Built on quality: The story of Assurity

Explore Assurity 9 November 2020 Garth Hamilton

Great businesses are made, grown and sustained by great people. And that’s the enduring legacy that we’re building at Assurity.

For those who don’t already know, I came from a software development background. While I loved building systems that solved problems, I also realised I was enjoying creating businesses and finding meaningful projects for others. I enjoyed engaging clients and taking them on the journey to improve their businesses. And the very core of that is quality and building software right.

Looking back, the time spent helping build businesses for others was invaluable because this was the genesis of the lessons necessary for creating culture and managing people effectively. That’s played a big role in how Darren and I came up with the idea of Assurity 15 years ago.

How quality underpinned Assurity from conception

One of the interesting things about software development is that it has a history not entirely unlike that of the Wild West. While everyone wanted to do the right thing, the environment created by many businesses didn’t allow software teams to do their best. And when the development was outsourced to another vendor, the procurement process made developing software a combative game. As a result, software quality was notoriously poor.

We realised that just about everything about the way people were building software could be improved. The quality, the way it was delivered to clients, the adversarial relationship between buyer and seller, the lack of trust, poor processes, dodgy contracts. The value chain just had so much room for improvement. For example, once software was delivered, it was standard practice to give customers five days to test. If they didn’t, delivery was accepted.

That’s crazy. You’re building software over 12 months on a specification written 12 months before that – and then the customer gets just five days to evaluate it?

This was a perfect recipe for building the wrong software in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t about meeting the need or delivering the value. Instead, it was about getting ‘something’ out and getting away with it.

From dreams to reality

This revelation came about on a snowy weekend at the Nelson Lakes where Darren and I had an epiphany and a dream to build and deliver software better. Within a 24-hour period, the principles for Assurity were in place, the culture designed, and the name settled upon. Within a week, I’d  set the company up while Darren continued working in the UK, funding our fledgling organisation from his income.

Those early days remain the most memorable, probably owing to the keenness with which everything is felt when teetering precariously between success or failure.

I recall spending long hours on a couch in a small office, pondering building the business. Probably the biggest tipping point was contractor number one, because that was the point at which we went from two guys with an idea to being an organisation.

That contractor is Nigel Charman, familiar to you as one of our Client Solution Managers. Back then, as now, Nigel ‘gets’ software quality at its broadest. And he imbued in us that it isn’t about testing, it is all about quality.

Soon, a test manager was appointed and we ran our first Graduate Programme to introduce university graduates to the field of quality. Late in 2006, Darren relocated from London and came on board full time, adding impetus and, by 2007, Assurity won its first managed services contract, putting us firmly on the path to sustainability and growth. And by 2009, just four years after we launched, the company was named as the 12th fastest growing company in NZ on the Deloitte Fast 50.

The principles for success: Professionalism, people and, above all, quality

The thing about principles is that they aren’t bound by scale. That’s why the early days and the genesis of our company remain so crucial to this very day because they ring true over the duration of the past 15 years.

Our mission was always to improve software through a focus on quality. One of the key ways we’ve done that is by bringing professionalism to the art of software testing.

Now, while I know a bit about software development, the same couldn’t be said for testing (a necessary, but by no means sufficient component of quality), beyond a keen appreciation of its necessity.

That meant employing people who were good at it and trusting them while creating an environment in which they could be successful. This ‘high autonomy’ environment has proven a lasting principle for success because it gives people the space they need to get the job done. And trust is reciprocal, of course.

These points are part of creating a culture in which people want to work. After all, happy staff make for happy clients. And being surrounded by good people makes work fun and eases the delivery of complex projects – and in the move towards digital business models, complex challenges face organisations of all kinds.

That’s what makes the future so bright for Assurity. Our experience in improving software delivery has provided us with the insights and skills to help New Zealand organisations solve the challenges of technology change. By embracing the benefits of change, we help build sustainably competitive businesses.

This is what we do and this is why we’re here. These first 15 years are our foundation for the future.

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