~ by Randy Wagner

Project Teams that Create Margins Up Front are Better Positioned for Success

Creating margin is the simplest definition of being an adult. When a person begins to account for themselves and leave some buffer room for error and unexpected surprises, they depend less on others to bail them out. Margin then is choices, options, degrees of freedom, extra time. Margin is a good thing to have. Some people never learn this lesson; others know it early. Margin creation is also the mark of a project team that has solid, efficient processes.

Margins Are Not Just for QA Teams

Every functional area of a project should contribute margin to promote the success of every release. And yet, IT departments and implementation projects often view QA as their safety margin when implementing a new system or upgrading existing ones. Though it’s often the first margin cut, teams often make the mistake of imputing margin to the one group most often brutalized by calendar demands. In a better world, margin would be built in across the entire project team. If QA has the only significant margin, quality needs to be spread across the entire quality domain to optimize success.

At the program and project management level, leadership should be monitoring estimated vs actual time for activities and work with teams to reduce the variance. Inception activities should clearly include not just the stories but the policies and claims that every client has that fall outside the normal lines to reduce the “gotcha” moments that are so expensive later in a project.

Document Answers to Anticipated Dev & QA Questions During the Requirements Phase to Promote Progress

Business Analysts do their best to document business-side expectations but even the best need to revisit some stories to provide more clarification. We should allocate enough time to not just complete the requirements but follow up on additional questions that come from Dev and QA. Are all policy types accounted for? Are we accommodating the different ways invoices need to reflect policy, location, and billing addresses at the policy and account levels?

Set Clear Expectations on Unit Testing Early and Often

One the of least documented items are requirement defects. It’s very rare for a Dev to write a defect against a requirement. That typically only happens when Dev and QA understand the requirement differently or the Product Owner sees the issue during an acceptance demo. Is Dev doing good unit testing? Do they click past the page they are working on to complete a quote or finalize a first notice of loss? That’s where we find the most defects that could and should have been caught early.

Set the Bar High When it Comes to the Quality of Test Cases and Variations

QA has plenty to do as well. If they get involved in the requirement workshops, they have a fighting chance of really understanding the story card when it gets approved and can write test cases that get to the heart of the material before Dev can complete the work. Are the QAs setting aside enough time to write test cases and execute with enough variations to cover the 80% of business plus some of the edge cases? Is QA documenting the defects with enough clarity to ensure a Dev, looking at it for the first time, can be sure of understanding the issue and, hopefully, reproduce the issue locally?

Release Management also has plenty of space to verify and manage with some margin for solid delivery.

Margin is a Good Thing – For Every Functional Area

Every functional area can contribute to the margin that lets others understand and execute successfully.

Quality should come from every team. When it does, we save money by reducing the frequency of the most expensive defects that happen late in the cycle.

We build a healthy rhythm and create the rising tide that lifts all the boats in the project armada.


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.