Quality Kaboom

The following entry is a part of the Pattern Library. The Pattern Library records the common patterns of events that have the potential to lead to project failure.

Name : Quality Kaboom
Type : Behavioral pattern (patterns that shape the sequence or flow of events)

In brief :
Quality activities are pushed to the end of the development cycle allowing hidden problems to grow in magnitude.  High levels of rework only become apparent late in the project cycle.

Description :
All projects teams make mistakes.  Where projects fail to do ongoing testing and reviews the amount of rework needed to fix those mistakes can build up to a level that threatens the project’s survival.

The relative cost to correct a mistake generally rises the longer the problem remains undetected.  For example, if a mistake is made during design and then corrected during the same phase, the cost to correct the problem is generally fairly low.  If that same mistake remains undetected until after production release, the cost to correct the problem can be magnitudes higher.

Projects that ignore quality type activities allow defects to go undetected.  Typically such projects only realise the magnitude of their problem once they reach the project’s integration and test stages.  At that point quality problems explode, resulting in a rapid decrease in the project’s health and a rapid rise in the stress the project team are under.  The net result has been enough to lead to project cancellation.

Negative effects :

  1. Cost of rework is magnitudes higher than had problems been detected earlier in the project
  2. Project status rapidly deteriorates from “Green” to “Red” late in the delivery cycle
  3. The pressure of trying to correct lots of defects in the later stages of project results in additional mistakes being made

Common Root Causes :

  1. A failure to emphasis quality activities in the early stages of the project
  2. Extended development cycles without intermediary points at which integration or testing are performed
  3. Excessive schedule pressure applied at the start of the project reduces the emphasis placed on testing and reviews
  4. Gravitation– the tendency for people to prefer some activities over others.  In this case the tendency to prefer continuing with development work over reviews and testing
  5. Inappropriate or ineffective use of the waterfall lifecycle model
  6. Wasting reviews that are done by focusing on grammar and spelling rather than substantive issues

Suggested Actions :

  1. Use smaller iterations to prevent the defect deficit building up too high (but beware of left shifting)
  2. Use processes such as daily build / smoke tests to ensure major problems are identified and addressed as soon as possible
  3. Ensure reviews are scheduled into the project and included in cost estimates
  4. Perform peer reviews on all critical deliverables

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