April 23, 2006

The Cult of Quality

While this essay appeals to me, I understand that businesses need to get projects done, to deliver.  I've seen QAers who believe that it is absolutely essential to get every single bug fixed before a product is shipped.  I know that isn't true.  There must be a way to balance the need for quality from a corporate culture aspect against the need to get things done.

It's clear to me that some (few?) companies have a "Cult of Quality" and some (most?) do not.

(from "Peopleware - Productive Projects and Teams" - DeMarco and Lister)
The judgment that a still imperfect product is "close enough" is the death knell for a jelling team.  There can be no impetus to bind together with your cohorts for the joint satisfaction gained from delivering mediocre work.  The opposite attitude, of "only perfect is close enough for us," gives the team a real chance.  This cult of quality is the strongest catalyst for team formation.

It binds the team together because it sets them apart from the rest of the world.  The rest of the world, remember, doesn't give a hoot for quality.  Oh, it talks a good game, but if quality costs a nickel extra, you quickly see the true colors of those who would have to shell out the nickel.

Our friend Lou Mazzucchelli, chairman of Cadre Technologies, Inc., was in the market for a paper shredder.  He had a salesman come in to demonstrate a unit.  It was a disaster.  It was enormous and noisy (it made a racket even when it wasn't shredding).  Our friend asked about a German-made shredder he'd heard about.  The salesman was contemptuous.  It cost nearly half again as much and didn't have a single extra feature, he responded.  "All you get for that extra money," he said, "is better quality."

Your marketplace, your product consumers, your clients, and your upper management are never going to make the case for high quality.  Extraordinary quality doesn't make good short-term economic sense.  When team members develop a cult of quality, they always turn out something that's better than what their market is asking for.  They can do this, but only when protected from short-term economics.  In the long run, this always pays off.  People get high on quality and out-do themselves to protect it.

The cult of quality is what Ken Orr calls "the dirt in the oyster."  It is a focal point for the team to bind around.