Managing Quality for Information Technology
(October 22, 2018)
Effective integration of information technology into an organization's business processes has become increasingly crucial to prosperity. IT includes such items as the systems software, application software, computer hardware, networks and databases associated with managing an organization's information. The chief information officer leads the department that manages most aspects of an organization's IT. However, when it comes to implementing quality standards in the IT realm, most CIOs face so many pressures to deliver systems and technologies which meet the organization's ever-changing needs that quality falls by the wayside.
The industry as a whole has fallen short of delivering technology that people understand and can use. Many of the problems occur because of the complexity of technology and the rapid pace of change. Neither of these conditions is likely to abate; in fact, they're accelerating at an alarming rate. If flawless execution was an elusive goal in the past, it is even more so today.
Nevertheless, performance can be substantially improved by ensuring that tactical decisions to develop and support IT emphasize quality. Experience tells us that quality improvements in IT delivery and service support can be achieved by introducing such considerations as user satisfaction, integration and flexibility early on in the decision process and reinforcing them throughout the review process.
Although there are no perfect solutions, there are standards in these areas below which an application and its support cannot be allowed to fall. Quality management means ensuring that these standards are rigorously enforced and embedded into the thinking of the organization's entire IT community.
Despite the fact that as an organizational rallying point, total quality management has been eclipsed by other quality processes, those organizations that embraced the concept surely benefited from it.
Most have made good use of TQM's basic concepts, resulting in greater customer satisfaction and improved product quality. The challenge for IT is to mine from these experiences valuable lessons. Some sound TQM concepts include:
The main challenge lies in leveraging and incorporating these concepts into the critical components of an IT quality function. The following approach helps define an IT quality function.
Create a clear mission
The ultimate mission of the IT quality function must be to add value to the organization as a whole and, in particular, to improve IT quality in every aspect, including applications, the infrastructure, even the help desk. However, the IT quality function cannot serve as the sole owner of quality; it must not try to resolve all quality issues alone. Further, it shouldn't operate in an after-the-fact quality assurance mode. Instead, it should identify issues that impede quality and facilitate their rapid resolution.
Taking a broad cross-functional perspective of IT quality issues, the mission of the quality function must:
Set specific objectives
Quality objectives need to focus, ultimately, on user satisfaction and key areas problematic to the IT area. They should answer the question, "What does the IT quality function want to accomplish?" Sample objectives include: improve user satisfaction, control IT costs, reduce defects, improve IT infrastructure and application stability, and improve user perception of IT quality.
Develop simple strategies
Quality strategies should answer the question, "How will we achieve our objectives?" A simple strategy would be to address only broad, high-priority quality issues that affect the objectives. Or, the quality function could focus on customer issues rather than internal issues. Another strategy would be to use a small quality team and an extended quality community rather than build a large quality organization within the information systems department.
To be effective, the quality function must avoid the tendency to grow a new bureaucracy. It must be committed to "staying the course" in creating a quality culture for the IT community.
Design a small, focused quality function
The IT quality function must be created with certain design points, which need to include key aspects, such as:
The quality function should be comprised of a small, focused team within the IT community. The key is to avoid creating a large, bureaucratic entity, but rather employ a small team that represents an extended community in the business functions.
The IT quality function should be led by an influential executive reporting directly to the CIO or the chief financial officer. This will ensure that the new function has the required influence and can manage across the organization effectively. The small team of quality advocates will report directly to the quality executive. The IT quality function should focus on broad, cross-functional quality issues that are high priority and critical in nature to resolve. From an IT perspective, the scope should include such areas as application development, networking, databases, data centers and end-user support (help desk). From a business perspective, the function's responsibilities should include virtually the entire organization because most business areas will likely have some sort of IT infrastructure or application.
The IT quality leader will work with business executives and the CIO, while the quality advocates will work with the extended quality community. The leader's key responsibilities are:
Quality advocates' responsibilities include:
The IT quality function calls for a high-powered, extremely talented team of "A" players. Therefore, the quality leader must be able to build and sustain an excellent executive network. The leader should consistently demonstrate a high sense of urgency and motivate people to address issues that concern the entire organization. For their part, quality advocates should be adept at communicating with superiors and peers, analyzing issues and working in cross-functional teams.
The business executives, the CIO and the IT quality leader must agree to a set of measurements that will track the progress of IT quality initiatives and issues. While consistency between groups is desirable, it is more important to relate the measures logically to the activities involved. The quality measures should reflect the items that remain important to users and those that drive user satisfaction. Each measure should include a target and time frame. An example of a user-focused measure: User's perception of IT performance (measure), increase to 75 percent (target), by second quarter 1999 (time frame).
User-focused measures should be based on the user's view of IT quality. However, the IT quality function must also measure the internal drivers affecting user measures. For example: Number of defects per user (measure), reduce by 10 percent (target), by fourth quarter 1999 (time frame).
Take the next steps
In order to jump-start an IT quality effort, find and designate an IT quality leader and enlist IT quality advocates. Once the team is in place, members can begin to establish connections into the extended quality community to build its quality network. As the team and the quality network become established, they can further solidify the components of the IT quality function (mission, objectives, measures, etc.). Improvements in IT quality will increase over time as the function and extended quality network evolve, relationships mature and quality issues are resolved.
About the authors
Douglas L. Swanson, Ph.D., is a managing principal in IBM Global Services. His focus areas include change management, process reengineering and quality management. He was a leader of the team that achieved IBM Rochester's 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
Richard A. Esposito is a principal in IBM Global Services. He specializes in improving the operational performance of organizations with an emphasis on product development.
Jean Jester, Ph.D., is a consultant in IBM Global Services. She focuses on aligning strategies and organizational structure to enhance efficiency and employee effectiveness.
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