Lessons in Quality from VWGate – Volkswagen’s Engine Troubles

Do the Problems at Volkswagen Sound Familiar to You?

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The internal evaluation revealed that approximately five million Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand vehicles are affected worldwide” – Press Release 22nd September 2015 from Volkswagen

Our company was dishonest, with the EPA and the California Air Resources board, and with all of you and in my German words, we have totally screwed up,” – Michael Horn, chief executive of the Volkswagen Group of America

We are working at full speed on a solution.” – Dr. Herbert Diess , CEO of Volkswagen

The scandal at Volkswagen also dubbed as VWGate is one of the greatest corporate bluffs of this century. The story has shaken the trust of consumers in one of the most respected brands in the world. The VW brand was at number 67 in Forbes world’s most valuable brand list. (Rolex is at 65; Lexus is at 66 and Prada at 74 on the list) The story as it unfolds continues to shock automobile users around the world.

There is another dimension to the story, which is of more interest to us, which is one about a Quality culture (or the lack of?) at Volkswagen.


So, what exactly did VW do?

VW installed software or “defeat device” on its diesel cars. The device recognized when the cars were being emission tested and fine-tuned the engine to lower nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. In other words, a piece of software to fool the testers!
In fact the cars affected will need more than a software update to meet US pollution rules. VW may need to add catalytic convertors or urea tanks as per Michael Horn, VW’s US chief executive when he was testifying to the US congressional committee.


How did this happen?

Some of the modern day cars have more than million lines of code.
This puts a great responsibility and pressure on the software teams in industries such as automobile, especially when the top management are either from an automobile engineering background or even worse non-engineers such as the VW US CEO who replied to US Congress committee that he did not know how the defeat devices worked as he was not an engineer.


So who is responsible?

You can either believe the CEO of Volkswagen America who just blamed the software engineers (“This was a couple of rogue software engineers who put this in for whatever reason”) or do some further analysis.
There are a few good articles on the problem such as on the Guardian or Harvard Business Review.

Some of themes emerging from various articles written on the topic are:

  • lack of testing for on-road conditions
  • testing done on pre-production models also nick named ‘golden vehicles’
  • testing conducted at manufacturer’s own facilities and a culture of bad management subsidizing bad engineering practices.


Do any of the themes sound familiar?

I am sure the themes sound far too familiar to you, the usual post-mortem of a failed software project.






About the Author


Adi is a Senior Test Management and Agile delivery practitioner in the Financial Services , Government and E-Commerce sectors He is equally adept at Agile\DevOps , traditional and hybrid delivery models and believes in shift-left initiatives to improve quality of projects by leveraging his strong software development background. His career roles from Dev to Deploy involved interfacing with multiple types of stakeholders covering IT Operations, Business, end customers , programme delivery and governance
Find out more about @adihere