Alexander Trommen, CEO of Appsfactory, on the importance of Quality Assurance
In today’s blog post, I have the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Trommen, CEO of Appsfactory GmbH.
We talk about Quality Assurance, Quality Management Systems, risk aversiveness, and how our attention to quality through our new QA department makes us a key differentiator vis-à-vis our competitors.
If you are interested in working for or with the Appsfactory, please visit our website: https://www.appsfactory.de
I hope you enjoy this article and I am looking forward to reading your comments below!
Raphaël Reiter, Quality consultant, Appsfactory
What is quality?
Alexander Trommen: That’s a good question.
Ultimately, I think for me, the technical answer would be that quality is to get as close to perfection as possible.
The emotional answer is: quality is when the client likes the product.
What I want to say by differentiating those two topics is, that quality is not just delivering a software in the sense that it is fault free, that it doesn’t crash, etc.
It starts much earlier, when it comes to the point of writing user stories, in the sense of really understanding what the client wants.
Additionally not just understanding what the client wants, but going beyond that and actually transferring and understanding the needs of the client into proper user stories.
We just had the example recently, where a project got in trouble because our developers actually tried to map 30 000 points of interest on a map, although the enduser only needs information on probably 30 points of interest within a radius of 5 kilometers, because that is the only relevant set of mobility that you have in that use case. This is a good example that despite coding this correctly, the system was overwhelmed by the amount of points of interest, so the system didn’t perform the task and crashed. That is a good example of quality assurance in the sense of defining the product.
RR: So actually, you would view QA first and foremost as a process to avoid issues from the start of a project?
AT: I think the coding in the example was as close to perfection as possible, but for me, quality is helping the client define the product the best as possible, so that it really fulfills his needs. When it comes to the role of QA, the main thing that I see is acceptance criteria and user stories.
Do you consider quality assurance as an emerging business opportunity for the Appsfactory?
We have been investing in building up the QA department. We are hiring for all sorts of jobs in QA, in all our offices. Quality is one of our top priorities, so we try to grow it.
As everybody knows, QA has been for a long time an under-represented function. Always executed at the end of a project liefetime, like “let’s now quickly test it to see if it works”, and then ship it to the client, even though that has failed too often.
I hope the mindset has today changed within the industry — it has definitely changed in Appsfactory. We do value QA a lot and we have a good team to get started. The team is not yet big enough, but it is growing, so yes, we will definitely continue to invest in our QA department.
RR: And in terms of sales offerings?
AT: This is interesting that you address this point because it is probably the biggest challenge that QA has had so far. In the early days of Appsfactory, when we pitched our services to mid-size clients or smaller companies, we often got feedback that some of our competitors offered only 5% or 10% for QA “because we have better developers”. And then, our clients and prospects were asking us why do you need 20% for quality?
Our answer was because this is an average industry rate, and this is not including unit testing because that is in development, so that actually comes on top. And if we want to ship proper software, then we have to actually invest these 20% in quality assurance.
The answer from those prospects often was: “Yeah but the other guy says they have better developers, so they need less QA, their developers make less mistakes” [both laugh out loud]
And this is what I named “the killer phrase”: “we have better developers so we need less QA”.
I guess this is a typical example for the misperception of quality assurance, and the result in the market has become evident quite often. Nevertheless, to be able to charge 20% for quality assurance we need to be able to demonstrate its importance.
I have the impression that with the new team setup that we have in our QA department, we have a very good opportunity of being able to set the benchmark for the entire industry when it comes to everything that belongs to Quality: processes, DevOps, build pipeline, test automation, etc. Quality needs to be considered as a value added and not as an additional cost.
I am sure this is key, and we have started with two clients, where we have already presented it quite offensively, and both clients actually have accepted the approach. One is a media client, and one is a client in the energy sector. I am happy for this proof of concept that our quality consulting initiative is successful. We have not yet invested enough resources for drafting a nice presentation and other marketing materials, so we will continue to work on that. I have seen that it is relatively easy to sell it, and that this can become a key differentiator for AF, vis-à-vis to its competitors.
RR: Maybe this is because some people still don’t consider a piece of software as an actual product, because it is not something you can touch, it is still very abstract for many people, especially for an older generation. They wouldn’t use a non-tested drug, or drive on a non-tested car, but somehow, a non-tested, or badly tested piece of software isn’t an issue.
AT: It’s also a matter of education. In software development — in particular if you look at agile methods — scrum has been initially invented in the 80s or 90s. Its principles are accordingly 30 or 40 years old. And only recently, everybody talks about agile. The essence of this example is how long it takes for new and better management methods to become common standard. The same applies to QA, to actually become more mainstream.
The same thing applies to devops by the way. I think our task at Appsfactory is also to educate our clients in a way of not only delivering quality assurance, but also in consulting our clients in quality assurance.
So I believe a part of this “sales offering” as you called it, needs to become quality consulting and helping our clients in their internal QA. This may even be after the app release, or has a lot of importance if we operate in a mixed team. In that case our processes and clients processes need to be in line. Otherwise we have 50% that is properly quality assured, and the other 50% is not, or at least not properly done.
In your point of view, when is the ideal time to involve QA in a project?
I think that the quality consultant should already be in the pitch process, because this is when you start defining the scope of the project. So first in the pitch and sales process.
Beyond that, I think the right time is actually when it comes to the detailed specifications. So when the rough specifications are outlined, and you start writing user stories and more detailed specifications, this is when it makes sense to involve QA.
RR: That makes complete sense. We are also talking about being involved in the design process, testing usability and being more involved in UATs.
AT: I think this is a good idea as well, like User Acceptance Testing at the beginning has always been done by the marketing department and I need to talk with our QA director, because in the future, this will also definitely go to QA.
What role does quality assurance play in the overall quality management at the Appsfactory?
That’s a very theoretical question, actually it reminds me a lot of my PhD [both laugh]. I will try to answer correctly.
First of all, we need to define quality management, and then quality assurance. What exactly do you mean by a quality management system? Do you mean quality management system in the sense of ISO 9001? 13 485?
RR: Yes, but also as in the overall management of a project from the start like you touched on before, starting with acceptance criterias, and so on.
AT: I think to me, when you talk about quality management systems, from a management point of view, the main effect is on risk aversiveness, meaning avoiding risk. Because ultimately what we do, and I think you have outlined it a couple of minutes earlier, is we are developing custom software.
That means that we are developing software that, in most cases, at least in its entirety, has never been developed before.
Whenever we do this, there is a certain amount of risk in it which will always be the case in custom software. From a management point of view, apart from the opportunities in selling services, the risk avoidance is probably one of the biggest issue in to why we focus so much on quality management and why we focus on quality assurance, because we do have a product warranty, it is there by law, we cannot exclude it, and the bigger our projects become, the bigger the risks become.
In the old days, when we had projects of 50k euros, the risk was relatively low. Now the projects are getting bigger and if our software, for example, can actually open cars, or other examples that have obvious liability issues, it can easily amount to hundreds of thousands or millions of euros.
That is probably the reason why we are also starting to implement quality management systems such as ISO 9001 and that is why we already have them implemented in the medical software division with ISO 13 485.
We want to make sure to implement these systems, despite the mix of problems of making things more rigid in terms of management structures and processes and it being less flexible.
It minimizes the risks of failure, and especially in medical software it is clear, that there is a danger of life or at least of harm to human beings, which makes these systems absolutely necessary. And the same applies, with a lower harm potential, to all the other projects that we do.
Do you have a message to future QA applicants?
AT: Join Appsfactory, I am proud to have a kick ass core team in QA, with whom you can actually grow yourself and your career in a manner that is probably not possible in any other company, because we have a clear leadership and we have a commitment from top management for the QA department to become the best and the most modern one in software development. So I think it’s a good move for your career to join us on this ride, at least for a couple of years!
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as the CEO of the Appsfactory, and how can we, as the new QA department, be of help in future challenges?
AT: I will answer this as two questions.
The biggest challenge for me as CEO in Appsfactory when it comes to QA has actually been finding the director of QA, Mathias Strziga, who is a guy with a vision and ambition and motivation to actually develop the topic in a strategic and profound way, as we wanted it. We wanted somebody who has a real vision for QA, and not someone who just wants to run a bunch of testers.
The biggest challenge as CEO of the Appsfactory, is two fold. It is strategically doing the right things, which is probably always the biggest challenge. And the way you guys can help, on the one hand, is to help us develop quality assurance as a differentiator in the market, because we strongly believe that lines of code are lines of code, and you can get lines of code offshore or onshore. The difference is actually the concept, the communication, and the quality assurance.
I think this is what makes software development in Germany profitable and still much better than near-shore or offshore. And QA has a large part in it.
Also, as I mentioned before, I see quality assurance starting from the user stories to automated testing and to the final testing.
A key point to make this all possible is communication, and I am very happy that we now have a function of quality consultant, because this is the core of actually driving and implementing quality in the heads of everybody in this company of over 220 employees. If we don’t do this, it will not work.
I remember the CEO of Samsung once actually put a lot of dishwashers and fridges and phones in front of the factory, and I think he just basically ran over them, smashed and crashed everything and said something like “this is just quality crap and I don’t want to see quality crap going out of this factory anymore”. [both laugh].
So, ultimately I should go to GitHub and delete shit projects! [Both laugh].
No, I won’t do this, but I think that this is actually a very important point, that you start communicating the importance of quality in all departments throughout the company, not just in your departement.
I think you have done the start, and it will be a bumpy way, there will be objections, there will be drawbacks, but I trust that you guys are the right core team to achieve your goals.
RR: Cool, thanks! We are actually in the middle of designing a little booklet to help guide everyone in the company to be more quality oriented. I think it’s going to be very cool, very useful.
RR: Thanks so much for your time Alex, is there anything you would like to add to close off this interview?
AT: Continue on your journey. I think you had a really really good start, and I hope you don’t lose motivation, despite all the drawbacks that you might encounter.
You can be aware that everyone has drawbacks, that applies to Rolf, Roman and me as well. We win a pitch, we lose a pitch, and yeah, we fight for the next pitch, and we win again.
So, I think this is a journey, and it is probably a very interesting journey. For us it’s the most exciting journey of our lives, building this company, with the targets that we have, growing the company in the next couple of years, growing to double its current size. I think this is a big opportunity of having a nice story to continue, and we count on your support!
Thanks for reading! I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, don’t forget to give us a few claps, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below.
Until next time!
Raphaël Reiter, Quality consultant, Appsfactory GmbH
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to join the team? Visit https://www.appsfactory.de