What assurance can gLean from the manufacturing assembly line

Siva Ganesan, Vice President and Global Head at TCS Assurance Services Unit, blogs about Lean Assurance.

Toyota’s transformation of its manufacturing process by introducing the ‘Lean’ method in their production system is a world renowned case study of how to eliminate avoidable waste, achieve continuous improvement and maximise customer value. Since then many other industries have adopted Lean. Healthcare uses Lean to deliver seamless patient experiences, accelerate recuperation, minimise hospital stay and reduce waiting time. In banking and financial services, Lean helps control operational cost while delivering high quality and tailored customer service across channels. In software development, Lean finds its place through the agile approach.

How do we implement Lean Assurance?

However, its implementation in assurance – an integral phase of the software development lifecycle – remains nascent. It is time to ask ourselves a fundamental question on the implementation of Lean in our work context – what really is the key to success with Lean? The practice of Lean in the assurance context translates to the elimination of ’waste’ – inefficient practices, unnecessary, redundant and repetitive code, minimal reuse, process repetition, and compromised testing – all inefficiencies that delay the software development process. Lean can help get rid of these inefficiencies. But how do we implement Lean Assurance? Perhaps we could take some cues from manufacturing.

Think about it. With the effective use of moulds, dyes, the assembly line, and more, manufacturing units churn out large quantities of products with consistent quality. The assembly line facilitates process rigor – as a product moves along the assembly line, it passes through multiple controls, checks, and balances. This ensures the completeness, correctness, and consistency of products that pass through the assembly line.

Can we replicate these techniques for assurance? Yes. A well-defined and rigorously implemented process comprising automation and instrumentation makes up the assembly line for assurance. Checklists and guidelines can play the role of moulds and dyes – facilitating as well as preventing certain activities to ensure the finesse of the testing output and results. Together, these techniques deliver benefits such as accelerated testing cycles, reduced cost of quality, improved time to market, competitive advantage, and larger market share.

Challenges to automating assurance

The assembly line approach assures benefits, but it also has its share of problems and impediments. Often, the biggest roadblock for automation in assurance is the notion that a process cannot be automated simply because the opportunities to automate have not been understood. The high cost of automation, as well as non-availability of automation tools for specific areas such as test data synthesis, environment provisioning, and reporting, are some of the perceived inhibitors that can halt or slow down the assurance assembly line.

These challenges can be resolved by customising a suite of tools for specific scenarios. However, to justify customisation, you need a business case that demonstrates the return on investment (RoI), typically over a two to three-year horizon. The most likely candidate that can serve as a good business case for customisation is an area currently validated by mostly manual and ad hoc testing. The increased speed, efficiency, and significant reduction in cost resulting from automation translates to increased customer satisfaction. Not only does this offer the advantages of automation, but it also exhibits the process value of best-in-class testing and validation.

Bringing in instrumentation

Once the automation opportunities have been identified, instrumentation can be applied to all aspects of the assurance lifecycle to bring in overall efficiency, repeatability, reusability and quality in the process. We can perceive instrumentation as a deliberate attempt to ensure algorithmic intent over and above human efforts in rendering an assurance task – allowing us to design for and predicate outcomes, and not just stumble upon them.

In my article, Enabling “Assembly Line” Assurance, published in the TEST Magazine, June 2014 issue, I spoke about there being a multitude of technologies that can intelligently manage and automate multiple processes to accomplish fast and predictable efficiency. As assurance specialists, we need to make the most of our thorough business understanding, identify ‘wasteful’ activities, and uncover opportunities for automation and instrumentation. With automation and instrumentation driven assembly line testing, we can deliver superior consumer experience while minimising effort and cost – the hallmark of true process excellence.

 

 

An earlier version of this blog was published at #ThinkAssurance, the quality assurance (QA) and testing blog of Tata Consultancy Services.

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