What drives quality: Senior Management

My 2nd book What Drives Quality is available on Amazon, in my webshop, and in all other major bookstores.

The serie on “What Drives Quality” has thus far described technical activities that are part of software development. Next postings will cover supporting activities; this one describes how senior management drives quality. Understanding what drives quality enables you to take action before problems actually occur, thus saving time and money.

With Senior Management I mean the CxO level managers. It can be the CEO, when quality is considered top priority for the company, or the COO when quality is crucial to deliver products and services. In IT companies it can be the CIO who drives IT quality, or the CTO when quality is considered as a technological advantage.

Factors that drive Quality by Senior Management are:

  1. Quality Commitment – The amount time and money management is willing to invest personally in quality.
  2. Quality Reward Policy – When and how employees are rewarded for their quality-related behavior.
  3. Leadership Capability – The capability of strategic managers to affect the organization’s quality mission (e.g., their focus on quality priorities, insight into the operation, and how much they value quality performance and results).
  4. Quality Culture – A culture that enables people to strive for quality.
  5. Quality Goals – Visible goals that show how quality delivers business value

Quality Commitment

Committed to quality in my opinion means that a manager invests personal time and money. It is much more about what is being done by managers that about what is said, showing up and doing it is what counts.

In a company that I worked with I established a network of quality professionals. There are regular meetings to exchange experiences deploying quality methods and techniques. In one session we did a brainstorm to view what could be done to improve quality. We used the INK Management Model / EFQM Excellence model to organize the stick-ups and found out that many of them related to strategy (criteria 2). So the question arose how to deal with these issues? We decided to contact our senior managers, via the network members that know our senior managers. When I discussed the quality network with our senior managers, they became enthusiast and decided that they would join the next meeting of the quality network to discuss their perspectives, and to hear from the professionals. What followed in that next meetup was an open discussion, where the senior managers shared their concerns on quality, described how they see the business value of quality and showed what they do to improve product quality. They also listened to the quality professionals, appreciating what they are doing to improve quality, and recognizing how these day-to-day activities related to the strategic goals.

The session was highly valued, both by the professionals and by the managers. Reactions I got from the quality professionals are that this was the first time they experienced that the managers really understood what they are doing. Also they feel that management was committed to quality, a feeling that they hadn’t got from the management presentations, newsletters, and blogging by the managers done earlier. Having the managers in their network meeting, listening to them, and together coming up with solutions to improve quality really motivates them, gives them energy to continue to improve the quality of the products. Also the managers are impressed by the commitment of the quality professionals to support their customers, finding practical short term solutions and focus on continuous quality improvement. They recognize the value of the quality network, and arranged that this network remains connected with the senior management team, so that initiatives from the network can contribute to and benefit from company wide quality improvements.

Quality Culture

Setting the right culture for quality isn’t easy. Many see the culture as a “soft thing”, but a quality culture can bring “hard” benefits. In Total Quality Management (TQM), Deming provides 14 points for management which help to establish a quality culture. There is Agile software development, which emphasizes to develop a culture which empowers your professionals and enable them to decide how to develop high quality software. The People-CMM has several process areas that describe practice for culture change. So there’s enough published that can help you to implement a quality culture.

I am convinced that IT professionals want to do their work in a good way, and deliver quality products. Implementing a quality culture is often about removing barriers that hinder quality, breaking down walls that hinder collaborations, and giving professionals room to do their work in a good way. Many organisations are unaware of how they discourage quality with their structure and rules, and when they understand it they are able to remove this overhead that hinders quality. You can observe a lot by just watching, if you know when, where and how to look!

Quality Goals

Balanced Scorecard are used in many organizations to define their goals, and steer the operation. You can use them to set quality targets, and to oversee and manage the relationship between quality targets and other targets. The scorecard enables communicating, measuring and analyzing quality targets, and supports defining corrective actions and following them to completion.

Methods like Lean Six Sigma are available which support you in measuring the quality of your products and processes, and continuously reduce waste. Measurements help you to make quality improvement visible, which stimulates continuous improvement.


Senior Management can drive quality. Many quality improvement initiatives wich failed state that lack of commitment was one of the main root causes. This article shows that management can show their commitment to quality by collaborating with the quality professionals in their company. By recognizing and rewarding quality, and showing leadership they can set the right culture that drives professionals to deliver high quality products, on time and within budget, which meet their quality goals.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carlo Kuip

    Thanks for this blog post, good to find the executive view on quality, and how to achieve it.

    On the aspect of Quality Culture one could add: “Encouraging openness and focus on collaboration with customers and partners”. This off course links back to the broad adoption of the Agile principles.

    1. BenLinders

      Thank you Carlo, valuable addition!

      Openness, trust and collaboration are key to get results with agile. Otherwise agile becomes just another boring meaningless process.

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