Mission statements—those succinct statements of purpose that organizations create to guide and inspire their members and to inform the public of their intent—typically define the organization’s purpose, the business it is in, its clients, its responsibilities to those clients, and its main objectives.
Examples of mission statements include:
Lofty and inspirational ideals. However, recently I read this “mission” statement of a major software vendor (hereafter referred to as MSV). I have listed excerpts (CAPITALIZATION is theirs):
MSV warrants that the Product will perform substantially in accordance with the accompanying materials for a period of ninety days from the date of receipt. AS TO ANY DEFECTS DISCOVERED AFTER THE NINETY (90) DAY PERIOD, THERE IS NO WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF ANY KIND.
Any supplements or updates to the Product, including without limitation, any (if any) service packs or hot fixes provided to you after the expiration of the ninety day Limited Warranty period are not covered by any warranty or condition, express, implied or statutory.
YOUR EXCLUSIVE REMEDY. MSV’s entire liability and your exclusive remedy shall be, at MSV’s option from time to time exercised subject to applicable law, (a) return of the price paid (if any) for the Product, or (b) repair or replacement of the Product, that does not meet this Limited Warranty and that is returned to MSV with a copy of your receipt. You will receive the remedy elected by MSV without charge, except that you are responsible for any expenses you may incur (e.g., cost of shipping the Product to MSV).
Except for any refund elected by MSV, YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO ANY DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, if the Product does not meet MSV’s Limited Warranty.
This Limited Warranty is void if failure of the Product has resulted from accident, abuse, misapplication, abnormal use or a virus.
Since I don’t speak legalese, my son the attorney translated:
This software may do about what we claim for ninety days. After that, you’re on your own. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you’re sadly out of luck. If it doesn’t work, and we fix it, and it still doesn’t work, tough luck. We can choose to fix it or give you your money back—guess which we’ll choose. If something really bad happens because you use this software, tough. Money lost, property destroyed, lives ruined—tough.
So, if one purpose of a mission statement is to guide and inspire the members of an organization, what does this statement inspire them to do?
A first step to building better software is to commit to building better software, not hiding behind legal mumbo-jumbo. How about this as a software development “mission statement”:
We’ve done our best to build this software so that it will be useful to you, and we stand behind our work. As software for the “shrink-wrap” market, it may not do precisely what you need. It is your responsibility to evaluate it for your purposes before committing to it; it is our responsibility to implement it against its specifications. We’ll make those specifications available to you if you desire. If our software does not meet its specifications, we’ll use our best efforts to repair it as quickly as possible. And besides, we don’t know how you could “abuse” software so don’t worry about that—we’ll do our best, allowing you to do yours.
Are you ready to adopt this kind of mission statement in your organization? Are you truly ready to commit to building better software?