TCC – the Team Capability Coach – is a quality leadership project role, aiming at maximizing the effectiveness of process quality assurance. A TCC is an approach that combines and extends the quality assurance-related roles of a “Quality Manager” and essential elements of a “Scrum Master” in a single integrated concept.
In tightly regulated industries — such as automotive, medical devices and aviation — a strong, process-oriented mindset is not just a recommendation – it is a vital necessity. Relying on the goodwill and individual experience can have dire consequences, in extreme cases resulting in a loss of business and hefty fines. A typical German carmaker, for instance, will not accept a supplier that is not being fully compliant with Automotive SPICE on at least level 2 of the HIS scope.
The conventional, agile approach, as described in the “Agile Manifesto”, emphasizes development output over formal documentation and has proven successful for industries that can afford such an approach. Agility alone, unfortunately, is obviously insufficient when it comes to safety-relevant industries such as Automotive SPICE-compliant development.
The truth is that car makers demand both: agility and proof of standard compliance. For instance, if the requirement of having formal documentation seems to contradict the spirit of agility, then it is only because it is indeed an obvious contradiction. No matter how many times some process consultants insist that a lack of documentation is not part of agile principles, the agile movement would not exist if this contradiction was not so blatant.
How can a team that is required to be “agile” but still fully Automotive SPICE compliant on level 2 (or even 3) resolve this dilemma?
Legacy quality roles
There are two organizational roles that shape the quality assurance:
- QA Manager
- Scrum Master
A “QA Manager” may bear a different name (such as “quality manager”, “quality engineer”, etc.) but the task is the same: to ensure compliance with process standards, such as “Automotive SPICE.”
Scrum Master is not formally defined but it is widely used across industries in a roughly similar manner. Scrum Master aims at ensuring that agile principles are followed.
The typical tasks of a QA Manager include:
- auditing according to standard,
- using processes, templates, and checklists to ensure compliance and
- capturing and addressing process deviations.
The typical tasks of a Scrum Master include, among other aspects:
- managing the Scrum process,
- assisting springs and
- supporting other tasks, such as ensuring the “definition-of-done” aspects and resolving team conflicts.
In order to satisfy the regulatory requirements and, at the same time, to facilitate the kind of fast-moving, effective agility of modern system development, a more comprehensive project role is needed. This new role would, in addition to what defines “QA Manager” and “Scrum Master”, further qualities, such as:
- expertise in relevant process quality standards, as well as expertise in popular agile concepts,
- comprehensive, practical experience as an engineer and project manager in relevant industries, and
- executive-grade communication skills and authority.
Such skills are required in a fast-paced, complex, standard-compliant, and modern product development environment. Facilitating active team support, including coaching as well as a thorough understanding of process capability aspects, is success-critical for project-oriented, safety-relevant, quality-driven organizations.
“Nomen est omen”
A “QA Manager” appears to have an ambiguous legacy. Sometimes the institution of a “QA Manager” has a negative notion. In extreme cases I saw in my career, management expects an obedient checklist “bean counter”. What we need is not just a “QA Manager” to take care of a mostly formal or even superfluous and often unrewarding job of “hitting the developers on their heads”. The vicious cycle of customer complaints, audits and formal assessments fighting against the developers who seemingly “just don’t get it” regarding the need for a formal quality assurance adherence is a sad mishap. Such a setup is ineffective and inefficient.
“Scrum Masters” occasionally suffer a similar fate. Simply appointing a “Scrum Master” won’t make the team miraculously “agile”, but some senior managers seriously expect such a result.
But the truth is that engineers do care about quality, the managers do care about quality and the customers do care about quality. They all do. The secret sauce to solving this Gordian knot is an integrated quality role concept. In particular, we won’t call the rule a “manager” (like “QA Manager” or “Master”) to avoid confusion with previous concepts.
The two-thousand-year-old Latin proverb “Nomen est omen”, meaning roughly “the name is a sign”, is a reminder that words do matter and sometimes should be chosen carefully. Thus, it appears appropriate to find a new, unique name for the new role.
We have called the new role the “Team Capability Coach”.
Why a “coach”?
Since systems development is a team game, the analogy of a football game appears an excellent choice. Some football coaches become famous not for scoring points in the game, but for assisting the players. Good coaches are paid a lot, sometimes reaching seven-figure salaries, and since it is not an isolated phenomenon to have a “star coach”, there must be a rationale that explains it.
Wouldn’t you, as an executive manager responsible for operative and strategic goals of your organization, appreciate a person who:
- has a first-hand, year-long practice in your industry?
- has life experience and has mastered motivational techniques, paired with convincing confidence, who is able to effectively communicate on all technical levels, from technical to program managers?
- has the leadership skills to inspire the team to master the complexity of product development in spite of uncertainties, technical risks and sometimes moving customer targets?
It is obvious that a TCC is more than a “master” or a “manager”. What’s needed is an “evangelist” who, at the same time, understands both management, technical, and quality challenges. That’s what a TCC, as an innovative project team role, is all about.
The TCC qualification and responsibilities
The Team Capability Coach (TCC) extends both the concept of a “Scrum Master” as well as those of conventional process quality managers. Critical skills of a TCC, in this example focusing on the automotive industry, include:
- the expertise of process quality standards such as Automotive SPICE, ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, etc.,
- expertise in multiple system development process areas, such as project management, system and software design, testing, configuration management, issue management, etc.,
- the expertise of the relevant business domain, (e.g. cars and trucks),
- thorough knowledge of agile principles and practices and
- expert soft skills, including negotiation, motivational and rhetorical skills.
Further qualities of a TCC should include:
- acceptance amongst the team,
- experience in dealing with industry assessors and specialized consultants,
- ability to continuously learn and expand the knowledge in relevant process areas, and
- a high EQ.
A TCC responsibilities include:
- helping the team develop a suitable process model,
- identifying and/or helping to select proper development tools,
- performing conventional QA tasks such as QA audits and assessments (based on standards, especially Automotive SPICE),
- facilitating the formal project reviews with the project sponsor,
- developing, implementing and maintaining a comprehensive quality assurance plan,
- hands-on supporting the project members regarding the practical implementation of the process landscape,
- participating in technical peer-reviews,
- actively participating in project status meetings,
- finding improvement potential and addressing them accordingly,
- facilitating frequent “Lessons Learned”,
- monitoring the issue management system,
- supporting and facilitating escalations,
- supporting external Automotive SPICE assessments, and
- training and hands-on coaching of processes and process-asset-related tasks.
This list is not exhaustive but it quite accurately mirrors the purpose of the TCC role. Does it appear extensive? It may be so. It is a great challenge to be able to combine both process-oriented as well as agile approaches in one integrated management system concept. There is no silver bullet to this task and that’s exactly why the TCC role is so important.
The ideal TCC
The TCC role may sound like a utopian ideal. Regardless, in truly cutting-edge, high-pressure industries with safety and highly-demanding regulatory requirements, that’s what is needed.
The ideal TCC would be the perfect partner for any executive in system developing organization, having the experience of a decade-long technical development, the charisma of Steve Jobs, negotiation skills of Henry Kissinger, the persuasiveness of John F. Kennedy, work ethos of Steven King, the creativity of Johann Sebastian Bach, and persistence of Thomas Edison. Combining such virtues in one person is obviously hard to come by. The perfect TCC may not exist, but upholding this ideal is useful as a goal and a motivator of continuous self-improvement.
How to know that you have what it takes to be a TCC? Obviously, being able to demonstrate the aforementioned skills is an indicator of TCC abilities. Another indicator is the true passion for engineering and technical management as a team effort. In other words, if you are a technology manager who has a true passion for engineering, has a quality-oriented mindset, and loves working with engineers, you may want to take a closer look at the TCC profession.
The need to have a TCC resonates with the exciting times we live in. As we are becoming increasingly dependent on modern technology — such as machine learning, self-driving cars, and artificial intelligence — ensuring software and system quality becomes indispensable.
My own experience as a TCC taught me how hard but also how rewarding this such task is. Every time a team moves forward and the organization sees the benefits feels like a mighty dopamine shot for everyone involved. It also taught me that high expectations produce extraordinary results.
If being a TCC were a “walk in a park”, it would not be worth discussing, but the opposite is the case. It is already hard to be a QA manager and it is certainly not a trivial task to be a Scrum Master in a tightly regulated environment. Being a TCC takes it to a whole new level.