Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Pursuit of Quality, let’s Call Quality as something else

The theme of this year’s Euro STAR conference is “In Pursuit of Quality”. A great theme but an ambiguous I would say. I wonder what could have been the meaning/interpretation of the phrase “Quality” here. One might say “your own definition of quality” – in a group, it is a problematic one with the missing context.

It is interesting to note many in software profession acknowledge that the phrase “quality” has many meanings – different people at different instants of time paint/experience quality differently. Many admit that objectification of “quality” should be avoided. Yet, it is a rampant practice to portray “quality” as having some universal objective meaning that everyone agrees. Popular uses of the phrases like “Quality Software”, “Cost of Quality”, “Quality Engineering” etc., are examples of such practice. For many, “quality” is just a bucket where everything related to expectations of the users can be lumped together. It is one term that evokes a great array of human emotions from extreme pleasure to awe, from frustration to sense of achievement.

Let us imagine “quality” in terms of how Quantum Mechanics describes quantum states of subatomic particles. This “quality” is a like a subatomic particle in quantum superposition state and represents many meanings (or states) at any given context (or Einstein’s space-time). When one makes a swipe at this term and uses it with respect to a context saying “this is quality stuff” or “this quality is unaffordable” or “quality is free” – the wave function collapses and a particular meaning of quality shows up.

As Michael Bolton explains while posing a testing challenge about agile teams -

”For example, in a particular context, if we want “quality” to mean “bug prevention,” let’s say precisely that. Then let’s recognize the ways in which certain approaches towards preventing bugs might represent a threat to someone’s current interests or to their personal safety rules. If, in a particular context, we want quality to mean “problems solved for customers”, let’s say precisely that. Then let’s recognize that there are many approaches to solving problems, and that some problems might be solved by writing less software, not more. If we want “quality” to mean “many features in a product”, let’s say precisely that. Then let’s recognize how “many features” can satisfy some people—while adding complexity, development time, and expense to a product, thereby confusing and annoying other people. In other words, let’s use the word “quality” in a more careful way, which starts with deciding whether we want to use the word at all.”

That is to say if you want to say something to indicate quality – say it (without using the term quality). In this way, you can prevent misuse of the term for the better. If you want to pursue quality - say what you exactly mean so that people can understand you without confusion … Probably people will stop using phrases like “Cost of quality” or “Quality plan” or “Quality Assurance” or stop using quality with another set of abstractions like “Creating business value through quality software”

To repeat Michael “Quality isn’t a thing, but rather a complex set of relationships between products, people, and systems. We should be calling quality as something else that states what it is in a context rather than calling it with one word always.

I have a suggestion. Instead of using QUALITY – let us use words made of up characters in the word “QUALITY. For example - you might say LITYQUA of this software is poor to indicate usability or you might say TUAQLI of this software needs to be worked on to indicate security or cost. Once thing is sure to happen when you do this – people will say – what? When you explain them the meaning or interpretation of attribute that you are trying to represent is using the “jumbled” up word – they might relate it to that one thing and only that thing. Thus misusing and lumping “all” in to Quality, stops – I hope.
Try saying some other term when you want to say “quality” – difficult?