what is quality?

good quality is difficult to quantify, and what is good enough is fluid. it is often easier to point out lack of quality than to specify good quality.

quality is relative

when you think about what is good or bad about a product, criteria may come to mind which are not easy to quantify.  f.ex. “feels good”, “it works”, “good value”, “i just like it”, “luxurious”…

price can lead you to buy one product and not another, even if they otherwise seem to be of equal quality.

your needs and wants change over time.

different situations influence what price is a good price, or what you get from a purchase.

different people have different values and backgrounds, leading to different choices.

however, someone is deciding on quality – you buy something or not, you get to sell something or not…

so maybe the question should be: who decides quality?

the stakeholders decide

some people are more invested in a product, and it’s not only customers, but really anyone who’s affected by or is affecting a product.

customers are necessary for the existence of a product in the commercial market, but it is not sufficient for a product to only meet the customers’ needs.  others must also be satisfied, such as stockholders, employees, and governments.  in the government sector a paying customer might not even be necessary.

who are the stakeholders, anyway?

those affected by or affecting a product, i.e., stakeholders, include:

  • customers – decide to buy or not
  • partners – add value
  • employees – add skill, expect f.ex. meaningful work
  • owners – add capital, expect increased value
  • governments
  • analysts like Gartner, Forrester

sometimes there’s conflicting expectations due to the fact that stakeholders don’t all want the same things… which makes it more difficult to figure out what good quality is.

ISO on quality

you might have an impression of ISO as a bit too formal, but in this case i think they’re onto something.

the ISO 9000 family (the 200x versions) describes quality as the ability to satisfy requirements; from the stakeholders, explicitly expressed, or just implied.

so what is good quality?

it’s about product and process – both what we make and how we make it.

it’s about compromise – conflicting needs means not every stakeholder get everything they want.  if reaching a deadline to make a customer happy means working a lot of overtime making employees unhappy, it might be worse quality all in all than missing the deadline.

it’s about all of the stakeholders. yes, it might be easy to focus a lot on the customer, but you need to keep all the stakeholders happy – or at least happy enough.  e.g., your bank needs to trust that you can pay back a loan, and the government expects you to file your taxes.

it’s about expectations.  a customer might expect certain functionality which is normal among competing products, and get unhappy if it’s not there, but might not think to include it in the requirements in the first place.  even if you’re not a mind reader, this is part of the quality of the product.

it’s not just a point in time – f.ex how the technical quality of software over time sustains (or not) stakeholders’ needs and expectations over time.

you need to recalibrate your understanding of stakeholders from time to time, since time and changing circumstances make stakeholders’ expectations change – and thus change what is good quality.  e.g., owners of a company probably expect more profit after a few years than in the very beginning of the company.

to sum it up: as you can see, in my opinion quality is relative, and is defined by what stakeholders need and expect.