Quality Redefined

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Most of us must be very familiar with the quality assurance of the product or services we offer to our customers. As soon as we hear this term “Quality”, the first thing that comes to our mind is zero defect product delivered to the client. We tend to measure quality of our services on of the following characteristics.

  • Correctness: how well software performs its required functions
  • Reliability: how well a software functions with required precision
  • Usability: how easy is it to learn, operate, and understand it
  • Efficiency: How much computing resources are used by the program
  • Maintainability: How easy is it to find and fix bugs, do enhancements etc
  • Re-usability: How easy is it to use this software in other applications
  • Interoperability: How easy is it to integrate with other systems

And some more…

But are these attribute really sufficient? Do these give a holistic perspective of what an end customer expects from the product? If you thinking about traditional textbook version of quality definition then maybe yes. Improving product or service in lines of the above attributes alone, does not lead to improvement in key financial performances at business level, ultimate end goal of the customer. This limitation on the existing definition is the focal point for the much needed redefinition of quality.

New definition
Quality is a state in which value entitlement is realized for the customer and provider in every aspect of business relationship.
– Mikel harry (jan ‘2000)

Value entitlement means a win-win situation for the parties, customer and provider. A customer focuses on good product delivered on time. They wish to see product or services as a means to solve their day to day business problems and not as a separate entity. For a provider value entitlement is a means to maximize their profits through the product or service they deliver. They wish to minimize costs and cycle time with exercises in the name of processes. Two completely different perspectives of quality, but only when this happens term “quality” carries meaning in a business relationship. To satisfy these different perspectives, we need to shift our focus to the basic similarities “Value for money”. At the end of the day customers and providers wants value for their money. This can be achieved by standardizing processes.

Process Standardization
Observing repetitive activities critically show that the method is not exactly the same and keeps changing from time-to-time, place-to-place etc. Typical SOP (standard operating procedure) does not cover every method details leading to degradation of total quality. For example in a typical lead to order journey of any sales process, there is process variation among sales representatives in terms of system usage. Even the same representative follows different process for each customer at times. While one may argue that subtle differences are required for each domain, each customer, each contract it is not the case always especially for the basic macro blocks for each process. For example if address verification is not part of a process and it is not done for a new customer, then billing and fulfilment goes awry. Customer looses the purpose of the system and blames the system being incapable of delivering value entitlement in terms of quality; the provider also gets blamed for the system. In this case it’s not the fault of the provider or customer; it’s just there is lack of standardization that lowered quality. Standardizing process at such a micro level helps reduce the process variation drastically, improving quality exponentially. Identifying places to standardize a process involves understanding the system, how the customer uses the system, what are the steps to be followed to ensure desired outcomes. To standardize the process we must rely on doing couple of things right. They are:

Right projects
As soon as we see “right projects” we tend to think our products / services need to align to what customer wants. We all know this fundamental principle what’s new in this? Yes the fundamental principle is the same but this definition does not stop there. Most of us get only till the first part, missing the rest of the items that makes a project truly successful for everyone. A right project should have the following characteristics

  • Clearly aligned to business priorities, customer needs
  • Impact of the project must be felt by the concerned stakeholders immediately
  • Reasonable scope of the project
  • Quantifiable measures attached to the project
  • Project scope clearly communicated to all parties (everyone working on the project delivery team must be made aware of the goals and deliverables)

Before starting a project all concern stakeholders need to identify the business priorities. The project must align to business roadmap to provide most benefit for the customer. Provider must also be actively involved in this analysis to identify the priorities. For a provider a project is money making tool; they cannot agree to all the requirements given by the customer. A customer may want an improbable requirement; the provider should highlight such cases before hand to limit the scope of the project. With the customer’s needs evolving periodically business priorities also change. Our projects should be able to factor this change. Agile project development methodologies can be employed to factor quick changes. Customer and provider can work together in fixing the timelines for delivery of the products before hand.

Right people for the right job
OK now we have identified a very high priority project; its scope finalized. Next is implementation. Making it happen, getting it done, executing it is something else. Every project needs the right people in the right jobs. The modern cooperation is built on the idea of professionals who use their particular talents to help delivering quality products. One of the key players in any implementation is the team involved in making the product / service. Matching the person t the job begins with understanding what kind of skills, attitudes and aptitudes are required to accomplish the project. Each team member must understand his / her responsibility and understand the overall objectives of the project. Doing things efficiently the first time benefits both provider and customer making everyone happy. Management must ensure people’s energy levels are sustained and they are sufficiently motivated to deliver throughout the project. When mismatch grows, people tend to be insecure and may not know what to do. They start to complain and drain other people’s energy. The best business leaders have the confidence to confront reality, take action, and thereby plug the energy drain. Periodic coaching is also necessary to the team even the best performers. Coaching helps people channel the skills, develop their abilities and release their positive energy developing a quality product quickly.

An edge in execution comes from having the right people with right skills, working together releasing and channelling their energy towards the right set of business projects.

Eshwar C
Infosys Ltd
I am a technology lead with Infosys for 5+ years and I have worked for clients in communication, publishing and legal services domain having good hands on experience on business transformation engagements; upgrade projects, integrating new systems to enterprise architecture, migrating users, retiring legacy systems, impact assessments and proposals using SDLC and agile project management methodologies.

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