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  • keith

Anyone know what quality is?

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

A meat pie and bottle of strawberry milk
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

There comes a time in the IT world, where a project meeting commences. The key stakeholders are present, and they need to outline the high level objectives. Irrelevant of what follows,everyone has been in one of these where someone states they want a system/ application/ new feature "of high quality!"

But does that person ever describe what quality is?

It's an interesting thought - how do you measure quality if you don't know what it is? For example, some would look at the attached image, and think poorly of Australian cuisine. And yet, there's a bakery in a town called Longreach (which isn't in the outback, it's about 400km past it) that serves the second best pie** in the world. Combined with strawberry milk, it's the breakfast of champions! It is, I would say, a quality breakfast!

The act of testing (or more accurately, quality risk management) doesn't improve quality. Quality is put into the system/ application/ feature by hard working business analysts writing requirements, developers writing code. It's the processes that support these activities that put quality into the system. Testers/ QRMs measure that quality. If we find defects, it shows that quality could be improved by fixing these.

But is removing defects found a way to measure quality? Perhaps, but that would reflect on the quality of the tests. Consider this - some code is written with few defects (hence, "high quality") and we have good, effective, efficient tests. If we execute these, we won't find many defects. Because they aren't there.

But, what if we had code that contained many defects. We also have a limited number of tests of dubious quality, with limited time to execute them. Hence, we may not find many defects in the example either...

Quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. A topical subject at the minute is rugby. In conversations with colleagues we were asked to:

"...define a quality rugby team in three words."

Interestingly, almost everyone agreed when looking at the question from a player perspective - we all thought basically the same thing. Probably because we were almost all ex-rugby players. Which is why testers/ QRMs tend to agree on what's a "quality system/ application/ feature".

And yet, when we looked at different stakeholder opinions of a quality rugby side, things went out the window. We looked at it from the point-of-view of a supporter/ referee/ coach/ team owner, and the lists were vastly different. We were lucky to have one work matching.

That's the problem with quality. Everyone's view can be different, and everyone's view is right. We should not be looking for what is quality, but when is quality. Unless a project can agree on a definition of quality that is valid at that time, in that context, we will keep writing the same tests and mitigating the same quality risks.

**Oh, and the best pie (steak and kidney, of course) comes from the Yatala Pie Shop - That's quality! Prove me wrong...

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