Repeatable Processes

Karen asks about the importance of repeatable processes. The biggest problem I see with most formalised processes is the inability to change them. Getting CMM or ISO or whatever certification often only makes sure that you can never improve your processes, or that it is at least very difficult to. Karen once told me a story of a previous employer where the QA process involved handwriting a test plan at each QA stage. Notwithstanding the issues as to whether the test plans might have been expressed better in code than in English, it would clearly have been better to even be allowed to type the plans rather than hand-writing them – but that’s not what the process documentation stated.

At the higher levels of CMM there is an expectation that you will be constantly refining your processes, but as most companies seem to go for CMM solely to allow them to pitch for a job that requires it, and most of those requirements are only for level 2 or 3, which promote (or at least make it easier to prefer) rigidity over fluidity, process seems to more often be a straight-jacket than a useful framework.

For those who still believe that process equals quality, I used to relay the mythical tale of the company with its ISO quality seal for making concrete lifejackets. But I now prefer the story of the law firm whose ISO-certified policy includes the complaints procedure stating: “All complaints received will be circulated to three random members of staff for ridicule, before being discarded unanswered”.

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