"A job worth doing is worth doing well"
This past week I received a book of coupons in the mail from local businesses. I believe in supporting local business, especially locally owned and owner-operated businesses, so I flipped through it. One coupon caught my eye. It was for a business I had not heard of before and it looked like it might sell products I would enjoy. I tore out the coupon and later checked out the store’s web site.
The web site was atrocious. It looked like a 1997 high school project. It was hard to read, products were hard to view, and there were sundry user experience design flaws. The site even had a guestbook feature, which was fittingly empty (oooh, web snob alert!).
I find it sad to see a small business putting itself out on the web in shambles (there’s really no need for it these days with so many hosted ecommerce providers offering high quality services). Along the spectrum of ecommerce web sites, this site was definitely low quality. A low quality site inevitably leads to some loss of business whether large or small.
You should care about quality. It’s good for business.
Caring About Quality
One definition of quality is "high grade; superiority; excellence." Take a moment to consider North American culture. "Quality" is not something we truly value collectively: Walmart, Chrysler, GM (condolences to everyone affected), McDonald’s, Burger King, 7-Eleven, and the like are indicators that price, convenience, nostalgia, and even patriotism can trump quality. Nevertheless, I believe that quality is an important piece of any truly successful venture. McDonald’s, for example, might not have high quality food but it does have an extremely high quality franchising system that is nearly a license to print money. The complex and highly refined procurement and inventory control systems that run Walmart must be high quality.
My local Walmart has low quality customer service, a plethora of low quality products, and low quality stock organization. But Walmart isn’t trying to make me love their store and products. Walmart wants me and lots of other people to come and buy cheap stuff. A lot of stuff. Walmart does not care (apparently) that its cheap t-shirts can barely survive a few washings. Walmart cares that lots of people buy those cheap t-shirts. Walmart cares that it keeps exactly the right quantity of shirts in the right sizes and colours in stock at exactly the right times.
Quality, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. One person’s "quality entertainment" is another’s hillbilly trash. One person’s frustrating superstore is another’s Mecca for the best prices on commodity products.
Whether you create products, deliver services, or give your time in the service of others, the quality of your output is up to you. If you value high quality output, you must first determine what high quality means in your context. Is it customer service? Is it product reliability? Is it product design? Is it helping people get up on their own two feet? What does high quality mean for you?
Once you have identified what high quality means, you need to be passionate about achieving it. Your team needs to understand your definition of high quality. If the team is not unambiguously aware of what meets the quality standards of your organization, you run the risk of producing mediocre results.
You should consider having one or more champions of quality. In the world of software development, testers and product managers are often the champions of quality. Without champions of quality, little things can be overlooked until they add up to something customers notice. If you want "high quality" to be part of a customer’s mental picture of your organization, you must guard your standards carefully. Have you ever been in an immaculate restaurant with filthy washrooms? Ever dealt with a grumpy hotel concierge? Ever sat on hold for 20 minutes while a voice recording reminded you that "your call is important"?
Finally, you must budget for quality. Leave yourself enough time to do things right. Set aside adequate resources to achieve high quality results.
So When Does Quality Matter?
Quality matters, I believe, whenever you want to be successful. If your results are not what you hope for, check your quality standards.
* I have said in the past that "I hate Walmart" but that isn’t quite true. I don’t hate Walmart. I hate shopping at Walmart. Even though I don’t enjoy being in a Walmart store, I must admit that I am in awe at the scope of an empire that relies on poorly motivated workers and ultra low prices. I have the same awe for McDonald’s.