by Harshdeep S Jawanda
How to skyrocket quality: focus on attitude
When it comes to discussing quality and how we can improve, the most common things that come to peoples minds are tests, processes, procedures, QA departments, and so on. But they leave out the most important, basic thing, the pre-requisite for achieving high quality: the right attitude. Quality is all about having the right attitude. That’s the starting point.
Sure, you need all the other things mentioned above — tests, processes, and procedures — to achieve and maintain a high quality standard. But if you and/or your people don’t have the right attitude, all of the aforementioned things can just become a bullet list on a presentation slide. People can go through the motions of running the relevant tests and following the prescribed processes, but without the right attitude it all becomes a farce of ticking off checkboxes. ?
When it comes to the pursuit of perfection, I’ve always had the belief that:
That’s my mantra and I swear by it. So much so, that I even have it as part of my Twitter profile. ?
The first part simply means that no matter what you may think, nothing is ever really, truly perfect. If you think something is perfect, wait for five minutes, or two days, or two weeks, and you’ll start to see the small imperfections.
However, this does not mean that you should lose hope or become disheartened. Just because your thing (product, process, art, whatever) is not perfect doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved upon. This is where the second part comes in: by pursuing perfection you can move closer towards achieving perfection. And eventually, you’ll progress to such a state that you’ll surprise yourself by the progress made.
Psst. It still won’t be perfect, so what?
This line of thinking has grown out of my background as a computer engineer/scientist. With every passing day, I find many more examples that make me think that it is generally applicable. Unless you can disprove this mathematically, I am going to claim that my mantra is universally true. ?
This mantra is the basis for developing the right attitude, achieving high quality, and continuing to improve upon it. Never be satisfied with the quality you have, always be trying to improve.
To improve, be pessimistic
Strange as it may sound, I find this an invaluable attitude to have towards the quality of whatever it is that you are doing.
Assume that whatever you have made is not going to work, or that it is of low quality. Be pessimistic about the quality of your work.
Then — systematically — prove your pessimism wrong!
Yeah, that’s right (can’t help but picture David Puddy). ?
You may think of this as a roundabout way of doing things, but it works! It ensures that in working to overcome your pessimism (even if it’s a manufactured one) you’re actually improving/ensuring quality.
For a developer, this means writing tests to prove that the code actually works. For an author, this could take the form of soliciting feedback from an experienced editor. Tailor the prove-your-pessimism-wrong step to your particular situation, but do it.
All too often, I have seen (and occasionally been a victim of it myself) people suffering due to overconfidence in their work. “It’s just a one-line code change, not even going to create a ripple in the pond”!
Wrong! Unless you have regression-tested and proven that everything still works, assume that even your tiny change is going to wreak havoc on the larger system. Be pessimistic!
Feedback is golden
This may come as a surprise to many, but you get feedback from only 4% of dissatisfied customers! Putting it another way, for every customer that bothers to complain, 26 others are quietly unhappy and at high risk of leaving without giving you the chance to improve. As you can imagine, unless you listen very carefully to what little feedback you get and take heed, you run a very high risk of living in a fool’s paradise.
That’s why customer feedback is pure gold. I can’t stress enough that you’ve got to really listen to it!
Listen and internalize, even if it hurts
As a creator, it may hurt to listen to people criticize one of your creations. But think of it as invaluable feedback (we know how important that is ?). The feedback may come from a customer, or it may come from within your organization. Either way, it’s an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow.
Creators who take umbrage at feedback and become defensive and non-receptive will never be able to achieve the highest quality standards. These are the people who will either:
- start looking for excuses as to why the failure happened (with the basic theme being “It wasn’t me”), or
- become non-receptive and internally keep insisting there’s nothing to improve and that nothing could have been done any better.
These are the sorts of people who will not deliver good quality and will continue to fall further behind their peers in terms of expertise and skill.
The flip side of the coin
On the other hand (you knew this was coming, right? ?), don’t let a single-minded focus on quality give you tunnel vision and make you blind to everything else.
One has to balance the need and desire for quality against other factors like cost and time.
As an example, let’s say your company already has an electrical switch that can take a million on/off operations without failing. You want to improve this switch so that it can handle 10 million operations. But the development, usage of newer and more expensive materials, and testing combined will take an additional two years, with the resultant switch costing 3x that of the million-operation switch. Considering all that, is that quality improvement still worth it?
In most cases, the answer would be a resounding “no”. Maybe your time will be better spent developing a version that is water-resistant, making it more suitable for outside use, and opening up your product to a whole new market.
Beware of the outliers
The “listen to your customer feedback” advice also comes with a caveat: “Beware of the outliers”. These are the people who will never be satisfied, will always be complaining, and will make you run around trying to satisfy their every whim. Such customers will increasingly start complaining about super-specific scenarios (things that affect a very small percentage of users) or about things that are very subjective (specific to personal taste).
If you try to satisfy these outliers, you might end up spending time on features (for example, adding “skins” to your software) that do not have universal appeal. In the process, you’ll take resources away from developing the product in directions that will give the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.
In the end, this often comes down to a judgement call about when to de-prioritize a customer’s feedback. There’s no sure-shot formula to get it right every time.
Adjust your attitude to enable you to pursue perfection relentlessly, with eyes on practicality and ears receptive to feedback.
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In keeping with with spirit of this article, constructive discussions and corrections are most welcome!