What is your Quality Philosophy?

I recently went to a Tester Gathering where this question was brought up. There were many answers to it. Some of these were:

  • Software should be stable.
  • The software does what it’s supposed to do from a functional perspective.
  • To deliver defect free code as best possible, accounting for schedule, risk and resources.
  • Quality software is reasonably bug-free, delivered on time and within budget, meets requirements and is maintainable.
  • To deliver what is needed, in a quality that is accepted by the client.
  • Test early and test often

This turned out to be a very controversial topic and we had a very good debate about it. We talked about Six Sigma, Total Quality Management and even discussed Deming’s 14 Point Philosophy ( I recommend reading his work, more on him can be found here. A brief introduction is below).

Dr. W. Edwards Deming was a statistician who went to Japan to help with the census after World War II. Deming also taught statistical process control to leaders of prominent Japanese businesses. His message was this: By improving quality, companies will decrease expenses as well as increase productivity and market share. After applying Deming’s techniques, Japanese businesses like Toyota, Fuji, and Sony saw great success. Their quality was far superior to that of their global competitors, and their costs were lower. The demand for Japanese products soared – and by the 1970s, many of these companies dominated the global market.

I used to often ask this question when conducting interviews. My purpose for asking this question was to know how the candidate thinks. I often had candidates recite texts memorised from books which lead me to ask clarifying questions to satisfy my curiosity.  Many used to get caught out as they did not think about the answers and just memorised some text. This allowed me to initially separate good candidates from the average ones.

Quality philosophy is also dictated by the circumstances. Sure there are basic ideas of what quality means but if you’re looking for a quality philosophy, then it also depends on the domain, the company management, the company culture, the teams and the project.  It can also include quality in:

  • How a project is planned, designed, implemented and reviewed.
  • Reporting statuses among departments and department heads.
  • How requirements are written so Developers can produce the design with ease
  • Documentation Standards
  • Testing
  • Release Management etc.

Churchill said: “They say no one is perfect. Than they say that practice makes perfect. I wish they made up their damn mind!”

Talking about perfection or getting things absolutely right – As much as we would like our software to be perfect, it is a futile attempt to make it so. There comes a point where the time and expense to make a program perfect gives diminishing returns. In my experience so far, it is impossible to deliver ‘perfect quality’. There is always this or that little bit that could be improved, simplified, re-factored or documented better etc.

I also strongly believe in the fact that the client/customer has final say over quality – if the client is satisfied, the quality is ‘ok’. If the client is happy, the quality is ‘good’. If I ask this question in an interview I expect to hear “customer” somewhere in the answer. You must seek to identify the customer, whether external or internal to the organization, then advocate for that customer with your QA skill set. The QA Engineer should be happy when they think the customer will be happy. We try to measure that “happiness” with metrics and quality gateways before release, but it is the customer feedback after release that counts. The quality of project management, documentation standards, requirements acquisition and testing, all must be in sync with the ultimate customer requirements regarding quality. The cost of producing the end result, including all interim steps, must reflect end user/customer requirements to quality.

As I said earlier, it is a very controversial question but one which has no correct answer. Like your favourite colour, or car, or your love for Justin Bieber, your quality philosophy is what makes you a unique individual. There is no “right” answer to this, but it might indicate as to what ways you think about such things.

So what is my philosophy I hear you say? Well it’s this:

  1. Know that nothing is perfect and never will be.
  2. Be a professional and passionate about what you do. Give it your best shot and try to do better every day.

This is valid whether it is about testing, development,doing business, life in general or just being human.

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