In search of lost quality

Karolina Zmitrowicz
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14 marca 2017

"Quality is a certain degree of perfection."

With these words --- taken from Plato --- I would like to start a new series of publications introducing the world of quality. I deliberately do not use the term "quality in IT" or "software quality" --- because the topics I intend to cover are in no way limited to a particular area, field or product, and I would like to emphasize this from the beginning. I will not be writing about quality in IT. I will not be writing about software. I will be writing about quality in relation to any product defined as a tangible creation, an intangible creation, a service or, most generally, the result of a transformation process. For the record --- the topic of the quality of the implementation of the process itself I also intend to touch on.

Why am I approaching the subject in such a circular way? Why "around" and not get straight to the point --- that is, the tools, technologies, assurance or quality control techniques of such interest to people from the IT world? For what reason am I wasting readers' valuable time explaining the basics rather than getting into the heart of the issue?

Well, the reason I allow myself to "waste" the valuable time of Readers is because in my understanding, based on my experience of a few years working in various positions and roles in both IT and "business", it is the basics that we lack. We focus so much on technologies, tricks, the magic of tools and numbers, and the tedious definition of "how" to deliver, that we forget about "what" we are actually supposed to deliver and "to whom." To be clear, when I say "what" I don't mean the definition or specification of a product or service as an object of procurement (irrelevant whether realized for an external customer, an internal customer, or an undefined entity). When I say "what," I mean value. No, not the value, which we express in the currency of a country. I don't mean the price. By**"value**" I mean the totality of the variously perceived benefit derived from the set of features, properties, capabilities and feelings provided by a given product or service to a specific target group. I refer to this product or service by the term**"proposition**."

The careful Reader will probably immediately protest against the above definition --- too general, imprecise and, to top it all off, unmeasurable ("differently perceived benefit"! heresy!). Unfortunately, despite its imperfection --- or perhaps because of it --- this explanation of "value" counterintuitively captures the essence of what we should deliver as a result of the process of producing any good. We should provide value --- a benefit, financial or non-financial. To whom? The so-called stakeholders (the target group is not just the users or sponsor). Depending on the type (group) and specifics of the stakeholders, this benefit will be defined and perceived differently --- some are more concerned with direct monetary gains from consuming the product, others with strengthening the brand, others with opening doors leading to further ideas and solutions. In most business ventures and problems, we are dealing with a diverse group of stakeholders --- so different perceptions of value are inevitable.

And at this point we come to the first critical issue for the success of a venture --- correctly identifying stakeholders. Contrary to popular belief, it is not at all a matter of identifying all those actually and potentially interested in our proposal --- it is important to identify the so-called key stakeholders. It is their needs and expectations that will have to be met in order to deliver the right value. Before there is any thought about the product, we should start by answering the questions:

Who is the audience of our proposal? Whose problems do I want to solve? Why do I consider something a problem --- what signals prove my point? Who is the recipient?

In what context does our recipient function? What culture, including business culture, does it come from? Who does he communicate with in carrying out the activities we consider an area for improvement? What does he use? What has he been using? Has he tried to improve his activities on his own, and how?

What external factors affect the way or results of the recipient's activities? What internal factors should we consider when designing a proposal?

These are just a few of the many questions that need to be asked to define the group we intend to target with our proposal. Getting the answers to these questions, and the ability to correctly interpret the information obtained, will determine whether we will be able to well define the problem and the audience interested in solving it. In turn, the essence of the problem, derived from the objectives, needs and expectations of the stakeholders, will allow us to specify the value to be delivered and which --- in whatever form we realize it --- will allow us to solve the business problem in question. And this is both my definition of quality --- the degree to which the proposed solution delivers value to specific stakeholders in their business, technological and cultural environment. This definition is a combination of traditional[^1] interpretations of the concept of quality with modern[^2] disciplines and their resulting implications.

To summarize the discussion so far --- before thinking about the "how," let's determine:

  • "for whom --- key stakeholders",
  • "why --- the business case",
  • "where --- environment",
  • "what --- value",
  • "success indicator --- quality".

In future installments of my series, I will zoom in on the next elements of building a strategy for creating a new offering. In the meantime, dear readers, think about how many past projects, jobs, assignments large and small, you knew the answers to the questions posed above. Based on my own experience and observations, I dare to assume that the number is not very large --- so let's try to change it together.

All posts in this series:

  1. [In search of lost quality]({{ "/in-search-of-lost-quality/" | prepend: site.baseurl }})
  2. [About stakeholders a few words]({{ "/about-stakeholders-slow-something/" | prepend: site.baseurl }})
  3. [How to pave the way for business]({{ "/how-to-pave-the-way-for-business/" | prepend: site.baseurl }})
  4. [What is a business case]({{ "/what-is-a-business-justification/" | prepend: site.baseurl }})

The title of the series refers to Marcel Proust's series of publications "In Search of Lost Time", which is a record of the memories of the novel's protagonist. In the last volume of the series, the protagonist decides to write a novel describing his life which --- in his mind --- will enable him to regain lost time. In my series, I will use a similar procedure --- the series will begin with the earliest "stages of life", moving towards more and more advanced and mature themes, to reach a conclusion at the end....


[^1]: Sample interpretations: J. Juran 1974. "Quality --- fit for use"; P. Crosby 1979. "Quality --- compliance with internal and external requirements"; L. Dobyns, C. Crawford-Manson 1991. "Quality --- meeting customer requirements"; ISO 9000 "Quality --- the degree to which a set of inherent properties meets requirements" [^2]: Examples of modern disciplines that modify the perception and/or context of quality are: UX - User Experience, Service Design, the Agile trend "refreshing" the Lean philosophy and TQM (Management by Quality).

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