement to serve, support, and fulfill those external customer purchases.

In today’s fast-paced technology-driven world, organizations are continually having to evolve whilst striving to deliver high-quality value to their customers faster and faster, and for our company, this is no different. If we do not do this, the reality is, that we will get left behind by our competitors.

To be successful, you need to find that balance between speed and quality, which requires a different approach and mindset shift. In my experience, that all starts with how we talk about quality in our organizations or rather the narrative we use to make it a first-class citizen and have a seat at the table.


Quality Narrative

Often in organizations, when it comes to talking about quality, the focus is on the activity of testing the software or application that has been developed to indicate its quality or whether it is “fit for purpose.” 

However, quality is much more than testing and is also subjective, so it is important that organizations define what quality means to them as a business and their customers. This starts with leadership. If as a leadership team, you cannot describe what quality means in line with both the business objectives and customer needs, then it will be very difficult to lead others through any kind of cultural or mindset change.

A strong and impactful quality narrative should resonate with a wide range of people in your organization who can all contribute to the overall quality and take ownership. Quality can be built in (or adversely impacted) at all stages, so it is important we open our minds and think and talk about it more broadly.

We need to be able to talk about and understand what the right level of quality may be for a particular product to achieve the associated value promptly. We can’t always expect to gold plate something and sacrifice speed, and likewise, we can’t expect to sacrifice quality, purely speed. There needs to be a balance, and the narrative should support that.

For example. Having a narrative that is focused on the customer's need and covers not only what is being built, but also why and the how can be really powerful. 

Our Quality Narrative at Dunelm is“Delivering the right value, in the right way based on our customer needs. Focusing on the Why, What, and How.” 

This Quality Narrative brings together product, business analysis, delivery, engineering (software, quality, platform, site reliability, etc), operations, and business representatives to have those conversations. All of whom are then contributing to the overall quality.

Thinking about all these different things throughout will result in a much higher quality end product that functions how you expect it to and more importantly adds value to all the relevant customers who interact with it.


Quality Vision Statement

Once a narrative is defined, and everyone understands what quality really means, it’s important to be able to bring it to life with a vision statement. This vision statement should be aspirational, short, and to the point and it should set the tone for what is wanted to be achieved. Bringing the narrative and the vision statement together should paint a clearer picture of why whole team ownership is needed and how everyone’s role needs to play a part.

For example, our vision statement is “To Deliver High-Quality Customer Value at Speed.”  However, as described in the narrative, with the impacting factors on quality being so far-reaching, the QA community alone cannot achieve this desired outcome and depend on other communities to also play their critical part.

I like to think of the QA community at Dunelm as a COE - Centre of Enablement (not excellence) for quality.  All of us are QAs (Quality Advocates), and each of us has different roles and specialisms in our field of expertise. A crucial part of our role is to coach other team members to help them better understand the vision statement and how their role contributes to and directly impacts the overall quality of the delivered outcome. 


Quality Core Values

To be able to do that, however, a vision statement alone is not enough. That needs to be broken down further into a set of core values for the QAs to coach others on. These values should all depend on each other and help describe how the vision statement will be achieved. In doing so, they should start to guide people further and shape the quality culture.  

Below are examples of some core values which support the Dunelm Narrative and Vision Statement:

  1. Quality first and for all 
  2. Build quality-in and measure consistently
  3. Deliver value at speed: 

Part 2. Quality Engineering Principles

This brings us to the end of part 1 of this 4-part series. In Part 2 we will delve beneath the core values and start focusing on what are the key Quality Engineering principles and the behavioral values that support them. Stay tuned.

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