Three Variables and One Constant Flip Flop

Quick Summary: Quality should never be compromised when meeting Features, Time, and Resources demands.


In bringing new products or service offerings to the market, three interrelated variables: features, development time, and available resources must be carefully balanced.  While this give-and-take activity is taking place, one constant, high quality, must never be compromised.  Unfortunately, in many instances the three variables become constants at the expense of the new variable, quality.  The end result is never good.

Today virtually every company has taken the philosophical position that quality is non-negotiable.  High quality, no matter how it is measured, has become table stakes in our highly competitive environment.  Further solidifying this position is the need to delight customers as described in this Principle.  Without meeting the customer’s expectations for high quality, delighting them is not possible.

When a company begins to plan to develop a new product or service offering, they need to balance three overall variables: features, development time, and assigned resources.  All three variables are interdependent.  For example, if more features are added, then either the development time or assigned resources must also be increased. 

These three variables form the product/service success equation.  However, to this equation, the Quality constant must be added.  As discussed above, quality cannot be a variable, it must be a constant.  While the other factors can vary, quality cannot.

Unfortunately, today many companies pre-announce products or new service offerings.  As word spreads and commitments are made, the time variable becomes a constant – a delay in the product’s availability becomes “unacceptable”.  During this same period, as others begin to understand the capabilities of the new offering, new feature requests begin to pour in from other elements in the company and from prospects.  These feature requests invariably increase the development effort and scope.  Soon, the new requests become new “must-haves” for the initial release.  Rarely are new resources that can be immediately productive become available to meet the new schedule and/or new feature requests.  In essence, the three variables become new constants that “cannot” change.  New commitments are made based upon the “new” expanded plan and new promises are made to prospects.  These changes typically happen in small, incremental steps.  All of which seem to be easily justifiable based on their own merits.

Unfortunately, the one true constant, quality, quite often becomes a variable in order to satisfy the now fixed feature, time, and resource commitments.  Shortcuts in the quality program and progress are then taken.  Shortcut examples include non-thorough testing, error handling and fault recovery procedures not implemented properly, or supply chain and order fulfillment activities are not given enough time.  The end result is that when the product or service is offered, instead of celebrating the positive event, quality issues begin to take center stage.  Previous, positive predictions about sales and customer acceptance quickly turn to disappointing realities.  Prospects with high expectations quickly become dissatisfied customers.

Hindsight becomes crystal clear.  In an effort to satisfy or delight customers, commitments were made that could not be met without shortcutting quality.  We have all seen and experienced this situation.  New software releases with dozens or even hundreds of “fixes”, products that have to be recalled, and other after-the-fact, similar defect corrections have become all too common.  In many cases, these issues can be traced back to feature, time, resource variable and constant quality equation.  Customers will quickly forget that some new features were added or the offering was delivered on time if there are quality issues.

The only way to avoid this situation is to never lose sight of the need for constant, high quality throughout the development and delivery process.  Keep the variables as variables and avoid the flip flop between the three variables and the one true constant, high quality.  This will be the mandatory first step toward delighting customers.

An effective way of avoiding the slippery slope is to establish a Change Impact Process.  Once a development plan is finalized AND agreed to by all elements within the company, any changes to the plan must be approved through the Change Impact Process.  Although the process needs to be formal, it does not have to be complicated or time-consuming.  It need only consist of representatives from every element in the company meeting and discussing the request change and then jointly discussing the impacts of the change.  Only after the impacts are identified and a cross-the-board agreement is reached will the change request be accepted.  By consciously addressing the change impacts the company can deliver on its commitments and keep high quality as a constant.

Article Number : 6.030301   

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