Our Customers Do Our QA

This is not as bad as it sounds.  A lot of companies are in this boat.  They don’t have the revenue to hire full time QA engineers and testers.  So, they do what they can and rely on customers to report bugs, oversights, and possible enhancements.

Let’s briefly discuss how a ‘real’ QA department operates, and then contrast that to the poor-man’s solution.  Normally, a QA manager and team of testers ensure that products delivered straight from the engineer’s drawing boards ship with minimal bugs.  Each tester is assigned one or more areas of the product.  They follow a QA plan and checklist.  Every feature is scrutinized, often put through the paces as real customers would use it.  Bugs are sent up the chain, through the QA manager, and back to the original engineers for fixing.  Once resolved, QA engineers verify the fixes.

A QA department is nice to have.  They find hundreds of issues, and save the company a lot of money and embarrassment.  Product defects are resolved before they hit the shelves.  In the end, the QA department is usually worth their pay.  After all, that’s why the department exists in the first place – to save the company money.

But if you can’t afford the salaries, and you have a small number of customers, the development and manufacturing engineers will need to perform the dreaded duty.  (It is monotonous work.)  Problem is, engineers bristle at repetitive tasks like product testing.  They won’t do a thorough job, and you still end up getting bug reports from customers.  Plus, you’ll have to pay the engineers for their extra testing work – and they aren’t cheap.  Bugs that reach the outside still cost you money in customer dissatisfaction and lost sales, but perhaps not as much as the salaries for a full testing crew.  That’s the real gamble.  And, there are so many intangibles that a true cost analysis of each method is difficult.  But, you’ll know when you need a QA team – when customer complaints begin to kill your product momentum.  When that happens, put together a team quick!



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