Redefining Quality


Carl does care about quality—from the customer's perspective. Donna is looking at quality from an internal engineering perspective. Both views are equally valid, but by invoking the Q word, Donna makes the discussion about a nebulous concept instead of focusing on specific issues.

What Donna really means is, "That's an irresponsible and boneheaded decision that will come back to bite us." But she doesn't feel she can say that (it wouldn't be polite), so she obscures her true feelings by couching her concerns in terms that are more politically correct. But, by wrapping her message in the concept of Quality, Donna is making it difficult for the two of them to work through their actual concerns and find the right balance point between internal and external quality issues.

How about this one:

    Eric: "From now on, Quality is our top priority."

Huh? What, in particular, does Eric expect will change? This is a lip-service invocation of the Q word. Eric may not even know what needs to change, but he knows that his management isn't happy with something called Quality, so it better become the number one focus of his team.

Rhetoric about Quality cannot address the underlying issues in any organization. The organizations I've seen succeed don't argue about Quality-with-a-capital-Q. They focus on underlying aspects of quality: reliability, scalability, maintainability, etc. They identify the key criteria for their environment and work toward improving their software in those areas.

Quality is fine as an umbrella term, but only if the stakeholders have a mutual understanding of the various characteristics that contribute to a "quality" product for their particular business.

Further Reading
Quality: What a Fuzzy Term
by Robert L. Glass
Revisiting the Definition of Software Quality
by Robert L. Glass

About the author

Elisabeth Hendrickson's picture Elisabeth Hendrickson

The founder and president of Quality Tree Software, Inc., Elisabeth Hendrickson wrote her first line of code in 1980. Moments later, she found her first bug. Since then Elisabeth has held positions as a tester, developer, manager, and quality engineering director in companies ranging from small startups to multi-national enterprises. A member of the agile community since 2003, Elisabeth has served on the board of directors of the Agile Alliance and is a co-organizer of the Agile Alliance Functional Testing Tools program. She now splits her time between teaching, speaking, writing, and working on agile teams with test-infected programmers who value her obsession with testing. Elisabeth blogs at and can be found on Twitter as @testobsessed.

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