Anticipate the worst and plan for the best

The press has been full of the Mars probe crash over the past week. A sensor malfunction caused the onboard computer to think the probe was much closer to the surface than it actually was and triggered a series of actions that caused it to crash. It’s not easy to anticipate everything especially when it has to be planned out so far in advance and last minute changes are not possible. Mars probes have failed for a number of reasons over the years and knowledge of the red planet is still limited. How could quality assurance helped?

Quality Assurance plays a huge role in preventing failures…

QA allows you to anticipate the worst and plan for the best. QA looks at processes that can lead to failure and fixes those before a crash or other failure happens. It looks at the process and asks what could go wrong. When those things that could go wrong are identified, we change the process in a number of ways.

  • We build triggers and thresholds into the process so we know when the chance of failure has increased and while we still have time to prevent it.
  • We build redundancy into the process so there is no single point of failure.
  • We build checks into the system so that a second test is initiated if something that the system is doing looks out of line with normal behaviour.
  • We add something to tell us when something has gone wrong.
  • Finally we either take a contingency action or resolve the issue using built in recovery processes.

Whether your system uses one or all of the above to prevent failure, it is application of Quality Assurance principles that lead to more successful products and processes.