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Quality Is What the Customer Says It Is

All customers, regardless of industry or market, internal or external to an organization, want quality. Quality is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge. But what is quality? The best definition of quality I have seen is “fitness for purpose.” This works everywhere from a business setting to a family meal.

No matter what definition you use, the quality of a product or service is ultimately defined by the customer.

Therefore, to define quality, the first step is identifying who your customer is. Your customer will guide you toward the appropriate definition of quality for your organization. Work with your customers to understand what they want, and what they are willing to pay for. Then deliver only what the customer wants, and not more.

Once your quality is defined, it must be managed: Quality Control and Quality Assurance are two functions commonly used in enterprises to manage quality. Let’s explore each.

Quality Control (QC) Tells You What the Issues Are

QC processes are designed to diagnose errors in a product. Unfortunately, this orientation means QC is mostly focused on detecting defects in your deliverable, often through testing.

But testing delivers no value to the customer.

The ideal state in IT is one in which no testing is required. In the real world, however, there will always be errors due to human inefficiencies. Our objective should always be to automate and reduce testing as much as possible. This is achieved by incorporating quality alignment with your customer throughout the development process.

Quality Assurance (QA) Prevents the Issues

QA processes ensure that what the customer wants, the customer gets: something that works, and that they are willing to pay for.

The objective of QA is to design quality in from the beginning, not find it at the end.

The catch is: customers change their minds. All the time. To ensure evolving requirements are taken into account, include the customer in the development process from start to finish.

QC or QA?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin

Think of QC as reactive, and QA as a proactive approach to delivering quality.

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If your current quality is very poor, QC should be deployed to stop the bleeding, to identify the critical errors, and to inform a continuous improvement process. This defect data is used to improve how you deliver to your customer in the future.

As your quality improves, the focus should shift to QA. It is more cost effective to catch and correct issues as early as possible in the development cycle.

Cost of Quality as a KPI

In manufacturing industries, measuring and classifying quality cost components is well-institutionalized. The IT industry is still evolving on this front.

Cost of Quality can be classified into prevention costs, internal failure costs, and external failure costs. By using Cost of Quality as a KPI you will expose where you are spending your money.

IT organizations tend to spend a lot of time fighting fires: correcting defects found in testing, or even worse, after the deliverable is handed over to customers.

The cost of a defect increases exponentially through every step of the development cycle. Identify the hidden costs related to poor quality on previous projects, and document the lessons learned. Then, invest up front: in establishing specifications, and in training.

Balance both the reactive (quality control error resolution) and the proactive (quality assurance error prevention) in order to achieve strategic goals and to minimize your costs.

Who Owns Quality?

Quality of product should be the responsibility of those building a deliverable, not by a separate Quality Control department. If quality is owned by a separate organization, there is an innate incentive to pass along the problem and let a different team deal with the repercussions.

Quality is also owned by the leadership who create the culture. An organization that accepts and enables failure, and is encouraged to fail fast in order to catch a defect, will optimize its processes more effectively than one waiting to catch defects later in the development process.

Key Takeaways:

  • Quality is the fitness of purpose as defined by the customer
  • Shift your emphasis from QC to QA
  • Focus your investment early in the development lifecycle
  • Measure and manage your Cost of Quality
  • Encourage a culture that “fails fast”

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