Quality Assurance as a copilot

Those who know me professionally know that I care a lot about software quality assurance. I think it’s a mostly misunderstood field, and generally “the world” would be better off with more QA (and/or better QA). Of course, I’m always looking for more arguments to support my view :-D and the last one I found came from a very interesting blog post, Plane Crashes, Software Failures, and other Human Errors. This post explains how mistakes are made in the aviation and healthcare industries, and claims something that sounds shocking but actually makes quite a bit of sense: “errors occur most often when a senior, experienced person is performing”. The reason why it doesn’t happen as often when the less experience person is performing (again according to the blog post): “because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up”.

That got me thinking. No matter how expert one person is, he can’t take all the right decisions without help and feedback: a second opinion is always useful and can save the team from embarrassing (or, in some cases, fatal) consequences. A second opinion can give perspective or aspects not thought of by the first person.

If you apply this to software development, I can’t help thinking that one of the roles of QA fulfils this need: being experts in the field that provide second opinions and critiques on anything the team decides or produces. And they shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up because… well, it’s their job after all. And while yes, fellow developers could serve as “second opinion” too, having a more or less formal position for a “Quality Assurance Engineer” is helpful for a variety of reasons. First, as I said the chances of being afraid to speak up are much lower, because it’s their job. Second, not producing the result themselves gives some perspective that people having to fight with everyday details can have, but usually don’t; at least not as much. And last but probably important, it’s their job so they can focus on it and they don’t stop doing it because “they have deliveries soon” or because “they don’t have time”.

Finally, there is another blog post, linked from the above, that also supports my vision of QA: Toyota “Stop the Line” mentality. But this one is about processes and taking a step back when something is wrong, trying to find the root cause instead of an immediate solution. Enjoy the blog posts :-)