We can have wonderful vision and ideas but until they translate into concrete results, they are not delivering value. Achieving transformation is not the result of chance. It is of performing a series of “right steps right” towards a valuable objective.
Quality Engineering is the discipline to continuously deliver value to its users by constraining the system to quality. Its implementation requires real changes within organizations to deliver lasting changes.
This article shares the key action to take to build, diffuse and share your Quality Engineering vision until you start to impact the system. We will cover key steps to perform within 90 days:
- Why do we need to influence stakeholders?
- What are the maximum valuable impacts?
- What is your target of Quality Engineering?
- Observe, map and understand the Big Picture
- Build an actionable stakeholder engagement plan
- Engage stakeholders on a shared urgency and purpose
- Build a powerful coalition to drive valuable increments
- Focus on reaching the Tipping Point of QE
Let’s stick to our principles of First things first and Start with Why.
Why do we need to influence stakeholders?
A stakeholder is “a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business”. Do you often feel lacking time, with little time for doing more? That’s also the life of your stakeholders. That means when starting, they have no interest or concern to devote time, attention, or resources to your Quality Engineering initiative.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.”African proverb
We could think to do it alone, not afraid of hard work. Just try to recall the number of initiatives announced as the “next strategic move” that you have never heard about since then. That’s the negative Fail Fast or Fail Soon of one-man initiatives. An organization is animated by its actors; the actors’ behaviors must change to change the system behavior.
Our stakeholders must therefore be both included and with interest to drive sustainable Quality Engineering changes. Then comes the next question, how do we change the actor’s behavior? This is the second challenge of human change.
90% of new year diet resolutions fail by the 1st of February. A variety of reasons are involved: lack of discipline, self-motivation, etc. But essentially, it is the failure of changing a set of habits from one to another in gradual transitions. The ability to manage transitions is the essential element of change management; it is even the best way to describe changes as successful improvements, not drastic overnight ones. Now evolving an organization is like succeeding at a company-wide diet resolution.
It means that our desired state of Quality Engineering must be very appealing to our stakeholders to get through the change effort. That starts with a powerful vision.
What are the maximum valuable impacts?
Quality Engineering is the means to achieve the continuous delivery of value to our users and, in the end, our company. The actors should be able to envision the target within your context to be convinced. You can articulate your vision by clarifying its impact and gap analysis.
Does your vision improve by x10 your existing situation? This is a requirement if you want to rally the necessary stakeholders to your cause. Organizations have to prioritize their effort to drive value creation; they don’t have the resources to handle everything. Selling an impact raises the question of its measurement.
The impact you are aiming for is value creation, not technology implementation. You have to materialize the impact of Quality Engineering through what matters to your stakeholders, and most importantly your users. You can achieve that through collaboration, a subject we will cover later.
It is essential to already be clear from your perspective at this early stage before engaging with more actors.
What is your target of Quality Engineering?
The first step to take is clarifying the current state of your organization. It is important to step back from day-to-day operations and other cognitive biases. Take an objective approach from the company’s creation, the last 3 year evolutions, and the elements you know about the business strategy.
The key elements of the existing state you should know are:
- The users’ needs and problems you are trying to solve as a company
- At which level at your answering their needs (think NPS indicator)
- How do your main competitors or new actors answer to the same problems
Our goal is to deliver value continuously, constraining the system to the necessary quality requirements. From this context, you can assess how your engineering capability is supporting or limiting your organization.
A way to assess your Quality Engineering is through this framework of QE we are building into the ebook On Defining Quality Engineering:
- Methods: Which methodologies are useful, which ones are missing? Do we miss fundamental ones like problem-solving? What would be the most valuable ones to bring the desired impact?
- Architecture: What are the alignment and misalignment of our technology architecture? Does it enable fast feedback loops for the actors? Does it enable reliable service delivery and observability?
- Management: What are the priorities of the management? Are they creating impacts? What should management change to create the impact you identified? Are managers controlling or enabling?
- Organization: What are the interactions happening from our organizational design? Are they valuable, minimal and fast? What is unnecessary? What is the fit of the organization with the architecture we want to produce? (Conway’s law)
- Skills: What are the key mindsets, hard skills and soft skills to keep and develop? What changes does that mean from our current situation? Where and how could we start nurturing them?
Your goal is to see the big problems your organization faces from a user perspective; you don’t have to perform complex analysis. You can complement your view by judging the perception your stakeholders have about your engineering and IT capability. For a capability analysis, you can benchmark yourself on the DORA metrics from the Accelerate report.
At this stage, you should identify the key elements of your target story-telling:
- Which users’ problems are you solving by a factor of x10? Why these?
- What are the key elements necessary to implement this target?
- How does Quality Engineering enable the vision implementation?
- What happens if your vision is not implemented? (it must be worst)
Now that you have a vision and a story to tell, you need to involve the ones impacted by your initiative.
Observe, map and understand the big picture
Efficient interactions with your stakeholders are achieved through preparation, not by chance or pure improvisation. You have to recognize each actor’s various forces at play as an individual and as a group. Like a detective, step back, observe and then draw out a plan.
Step back helps to get out of our natural perspective. In Quality Engineering, that will help you think out of your day-to-day interactions, usually limited to a particular set of actors. Your question should be, who are the most important people to engage with my Quality Engineering initiative? New actors will emerge from this questioning. The Shift-up concept also reminds us to secure the engagement of key leadership and influencer roles in your organization.
“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”Abraham Lincoln
Now that you know who are the ones to involve, observation is essential. Your goal is to understand the actors’ and groups’ interests in the current situation. Empathy and questioning are valuable skills to that effect. I recommend you to have notes that you will use later on. The result of this process is to answer “What’s in it for me” for each stakeholder, keeping in mind that everyone does not win from your initiative.
You are now ready to build your stakeholders matrix.
Build an actionable stakeholder engagement plan
A stakeholder matrix is valuable to prioritize the engagement. Like your company, you have limited resources and cannot interact with all actors. The process is similar to the one of an article: draft, review and simplify. You are searching for applying quality to your interactions, maximizing the value from the efforts.
You start by positioning each stakeholder on two axes: power and interest in your initiative. From that, you obtain four categories of action to adapt your effort accordingly: monitor, keep informed, keep satisfied, manage closely. I recommend you to have a finer grain of analysis within these four categories if you have more than 15 actors identified. It will help to refine the prioritization later on.
The next step is to define for each category:
- Level of engagement: Current and desired – not all stakeholders needs to change or reach the maximum level
- Communication: Start (early/later), format, frequency – it can be over a cup of coffee, in private 1to1, after specific meetings
- Risks: Overall risks, per category, per stakeholders – you can use a traditional risk matrix for this activity
The deliverable of this step is an action plan where you know what you want to achieve with clear deliverables. At the same time, you should be able to follow the actual implementation; status and dates fields are usually sufficient to that effect. Like in software, it is an ideal plan. You need to adapt to the reality during execution to reach your engagement objectives.
That’s where the art of execution comes into play.
Engage stakeholders on a shared urgency and purpose
When you start watching a new Netflix series, the context is set, then it will quickly happen one of these patterns: someone will die within 24 hours if no action is taken, the world will be impacted, or a great but temporary opportunity is available. That’s the sense of urgency necessary to drive actions (and keep you watching in the example).
Your stakeholders will take actions if they have an interest and an opportunity. You should have a good understanding of their possible interest from the previous exercise. At that point, you need to create the opportunity through a shared sense of urgency linked to your Quality Engineering initiative. The key addition will be to dilute the Quality Engineering purpose through the actors.
Your shared sense of urgency must follow essential guidelines. It must be transversal to the organization and link to users and company imperatives. It must be realistic to be credible; this is where your preparation and data are necessary. It must appeal to emotions to trigger actions. It must be clear and inspiring to get the adhesion of the actors and support an expansion.
Your sense of urgency needs to be like the preliminary signs of a heart attack, sufficiently impactful to change one’s behavior before it is too late.
This stage can be frustrating as the stakeholders need to understand, digest and incorporate your vision in their minds. A bit of patience is required for these valuable investments afterward. Some practices are helpful at that stage: support push and pull of information supporting your vision, favor more informal sharing, regularly share external information filling the vision. A promising sign is when the actors reformulate your vision in their own words.
Convinced actors will be your core ambassadors enabling you to expand your approach without an affiliate plan.
Build a powerful coalition to drive valuable increments
You need to act like the waves during a flood tide; build up and act continuously until you reach your objective. A guiding coalition is necessary at that stage to empower your initiative to be sustainable within your system. Remember, this is a company-wide new year diet plan.
A guiding coalition is the pivotal element ensuring the execution of your strategy. Its members will act as a local relay to solve local problems while enabling a broad perspective of the transformation effort. This is not a country club, and you are the one who should drive the action plans co-creation and animation towards early wins. These wins will reinforce your coalition and demonstrate its value by action.
“95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy.”The Office of Management Strategy, Harvard Business Review.
Continuous communication requires particular attention through your change effort. You cannot be everywhere. The natural tendency of actors will be to fall back in their old habits (recall the human change introduction). The shared mission is the driver to keep the faith that your vision achievement will bring a better tomorrow worth pursuing today. Shared beliefs and myths are fundamental to actors’ collaboration; that’s Culture.
Culture supports an extended change within a system limiting the coordination effort. A practical example is a religion or capitalism. The behavior is reinforced and supported by mechanisms such as feedback loops. You should therefore balance your actions between concrete results and communication. Communication aims to align shared beliefs and myths around your vision. One vital element is that they must be true, supported by data and demonstrated by results; we are not talking about fiction.
“Beliefs – a fictitious or imaginary person or thing – and myths – something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion – are essential elements of culture, a scaled change enabler”Antoine Craske
Your execution consists of time-boxed continuous increments that must create the part of the desired impact. This is where you need to use measurement and management to drive the actors on the right value to create, not the one that seems easier or more familiar. The lean principles are helpful to streamline your action for end-to-end results while using retrospectives to learn and adapt. The Lean Startup is full of inspiration to that effect.
All these efforts have to pay at some point to move into the next transition. That moment is the Tipping Point.
Focus on reaching the Tipping Point of QE
The Tipping Point is “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place”. This is the pivotal moment you are searching to reach in your Quality Engineering transformation.
The Tipping Point emerged in 1950 from the world of physics observation, later taken by sociology studying the less popular theme of population movement. It has been popularized in the 2000s by Malcolm Gladwell in the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. We see its application through a variety of behaviors. I let you think about Coca-cola, Tesla, and microservices.
Two crucial parts are essential in the Tipping Point. The first is that it requires a series of small changes significant enough to start to trigger more prominent changes. The second is that when reached, it is a point when the actors will rapidly and dramatically change their behavior to widely adopt a previously rare practice. In our case, that practice is Quality Engineering.
When do you reach the Tipping Point? It has been measured at around 10-16% of the population that holds the new unshakable belief. That’s why your previous effort must be focused first on your guiding coalition and not the whole organization. Next, the other actors will change their beliefs if their last two social interactions agree with the new one. That’s in part the network effect some companies leverage successfully.
From that moment, you are ready to build up your early wins across broader impacts.
QE is a Continuous Journey of Valuable Software Delivery
You are at the beginning of the new journey of Quality Engineering. It will be composed of several iterations towards delivering valuable software to your users. There’s no big end; it is a continuous journey of learning and improvements.
All the work done in the first steps is a true investment in ensuring your initiative’s execution and expansion. Bypassing these steps would increase the likelihood of the Fail Fast or Fail Soon one-man initiatives we covered. Your focus will need to evolve as your vision expands to maintain its essence and execution alignment.
Your vision will gradually materialize through its execution, involving changes in your organization. You will go through the Hero’s Journey many times as your actors will. It is important to keep this view of change management as a series of gradual transitions to succeed; there is no one-night “change management” shortcut.
Keep in mind your key objective of valuable impacts for your organization and your users, leveraging management to align the actors on the value creation. Your goal is not to be good at one point but to maintain and increase your impact over time.
Reaching the Tipping Point is preceded by the sisyphus effect – endless list of tasks. Stay motivated, because the next one is the snowball effect.
Which most valuable impact are you gonna pursue?
Robert B. Cialdini (2007), Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Harpers Collins Publishers.
Yuval Noah Harari (2015), Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harpers Collins Publishers.
Malcolm Gladwell (2002), The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Little Brown.
William Bridges, Susan Bridge (2017), Managing Transitions: Making The Most of Change. Da Capo Press.
John P. Kotter (2012), Leading Change. Harvard Business Press.
Dale Carnegie (2011), How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age. Simon & Schuster.
Eric Ries (2001), The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Crown Publishing Group.