Intervening in a technological context tends to associate us only with this single prism. However, the creation of value through technology starts with the company, its customers, and its challenges.
Iman Benlekehal regularly intervened in the round tables, sharing the importance of “Why” and “For what”. She is also at the origin of the “Shift-up & Spread” concept, a practice she uses before talking about Shift-left or Shift-right.
In this interview, Iman shares with us his perspective for Quality that brings value to organizations. His experience and background make us take a step back from our practices, which I let you discover.
About Iman Benlekehal
With 15 years of experience in information technology, including 13 years in quality assurance (in France and now in Canada), I have developed a solid understanding of the definition, attributes, and challenges that software quality demands.
Quickly passionate about the testing profession, which I discovered during my first experience, I had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge in various sectors (Banking, Finance, Automotive, Trains, Retail, Human Resources, Telecom, and Advertising). From a simple tester to test manager and now a Quality Assurance Specialist, I quickly progressed to management functions, which require strong human skills.
My ability to adapt to other cultures, my critical mind, and my ability to observe and communicate allows me to quickly establish and maintain relationships of trust between all the stakeholders (clients and different teams). Thanks to my natural leadership and everyone’s transparency and accountability, I was able to create a stimulating and collaborative environment with a strong team spirit that allowed me to face unexpected high-pressure situations with confidence.
In parallel with my professional activity, I also strengthened my knowledge through international certifications (ISTQB and ITIL), a Master in Management of Information Systems and Consulting (obtained in 2015), and more recently Safe 5.
Today, I feel ready to take on new responsibilities and new challenges. Sharing my experiences more widely (outside my company), participating in conferences and round tables to explore new ideas are some of the new areas I am looking for. Sharing the views of others and collaborating on what defines the work and responsibilities of software quality assurance today and tomorrow and broadly defining quality is also my next goal.
Antoine: Can you start by introducing yourself?
I have about fifteen years of experience in testing in different fields and sectors. This diversity was essential for me; for example, by exploring regulated and non-regulated sectors. I did part of my experience in France and then went abroad to Canada, more specifically to Quebec.
I moved a lot in my childhood, every 3 years on average until I was 20. The countries were completely different in terms of culture, languages, and contexts. Each time I followed a national course, where I had to learn the local language and adapt again. My dad told me I was going to thank him later, and he was right.
These changes allowed me to develop my adaptation and observation skills, which are an integral part of my personality. I use these skills in the different projects to which I contribute. My approach, both neutral and curious, helps analyze each project with a fresh perspective. I have a strong need to learn from others, which is why I like my job in quality.
Antoine: If you take a step back from your experiences, what are the main topics that you address?
My answer will be applicable internationally, having lived it in different contexts and countries.
The first topic is the misunderstanding of the quality value proposition. The interlocutors rarely have the right or the same understanding of our level of intervention, with the various consequences that this implies. It’s a recurring lack that I see in most projects. Many organizations still see the quality associated with testing done after developments. When you start asking questions from the analysis, some people are surprised.
The second observation is that of natural silos. Even if we work in agile models, “all in the same team”, we tend to lose perspective. We will tend to dig only what we have analyzed, getting lost in details that we can no longer find meaning. This is valid for functional analysis, a test, etc. We can easily lose sight of the more important objectives. Someone arriving from outside the project will have this fresh perspective, but it is far from natural for the project team.
“We must constantly fight the natural organizational silos.”Iman Benlekehal
The third point is that of communication, an increasingly complex topic with remote organizations. We sometimes manage to understand each other better by speaking a foreign language. I have seen so many quick exchanges assuming mutual understanding with a “Do we agree? Yes”. In reality, real gaps in perception and understanding are often present between the actors. Knowing how to ask questions, reformulate, contextualize is more than necessary. Some people react badly to questioning, sometimes out of impatience or ego. Unspoken presuppositions and assumptions create real problems in later projects.
Antoine: What are the strengths of Quality for you?
Projects are successful when everyone understands the goals and the meaning of what they are doing: the customers, the business, and the product. The team must know how to answer the “Why” and the “For What”. Lack of alignment is one cause of the natural silos I mentioned, where efforts will diverge on different goals. Each person will tend to define objectives concerning his role. What interests me is defining transversal objectives about the product maintaining an alignment per role.
“What interests me is defining transversal objectives while maintaining an alignment per role.”Iman Benlekehal
The second guarantee of success is that of collaboration. If we have the same objectives and understand the two whys, collaboration will improve the product quality. It will promote exchange, empathy, and a better perspective of the actions of the team.
Antoine: What threats do you consider to deliver Quality in organizations?
For weaknesses, the previous points of lack of understanding, communication, and silos remain valid. I would add the hierarchization of stakeholders as a real danger for the teams. This can be Dev / QA, Project Manager / Client, Internal / External. This hierarchy of value is beyond functional silos and creates problems in execution. One party will be more or less listened, generating an imbalance of objectives, implications, and meaning. The hierarchy between teams is a real factor of project failure.
Poor risk management is also recurrent, with variations of cultural risk aversion. I had the feeling in France that risks, for example, are unwelcome, creating a tendency to avoid mentioning them. On the contrary, detecting, managing, and communicating risks are necessary for projects where the context is constantly changing. Addressing risks is not just a lonely exercise reserved for the project manager or QA. It is a fundamental exercise that will be of value by being collaborative, transparent, and regular.
“The transversality of Quality goes well beyond technicity.”Iman Benlekehal
I would add one final weakness that I often see with project managers and project directors, that of takeover. This manifests itself in a directive behavior leaving little autonomy to the teams. An example is the sentence “It’s like that and not otherwise”. This type of often self-proclaimed attitude amounts to prioritizing a person above the team, as if they are more valuable, creating a real disengagement from the teams. This does not invite collaboration, creativity, or pro-activity, increasing the likelihood of project failure.
These factors are symptomatic to specific organizations which have to take a wall or walls to react. You could almost want to push them to do Fail Fast to limit damage and change as quickly as possible.
Antoine: If we switch in temporality, what opportunities do you identify for Quality?
The COVID pandemic has accelerated awareness of the importance and place of technology in business. I like to go back in time and draw parallels with the past without taking things in isolation. The importance of IT has changed a lot, in both businesses and our day-to-day life.
Our daily lives are overwhelmed with digital tools and technologies, with more offers than demand. This reality applies to companies and those denying this fact, leaving IT apart and underground have been caught up by the acceleration of digitization. Some organizations have survived thanks to technology. This pandemic has led to a faster change in the perspective and place of technology in business. As with humans, some have understood by observing other actors and initiated a more profound transformation, while others will need to experience pain to change.
I use a technique to make an organization react as an opportunity. I involve different actors around a product by combining different roles and having people outside the product or project. Indirectly, at one time or another, one of these stakeholders will be impacted. I often try to have the project manager, management people, and if possible the CEO.
The objective of the workshop is to let them express themselves on their perception of quality. The actors do not naturally understand the subjectivity of quality. Through the exchange, people will begin to exchange their perceptions and reasoning. Empathy gradually improves while creating bonds and commitment. This exchange aims to align the level of quality expected by the various stakeholders through the discussion, far from silos. These workshops often wake up teams; everyone thinks they are right and eventually understands that a common aligned goal is more important.
Antoine: For threats, which ones do you think are the most at risk for Quality?
In connection with the acceleration of digitization, people who have not understood the place of IT in companies are a threat. A lack of understanding of the value proposition of technologies, not just quality, jeopardizes the survival and development of an organization. The investment and team priorities will not be in the right place or, in any case, limited in value creation. COVID has helped reduce this threat, highlighting the actors who have succeeded or failed to survive through digital.
Humans as such remain a threat due to their difficulties and slowness in changing. The management of change is a real subject to address. We observe these weaknesses in organizational changes, such as the place of quality in organizations. Individual change is a challenge that is all the more complex when it has to address culturally at the level of an organization. Collaborative workshops, time, and focus on driving change are needed to reduce this threat.
Antoine: Do you have any practices that you find regularly effective in addressing Quality?
I can start with the Shift-Up & Spread shared during previous exchanges. Too many quality profiles tend to focus too much on testing techniques, tools, and technicalities. If the developers and the team did not understand the objectives more generally, these technical efforts would be in vain. If managers impose arbitrary delivery dates without making sense, we will also be far from being effective.
“The Shift-up & Spread helps align the expected level of quality in the organization.”Iman Benlekehal
We have to look beyond our team and its project, understanding the big picture of our company and customers. The expected level of quality defined in collaboration must first be determined. This is the Shift-Up. The Spread then consists of aligning the practices, methodologies, and tools in the teams. We must keep our attention on the value the organization seeks to achieve.
QA Managers, Test Managers, whatever – those who are quality leaders – need to have strong observation skills. There are plenty of indirect elements and weak signals to be aware of. The success of the project and the product must remain the star to be achieved. We will have to find agreements, make compromises, negotiate. This is where you have to invest your energy, and it is considered a priority.
Antoine: What lessons do you learn from the transversalization of Quality?
In specific experiences, I lost a lot of energy trying to change everyone. I was convinced of being able to succeed with all of them. It took me a while to realize it, but a small percentage of people do not want to evolve.
Trying to change them is a wasted effort, which would be too long and time-consuming. It’s not that these people aren’t worth it; it’s that we don’t have the time. Whatever the context, the change, or the proposals, these individuals will not want to move. My method, once again by observation, is to succeed in recognizing them and prioritizing our efforts. Having broken my teeth on a few people, they are now sharp enough to recognize them 🙂
“You have to stay inclusive by choosing your fights, identifying the leaders and followers.”Iman Benlekehal
My goal is to identify the people who will be the transformation drivers and actors of change management. I also want to include and let the stakeholders express themselves, including the followers in the process. Giving his point of view, feeling listened to and valued will make the person act differently in the rest of the project. This diversity also brings value.
I am, for example, someone rather Cartesian who likes logic. Nevertheless, I meet rather dreamy and different profiles of my personality that I find enriching. Although sometimes I will not follow their reasoning, it challenges mine. Maintaining inclusion is truly important in change management.
Antoine: Do you see other main points to consider for a Quality with a higher value?
The uniqueness of each project, product, and context is an important point to consider. Each context is different, and therefore our approach must be adapted. A particular technique may be effective or, on the contrary, completely counterproductive in another.
Although some characteristics are common, the contexts will naturally be different in many respects. It is not because we have been in Thailand that we know Malaysia and even less Asia. Starting from this principle helps us keep a neutral approach to each project to improve our perspective and ability to observe.
“Each project is unique. You have to know how to stay neutral, observe and adapt.”Iman Benlekehal
It also reinforces our humility. It is not because we have done a project in a similar context that we will be successful in the future. We also need perspective to gauge the level of the company’s quality culture. The level of maturity will have strong implications for the level of investment to be made in change management and prioritizing our efforts in the right place. We must also ban the use of “should”, full of assumptions that are rarely validated. Quality is relative, and you have to know how to adapt it to your environment.
Antoine: On a personal level, what references, quotes, or people inspired you and continue to inspire you?
I enjoyed reading Leading Quality, pushing us to seek direction in our quality approach while remaining easy to read.
In terms of communication, I am reading I am a Gold Digger by Guillaume Dulude. It is a work devoted to interpersonal communication which popularizes complex subjects with actionable techniques. Certain situations make us think, like a football match where a single glance can be enough for two people to understand each other without formal communication.
I am very curious about people, diversity, and the alignment of different perspectives. It is for me an essential aspect for an Enterprise Quality.
QE Unit, Quality. Without Testing. https://qeunit.com/fr/blog/la-qualite-sans-tester/
The QA Lead, interview of Iman Benlekehal with Le Shift-up and Spread https://theqalead.com/topics/shift-up-and-spread-a-new-testing-concept-w-iman-benlekehal/
William Dulude, I’m a gold digger https://www.amazon.ca/suis-chercheur-dor-mécanismes-communication/dp/2761950054
Ronald Cummings – John, Owais Peer, Leading Quality: How Great Leaders Deliver High Quality Software and Accelerate Growth https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Quality-Leaders-Software-Accelerate/dp/1916185800
The Leading Quality Book Official website https://www.leadingqualitybook.com