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15 July 2008

Linking quality to decision making

By Andrew Clifford

Quality management is only effective when it is linked to decision making. To link it, you need to clarify your IT objectives and your decision-making processes, and build a balanced body of information about your IT.

You can split IT work into two: the focused execution of project and service delivery processes, and "other work". Other work covers many specialist and management roles, such as database administration, information security, project office, compliance, architecture, and so on. A large part of these other roles involves managing or checking the quality (in the broadest sense) of the execution processes, or of the products of the processes. We could loosely classify these as "quality roles", distinct from "execution roles".

Although quality is an important factor in process execution, execution roles have a different focus from quality roles. For example, project management focuses on the delivery of projects on time, to budget, and to specification. Long-term quality issues, and the quality of the overall IT environment, fall outside the scope of the project. Specialist quality roles look at different aspects of the solution, and have a brief that is broader than individual projects.

This difference of focus can cause problems. There is an inevitable tension between the execution focus and the quality focus. Specialists in quality roles may feel that their recommendations are not given enough priority by management, who must focus on day-to-day execution. Worst of all, some quality roles morph into self-serving monsters, making unreasonable and unjustified demands that add significantly to costs and timescales.

All this can be a significant waste of resources. Many IT organisations are keen to create roles to improve quality, but then are reluctant to back the recommendations for improved quality that come out of these roles, or burn time and money feeding the monster they have created.

The root of this problem is that we do not fully define how quality management connects to decision-making processes.

I have been putting together methods for system quality management and thinking about this connection. I have some suggestions.

  • Start by clarifying objectives for IT in your organisation. Think how you need to balance the immediate needs of of project and service delivery processes with your broader obligations and requirements for long-term risk and cost control.
  • Understand when and how quality issues can impact your main execution processes. Are internal IT requirements allowed to feed into the workplan? What quality checkpoints are there in projects?
  • Think what information you need to support decision making. What do you need to know to make a decision on a quality recommendation to change a project or the overall IT workplan?
  • Adopt ongoing evaluation of systems and projects to consistently identify quality issues. You need a balanced view to make sure that resources are directed to the real priorities, not just to the areas that shout loudest.

This top-down approach identifies quality issues from your organisations' IT objectives, decision-making processes and situation. It focuses specialist resources on the areas that matter to your organisation and where quality issues are able to make a difference. It provides the necessary link between quality management and decision making.

Next: Controlling departmental IT

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