John D. Rockefeller, the Quality Assurance Expert

~ by Randy Wagner

Rockefeller’s Focus on Quality & Efficiency Shaped the Oil Industry

Industrialist John D. Rockefeller is often painted as a ruthless, greedy businessman who built Standard Oil by aggressively destroying the competition. But—if you examine the history—it turns out that his focus was completely different. He was simply the most energetic when it came to QA. He focused on two things that are as relevant for us today as they were a century and a half ago: Quality and Efficiency.

Set the Standards High and Hold Yourself to Them

If you look carefully, you’ll find that the oil refining scene in the late 1800s is surprisingly similar to software today. There were thousands of oil refiners, each producing varying qualities of oil for home lamps and industrial uses. Oil was very inconsistent, and many homes burned to the ground because the oil had differing viscosities, burned disparately, and, at times, barely burned at all. Rockefeller set his company apart by creating exceptional quality in his refining processes and seeking every efficiency possible while doing it. It’s why he named the company Standard Oil, so everyone would recognize the high standards that they could expect of the product.

Attention to Quality & Efficiency Will Always Win Over Shortcuts

Once firmly established, Rockefeller understood that the poor quality of his competitors’ oil was giving the whole market a bad name. That launched him into a quest to bring quality to the industry. Competitors with poor quality and inefficient production were inevitably crushed and absorbed. This history is even visible in very old gas pumps where they had glass tubing at the top so you could see how clean and refined the fuel was as it went into your car’s gas tank.

Software QA, Like the Oil Industry, Demands Quality & Efficiency to Succeed

This same focus is how we achieve success as software QAs.

We have competing pressures that hit us from all sides. Be thorough without taking too much time. Document everything. Write up defects accurately and clearly. Prove the quality in the deliverables without exceeding the estimate and, therefore, the budget.

We must achieve our goals within these constraints. The words underlying all this are the same: Quality and Efficiency.

Five Ways to Refine the Process to Achieve Quality

Our methods are not much different from Rockefeller’s. First, we refine the process, which includes all of the following:

  1. Reduce steps, eliminate wasted motion, improve the entry criteria so that we start with quality.
  2. Demand better requirements and acceptance criteria so the target is clear and achievable.
  3. Expect stability in the test environments. Get better unit testing.
  4. Write defects clearly and identify the exact nature of the failure so that we limit the wasted motion for the developer.
  5. Document test results with enough wording to explain what the readers should see in the screen shots.

Leverage the Use of Tools to Enhance Documentation

Tools help too. Whether it’s a handy item like Snagit, an enterprise change management tool like Jira, or automated testing like GFIT or Selenium, these tools help us achieve a consistency that manual effort alone cannot do.

Use Good Judgement Driven by Education & Experience

Finally, good judgement is often the best tool of success, and it only comes from two sources: Education and Experience. Both must be in place to exercise high quality judgement. It’s critical that we encourage and make time for good training and certification. Working projects and getting a real world understanding of the impact of choices makes a huge difference. This is what allows us to assess if we are testing just enough to meet the expected quality without reducing efficiency and increasing cost.

Quality & Efficiency are Key to Success in All Functional Areas

Financial success for Rockefeller and Standard Oil were a byproduct of his devotion to quality and efficiency. Similarly, CastleBay has built a reputation for quality work, not just in testing, but across all of the functional areas. For those of us in QA, it’s preaching to the choir because quality and efficiency are the way we succeed every day.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies. He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, configuration management, and automation.