Last month, we introduced Rosaire Ratelle, a long-time ASQ member and one of the fathers of modern quality in Quebec. This month, we spoke to Brenda Fisk, also a long-time ASQ member. She has chosen to be active in the senior ranks of ASQ, not only in Canada but also in the central organization in Milwaukee. Here is what she had to say:
Brenda is a results-driven, project manager, delivering business transformation initiatives across multinational, financial services companies. She has worked for large financial institutions including CIBC, TD Canada Trust, the Royal Bank and American Express. She has expertise with full life cycle software project management — project charter development, change request documentation, test plan creation, and reporting.
In addition, she is a collaborative leader with a talent for cultivating high-performance teams, facilitating business and technical training programs, and partnering with executive leadership to drive corporate-wide success. She is quick to adapt to new technologies and shifting priorities in ever-changing environments.
Complimenting her work résumé is her long-time involvement in ASQ as a Leadership team member in the Toronto Section. Her many roles included Section Chair and also a number of key roles in American Society for Quality (ASQ), the world leader in quality.
What is the definition of Quality in your industry?
Quality is meeting customer requirements. In software, it is important to have a complete set of requirements or in manufacturing terms, specifications. The requirements for a report, for example, may describe the layout, sheet size, number of fields, point and font in each field and the data that is displayed in the field as well the frequency of printing or issuing the report.
I have observed confusion between Quality Assurance and Quality Control.
The Quality Control element of testing is put forward as an element of Quality Assurance. I think of the silly Lucille Ball episode at the chocolate coated candy factory. The Quality Assurance aspect would be the recipe for making the chocolates and include such specifications as how much chocolate, tempered for how long, put into what size molds, etc. The Quality Control aspect is the inspection process after the chocolates are made. Does the amount of chocolate on each piece meet the specifications in the recipe?
In software, “quality assurance” is often used to describe the testing processes, not the process of “how to develop the software”.
Quality Assurance should be described in the software world as “the planned and systematic set of all actions and activities needed to provide adequate confidence that the product conforms to its requirements and the organization’s quality management system”.
Quality Control is “the planned and systematic set of all actions and activities needed to monitor and measure software projects, processes and products to ensure that a specific cause has not introduced unwanted variation into those projects, processes or products”. 
Often in today’s society, the name used for the “inspection team for software” is Quality Assurance when it should be correctly termed the Quality Control Department, in my viewpoint, based on the definitions above.
How did you get into Quality and how did your profession in Quality evolve over these many years in your industry?
I got into quality by accident. I was working for Canada Permanent as a procedure analyst and a business analyst. In that role, I was asked to test the software for some of the projects they were developing. At the time, I was not aware of the definitions I mentioned above and simply executed the steps in the business process to see if the software worked as expected. I did document what I found and that was the beginning of my career.
When I moved to CIBC, I was hired as a “quality assurance” person and asked to participate in the test one of the banking systems. My manager wanted to find out two things: did I know how to test and, were the documented test cases well enough documented that they could be used to automate the testing process. Within an hour, he had the results. I knew how to test and the test cases were not well enough defined for a non-banking person to adequately execute the test and not ready to be automated.
Once that was established, my manager asked me to visit other software development projects and ensure they were executing the documented testing process as it had been prescribed. If projects were not using the process, I then offered them a training course in “how to do software testing” and from there, my career continued to expand.
In the various companies mentioned above, I developed processes for requirement gathering, change control, defect and risk management through the software development life cycle. It doesn’t matter whether the development process is Agile or Waterfall or anything else; there are processes that should be followed.
Did you always stay in the same industry?
The largest part of my career has been in the financial industry and while not always in the same company, my roles have always been in software development processes.
What made you successful in your Quality role?
Tenacity. As I worked in various organizations, I would come to understand what was lacking in the software development life cycle and work with the project managers to introduce the processes that were missing to make the life cycle more vibrant thus improving the quality for the customers.
How long have you been with ASQ and what kept you as a member for such a long time?
My boss at CIBC invited me to an ASQ meeting where I was introduced to the world of “quality”. I had not thought about it before and realized that I had a lot to learn in many industries to understand how quality was defined and what process was in place to ensure that quality was delivered to the customer. I attended every ASQ meeting the Toronto Section put on and learned a lot from the many industry leaders who presented their company’s approach to providing quality products.
While the Toronto Section Chair, I invited my Periodontist to present to the group. After his presentation, many of the engineers in the room came to me to thank me for inviting him and said that they had never realized that other industries used the same engineering terms as they did. For example, to build a bridge on land requires the engineer to understand the stress that will be put upon it. In dentistry, building a bridge in someone’s mouth requires much of the same kind of understanding. Many terms in dentistry are the same as those in engineering. Amazing!
ASQ afforded me a window into the world outside my own allowing me to see how other industries were dealing with their quality issues, and how I could benefit.
How has ASQ membership helped or played a role in your career advancement and how have you benefited from being a member?
I have benefitted from having opportunities to take on several leadership roles in an international organization such as ASQ.
I was asked to be secretary for the Toronto Section for several years and I then became the treasurer. It appeared that the accounts had lost $2,000.00. The error was that by using an Excel spreadsheet, rather than an accounting software, the previous treasurer had forgotten to take the retained earnings into the accounting process for the year-end annual statement. The funds were not lost, just not correctly accounted for in the spreadsheet. The lesson here is one needs to use the right tools for the job. I believe this is true in all industries in all situations.
From there I became the Section Chair and I attended a training conference hosted by ASQ Headquarters. The point of the training was for the Section Chair to learn about the policies and procedures that were standardised for the organization and take them back to train the rest of the Section leadership team. I set about sharing my learning with the team.
In 1999 I took on the volunteer role as Deputy Regional Director (DRD) for Southwestern Ontario, overseeing the Sections in Windsor, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and Toronto. Again, the primary role for a DRD was to be a resource to the sections and provide section leadership training where necessary.
In 2003 I became Regional Director for Canada, and responsible as a training resource to the 14 Canadian Sections. I was also a volunteer leader on the ASQ Board of Directors as one of the 15 Regional Directors. There were representatives from the 22 Technical Committees so the Board of Directors was a large group of extremely knowledgeable people from very diverse backgrounds.
From this vantage point, I helped ASQ recognize that it was more than just a US based organization and that some things needed to be addressed from each regions’ perspective. For example, I helped them understand that the annual salary survey needed to address the issue from a “different country” perspective. While collecting data from quality professionals in the US and Canada, the reporting of that data has to be in the currencies for those countries; not have the Canadian data converted to US currency. That was a major breakthrough.
Another major breakthrough involved the ASQ Acronym. If you ask a person what ASQ stands for while in Canada and the explanation becomes “The American Society for Quality, people ask…where is the “Canadian Society for Quality”? If Canada were to become that, we would have to develop a whole new society and the leadership teams across Canada did not want to do that at that time.
The benefits of belonging to ASQ made sense and the ASQ brand was well recognized internationally, outside North America. Canadians still needed a way to feel part of a Canadian group. Therefore, a name change was recommended that would clarify things. For example, people understand “Ford Canada”, “IBM Canada” and so on. The thinking at the time, was why not introduce the idea of “ASQ County 1”, “ASQ Country 2” etc. While Regional Director for Region 4, I as able to work with ASQ’s Board of Directors to change the name of “ASQ, Region 4” to “ASQ Canada”; another major success.
What would you suggest that could work / serve members better?
The Society is made up of volunteer leadership with a core of headquarters staff to support the leadership teams around the world. The volunteer leaders make the society as vibrant as we can and when necessary, recommends changes to ASQ policies and procedures to keep everything running smoothly. It is up to us! Actively participate and do what needs to be done to keep the society going.
Another one of the things that changed while I was Regional Director, was the year-end for the organization. It had been July1st to June 30th each year. However, that meant that the annual financial statements needed to be submitted during a time when many people in North America take summer vacations. Under this model, it was difficult for Section leadership to have audited financial statements to submit within the 60 days after year-end. To reduce the number of late submissions, the year-end was moved to a calendar year. This has proven most successful as there are far fewer late financial report submissions, making the Headquarter Year-End Audit process run smoothly.
You have worked at very high levels in ASQ organization. How did you come to work in that organization?
ASQ is a Society; a volunteer leadership organization that has a core of headquarter staff to support the leadership teams throughout the country. The Society has Sections that are geographically based such as the Montreal Section, Toronto, Ottawa, and other Sections in Canada. The Society also has Technical or Industry specific Communities such as the “Automotive”, “Food Drugs and Cosmetics”, “Statistics”. There are 22 Technical Communities
A member can belong to a geographic “Section” as well as belonging to as many of the Technical Communities as the person is interested in. There are volunteer leadership roles for everyone. As a volunteer leader, I simply had the pleasure of working in many roles.
After diligently working in the Toronto Section from 1996 onwards in many executive roles, I became the Deputy Regional Director for Southwestern Ontario, Member of the Section Management Program Committee, and then the Canadian Director in 2002.
These latter roles automatically added me to the ASQ Board of Directors. With this exposure, I was able to take on other roles vital to the overall functioning of ASQ. I became the Section Affairs Council Chair, Financial Reporting Review Process Committee Chair and Software Division (Technical Community) Treasurer.
We have seen a very powerful evolution in ASQ HQ in recent years with a profound impact on what is expected of Sections. Could you explain briefly the drivers for this evolution?
Several drivers played a role. ASQ is a legal, not-for-profit entity incorporated in Wisconsin, in 1948. As such there are regulations that need to be adhered to for legal and taxation laws, in order to remain a Not for Profit Society. ASQ realized that it was losing oversight of what geographical and technical communities were doing and needed to regain that control. For example, all the money managed by geographical or technical communities in fact comes under the jurisdiction of ASQ. Some communities were treating these funds as their own and investing monies to generate revenues. This is clearly outside the Geographic and Technical Community mandates.
ASQ’s external auditors recognized that the Geographical and Technical communities were not following some of the Headquarter policies and procedures to ensure its “Not for Profit Status”. Therefore, steps and actions were put into place to help the Geographic and Technical communities protect the ASQ’s Not for Profit status. Some processes seem to be against what the geographic and technical groups would like; however, these steps were introduced to maintain the Not For Profit Status. They are not intended to punish or prevent the geographic or technical groups from doing what they do best – provide value added to their members by providing education, training, certification, conferences and newsletters addressing quality initiative around the world in all industries.
Competitive pressures have a strong influence also. Automation of the Certification exams through a 3rd party provider was a response to PMI offering of the same thing. The benefit to the members is that the results of the certification process are available sooner than having a centrally proctored exam process
Is there likely to be a slow down in this phenomenal rate of evolution?
The world is changing fast and ASQ has to either keep up or get out of the way. ASQ is choosing to keep up and is trying hard to be a step ahead of the game. It is for these reasons the society continues to evolve. Wouldn’t you want your society to do that?
What would you say to any aspiring Senior ASQ candidate?
Go for it! Put up your hand and participate!
A word of caution though. If you are considering applying for ASQ fellowship or being a candidate for one of the ASQ medals— document everything. One of my difficulties was that I didn’t have enough documented evidence to support all the things I’ve done over the years. I did not retain all the records for sufficient audit evidence to be able to apply for these prestigious awards and recognitions. However, that didn’t stop me from being a very active and effective volunteer leader. Don’t worry about any position. There are lots of policies and procedures to help you fulfil any role to which you may aspire! Just go for it and have fun. I did!
 Westfall, Linda. 2016. The Certified Software Quality Engineer Handbook, Second Edition. ASQ, Quality Press, Milwaukee, WI, 53203 USA.
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