Finding an effective QA strategy for complex Supply Chain implementations

qa strategy

 

As supply chain professionals, we would all like to think that the quality of software we are implementing the best of the best software for our client. In reality, the software is often not the most optimal solution, and extensive/ effective quality assurance is required. This leaves those that are in charge of ensuring a successful implementation, scratching their heads trying to figure out where does one begin if this just is not the case?

Simply put, an effective QA strategy can make all the difference in the world for a successful supply chain implementation. Being that every supply chain client is different you must know that your QA strategies will be different for each one of them. Proper direction, planning, documentation and closure are all necessary areas in which a supply chain client must plan for in order to manage defects in the software, enhancements, and maintenance releases with the least amount of cost.

Supply chain clients typically have their own testing strategy that they have implemented, either in the past or potentially a new testing strategy they are planning to try out. It is a good practice to review this plan with all parties involved with the execution qa strategyof the strategy and bring to light best practices that have been seen with other clients. When reviewing the client’s current plan, remember that testing strategies can leverage using onsite resources, outside consultants, and offshore resources. Strategic decisions to utilize these resources may cut down on cost and provide flexibility, taking into account the client’s business needs, corporate culture, and budget.

Some clients bring in operational leaders in the areas that are being tested such as receiving or picking and packing. By doing this the client can lean on those individuals that know these processes on a day in day out basis. Thus, they are aware of the base process flow but still there are exception scenarios that require a structured QA strategy to triage. For example, where a receiver verifies an ASN with a variance and then the rest of the ASN shows up at a later date. How should a receiver handle this situation? Once the QA strategy has been agreed upon then one can look for it to be comprised of the following areas based around the client’s unique environment and culture:

 

Assessment

When thinking about what is done during the assessment phase one must ask themselves, what is it we are trying to accomplish here? What tools do we currently have to use to make this implementation a success?

Ultimately, when assessing a supply chain implementation all clients want to accomplish the common goal of identifying every single process flow that a DC may encounter. This is often not feasible usually given the tight timelines that must be managed. Many times, we find that our clients can become overzealous and just ready to get the QA testing phase started, but have not sat down and taken a clear picture of what they have to work with. In some supply chain implementations, the actual testing begins before the full plan is established. This cannot be an effective way of ensuring that the testing being done is effective and efficient, as you are essentially planning while you are going. There are so many moving parts to a supply chain flow that you will inevitably miss something somewhere along the process.

Assessing the project size and what type of testing efforts are needed for the project to be pulled off successfully is very important. Understanding whether this implementation will be for just one DC versus whether this implementation will span over several DC’s each with different types of inventory process flows, are just a few things that have to be taken into account. In some cases, clients have automated testing tools that can help with the testing process which can help speed up testing since these tools are typically used for non-exception flows. Personally, I have seen on supply chain projects where automated testing tools were used, but the tools themselves had not been set up properly to ensure the results yielded were accurate. Simple practices like ensuring the tools leveraged for testing are producing accurate results and covering all scenarios can help mitigate risk.

Test Plan

Are we bringing in an offsite team to do the testing, are we using a team onsite, or are we using automated testing? Are half of the testers going to write test scripts and then the other half going to execute the tests? What type of timeline are we working with here for this phase of the implementation?

All the above questions need to be thought about and included in the test planning that is done for the client. Knowing who your test team will be is important as that leads to being able to structure the proper timeline given the skill set of the team. Or maybe this is already set, thus you need to bring in the right set of people with the proper skill set that can ensure you meet the given timeframe. Typically, on my past supply chain projects, I’ve seen that a proper understanding how you want to utilize the set of team members that are brought on is critical as this also dictates whether the client can complete the testing within the project timeline.

For a supply chain project, it is imperative that developers be incorporated somehow into the scheme of testing so that when issues are found they can address them right away. This falls in line with the agile approach many clients are using nowadays. Being able to fix the problem immediately and then continue to move on rather than having to wait. This agile approach falls right along the lines with knowing and understanding what your client’s timeline is since as the adage goes, time is money. Most clients have a budget that is set, which means that they have test resources for a given amount of time; they have a plan that must be executed in the given amount of time; and the plan must be executed almost flawlessly to ensure long term project success.

Management and Execution

Who are we going to have to lead this phase of the project? How will they go about ensuring the strategy stays focused and delivers within the allotted time frame?

We have now assessed the required milestones for the testing phase of this project. We have our resources in place and we have our time line. Now we must figure out who will manage this phase of the project and help with the execution of the ultimate plan. The client may decide to use an in-house resource to help manage this portion of the project or they may opt to have an outside resource come in with more knowledge of how other supply chain client testing phases have gone and can provide different insight. Having outside insight may work best for some clients just for the simple fact that clients can get stuck in their ways. An outside opinion can allow them to see things in ways they may have never thought about. In a lot of cases, there are usually two resources one from the consultant side (which provides the outside view) and one from the supply chain client side (an inside resource) that collaborate on managing this portion of the project and helping with the execution of the plan. Once the resource/s is decided upon that will manage the project, now it’s time to execute the testing strategy.

Implementation of the Methodology 

After assessing what we have to work with, how do we put all of the pieces together to start executing the plan?

Having knowledgeable and skilled supply chain consultants that can help in this phase is always a bonus. Supply chain consultants can bring in a different view that the client may not be aware of at the time. They can share what they have seen from warehouse operations in the same vertical from previous engagements or find themselves mixing the methodologies of these same clients to meet the current project’s needs. Having different views from people outside of the client’s organization can give the client a more holistic view of a strategy that can work for them. Executing the different pieces above in your QA test strategy will be vital for your supply chain implementation’s success.