Once again, promotion proved to be the bane of my career.
While we won approval to be a solutions center, we did not get the funding we needed to carry it out. The whole situation came into focus about 6 weeks after our official designation when the president of the supplemental staffing side of the company came down to announce that Metro decided that they did not want to be in the solutions business after all.
Fortunately, I had been in contact with Marconi Commerce several months prior following up on a potential job lead just in case the Winston-Salem office did not get designated as a Solutions Center. The timing was perfect. Marconi called me back the week prior to the announcement and said that they wanted to talk to me about a better position. Having the premonition that Metro was experiencing problems, I decided to meet with them.
The offer was to head up the Software Quality Assurance (SQA) department for their next generation point of sales system. The challenge was not so much technical as it was procedural. The company was at CMM Level 1 with a lot of code already developed in a software development organization embedded in a manufacturing company. I had only three people, with no prospects of getting more, and barely enough equipment to do the job.
I accepted the challenge, nonetheless. The first priority was to figure out what to test. Without formal specifications, I had to rely on more ephemeral information. I consulted with the development manager to find out what sections of the code they were changing, and what would make it into the next release.
I also communicated in the other direction working with the help desk and product support to find out what problems were causing the most difficulties out in the field. I took the metrics on this and what we found through internal testing, and helped guide the team through where future development efforts should be focused.
I took an inventory of all my equipment and the various configurations so I could manage these resources. At any given time I was expected to support the version of software being developed by the engineers and the multiple versions at our field trail sites. In several instances, I was presented with an "emergency" patch in late morning, and was expected to get it out the door that evening. In some of these cases, I did not have systems set up and running on the version of software to be tested. Nonetheless, in those cases where the patch passed testing, we succeeded.
SQA was also responsible for transcribing write-ups reported to the help desk into our defect tracking system. The two tracking systems were very incompatible. Cutting and pasting and editing took several hours a day with the prospect of it getting worse as we added new field trial locations. I coordinated with the person responsible for the help desk reporting to give me a "raw dump" of the report data in comma-delimited form. I then used a combination of Excel and Word macros to convert this information into a format ready to cut and paste into our defect tracking system.
I was able to document and train this system so that my SQA technicians could do the converting. Not only was the task time reduced from hours to minutes, the workload could be spread among the staff so that it was not a continuous burden to anyone.
I devised a report structure for the SQA staff so they could report progress on their testing daily, and worked with the system administrator to have these reports automatically published on the intranet without any intervention on the part of the staff. All they had to do was edit a Word document and save it.
In short, I spent most of my time establishing the lines of communication from development to delivery with a loop back through marketing. My goal was to be able to delegate the administrative tasks to my staff, yet simplify these tasks to the point where they can still concentrate on testing. Success in this area allowed me to concentrate on planning and directing.