What is: Quality?

Posted March 5, 2012 by Chris Burgoyne / Development, Documentation, Testing and Quality, What Is? What is: Quality?

As we travel the world, we're meeting people whose practices need improvement. In many cases these are people who are used to working very hard. However, in some cases they are working harder than they have to.

Take the concept of Quality. Many organizations still do not have a Quality policy. So are they providing low quality solutions and service? Not necessarily.

Let's look at the ways we can define Quality, because Quality has multiple definitions that are not mutually exclusive:

  • conforms to specifications
  • fit for use
  • transcendent -- "I know it when I see it."

All of these definitions for Quality are valid, but they differ in how formal their associated processes are.

Many organizations, particularly younger ones with lower levels of process maturity, are operating at the "transcendent" level. When you hire good people who are conscientious and self-motivating, this common-sense approach to Quality will take you a long way. These people go the extra mile and provide excellent services. It can be difficult to teach this, however, and you are forever tasked with hiring heroes who will solve problems anew. Companies that operate at this level don't have much in the way of quality guidance, but they "know it when they see it."

"Fit for use" is another standard for Quality. It assumes a bit more documentation, e.g., that requirements are documented and that someone is checking to ensure that those requirements are met. "Fit for use" sometimes drifts toward the "transcendent" -- whether or not your process or application is "fit for use" becomes a matter of "common sense." If this begins to feel vague, that's because it is. There are two main problems, the first being, as Voltaire said, "Common sense is not so common." The second is that two intelligent people can look at the same thing and see something very, very different.

"Conforms to specification" is a more rigorous standard for Quality, and that's good: it means you had to have a detailed specification in the first place. Requirements specification, design specification, processes to ensure the quality of those documents, mature testing processes to ensure that conformity to specification is measureable and not open to interpretation -- this kind of documentation takes effort and planning, and it doesn't happen by accident. It is expensive and time-consuming, but it's necessary to achieve meaureable gains in Quality.

A company that differentiates itself based on Quality won't do so by accident. To get best-of-breed Quality, you'll need to have a Quality plan, implement it, and keep it alive. In short, to assure Quality you need at very least to have a Quality Policy and most likely a robust Quality management system.

So why doesn't everyone have an excellent quality system?

"Quality management systems are traditionally expensive, cumbersome to implement, and require extensive training." -Jon Nugent

Creating a QMS can be overwhelming, but you can keep things in perspective:

"What you stand for, the operational choices you make, the culture you foster, the experience you deliver, and how you deliver it through your people and processes have to work in harmony to mutually support and reinforce the brand. Each element must work with every other in order for the strategy to work and when you change one element it can have a serious effect on the rest. This means that the business needs to be viewed holistically and strategy executed in the same way. In the words of Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2, 'It only works when it all works.'

"A differentiating customer experience starts with having a big idea and clear strategy but it lies even more in executing it well so that you can sustain it long term." -Shaun Smith

 

And that's where VoiceVision comes in. VoiceVision helps you assess your current situation -- the good, the bad, and the merely sufficient -- and then makes recommendations to chart your path to Quality. Implementing a Quality Policy can be challenging, but it will provide returns, and with a methodical approach, it's more than manageable.

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