S1E11: QS & QA & QC Oh My: Finding Our Way To The Emerald City of Quality With Alphia Stephens

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This is a podcast episode titled, S1E11: QS & QA & QC Oh My: Finding Our Way To The Emerald City of Quality With Alphia Stephens. The summary for this episode is: <p><span style="color: windowtext; background-color: inherit;">This week's discussion is with Moser's Director of Quality, Alphia Stephens.&nbsp;It may sound simple, but quality is a complex and ever-evolving challenge. In today's episode, we take a deep dive into Quality and some of its components.&nbsp;And we're very fortunate to have Alphia join us.</span></p>

Angel Leon: (singing) Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of ASCII Anything presented by M oser Consulting. I'm your host, on Angel Leon, Moser's HR advisor. And in this week's episode, we will be talking to one of Moser's experts about quality. That might sound simple, right? But it really isn't. And on today's episode, we will take a deep dive into quality and some of its components. We're very fortunate to have Alphia Stephens to talk to us about this topic. Alphia is the director of quality management for Moser Consulting. She is an accomplished senior project manager and senior system business analyst leveraging an extensive technical background to guide strategic decisions within an organization. She's an experienced federal contractor with notable expertise in the healthcare arena. Over several years of successfully overseeing software application development and quality assurance, managing technical and non- technical employees and contractors, including mentoring and personnel development. Alphia it is great to have you with us today to discuss quality, how are you?

Alphia Stephens: I am great Angel, how are you today?

Angel Leon: I'm doing great, thank you. I want to start simple, if you don't mind? I would love to understand what quality is because I'm sure I could come up with several different answers depending about how I think about quality. In your own words, what is quality?

Alphia Stephens: Great question. So in my words, quality is, from my perspective and really from an IT perspective, I would say quality is really delivering requirements as well as delivering on client expectations so that we can satisfy our clients. It takes the full effort of an organization to do so, to deliver quality, so that we're all working cohesively together. But at the end of the day, what we really want to get out of any kind of work effort is a complete product and a satisfied client.

Angel Leon: Interesting. So when I think about quality, I think about testing. But you're saying that quality is more than that, why is that?

Alphia Stephens: Well, it's not just you, when a lot of people hear quality, most people think of, especially in our world of IT consultancy, most people think of software testing, when you hear quality. Quality is bigger than that, software testing is a component of quality, but it's only a component of quality. It sits under an umbrella of quality control is where you will find software testing, which in itself is under an umbrella of quality assurance, and that's where we really visit all of our policies and plans and execution steps for delivering quality. And that in itself is under a bigger umbrella of quality system or a quality management system, so that's really the top tier of this quality arena, if you will. So when we hear the word quality, we have to think of the big picture, in my role, I do. People will think inaudible, which is fine and it's super important, but again, it's really a small piece of what the bigger picture of what true quality is. So if we were to build out a system in an organization, you would have everybody engaged in this quality system and not just testers, right? It would be everybody from HR, to your testers, to every resource in an organization, they all have a role to play in quality. And that's what the quality system does through those quality assurance and quality control practices.

Angel Leon: So it sounds like quality is definitely a multi- step, different level thing that probably most organizations could use, so let me ask you about how quality is measured. How is quality measured, and how are those measurements used?

Alphia Stephens: Right, so, yeah, quality is measured in different ways, right? We look at now looking beyond a tester and looking at any role in an organization. We have to have a way to measure quality against all those roles. There are seven basic tools that we use to measure quality, and from each of those, there are hundreds of ways to kind of manipulate a tool to derive your quality metrics. So there isn't one way to do it. I mean, I'm not even going to give you a one way to do it. Well, for instance, I'll give an example. In our world, again of IT consultancy, we have a traceability matrix, which is a table. And a table is a way to measure quality, but we can trace back our final result, our final product back to what the customer is asking for. And we can look at our percentages of being on target or being off target with those requirements and with our testing numbers, from the traceability matrix. And so that's one way of putting some numbers against the words to measure quality. And we can do that in many various aspects, in many areas of delivering any service or product to a client. But there are thousands of different ways in which we measure quality. Some of them that are non tangible would be a customer survey, or your rating on a inaudible site, because your customers are telling you based on your ratings, what they think about your services and your products, right? So those are ways that we can measure quality from a customer perspective. But there are many, many, many ways at which we measure quality and get metrics in quantifiable data to kind of improve upon our products and services.

Angel Leon: So two things from what you just said, number one, the reviews that people get right for their business on these websites, that's one way to measure quality. But I like what you mentioned earlier about how quality is constantly being measured from the beginning, so basically when the client or the company does that first insert of," Hey, I want to know what really is quality?" What we look like in X or Y or Z service versus then as you spread... Basically, I'm assuming you put a testing period in place or you set a timeframe, how does that ultimately work?

Alphia Stephens: Right. So if you start at the very beginning with a client in our world of consultancy, you're going to start with something we call requirements, right? And so that's validating with a client that this is what you want us to deliver. And so right at that very moment we are setting our qualitative expectations with the end user, with the customer. And at the end of that, so you're going to go through a whole development life cycle of creating this product, this software, whatever we're building for a client, at the end of that, we're going to test that. And so that's when your testing comes into play, right? And make sure that we have built out and we've met the requirements that we told our clients that we were going to deliver, early on in its effort. So it's an end to end process, and so it starts at the very beginning of any tasks of any work effort that we want to kind of have a quality plan built into our processes to deliver on that. And another aspect of that is not... We talked about earlier that everybody in an organization is engaged in our quality of delivery, right? And so whether you are a BA, or a developer, or a tester, or a PM, everybody has a set of defined standards and guidelines and best practices or what have you, that if we ensure that our resources, our employees are working against their standards or their own particular guidelines based on their role, at the end of that you should have a quality- driven or high value product at the end of that. So that helps us make sure that we are always on a certain pathway down this quality highway, if you will, but that whole end to end process is quality driven.

Angel Leon: So every position that is part of that quality process has their own tasking, they have their own standard, they have their own role, if you will?

Alphia Stephens: Exactly.

Angel Leon: So then going back to the metrics, how does quality breakout and become defined within each component of the metric that you're using?

Alphia Stephens: Right, good question. So again, with each role we look at what those standards are, and we look at what their processes are, and when we look at ways that we can measure quality against each role, because we would measure the success of an analyst differently than we measure the success of a developer, because one is probably more quantifiable and one is probably more, a little bit intangible, just basically on what those roles are and what the tasks are for each of those. So every role that we have, we measure quality differently. And again, it's based on what those tasks are in their standards, in their day- to- day processes and their guidelines, whatever, we have to leverage tools that are specific to those roles and to those tasks to kind of get a quantifiable number to measure a resource.

Angel Leon: So then, because you're creating all those tools for those tasks and those roles, you're also measuring the quality of each individual role in the grand scheme of things?

Alphia Stephens: Exactly, exactly. And we are constantly in a place of refining those roles, refining, not the roles really, but refining those processes and those standards for our organization. Because you're always going to find out or your employees are always going to tell you ways that you can do things better and ways that you can improve. And so when you take those refinements and we plant them in the next round of quality metrics, quality analysis through an effort, because it's a cyclical process, you never stop applying quality. You never stopped measuring quality. You never stopped trying to improve on your qualitative output.

Angel Leon: So technically you continue to improve upon the process, is I guess the takeaway from your answer. Because basically as you continue to define the quality with the metrics, with the data that you're receiving, you can then jump ahead and sort of say," Okay, this process didn't work as good as we want it to, let's switch it up a little bit while we're on the way."

Alphia Stephens: Exactly. While on the way, we're going to probably finish doing it that way that we've defined and planned out. Well, I'll say, that's, really the intent, but in our agile inaudible frameworks, we can inaudible flexible, but we tend to take that data and put it in our planning for the next iteration of qualitative analysis. But I'll tell you one good example of looking at always that always process improvement mantra, if you will, is there is a casino in Vegas. I do like Vegas, but I think it's The Luxor, I think it's a glass type pyramid type of casino. Vega's is in the desert, and so that glass is always covered in dust, in dirt. And so they have the window cleaners and they start on one side of that pyramid, and every day they clean one side of that pyramid and go to the other three sides. And as soon as they finish that process, that cycle of planning, they start over because their job, their qualitative job is to make sure that that glass is always clean and that glass is never cleaned being in the desert. And so they're always constantly cleaning that glass, and in doing that, they might find ways that they can do it better, or faster, easier, cheaper. And so those are both qualitative improvements, that continuous improvement, if you will, that they employ in that job to ensure that they have the cleanest glass, I guess, in Vegas. But that's one way to look at that, the work never stops. The work is always going, and so is the attempt to enhance your work and improve your performances.

Angel Leon: Yeah, no, totally. I do agree. That example actually is a good example because it shows how a process is done. They might be able to find something that actually makes it a quicker process maybe once or twice. But then they might find it that, along the way, that may not necessarily work, so then they go back to their old ways or just improve upon that process. So that's a great example.

Alphia Stephens: Exactly.

Angel Leon: So let me move on to something when it comes to companies, what does quality means in a product driven company versus what it means from a service driven company? What could you tell us about its differences?

Alphia Stephens: Also a great question, and an interesting question. So when we think about quality from a product, the end goal of a product is that we have something tangible that we can hold in our hands, or see, or play with, and feel and touch and all these things, and we can kind of look at it and put it into its place and make sure that it works as intended. So it has met its requirements, and all things being great, the customer would be satisfied with that end product that they can hold and see and feel and touch. Conversely, on a service side, again, from a consultancy where our product is less tangible, we deliver services in a way that aren't asked, that you can't necessarily feel, see, touch. We deliver a code or documents or things like that where they're not always a tangible product again. And so the way that you look at them are different and the way that you measure them are differently. Certainly with a physical product in your hand, you can look at it and put it into its component to make sure it works and it fits and the specs are correct and all that. But as I was speaking to earlier, with a service driven organization, measuring that as a little bit differently. It's going to be based off of what your customers think about you, and it's hard to measure that so we do surveys or we do reviews. We look at how your employees feel, so the ways that we measure services versus product driven quality is vastly different because of the intangible of one versus the tangible of another. So that's one way to look at it, but oftentimes even in our world, and you see most organizations, if not all organizations, they do have a level of both product driven and service driven. And I think one of the best examples of that, to me, for sure, would be Chick- fil- A. You can see Chick-fil-A in a thousand memes, and they talk about how great Chick- fil- A performs. Not only do they have a great product, but their services probably does better than their product really, when you look at wanting to measure the effectiveness inaudible. But you compare Chick- Filet to any other fast food industry or fast food restaurant, and they will beat them night and day on their service alone, because Chick- fil- A does a great job of delivering quality standards to it's employees. And so as a Chick- fil- A employee, I would imagine that they don't know how to do something differently. They learn how to do it great, they can inaudible great, and then you do it better. And that's what we tend to get when we visit that establishment. So again, in our world, we can deliver code or we can deliver documents, but then a lot of the other things that we deliver are, some are going to be intangible, that are going to be harder to kind of measure and see, things like that.

Angel Leon: The Chick- fil- A example, it's a good example, because as you were answering the first part of the question, I started thinking, what company does a cross between product and service? And the Chick- fil- A example is a good one because, I mean, you mentioned it, I love Chick-fil- A as well, so shout out, shameless plug to Chick-fil- A here on ASCII Anything. But you're right. I mean, they do provide a good product. I mean, people love their sandwiches pretty much all of their menu. And then the service that you receive, even through something like the pandemic, where people are not going to the restaurant, they're not going inside, but they're still giving that smile on their face. They're," Hey, can I do something better for you? Can I get you something else?" Even through the drive- through, and you still see that customer driven entity, you just see it. And like you said, their employees probably don't know any better than to treat people this way because that's how they were trained. And let me tell you, that's not a bad thing. If you're customer driven like that, that's not a bad thing, because guess what, it makes people want to go back.

Alphia Stephens: Right, so the quality management system at Chick-fil- A is probably above par than anybody... You don't see that type of service anywhere else. I've never seen it anywhere else, that's consistent. And when you talk about quality, inaudible want to do is deliver a consistent service and product as much as possible.

Angel Leon: Mm- hmm( affirmative). Yeah, I agree. So continuing on with this customer service oriented side of quality, how do we seek quality as a customer and how can we deliver quality as an employee? I think we touch a little bit about that as a customer with Chick-fil- A, but if you can expand on that and tell us how we can deliver that quality as an employee?

Alphia Stephens: Right, I think from a customer perspective, if I were to put myself in a customer's shoes or when I talk to some of our customers, I think what really at the end of the day that they're looking for is, again, we go back to that word consistency, right? It's to deliver their products correctly, timely, meeting their level of satisfaction that we want just consistently. If we were able to do that consistently, you're going to have a satisfied customer. And because that's really what they want is that we are reliable, that we can do what we say we can do, and we say we can do it. And if we do that consistently, you're going to have a happy customer, right? From a customer perspective, wow, that's a loaded question. But really it's the same thing though. That, when I've put myself on the side of a customer, I go back to that Chick- Filet thing, that I'm going to get good food quickly, timely with a smile on someone's face. So you want to just be treated nice, you want to be listened to, and you really want what you've asked for, what you've paid for, what you've been promised still under those same constraints, those time constraints or those financial constraints or whatever. But you're just looking for that respect and that consistent delivery of service from whatever you're doing.

Angel Leon: Well, and it goes back to what you were just saying about consistency and reliability, it's the same deal. I mean, if we receive great customer service from any organization, we are probably more bound to go back to that place than not. So I think it goes back to that reliability and consistency, if you can consistently deliver a good customer service oriented service to your customers, those customers are going to come back and they're going to be grateful to have you as part of their organization.

Alphia Stephens: And that's one of those metrics, returning customers. So that's another quantifiable way to gather your metrics for qualities. But yeah, absolutely, a happy customer is a recurring customer.

Angel Leon: Yes, absolutely. So speaking of organizations, every organization wants to be successful in their operations. How do you set up projects and people for quality success?

Alphia Stephens: So I think this goes back to that big picture of a QMS, a quality management system. From an organization perspective, you want to make sure that you have a system, a robust QMS in place that accurately delivers quality from each of those roles that we talked about. So you want to make sure that you are, not that I'm a SME in everything IT, I work with our directors and our VPs who are those SMEs to make sure that we have the right standards for those roles and to make sure that we have the right guidelines. And so we want to make sure that those things are in place for every role so that each of our employees knows exactly what they should be doing and how they should be doing it, right? And so we want to make sure that we are following those guidelines as determined by whatever industry we're in to ensure that our employees are delivering on those standards that everybody recognizes. And so from employee perspective, again, if I were new to Moser and put into a B role or a PM role, whatever, I want to know that I can go to a place or that my manager is going to tell me or give me some artifacts and say," Okay, this is how we do this role at Moser, and this is how we deliver quality at Moser to ensure that our customers are going to be satisfied." So both from an organization and a employee perspective, you just want to make sure that you're giving your company, your employees, the right set of guidelines to deliver against their role. And as an employee, you just want to make sure that you fully understand what your expectations are as an employee so that you can fully deliver those expectations and therefore your value to your customers.

Angel Leon: So again, steady up roles, putting boundaries, making sure everybody knows what they're doing, that's how you set up for success crosstalk.

Alphia Stephens: That's how you do it. That's how you do it. And also in that, obviously, what we talked about before, that continuous improvement, making sure you're doing auditing to ensure that your plans, that you're updating your things as frequently as needed so that you're always leveraging those standards and practices that are common to most organizations that we work with.

Angel Leon: Yeah, auditing is key. I should know I'm married to her daughter, so that is key. So Alphia, I want to end on a surprise question, and it's something that I came up with recently. So it's just one question, but when you first started working in quality, what was harder than you expected?

Alphia Stephens: Ah, really, harder than I expected? I mean, it wasn't really hard here at Moser only because, to what I just said, we all have our standards. We all have the way that we work, because those are the accepted practices in our areas. And so, because we all have that, it was really just a matter of ensuring that, and weaving quality through it. That, oh, we already have this so let me just put together the metrics by which we're going to gather our data, things like that. So it wasn't, it wasn't really hard, the challenge is realizing, I was only knew so much of quality, when I first started here, but now I'm still expanding my knowledge because it's so big, it's such a big space. And I think for us, we just want to make sure that we continue to grow in that space and ensure that our clients and our employees are happy, are satisfied in their roles so that we know that we are on the right track for delivering quality across our enterprise and for our customers. So not necessarily hard, but the challenge.

Angel Leon: Okay, great. Well, Alphia, it has been a pleasure talking with you today. Thank you very much for coming on, ASCII Anything. We love to hear more about quality. I'm sure we have a couple of other subjects that we might want to tackle on crosstalk. So we'd love to have you back.

Alphia Stephens: Yeah, absolutely. So many more. Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to leave you with just, or leave the listeners with one note about quality, is that at the end of the day, from an organization perspective, you always just want to make sure that your quality driven processes or your QMS, that it's at an enterprise level, just at an enterprise wide readiness to deliver that consistent result. And I think if you can drive... If that could be your focus, that you're going to be pretty happy with your results.

Angel Leon: Again, consistency and reliability.

Alphia Stephens: Yep, absolutely. But thank you, Angel. I enjoyed the conversation-

Angel Leon: Thank you very much.

Alphia Stephens: ...and so I'm looking forward to our next level, whatever that is.

Angel Leon: Thank you, me too. I really appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

Alphia Stephens: Absolutely, thanks guys.

Angel Leon: Alrighty, that's our episode today of ASCII Anything. We hope you enjoy my conversation with Alphia Stephens, and what quality is and what it can do for you and your organization. We will be back next week with another episode of ASCII Anything presented by Moser Consulting, your technology partner. In the meantime, please remember to give us a rating and subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcasts. Until then, so long everybody.( singing)


This week's discussion is with Moser's Director of Quality, Alphia Stephens. It may sound simple, but quality is a complex and ever-evolving challenge. In today's episode, we take a deep dive into Quality and some of its components. And we're very fortunate to have Alphia join us.

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Angel Leon

|Director of Personnel

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Alphia Stephens

|Director of Quality Management