Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Only Quality …………………

 In all my quality induction sessions, I get almost the same answer to my question “ What is quality ? “ . So , the answers which the audience came up in the induction which I conducted recently were also more or less these :

  • Quality means documentation
  • Quality means less defects
  • Quality means giving more functionality to the customer
  • Quality means estimating and planning so that we give more time for reviews etc.
  • Quality is “Conformance to Requirements”

I cannot dispute the above statements since some of them are true if taken in isolation. But the above statements do not convey the full essence of quality nor do they give the big picture.  So apart from “Quality is conformance to requirements “ , the rest of the definitions are incomplete and some of them are incorrect if taken in isolation.

What really is Quality ? For many organizations or projects , software quality is viewed as a luxury or good to have”. And for such mindsets, software quality is often “sacrificed” for added functionality, faster development at lower costs. Most of the times , however, at a very late stage , do the managers realize that they end up spending more time in fixing defects in the completed software resulting in  a much higher cost.

Compared to other engineering disciplines, low quality is often tolerated in software development. Think of a situation where you just bought a refrigerator or a camera and when you start using it , it does not work in the way it is supposed to .  You would immediately lodge a complaint and return the appliance. Not only would you not recommend this product to any one, you would even discourage others from buying that brand. In the software domain, low or poor quality is common mainly because the users or the customers are limited and there is this mindset of better than previous version” or “something is better than nothing”.

Quality can be termed as the sum of reliability , performance, functionality, zero defects , usability, supportability, scalability and the most important , software should run the way it is supposed to. Many people believe that they will “do quality” only after they get time after they “do their project”. This may be due to the notion that quality is documentation and hence an overhead.  And quality and project work are two different entities.  The inference from this thought may be due to the way quality at work is perceived by an associate. However , what needs to be understood is that quality is a well defined process for creating a useful product that adds value for both consumer and manufacturer. An apt definition of quality as penned by James Juran is quality meansfitness for use”. In this age of competitiveness, quality is the differentiator. If we take the example of  the automotive domain , in 1970s , the Japanese automotive manufacturers  adopted Deming’s rigorous quality assurance program and became known for their highly efficient usable and reliable cars.  Thus quality became the differentiators and the Japanese cars were taken as the benchmark for  automotive quality.

Another import aspect is innovation. The concept of continuous process improvement leads to organizational innovations.  With sound processes in place , it is possible to react , adopt and deploy the innovations efficiently.

Last but not at all the least , according to Phil Crossby, Quality is free. The statement may not be literally true , but  if you compare the cost of quality with the price of non compliance , the ratio is zero. The concept is doing things right the first time.  My experience is that quality and process are often traded for speedy development,  but in the long run, we find that processes enable the team to deliver more on time and at a lower cost. There is less person dependency and more people maturity in the team.

For quality to percolate down in any organization,  an essential ingredient is the drive and focus of Senior management.  

And yes, everybody can and should contribute to the quality drive in an organization . An organization can move forward in the Quality space only with the participation and involvement of all the employees,

Cheers !

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