Startups are often attracted to the idea of ad hoc processes, with the idea being fewer creative limits on employees. However, underdeveloped processes can lead to workflow inconsistencies, poor product quality, and additional problems when employees leave the organization. What is the right level of process maturity for startups? Let’s consider an informal scale:
- Ad hoc processes (unplanned, happening only as needed)
- Repeatable processes
- Defined/documented processes
- Managed processes
- Optimized processes
Moving close to “optimized processes” puts more importance on systems, documentation, and monitoring. Moving closer to “ad hoc processes” puts more emphasis on employee expertise, unexpected needs, and uncertainty. Let’s provide some examples for each of these process maturity levels, using the example of manual system testing.
- Ad hoc processes: The personnel responsible for testing changes from week to week, and testers follow no specific process in testing the product.
- Repeatable processes: Dedicated testing staff perform the system testing. These staff have their own individual ideas for the best way to test the product, and apply these approaches to every testing initiative.
- Defined/documented processes: Testing philosophies, approaches, and specific practices are documented and made available to the team. The process is “open,” with no monitoring or feedback given on these practices.
- Managed processes: Data collection allows monitoring and managing of the testing practices. Deeper understanding of the process results in effective management at both the project and team level. For example, reliability models may be generated through better understanding of defect density, and could affect the decision on when to conclude the testing activities.
- Optimized processes: Processes are continuously improved using efficient data collection systems. Unusual behavior in performance can be quickly corrected. The process has strong supporting documentation and systems. Feedback mechanisms like project retrospectives provide the basis for continuous improvement.
The organization’s quality assurance process maturity should be deliberate, with the appropriate level of maturity depending on industrial, organizational, and team context. Product quality processes are carried out under different circumstances from usual development activities, so differing process maturity for development and quality assurance may be necessary. Further, agile development teams and startups may find a more beneficial position near the “ad hoc” end of the scale, while larger organizations (particularly in high regulation industries) may have more success with a process maturity closer to “optimized process.”