How do you start a conversation with your colleagues about quality?

Great topic of discussion during a recent This Week in Testing.

How do you start a conversation with your colleagues about quality?

@olly_f described how he’s never had a dedicated conversation about quality with folks beyond testers/QA people.

He’s starting a new quarterly project and has started the conversation with his colleagues who aren’t testers/QA people. Asking questions like, “Who is best placed to say what is quality?”

How do you go about having conversations with your colleagues and various stakeholders about quality? What sort of models might you introduce? Who should you be having conversations with?

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For me quality comes up from time to time in different discussions on different hierarchy levels. Someone says something like “We have to improve our quality” or something similarly vague :joy:

Usually I try to get them to elaborate on what they mean, and start organic conversations about quality like that.

Sometimes, especially if it comes from a project lead or manager, I have had quality workshops, where we walk through what quality actually means to them and try to define it.

My entry point to all quality conversations has been Gerald Weinbergs “Quality is value to some person”. When we say quality we are talking about value to different customers/stakeholders over time periods.

When I started in the gaming business 10 years ago I tried to summarise my thoughts, and they still hold more or less:

If no one is talking about quality, then asking them coaching questions to get them to think in that direction could be an approach. I wrote about building a QA mindset, but the approach is applicable to understanding quality:

Everyone involved in product development should be thinking about the quality of the product, from different contexts and viewpoints, and if there aren’t conversations about quality then there is room for driving improvement initiatives around it.

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Why would I want to start a conversation about quality?
I think it comes organically when people whine about things, complain about problems, strongly push for something, ask a weird question about why aren’t doing things in a certain way, or they ask the team to do X for Y reason.

The word quality might never come into the conversation, but it will be a conversation about improving something.

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Great question!

I’ve been lucky to be part of several teams who grew into “high-performing” teams where we felt psychologically safe, shared a high level of trust amongst ourselves and with our stakeholders, and enjoyed our work. And had happy customers.

On all of those teams, we started off by getting everyone on the team together to decide - what does quality mean to us? What level of quality do we want? And - we committed to achieve that level of quality. Next steps were - what do we need to do to work towards that goal.

The teams I’ve been on where we didn’t have that conversation (despite my best efforts to encourage it), some of them ended up doing pretty well. Yet, there was always some floundering, that lack of commitment to a quality goal meant people threw up their hands if there was a difficult obstacle in the way of quality. The unicorn magic didn’t happen.

How to start the conversation? Find a like-minded colleague who thinks it’s a good idea. Brainstorm together how to get the team together for this discussion. Get support from your manager. Ask the team for 30 minutes of time as an experiment. If you’re co-located, organize a short “workshop” with nice food treats. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth trying.

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I’ve been in a couple of teams where the ‘quality’ was dictated from outside.
We additionally had our own quality criteria in the team.
Sometimes they met each other well.
Other times they diverged(especially due to several departments conflicting view on quality).
It was unpleasant at some point having a meeting with several managers telling the entire team they need to listen and be submissive in doing exactly what they say.

I struggle more to start a conversation with my colleagues about anything not-quality :sweat_smile:

What is an easy opener is “what do you do/what are you working on” and then you can move to “how would you test that?/how do you ensure quality” etc…

Thanks Johan! I’ll have a read through your articles. they sound interesting. I’ll be starting the conversation from scratch, as it were, as our individual or collective understanding is just something that hasn’t been talked about.

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Thank you Lisa! This is great stuff. I’ve got a slot booked in with one of the teams I’m on next week so am collating talking points at the moment. My manager and I started a conversation around it among the other QA’s in my department last week but I want to see if it’s something we can make tangible and work towards. I’m very grateful to be in a company where I’m even able to think about having this conversation to be honest so hopefully it will lead to something positive.

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I’ve been in this position to the point where I found out 9 months after starting up a testing team that the board wasn’t sure it was a good thing or not for those first 9 months (they decided it was). I got in trouble for doing things like exploratory testing and helping to investigate bugs instead of just checking acceptance criteria and throwing bugs over the fence to developers. I wouldn’t have dreamed of having a conversation about quality at that company!

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Its an interesting area my thoughts on this have changed over the years, this is a bit long winded but the journey is important in my view, maybe others are at different points on their own journey.

From very few discussions on quality when I was a developer, then as project manager they increased a bit as the PMP training had a small section on quality however that had a huge bias towards project quality and project risks. I learned a lot of really good stuff around risk at that point but they had almost zero on testing.

When I moved to testing the discussions drifted more towards product quality, this was almost 20 years ago and unfortunately there was also a tendency to group quality and testing into the same thing.

I had a head of QA title for a while, with the dev, PM and tester experience alongside quality process training in things like CMMI so I thought ideal role but then when I started those quality discussions with PM’s, developers etc there was a significant push back to ‘that’s testing responsibility’, stop interfering with our jobs.

The conversations on quality were hard and I ended up embracing the idea of testers getting out of the quality business for good reasons at the time at focused on excelling at testing. I sometimes still recommend this if testers are viewed across a company as owning quality.

These days I’m full circle, I’m mostly testing and coaching but I’ve brought back quality to the center of the discussions and to be fair that old quality/testing confusion is much rarer where I am but it did take time and a lot of discussion.

I get involved in the early quality discussions, the goals, the company values, what success and failure looks like and will often leverage from creating a quality strategy that I’ve found to be a massive catalyst for quality discussions. As I have brought testing back into the quality fold the quality strategies and discussions fairly easily allow stepping into the testing discussions.

This is important as I’ve found PM’s and customers more willing to talk about quality and its importance and I can leverage this to talk about the importance of testing, going the other way is a harder discussion in my experience.

Whole team discussions, start with interest in the product questions, what do you want to achieve, what will that look like, why is that of value and to who, then ease them into questions around what could possibly be a blocker to achieving those things - its gets a bit into risk discussions at this point.

I try and keep the quality discussions with a coaching hat on rather than leading quality hat, everyone is best placed to have a say about quality in their own area.

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I usually bring it up in the sprint retro meetings.

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Thank you for this. Really interesting especially the bit about clients being on board with talking about quality which leads to talking about testing more easily

Do you mind if I ask what kind of things you bring up without wanting to discuss specific examples or anything? I appreciate your company might not appreciate every little detail being discussed!

Generally its a discussion of what type of bugs we encountered most and what should we do about it.

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Nearly all my discussions relate to quality:

  • How much effort should I spent for testing X?
  • What risks do we have at X?
  • What should be fixed?

When quality is value to a person, discussing the more/less testing of something is about quality as well as the discussion about more/less fixing and less/more implementing new features.
“Where and why should we spent effort to improve things (and if its just the information about its state)?” which I often discuss and IMO easily tell you what value matters to what person.

Idk … I find it hard to not talk about quality. When asking for effort/time/budget/risk you can easily grasp what is important to people.

Not to forget: Releasing a product earlier, with less testing and potentially more bugs, can also be a value to someone.
Quality does not only matter to “end users” but to all stakeholders.