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Quality is a critical component of any project. Automation integration projects are no exception. We've all heard about projects that deliver less than the expected results - what was designed on the front end was not necessarily what was delivered on the back end. Obviously, the goal is to go into the commissioning stages of a project with a high level of confidence that everything will perform as expected and function as designed. Here’s the secret: executing a rigorous quality testing plan is the key. Quality testing should be a fundamental practice for every integration project.
If you're wondering what a quality testing plan looks like – you’re in luck. The key components to integration project quality checking are:
1) Project Design Documents
A quality testing plan should begin with a solid set of design documents. Imagine trying to build a house without blueprints. It would be almost impossible to know if something is wrong with the house. There would be no design documents to check against.
In an integration project, the design documents might be detailed design specifications, schematics, data tables, etc. These design documents should capture the desired functionality of the system and serve as the roadmap for configuration of the integration project as well as the standard to which the various components of the system are tested.
It's important to note that often the first draft of the design documents is created early in the project before all variables are known. However, it is typical for the design of the system to change, even slightly, throughout the project execution. Therefore, it is critical that the design documents be treated as “living” documents and continuously updated.
2) Quality Checking Schedule
The frequency and timing for when a quality check should be executed during the project lifecycle varies by project. Often, there are several quality check events scheduled. Some projects will utilize a single quality check event to ensure quality before a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) or system release to the customer. Typically, it is a good idea to perform a quality check activity during the early stages of system configuration. Catching errors early on can be a great way to increase efficiency while reducing costs. In the end - regardless of many quality checks there may be - it is essential to perform the final quality check after all of the configuration has been completed.
3) Quality Checking Resource
It is critical that the person(s) performing the quality checking be unbiased. It's considered a best practice to use someone who was not intimate with the design or configuration of the system. The perspective from someone outside, who did not significantly contribute to the design or configuration can be fresh and insightful, often illuminating errors that would not have been seen by someone who has been immersed in the development of the system.
4) Quality Check Documentation/Process
During the quality checking it's important to have the latest copy of all applicable design documentation. These documents provide the standard to which the system will be tested.
Some additional tips:
Including these four steps in your next integration project will help to ensure a top quality project that always meets - and often exceeds - expectations.