“You use that word a lot, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
– Inigo Montoya
Quality is one of those words that means different things to different people. Ask 10 people to define it and you will get at least 10 different answers. They will say it means expensive or exotic, dependable, long lasting, efficient, economical; they may say it means stylish or fashionable. Perhaps it means old fashioned or comfortable. It might describe artistic or creative products that are innovative or profound. All of these descriptions are valid as well as many more. All of those concepts however have one thing in common, they almost all describe a factor that is superior to the average. No one wants to be average, we all strive for excellence, and we want to maintain that excellence as we progress. So to begin this discussion we are going to define quality as a process of continuous improvement and repeatability.
In the world of scalable products, once a successful product has been created, we need to make sure that the next one we create is as good as or better than the first, the next one is better still, and so on. No matter how many are made, they must always be as successful as the first. We need to make sure that whatever steps were taken to ensure the success of the first product are repeated on every subsequent attempt. This leads us to the next essential word, process.
Process is the repeatable path developed and defined by the consensus of the involved participants. It is both the enabler and the protector of the continued success of the team. It is a documentable procedure that lets everyone know their roles and their responsibilities to the product. It not only makes sure that all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted, it protects the ability of the team to function without friction or uncertainty. Additionally, it allows for the team to maintain its level of success even as the team grows or changes. The process provides both instruction and protection to the new team members as they learn their roles and responsibilities.
Rest assured that repeatability does not mean “cookie cutter,” it does not stifle creativity, and it does not force anyone into mind-numbing ruts. On the contrary, process is dynamic, it is flexible, it has the ability to capture innovation and nurture creativity. It can allow a great deal of freedom in the expression of ideas, it will also make sure that those expressed ideas stay on the page and don’t leak out of the text box. It can allow artistic expression in the design, while still requiring that the views are enjoyed by all, as they remain consistent across all platforms.
The process itself can be dynamic. It can evolve under the watchful eyes of the team. Innovative new ideas can be incorporated into the process to continually improve the repeatability and quality of the product. Creativity is encouraged while checks and balances remain in place. The process does not impede creativity, it embraces it; it does not hinder innovation, it nurtures it.
The process, to be successful, needs to be adhered to and supported by the team. There needs to be buy-in at every step. In order to accomplish this, it is the team that must define the process it cannot be imposed; it must be embraced. The team takes responsibility for the process and ensures its application. Team members who have ideas on better ways to accomplish the tasks are encouraged to bring those ideas to the team for discussion and possible incorporation into the process. If the process is flawed it needs to be fixed; it can never be ignored. While the process must be documentable it does not need to be ungainly. It can be as simple as a checklist on a whiteboard or a routing script in a project plan. The individual responsibilities of each team member need to be explained and described somewhere, in the event that a member moves on and the tasks need to be taken up by someone else.
In most cases the methods used to ensure repeatability are the overlap of responsibilities. A team member provides his/her contribution to the product and hands it to the next in line, somewhere down that line there is a review of that contribution to make sure it conforms to the expectations of the team. No one is exposed, everyone is protected, the finished product reflects the creativity and innovation of the team, continued success is guaranteed.
Quality is achieved through a process that ensures the repeatable creation of successful products, and the ability to continually drive improvement into both the process and the products.