Is 99.9% Good Enough?


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Google the phrase “99.9% is good enough” and see what comes back. For the most part you will uncover the following list:

• $761,900 will be spent in the next 12 months on tapes and compact disks that won’t play.
• 1,314 phone calls will be misplaced by telecommunications services every minute.
• 103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
• 107 incorrect medical procedures will be performed today.
• 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
• 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents every day.
• 14,208 defective personal computers will be shipped this year.
• 18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
• 2 million documents will be lost by the IRS this year.
• 2 plane landings at Chicago O’Hare will be unsafe.
• 2.5 million books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
• 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
• 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next 60 minutes.
• 268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year.
• 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
• 3,056 copies of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal will be missing one of three sections.
• 5,517,200 cases of soft drinks will be shipped flat this year.
• 880,000 credit cards will be produced with incorrect magnetic strips.

Although these statistics are now dated, the message is still clear. Quality (in fact, zero defects) matters because you may not get a chance to correct the mistake. In some situations and environments you just can’t depend on a mulligan, a do-over, or a re-load.

The concept of quality as it relates to the software industry generally blends three perspectives. First, in many industries software is mission critical; meaning the features must be reliable and always work. For example, a financial services organization is not going to tolerate bugs/defects that result in posting errors. A bank needs to keep their debits and credits in the correct column; it’s just one of those regulatory things! The second perspective that directly impacts the customer experience is technical support. In the case of an issue or problem users can be very unforgiving if prompt attention and follow-up is lacking. The third area involves innovation. Software users expect applications to continuously evolve to meet their ever changing needs and desires. Each perspective is important, and consistent quality practices will help business managers make customer-focused decisions.

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  1. . . .Except that each of these examples are dependant upon a “critical” or total failure of the product or service. For example, just because a piece of mail is “mishandled” doesn’t mean that it won’t get to its correct address. Why? Because ultimately, someone is likely to catch the error and reroute the mail correctly. Similarly, while a book with the wrong cover is likely to be caught, but a book with a typo or two is frequently published with no negative consequences. In the case of the book with the typo, one could make the case that the publisher has created a successful book with a 0% quality rate. Asking for perfection in all things is asking for failure. Looking to avoid critical errors means establishing some redundancy or failsafe mechanisms (such as utilizing an editor in the case of the book).

  2. Agreed … “perfection in all things” is a tall order. I do believe that providers need to get their services and/or products “first time right” because customers have less patience and more choices than ever before and are likely to cancel their orders if the services/products don’t work as advertised.

    Thanks for the reply,

    Alan See

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