Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Spec, But Why?


I'm in the middle of BBST Bug Advocacy at the Association for  Software Testing right now.  As you might imagine, on a course with that name there's been plenty of talk about what we mean by terms like bug, value, and quality. One of the great things about the four-week course is the mix of book work and application, so we students are repeatedly challenged with situations in which the learning can be practically applied.

I have a lot of time for both Seth Godin and Shane Parrish so I'd have been listening carefully to Seth's appearance on the Knowledge Project podcast anyway but, given the context I'm in, the passage I've transcribed below stood out. It's about how the concept of quality is concretised as conformance to spec, and how that in turn directly drives physical actions. It starts at around 1:04:45:

There's lots to be said about the spec. First lets talk about Edwards Deming and what spec and quality mean. Quality is not luxury, quality is not expensive, quality is not that you love it, quality is just one thing: it meets spec.

So if I look under an electron microscope at any part of a Lexus, which is by any measure the highest quality car there is, it's filled with defects. But they're not defects that matter, because they're defects that are within spec.

So, we begin by understanding what is the spec of the work we're going to do? If it meets spec, not only is it quality but it is good enough, and good enough is not a slur. Good enough is a definition: it met spec.

So once it's good enough we ship the work. If you're not happy with that, change your spec. 
But let's be really clear about what the spec is. That what it meant for a Lexus to be good enough when they first came out was it had to be a standard deviation better than a Mercedes. That was their definition.

If someone's gonna say "no, no, we can't ship this Lexus because it's not perfect!" the product manager should say "no, no, no, it was never supposed to be perfect, it never can be perfect, it simply met spec."

The hard work was in defining the spec, a spec that will get you to the next step.

What I like about this perspective on quality (and it's similar to Crosby's view) is that it emphasises understanding what you're trying to create, to what standard, for who. 

What I particularly like about the way it was described here is those last few words: "get you to the next step". That other stuff is the what, but this is the why.

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