A very wise manager once told me that, “even if your message contains negative data, find a way to highlight the positive, but never compromise content”. So, I’ll start with the positive. Most Quality Management Systems (QMS) will work for your company, as long as you have the right business processes. Sounds great, right? Here’s the catch: there are many QMS in the marketplace, and selecting one is less about comparing technologies and more about getting the right framework in place with your team and customers. And, that’s hard to do.

A QMS is a tool like any other. You can spend a lot of money to buy a high-end kitchen set, but these tools won’t serve you well without a great recipe, fresh ingredients and knowledgeable chef. So, rather than spend my time comparing features of QMS, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about building a strong framework and QA processes in order to make any QMS work for your team.

1. Learning from the Past The beginning of QMS (ISO 9000) dates back to the late 1950’s when the collaboration between two departments (US Department of Defense and the British Ministry of Defense) recognized the need to set proper expectations and simplify a unified standard of suppliers. Despite the fact that this is created long ago, there is still a lot of merit today, so I’ll start the QMS search by delving into what I like from the past.

The ISO standards are time tested and recognized by 99 countries, but not all are relevant to you and your company. The best advice from them is:
•Make the system work for you, not the other way around.
•Don’t get a packaged system. You should develop your own and reach out for additional help if needed.
•Don’t manage top-down. The system only works if you have buy-in from your team, so spend the time to work with them to explain that this will make work easier for them, and truly integrate it into their workflows.
•Don’t underestimate the importance of training.
•Motivate your employees by letting them own different parts of the system.

2. All Roads Lead to Your Customer
It doesn’t matter how you cut it - every product, service and solution is built for its customers. The job of a QA team is to ensure quality delivered to your customers, whoever they may be. So, it goes without saying that a good framework must have the customer at its core. No system can do this for you - it must be at the heart of your team and processes. For example, most engineers like to build products that work with the latest and best technologies and browsers. However, many customers do not always use them.

For example, an engineer might build a product that works magnificently on Google Chrome browser, but if most of your customers are using Internet Explorer, you will have problems. It is the job of QA to advocate for the customer, and a good QMS will allow you to identify these gaps and address them accordingly.

3. Set Clear End-User Expectations
In this area, my advice may begin to ruffle a few feathers. Sometimes your customer may not know exactly what they want. This is particularly prevalent when you are building a product for a customer that will end up serving their end users. Sometimes, the customer doesn’t know what their end users want or need and, if they are unclear about this, their problem quickly becomes your problems. For this reason, you must force your customers to be clear in their requirements upfront and make sure all requirements have been properly documented, reviewed, approved and signed off on. This is essential to understanding the scope of the project and the resources (required vs. available). If the expectations are not clear in the beginning, you can see requirements changing on the fly, and this can cause delays, additional work and team frustration.

"Selecting a QMS is less about comparing technologies and more about getting the right framework in place with your team and customers"

If this is not done, putting a QMS in place could lead to disaster because (1) you are setting false hopes and expectations of quality, (2) it can lead to underutilization of technologies and resources, (3) it hides real issues and takes away valuable time from the project, and (4) impacts team morale.

A common example of this is when a potential customer does not have a clear picture themselves (in terms of the solution that will be used, target audience, etc.) and sets the expectation that, “I’ll see what they build and we’ll adjust cycles until I feel satisfied”. If you operate on this mentality, you could get sucked into never ending cycles and have a very dissatisfied customer and disgruntled team.

4. Incompatibility
One Size Does Not Fit All (The Birth of Agile) Every company, product and solution has different needs. I’m surprised to find that many industry professionals do not agree. Even two SAAS (software-as-a-service) companies can have very different needs.

For example, if we compare Orbitz. com to Declara.com, we see that Orbitz’s search tool is the core to their business and should be front and center, with all QA pointing back to Search. At Declara, although we pride ourselves in offering personalized search, we also must be cognizant of offering quality recommendations, great social tools, ability to organize information and engaging UI. So, we have to balance search as one of several feature sets.

So, you must define the keys to success in your product, service or solution before you can even begin to think about a QMS.

5. Customization is Key
When choosing your QMS, make sure that it is highly customizable. It should be able to easily integrate with other third-party systems that you use (such as Atlassian) and work exactly as you need it for your company. Just because something worked well for IBM or Google, does not mean it will work well for you.

This above list is just the beginning of what you need to have in place before selecting a QMS. In evaluating a QMS, you should also understand your organization’s need to track the product and/or releases and engineering resources. You should always understand your own risks and timelines, in addition to understanding your communication needs and the necessary integration with existing messaging systems.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what system you use. If you understand how to select them and deploy the right processes, you’ll be able to find one that works for you.