The Supporting Roles
Until now I talked about the basic roles essential to have in any company which has a business with Tech products. Again what I share here is my perspective about what I have learnt during my years in engineering, it might be not the perfect one but what’s I have seen so far for me it seems the right thing to do. I don’t have experience with other type of business, so I don’t know what could be the best approach, but for a Tech product business even I am still learning and for sure I am far to be an expert, I strongly believe that the roles I’ve described so far and also the ones I talk about in this post are the driving force for a Tech Company. If I would create my own StartUp this is what I will need for sure.
Now, after mentioning the essential roles such as Product Manager, Product Designer, Engineers and Product Marketing Manager, from my point of view this is sufficient to begin with your own Start-Up. But the more you grow the more work will be on the pipeline and at one moment sooner or later you will need other supporting roles. In big corporation these roles already exist and they really add value to the entire business. The 4 supporting roles I’d mention here are the following:
- User Researchers
- Data Analysts
- Test Automation Engineers
- Quality Engineers
What I describe here is more for the Project Managers to understand How and Why to work with these guys, but for sure is good to understand in general for everyone working in a Tech Company, why these Supporting Roles are important. So let’s review that.
When we talk about how we do product discovery, we are continuously doing 2 kinds of rapid learning and experimentation. One kind of learning is qualitative, and the other is quantitative. Especially with the qualitative learning, some of our research is generative, which is understanding the problems we need to solve; and some of our research is evaluative, which is assessing how well our solutions solve the problem.
User researchers are trained in this range of qualitative techniques (and some of them are also trained on the quantitative techniques as well). They can help you find the right type of users, craft the right types of tests, and learn the most from each user or customer interaction. The key to tapping into the real value that these user researchers can provide is to keep in mind that the learning must be shared learning.
You need to witness the insights first hand, but while I want you to appreciate what user research can help you with, I don’t want you to think you can delegate to them to do the learning and then send you a report. If your company does not have user researchers, then your product designer will typically pick up these responsibilities for your team.
Similarly, for quantitative learning, data analysts help teams collect the right sort of analytics, manage data privacy constraints, analyze the data, plan live-data tests, and understand and interpret the results. Sometimes, data analysts go by the name Business Intelligence (BI) analysts, and they’re experts in the types of data that your business collects and reports. It is well worth making friends with your data analyst. So much of product work today is data driven, and these people can be real gold mines for you and your organization. In some companies, especially those with a lot of data-such as larger consumer companies-this may be a full-time role dedicated to a specific product team. In this case, the Data Analyst would be sitting and working alongside the product manager and product designer. If your company does not have any data analysts, then responsibility for this typically falls on the product manager. If this is the case, you’ll probably need to plan to spend significant time diving deep into the data to understand your situation and make good decisions.
Test Automation Engineers
Test Automation engineers write automated tests for your product. They have largely replaced the old-style manual quality assurance (QA) people. Now, it’s very possible that your engineers are responsible both for writing software and for writing these automated tests. If that’s the case, then you probably won’t have many test automation engineers.
But most companies have a blended approach in which the engineers write some of the automated tests (e.g., the unit level tests), and the test automation engineers write the higher-level automated tests. Whichever model your company has is typically up to the engineering leadership, which is fine. However, what’s not okay is if your company doesn’t have test engineers, and your engineers don’t do the testing either, and they are looking to you as product manager to do the quality testing.
While it’s true as product manager you want to make sure things are generally as you expect before things go live (acceptance testing), that’s a far cry from being able to release with confidence. The level of test automation necessary to release with confidence is significant and a big job. It’s not unusual in complex products to have multiple test engineers dedicated to each product team.
A Quality Engineer works within the quality team to ensure the overall quality of a manufactured product and is tasked with creating documentation, devising quality test and defining the criteria a test result should meet. They play a key role in fixing issues when they arise. Those QA engineers aim to help create quality products. It’s not about finding bugs, not about simple testing. The main function of a QA engineer is to prevent defects, and therefore ensure the quality of the development process and its results. It’s important to note that QAs are interested in making any product user-friendly, be it functionality or design. For this, QAs closely communicate with all team members and constantly refer to the given requirements.
Quality Assurance and Quality Control
Quality Control encompasses all activities that ensure that a product is of good quality and meets specific requirements. QC engineers focus on identifying defects in the developed products before their release. We can say that Quality Assurance (QA) encompasses Quality Control (QC).
There are some cases when a product doesn’t require QA, but only QC. For example, if a team gets a product developed by somebody else like a new software for example and it is necessary to check whether the code meets the requirements, we have a case when only QC is required.
In some development teams, QA and QC are combined with other engineering roles. Sometimes, developers/engineers try to verify their own code/product design. However, it’s not good in regards to quality, because it’s much more difficult to find bugs in your own code/design than in somebody else’s. Some Companies might call this role:
- QA Engineer
- QC Engineer
Therefore a Quality Engineer works within a wider team of quality professionals with the overall aim of maintaining the quality of the final product. They do so by following the quality management systems of the manufacturing process. Successful quality engineering ensures that final products are safe and meet customer expectations while keeping the manufacturing process as effective and cost-efficient as possible. Quality Engineers work with various stakeholders, at every part of the manufacturing process. Examples include working with:
- Design teams – testing to identify product durability and areas of weakness;
- Suppliers – working to ensure raw materials and component parts meet the company’s quality standards;
- Manufacturing teams – ensuring that equipment and processes follow predetermined quality standards;
- Customers – analyzing issues reported via customer feedback, maintaining records and implementing changes to manufacturing when necessary.
Quality Engineers will often be the individuals tasked with the creation of quality practices and documentation for a given product or facility. They set out appropriate tests and acceptable result parameters to ensure that quality testing throughout the manufacturing process is effective. Even at the point of troubleshooting, quality engineering is about more than just identifying problems – it’s about understanding the underlying issues and developing successful fixes, changing practices where necessary to ensure that standards are maintained.
What Does a Quality Engineer Do?
The role of a Quality Engineer can vary greatly between companies. In larger manufacturing operations, quality engineers can have a specific focus or area of expertise such as Quality Assurance, Quality Control, Six Sigma or even Reliability Engineering.
Quality Assurance = is process oriented and focuses on eliminating process variation by creating, revising and strictly implementing a set of tightly and precisely defined process/procedures/quality standards that when exactly followed, ensure the final quality of the product. Quality Assurance is preventative by nature.
Quality Assurance is typically reflected on the factory floor through the use of a Quality Management System (QMS). A QMS is a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives. It helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements.
ISO 9001:2015 = is the most recognized and widely implemented quality management system. Other techniques and methodologies used in Quality Assurance are: Deming’s 14 Points, Total Quality Control and Total Quality Management.
Quality Control = is product oriented and focuses on testing a sample of a manufacturing process to make sure that meets the required design specifications or quality standards. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, the sample testing is done in a laboratory so people who work in QC usually have a science/laboratory background. 100% sampling or Statistical Process Control (SPC) are some of them more widely used techniques in quality control.
Six Sigma = is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement developed by Motorola and gained industry-wide acceptance after it was championed by Jack Welch at General Electric. It aims to improve the output quality of a process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.
Reliability Engineering = uses engineering techniques and analysis to improve the dependability or reliability of a product, process, or system in order to:
- Prevent or to reduce the likelihood or frequency of failures;
- Identify and correct the causes of failures that do occur despite the efforts to prevent them;
- Determine ways of coping with failures that do occur, if their causes have not been corrected;
- Apply methods for estimating the reliability of new designs;
In smaller operations, Quality Engineers can be tasked with a much wider remit of responsibilities, providing quality engineering support to the whole system. Whatever the specific set up, Quality Engineers are working to ensure that manufacturing processes and ultimately, final products, meet both internal and external quality standards. Based within the manufacturing facility, Quality Engineers can work on the manufacturing floor, in an office, or in a lab – depending on the specific tasks they are carrying out at the time.