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Quality and Productivity August 15, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Process engineering, Quality.
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When I was managing a software quality department at Hewlett-Packard some years ago, my counterparts on the software development side of the house used to routinely complain about the number of defects found during testing. You would think their unhappiness would be directed at their own teams for introducing the defects in the first place, and that might have opened up some opportunities for collaboration around defect prevention, design reviews, code reviews, and unit testing. Instead, they seemed to be annoyed that the testing uncovered the defect, as if somehow they wouldn’t exist if they weren’t reported.

There is a legitimate discussion about the severity of defects, making sure they’re properly associated with real failure modes and customer requirements. James Bach has written a great deal on the subject of “good enough quality” in the world of software design, and I would refer the reader to his excellent site at http://www.satisfice.com

However, I think engineering organizations often miss the point when it comes to quality. It’s not about satisfying those pesky QA people who keep reporting defects. Ultimately, it’s about productivity. When design engineers are fixing their own mistakes, they’re taking time away from true value-added activities, like new features or higher functionality. It’s no different in the factory: scrap costs real money and wastes material and labor, even if rework is possible. It’s also demoralizing. I’ve never met a design engineer who prefers to spend their time on defects.

I wouldn’t try to sell the idea of quality in terms of some ideal perfect product that everyone can admire. Yes, quality has been defined as “meeting or exceeding customer requirements,” but it’s also about identifying and eliminating waste in the value-delivery chain, thereby improving productivity and enabling teams to achieve more. Isn’t that the ultimate reason to care about quality?

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