Queen of Quality, part 1: Good things come to those who wait

This series follows Hanne Laitinen as she completes her Master Class in Quality studies.

Annamari Typpö, 15.05.2018

Through the spring and early summer, we'll hear what it's like to study alongside work and what kinds of insights and eureka moments come up during the program. Welcome aboard!

The first day of Aalto PRO's 22nd Master Class in Quality program some six months ago signaled the end of a long wait for Hanne Laitinen, as she puts it. After all, the idea to participate in the program had originated several years before, when her former supervisor took part in the 20th Master Class in Quality program. The supervisor was happy with the experience and recommended the program also for Laitinen, thinking that she might be interested in the program and find it useful. He was right.

Unfortunately, the next run of the program had already started and Laitinen had to wait "a couple of very long years" before the program began again. “And I awaited eagerly," she emphasizes.

Well, was it worth it? It sure was, she says, when the first five modules are behind her. The program has given her a whole new outlook on her job, says Laitinen, who works as Test Manager at Nordea Life Assurance in Helsinki, Finland.

I don't want to be a quality cop who busts people after the fact. I'd rather tell them that today, there are speed cameras in these locations, please drive carefully.”

Laitinen's journey to becoming the Queen of Quality ­– a tongue-in-cheek title she's given herself – goes back nearly two decades. "Valentine's Day marked the 18th anniversary of my very first grown-up job at this very company," she says. Her tasks have, of course, evolved over the years. She started her career behind a bank counter, but then moved into life assurance, first as a customer service representative. That's where she first ran into quality issues when customers and office workers called and complained about ambiguous instructions and difficult-to-grasp insurance jargon. "That's when I started thinking about ways to make things easier and to avoid mistakes and unpleasant situations," she says.

At Nordea, insurance solutions are produced in-house. This made Laitinen think that the answer to quality problems might lie in the IT department. "I thought that if I move to the IT department, I can have a say on what comes out." Soon she found herself doing software testing, with great hopes. She thought that when you perform a sufficient number of high-quality tests, you end up with a system that the office workers know how to use and that won't disappoint the customers, either.

"It was a very ambitious and nice objective, but impossible to achieve. Testing engineers are in no position to ensure quality, all they can do is verify quality or the lack of it – and at the wrong stage at that. Testing always produces a set of problems, and this leads to an argument about whether they are in fact errors or faults, whether they should be fixed, and who should do the fixing."

 A few years ago, Laitinen was given the responsibility for the organization's QA process, that is, quality assurance for system development. Would this provide her with a comprehensive outlook on quality that would help ensure the quality of the entire development life cycle? No such luck. Soon she realized that when you look at things purely from IT perspective, the view is too narrow.

When you look at things purely from IT perspective, the view is too narrow."

During the Master Class in Quality program, things have finally started to fall into place. Laitinen applauds the program, in particular, for looking at quality from a business angle. "I have gained scalability and a new perspective on quality issues. Now my view extends beyond the IT world."

Before the program started, Laitinen hoped it would provide her first and foremost with new skills and knowledge that she can use in her daily work. This wish has been fulfilled. The Queen of Quality doesn't think she's superior to her colleagues; instead she sees herself as someone who can provide help and support and maybe has a wider perspective on quality. “I don't want to be a quality cop who busts people after the fact. I'd rather tell them that today, there are speed cameras in these locations, please drive carefully.”

She admits to having previously thought that quality is down to the organization's "quality guru." But that's not the case; instead, quality is a sum of everything the organization does. “The greatest moment of realization was when I understood how the tiniest of things – such as check lists ­– can help ensure that things always go right.”

I have gained scalability and a new perspective on quality issues. Now my view extends beyond the IT world."

So far, the best part of the program has been the contact sessions that, says Laitinen, have always been "extremely interesting." She praises both her fellow students and the instructors. "It's unbelievable that no matter how different we all are and how different our backgrounds, we still so have so much fun together.” Each instructor has his or her individual teaching style, which according to Laitinen is a good thing. "They all know their subject so well and they also know how to deliver the lessons effectively. It's a joy to listen to.”

Having a nice group of fellow students makes studying alongside work much more pleasant, despite all the challenges. “I've done my homework, but I haven't started the project work yet, even though I had made a firm decision to start doing it right away. It's still at the planning stage," Laitinen confesses.

In the next part of the series we'll learn what kinds of expectations Hanne Laitinen's employer has for the Master Class in Quality program. Additionally, Hanne Laitinen's supervisor Martti Paajanen will talk about how Nordea Life supports Laitinen and how the organization has so far benefited from the program. Maybe we'll also hear how the project work has progressed! Read more about the program.

Read the whole series

Currently reading: Aalto Leaders' Insight: Queen of Quality, part 1: Good things come to those who wait

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