Doubling Down on Software Quality to Support Your Growth and Success

Posted by Mike Scopa on December 5, 2019

Mike Scopa Technology Excellence Product Strategy

By Mike Scopa, Senior Vice President Engineering, Deltek

Delivering Technology Excellence

In the 1960s, before most people even knew what software was or why it was needed, software pioneer Margaret Hamilton led the NASA team that developed software for the Apollo 11 computer guidance system. She even coined the term “software engineering.” In fact, if it wasn’t for Margaret’s attention to quality, the computer guidance system would have been busy with less important tasks when it became overloaded as the lunar module was about to land on the moon. Margaret’s algorithm, designed to throw away less important tasks in case of an emergency, saved the entire mission, setting the standard high for software quality.

Deltek has a long history of delivering features and functionality to power project success, and proudly so. But sometimes, in our enthusiasm for delivering new features we’ve put that ahead of quality. Like many other software providers, we’ve focused on giving our customers cool new stuff, sometimes failing to deliver the kind of quality that would have made Margaret Hamilton proud.

This year, along with many leaders in the software industry, we made some changes to help Deltek turn its focus back to delivering high quality software that provides an excellent user experience from day one of a software release.

“Quality is the best business plan, period.” – Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and CEO of Apple

In 2018, Apple declared that it was “setting a new focus for iOS 12, prioritizing quality and reliability over shiny new features. The renewed focus on quality is designed to make sure the company can fulfill promises made each summer at the annual developers’ conference and that new features work reliably and as advertised. The shift is an admission of what many customers have already come to notice, some Apple software has become prone to bugs and underdeveloped features.”

Clearly, nobody in the industry is immune to problems with quality, not even Apple. But what is changing in the industry that is creating an increased urgency to deliver exceptional quality and user experience?  Well, for one thing, the days of deploying software on premise (on a customer’s private hardware) are likely in the rear-view mirror for most industries. With more and more software users opting to use the public cloud for their software needs, the rules have changed.

When we, as software vendors, deployed our software to our customers one at a time, we we could use time as a crutch (and yes, most companies relied on this crutch). You see, when you deliver software to one customer at a time, you can address issues quickly, as they surface, with minimum exposure. Customer #2 might never know what issues Customer #1 ran into, and so on. Now, however, as the industry evolves, and we deploy to thousands of customers simultaneously via the cloud, quality and user experience are more important than ever. There are no do-overs!

With this evolution, Deltek has doubled down on quality throughout the past year. As we enter 2020, we are changing how we deliver our products, recognizing that great quality and user experience is just as important today as it was for Margaret Hamilton 50 years ago.

Finding a Better Way

So, what did we change and how will it make a difference moving forward?  Well, if you were to ask someone on our engineering team what we changed in as few words as possible, the answer would be “shift left"!  To understand the shift left concept, you first have to understand a few things about the software development life cycle (often referred to as the SDLC). There are many, many different types of SDLCs (agile, waterfall, and more), but in the end they all aim to accomplish the same goals. They all start with ideas for how the software should work, move on to the design phase, and progress to the coding phase, in which software is written, tested, and deployed.

Shift left is a practice intended to find and prevent defects early in the SDLC. The idea is to move responsibility for quality as far left in the lifecycle as possible. Everyone on the software team takes on increased responsibility and accountability for quality, from the initial idea phase to deployment. Problems are addressed as they occur, not in a later testing phase. Done right, shift left yields exponential savings in cost, while increasing customer satisfaction.

Shifting left requires a change in mindset. The job of a quality analyst is no longer finding defects. Instead, their job is to confirm that there are no defects. That mindset change has a snowball effect. Now, the developers need to shift their mindset to do more code reviews, more unit testing, more automation, in order to deliver defect-free code to the testing team. Shift left even further, and this forces the requirements and design teams to make sure the designs and ideas are defect-free.

The practice is not hard, but it does take discipline. It’s easy to fall back into old habits: letting immovable release dates and the promise of shiny new features get in the way of a laser focus on quality, performance, and security. But sticking to that discipline is more important now than it has ever been. Remember, in the end, the shiny new features won’t matter if the quality isn’t great.

As we move into 2020, technology will continue to move faster, and Deltek will continue to focus on quality. Our customers will continue to see quality improvements as we release new versions of all of our products. Like Margaret Hamilton, we have a critical mission to support the growth and success of our customers.

 

About the Author

As Deltek's Senior Vice President of Engineering, Mike Scopa leads the team that creates Deltek's software solutions. He is responsible for the company's worldwide product engineering team delivering both on premise and SaaS solutions for project-focused companies. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.