Friday, May 17, 2024

The Thriving Business of Poor Quality

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When I purchase a car, I expect it to operate reliably and safely for intended tasks. Customers would find it unacceptable if they had to reboot their cars every couple of days or if the brakes failed due to poor design when needed most. With the computer industry, things are different. Not only do we expect and accept poor quality – we reward it.

For a myriad of reasons, services have been developed with flaws and delivered to customers who then find all kinds of flaws ranging from subtle to awful, not to mention the hackers that identify flaws and then determine how to best exploit them. Clearly these are flawed products!

Through some bizarre cauldron of desires – our hopes for improved productivity and security – we then sign up for maintenance and support agreements, version upgrade programs, or whatever vendors are calling their plans. Best of all, those plans cost money!

In effect, we are rewarding vendors to fix their mistakes and make a profit while doing so. These same vendors say that only by charging customers can they afford support staffs. This is an argument that we as customers and society can no longer afford.

What’s your take?
Discuss faulty software vendors in the IT Forum.

Why Not Put Out a Quality Product?

Instead of focusing on reactive support, why don’t vendors focus on proactively preventing errors from being released into production in the first place? Of course the retort would be that some degree of human error will always be present. That argument should not be used as a thinly veiled excuse hiding a profitable support model.

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The rest of the world has learned so much from quality management over the past decades yet why don’t we see an emphasis on quality from software/system vendors? In short, they see no incentive to improve. They see no negatives in turning out flaws all in the name of time to market, customer service, or some other rubbish.

Instead of receiving truly high quality services that meet requirements, customers suffer along. They are conditioned to think that by subscribing to constant streams of updates that they might somehow improve their productivity by driving down bugs or getting some vital additional feature.

Let us not forget that companies exist to achieve goals – for example, maximizing returns on shareholder equity in a sustainable manner. They do this by having organizational goals that are supported by functional area objectives. Therefore, real productivity is work that moves the organization toward its goals.

Working to overcome flawed products so we can at hope to achieve previous levels of output is not productivity improvement. Work such as that is actually unplanned work that doesn’t move a group toward their goals but instead serves as a constraint.

If we are going to pay a vendor, then let us pay for work that truly improves our productivity and doesn’t reward the vendor for releasing flawed products and services. By paying faulty vendors we move them toward their goal of making money while robbing ourselves of attaining our own.

Do you know what the level of acceptable system defects should be from a customer’s perspective? The answer is “zero.”

Any argument about why errors persist is more likely to be an excuse and not a reason at this point in time. If the architecture is flawed – fix it. If the processes are broken, refine them. Determine the root cause(s) and make corrections. Implement continuous process improvement now and forevermore and truly embody the spirit of quality.

Next page: Software Industry vs. the Auto Industry

Let’s pause for a moment and use the automotive industry to highlight issues. There are a number of rationales that push for high quality with automobiles. There are at least four drivers for this that we can parallel with IT:

• First, consumers expect it – high quality is necessary to remain a viable automotive competitor. Quality is mandatory for competitive parity. Customers will pay for better quality and will likely switch brands to find it. In contrast, many customers of systems view errors as a necessary evil as if they must always be present. If we do not accept poor quality in many aspects of our lives involving complex systems and human safety, then why should IT be different?

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• Second, is safety – consumers want cars that they and their families will be safe riding in. Again, if safety is not present then consumers may switch brands or file lawsuits for negligence. With IT, fears over safety and security can drive behavior. For example, watch the patterns of purchasing behavior after disasters, major news stories, etc.

• Third, automotive recalls to correct safety problems are very expensive, incur negative publicity and create incentives for automakers to further improve quality. There are at least two things to consider: For systems vendors, there is regulation that affects users but nothing that really pushes them to improve overall quality. And it’s hard to say if regulation would really improve matters or not, especially relative to cost. Second, the cost to deploy patches has been driven down. As it is cheap to react and patch, then what affect does this have on designing quality in the first place? If anything, the very low cost of patching may tend to shift the focus from proactive quality to reactive support.

• Fourth, lawsuits can cost automakers tremendous amounts of money. In the software industry, users and customers face a barrage of legal forms at time of purchase and in the various “click-wrap” end user license agreements that essentially releases the manufacturer from all liability other than purchase price. Those releases all further ensure that poor quality stays entrenched.

Over and over again, we reinforce poor quality as a viable business model. Not only do customers pay for vendors to fix their own mistakes but we gladly accept flawed products that distract us from attaining our goals.

Why? Why do we do this and when will we stop? In response – this behavior will only end when we make it mandatory by setting the proper expectations with our vendors.

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