by Geoff Thompson

Is Quality Dead?

Dec 04, 20114 mins
IT Strategy

I saw this post the other day…

“I ask this based on something one of my colleagues mentioned today: last night he went out for dinner at a restaurant and for some reason his iPhone started ringing uncontrollably even though the phone was turned off. He tried everything to get it to stop but it rang all through dinner, much to his embarrassment. This made me start wondering about whether quality matters anymore: everyone I know that has an iPhone complains that it isn’t reliable – strange bugs (like ringing uncontrollably), alarms that don’t go off, phone calls that drop, poor call quality, etc. – and yet they’re still considered the market leaders. Do customers still care about quality? Can you prove it?”

This got me thinking. I work in an industry dominated by the drivers of cost and timescales. Does quality really mean anything to senior sponsors; the simple answer I hope is yes – although there are some notable software disasters that may lead us to believe otherwise!>

Common sense tells us, and there are many examples proving that, a focus on quality keeps the cost down and almost guarantees timelines, but quality itself is an interesting measure. What is quality to one person is not always quality to another, and in certain circumstances our view of quality changes. We can accept failings in products if there are other benefits, I would suggest in the iPhone example the additional benefits of the functionality that it offers far out way the impact of the problems that some people have. Actually Apple kit is an interesting animal when it comes to quality, my daughter is what I call an Apple disciple, and whatever Apple produce, in her mind, is the best you can get – whether it is or not. I would also suggest that fashion has a lot to do with peoples quality perspectives. To be part of the in crowd sometimes concessions have to be made.

A significant number of us use PC’s and spend many thousands of pounds buying them, but we know before we do that there are bound to be issues, so why do we buy them? The point is that we can live with some quality failings whilst we take advantage of the bits that work. If however a PC or even an iPhone continually fails our views of quality would I believe change?

A few years ago, we all expected our cars to break down all the time, because they did, and any small failures were ignored. Many recovery companies such as the AA wouldn’t cover cars over a certain age as they were almost guaranteed to break down. We all needed a car (because we had been educated to believe that) so we accepted the small issues were a part of life. Now I would suggest car build quality is significantly higher, so our threshold for issues is lower. The smallest issue drives a call to the garage for a fix! Our quality threshold has changed.

Final example would be one of my staff who has a laptop that he has to reboot every day, its old and has some issues. When I suggested I got him a new one he said, and I quote ‘As long as I only need to reboot once each day that’s fine, I love this machine so will live with the issue’. Now if it needed rebooting twice a day or three times a day he would probably demand a replacement. He would rather stay with a machine which operates below par once a day but is perfect for him in all other respects than accept a new but untried machine. Interestingly this same guy, when it comes to the written word, is an absolute stickler for quality. He spots and gets very upset about the smallest spelling mistake or grammatical error.

Quality is not a science and therefore predictable, in most of us it is an emotional response and therefore can be very unpredictable e.g. what constitutes a quality delivery of software today may change at the software’s next release. So as IT professionals we need to keep tracking what quality means to our sponsors to ensure they get what they expect.

Quality is not dead; it is just changing all the time…

But this leaves the question, do CIO’s care about quality anymore or just cost and time? Does our changing perception of quality enable them to excuse their lack of focus in this area? I would suggest the CIO’s I meet don’t consider quality (or see it as low risk in comparison to managing the cost and time) when making software ‘go live’ decisions, but would be very pleased to be corrected.