Mike Bland

Team/Organizational Alignment and Roadmap Programs

Team and organizational alignment is essential to making software quality a priority for everyone. Roadmap programs like Test Certified and Quality Quest help provide focus, shape conversations, and show results.

Tags: Making Software Quality Visible, QCI, Test Certified, Test Mercenaries, Testing Grouplet, Testing on the Toilet, TotT, grouplets, testing

This tenth post in the Making Software Quality Visible series dives into the importance of team and organizational alignment. It then describes how roadmap programs like Test Certified or Quality Quest can help.

I’ll update the full Making Software Quality Visible presentation as this series progresses. Feel free to send me feedback, thoughts, or questions via email or by posting them on the LinkedIn announcement corresponding to this post.

Continuing after Legacy code, seams, and the most important design guideline

Team/Organizational Alignment

Get everyone speaking the same language

Making software as easy to use or change correctly as an electrical outlet, and as hard to do so incorrectly, may not always be possible. But we can always try.

Living up to that standard is a lot easier when the people you work with also consider it a priority.1 Here’s how to create the cultural space necessary for people to apply successfully the new insights, skills, and language we’ve discussed.

  • Internal media, roadmap programs, presentations, advocates
    Use internal media like blogs and newsletters to start a conversation around software quality and to start developing a common language. Roadmap programs create a framework for that conversation by outlining specific improvements teams can adopt. Team and organizational presentations can rely on the quality language and roadmap to inspire an audience and make the concepts more memorable. Software quality advocates can then use all these mechanisms to drive progress.

  • Understanding between devs, QA, project managers/owners, executives
    Articulate how everyone plays a role in improving software quality, and get them all communicating with one another! An executive sponsor or project manager may not need to understand the fine details of dependency injection and test doubles. However, if they understand the Test Pyramid, they can hold developers and QA accountable for improving quality by implementing a balanced, reliable, efficient testing strategy.

  • Focus and simplify! (Don’t swallow the elephant—leave some for later!)
    This is a lot of work that will take a long time. Rather than getting overwhelmed or spreading oneself too thin trying to swallow the entire elephant, focus and simplify by delivering one piece at a time.

  • Every earlier success lays a foundation and creates space for future effort
    Delivering the first piece creates more space to deliver the second piece, then the third, and so on.

  • Be agile—make plans, but recalibrate often
    Of course, this process need not be strictly linear. It’s important to be clear about priorities and delivering pieces over time, but make adjustments as everyone gains experience and the conversation unfolds.

  • Absorb influences like a musician/band—then create your own voice/style
    Ultimately the process is a lot like helping one another grow as a musicians. It’s not about everyone doing exactly as they’re told. Everyone should be absorbing ideas, trying them out, gaining experience with them, and ultimately making them their own, part of their individual style. Then everyone can share what they’ve learned and discovered, enriching all of us further by adding their own voice to the ongoing conversation.

A note on “Being agile”

I used “little-a agile” when I said to “Be agile” just above, though the description certainly applies to the “capital-A Agile” methodology. I’m also reminded of the adage popularized by Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

The Quote Investigator page for the Eisenhower quote has a great summary as well:

“The details of a plan which was designed years in advance are often incorrect, but the planning process demands the thorough exploration of options and contingencies. The knowledge gained during this probing is crucial to the selection of appropriate actions as future events unfold.”

Roadmap Programs

Guidelines, language, conversation framework, examples

Let’s examine the value of roadmap programs more closely. They can provide the language and conversational framework for the entire program, as well as other powerful features.

  • Define beginning, middle, and end—break mental barrier of where to start
    One of the most important features a roadmap provides is helping teams focus on getting started. It can help overcome the mental barrier of not knowing where to begin by helping to visualize the beginning, middle, and end of the journey. For this reason, I recommend organizing roadmaps into three phases, or “levels,” with four or five steps each. This helps break “analysis paralysis” by narrowing the options at each stage, and providing a rough order in which to implement them.

  • Align dev, QA, project management, management, executives
    A roadmap can help produce alignment across the various stakeholders in a project, making clear what will be done, by who, and in what order. Shared language and collective visibility encourage common understanding, open communication, and accountability.

  • Recommend common solutions, but don’t force a prescription
    A good roadmap won’t force specific solutions on every team, but will provide clear guidelines and concrete recommendations. Teams are free to find their own way to satisfy roadmap requirements, but most teams stand to benefit from recommendations based on others’ experience.

  • Give space for conversation and experience to shape the way
    The point of a roadmap isn’t to guarantee a certain outcome, or to constrain variations or growth. It’s to help teams communicate their intentions, coordinate their efforts, and adjust as necessary based on what they learn together throughout the process.

  • Provide a framework to make effort and results visible, including Vital Signs
    A roadmap helps teams focus, align, communicate, learn, and accomplish shared goals by making software quality work and its impact visible. It helps people talk about quality by giving it a local habitation and a name. Then it provides guidelines and recommendations on implementing Vital Signs that make quality efforts and outcomes as tangible as developing and shipping features.

  • Can help other teams learn by example and follow the same path
    Finally, a roadmap that makes software quality work and its results visible to one team can also make it visible to others. This visibility can inspire other teams to follow the same roadmap and learn from one another’s example. Once a critical mass of teams adopts a common roadmap, though the details may differ from team to team, the broader organizational culture evolves.

To continue the musical metaphor, roadmaps should act mainly as lead sheets that outline a tune’s melody and chords, not as note for note transcriptions. They provide a structure for exploring a creative space in harmony with other players, but leave a lot of room for interpretation and creativity. At the same time, studying transcriptions and recordings to learn the details of what worked for others is important to developing one’s own creativity.

Test Certified Roadmap

Foundation for QCI’s Quality Quest

An image of Testing on the Toilet Episode 49, which clearly describes the
three levels of the Google Testing Grouplet's Test Certified roadmap
original image source
Click for a larger image.

The Testing Grouplet’s Test Certified roadmap program was extremely effective at driving automated testing adoption and software quality improvements at Google. This image shows the program exactly as it was from about 2007 to 2011. It was small enough to fit comfortably, with further explanation, in a single Testing on the Toilet episode.

We designed the program to fit well with Google’s Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). It also sparked a very effective partnership with QA staff, who championed Test Certified as a means of collaborating more effectively with their client teams.2

The three levels are:

  1. Set Up Measurements and Automation: These tasks are focused on setting up build and test infrastructure to provide visibility and control, and are fairly quick to accomplish.
  2. Establish Policies (and early goals): With the infrastructure in place, the team can commit to a review, test, and submission policy to begin making improvements. Early goals, reachable within a month or two, provide just enough pressure to motivate a team-wide commitment to the policy.
  3. Reach (long-term) Goals: On this foundation of infrastructure, policy, and early wins, the team is in a position to stretch for longer term goals. These goals should be achievable within six months or more.

Quality Quest

…and Roadmap development

At Apple, I literally copied these criteria into a wiki page as the first draft of Quality Quest.3 I then asked QCI members what we’d need to change to fit Apple’s needs, and we landed upon:

  • More integration with QA/manual/system testing, with a focus on striking a good balance with smaller tests.
  • No specific percentages of test sizes, which were the most hotly debated part of Test Certified (other than the name). Instead, we specified that teams should set their own goals in Levels Two and Three.
  • “Vital Signs” as a Level Three component, to encourage conversation and collaboration based on a suite of quality signals designed by all project stakeholders.

These programs did take time to design, to try out with early adopters, to incorporate feedback into, and to start spreading further. However, the time it took was a feature, not a bug. We were securing buy-in, avoiding potential resistance from people feeling that we were coercing them to conform to requirements they neither agreed with nor understood.

Also, while Quality Quest’s structure and goals were identical to Test Certified, we took liberties to adapt the program to our current situation. Much like writing a software program or system, we took the same basic structure and concepts and adapted them to our specific needs. Or, we took a good song and made our own arrangement, sang it in our own voice. Conversation, collaboration, patience, and persistence are essential to the process of developing an effective, sustainable, and successful in-house improvement program.

Coming up next

The next post will share some high level guidelines for making quality work and its impact visible. These guidelines lead into what may be a surprisingly hopeful conclusion. (Feel free to read ahead in the original Making Software Quality Visible page if the suspense is killing you.)


  1. This is a paraphrase of a similar statement by my former colleague Max Goldstein. 

  2. For details on how that came about, see the “Man on the Moon” section of my Test Mercenaries post

  3. The name “Quality Quest” was borrowed from an earlier program called “Test Quest,” a gamified contest run over the course of a month.