The Need for Quality

April 24, 2013

The first thing that we need to consider, in any organization, is that quality is the most important thing. The quality of your work defines you. Whoever you are, whatever you do, I can find the same products and services cheaper somewhere else. But your quality is your signature.

Developing and delivering high quality products and services means that you are doing things correctly from the beginning. As a consequence, you are reducing the need for additional services, from verification to warranty.

Reducing the need for continuous verification and validation, fixing, tuning and correcting your products before they are finalized will have an enormous impact on the cost of your products and the time to market. This may appear self-evident, yet I see an enormous amount of organizations who believe that it is better to build quick and cheap, fix it later. Management of these organizations believe that it is a good policy to save every penny during the initial creation and delivery of products and services, and accept the cost (financial, work hours and reputation) of fixing things when they go wrong – even though it is easy to demonstrate that the correction cost is several orders of magnitude larger than the cost of doing it correctly. This attitude is based on the idea that if we can deliver it cheaper without performing appropriate quality-related activities, the product might (miraculously) not be defective, or the customer might never notice the issues. We used to say that a happy customer will tell someone, while an unhappy customer will tell ten people; today, in an electronic world, where information crosses the globe at the speed of electricity, the unhappy customer is now sharing the news with a global community of social networks within seconds. Happy customers still only tell one person because it is not in our culture to share congratulations as widely as complaints.

Other costs which are disappearing thanks to high-quality products, include hotline, support lines, maintenance teams, release management and others. One non-negligible cost which disappears, but is rarely considered or documented, is the cost of taking productive people away from their production tasks to answer questions related to customer complaints.

Of course, quality is not an easy thing to achieve. First, you need to define what is quality. Quality for one organization is not the same as for another. Personally, if I want to buy a car, I am looking for a vehicle which will get me from A to B with minimum cost and problems, and allow me to transport the kind of things I usually transport. This definition of quality will rule out products such as Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini (too expensive), but it also excludes a number of tiny electric cars (no space for luggage)… If you want to create quality, you need to define it in your own terms, there is no common definition, there is no wrong definition: quality can be defined in terms of price, speed, defects or many other options.

The next step you need to consider is the level of quality you want to achieve, I may cover this in detail in a later post, but for now, I will say you need to define quality as world-class quality. In a world in which frontiers and distances are being rapidly removed, in a shrinking world, you need to deliver quality which is sufficient to remove any reason for your existing customers to go seek something better or cheaper elsewhere. World-class quality does not mean in this context that you are better than anyone else in the world, but that your customers and prospects will find you are good enough to not seek better elsewhere. Anything less than world-class quality is unacceptable.

Finally, you need to remember that quality is made by people. While technology, tools, processes, procedures and documentation may help in some way, it is only the people who really actively make the quality which represents you. If your people do not believe in your company, they will let you down. If your people are stressed or de-motivated, they will not deliver the quality you may desire. For a long time, I have been opposed to the concept of “human resources”. I do not understand why you should downgrade your staffing to be little more than an expendable resource. If, for reasons I do not fully understand, you do not like the old-fashioned (but explicit) terms “personnel” or “staffing”, then I would recommend you use the more appropriate term, recognizing your people for what they really are and call them “human assets”.


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