HBO’s Westworld and Your QA

Fans of HBO’s newest hit series Westworld might love it for the suspense and intrigue, but technology and marketing geeks can also appreciate the emphasis on quality assurance at the sci-fi theme park.  In the world imagined by co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, QA is a department that shares equal power with the development teams in Behavior.

Elevate the role of quality assurance staff…

It’s an interesting take on the oft-repeated notion that quality can’t be inspected into the end of a project, sometimes known as the “shift left philosophy.”  Real-life companies can take a lesson from the show by considering organizational structures that elevate the role of quality assurance staff and view them as equal partners with developers and other implementation teams.

This partnership approach will help in two critical ways.  First, it will highlight quality needs from the first to the last stages of every project.  This simple structural change should not be underestimated — simply ensuring that there is adequate time in a project plan for proper testing will be a big help for some organizations struggling with quality.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, projects will benefit from a broader diversity of skills.

QA professionals can offer a different perspective than project managers, developers, designers, etc.  This helps improve the overall results by broadening the resources available and integrating fresh ideas early in the project lifecycle.  It will also help ensure that the specifications and other early-stage assets are fully in line with the user requirements and the overall goals of the project.

Following the proper testing scripts might not prevent a robo-apocalypse…

Of course, Westworld also indicates a few potential pitfalls for either not listening to your QA team or bypassing testing protocols entirely.  In the early episodes. the initial impetus for the story was the premature deployment of the enhancement that allowed the hosts to experience “reveries.”  Anthony Hopkin’s Dr. Ford character inserted a few lines of code immediately prior to release and the full regression testing wasn’t performed.  While most of us are managing websites, apps, or marketing campaigns instead of  potentially murderous robots, the lesson should still resonate:  Nothing should be deployed without following all applicable testing protocols, and even small, seemingly innocuous changes to code can have negative repercussions.

While following the proper testing scripts might not prevent a robo-apocalypse, it can certainly improve the experience of your customers.

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Logistical Genius in Stuttgart

I make no apologies for being a Porsche fanboy of the highest order, so much so that I even like the tail end on the first generation Panamera.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I was blown away by my pilgrimage to the Porsche factory in Stuttgart, but even I wasn’t prepared for the ridiculous level of logistics on display, and how the experience got me thinking about marketing technology.

The computer system plays the role of orchestra conductor, if a musical conductor were playing multiple symphonies around the world at once.

I’d seen “How It’s Made: Dream Cars” and had some idea of the precision and overall extent of the operation employed, but actually absorbing it all at once is a wholly different experience.  For starter’s, Porsche employs a variable assembly line where different cars for different markets are all built back-to-back-to-back.  In Stuttgart, that means all of the almost countless varieties of 911, plus 718 Cayman and Boxster, lined up in no particular order.

However, it’s not fair to say they are lined up — in addition to the main assembly line, there are various branches to pre-build all of the parts.  As the cars are lined up in no particular order, so must the completed dashboards, seat assemblies, powertrains, etc. all be lined up as well so that as the main body passes on the line the right part appears at the right time.

Which brings us to the true heroes of the factory system — the computers and software that manage the supply chain.  I’ve done some supply chain work with SAP and UPS, but that was pretty basic pick and ship stuff.  In the factory case, they’re taking thousands of parts from thousands of suppliers, pre-assembling them into something resembling say a dashboard, and then bringing them all together at a specific place and time on the assembly line.

The computer system plays the role of orchestra conductor, if a musical conductor were playing multiple symphonies around the world at once.  What can that teach us about marketing technology?

First, I think this illustrates that marketers shouldn’t be afraid of distributed systems.  If Porsche can bring a car together by each nut and bolt, we can bring a website together content block by content block.  Control is important, but let the software’s publishing tools and approval chains handle that; allow your contributors to contribute, more is better and can be culled.

Second, the branches are important.  Many of the customers I have worked with tend to see a website or other piece of marketing technology as a single unit, either published or not, but perhaps behind the scenes we should begin to think of the system as composed of different parts; the customer database independent of the online application, the email campaign plugging into the store.  Perhaps, if we separate these concerns, we an allow each branch to grow individually, better, faster, and with a more positive customer experience.

Third, I know what we do as marketers seems complex, and to us it certainly is, but the problems we face are of a different order than those in manufacturing.  I say this not to belittle our market or our talents, but instead to free us to experiment further and take advantage of the technology available.

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