EDUCE Overview Copyright 2009 Nikolas S. Boyd.
All rights reserved.

Quality Description

Intent

Describe a business quality concern, its interested stakeholders, and the appropriate metric(s) needed to measure the indicated quality.

Motivation

Business activity planning usually involves establishing a set of objectives and priorities, as well as the criteria used to measure progress against those objectives and to determine ultimate success in achieving them. Business value can often be expressed in terms of specific improvements in product, service, and process qualities based on measurable changes in the levels of these qualities.

Applicability

Use quality description when

Considerations

Software development is a knowledge intensive, knowledge-driven activity. But, people are the reservoirs of knowledge needed to develop software, both business knowledge and technical knowledge. So, software development is inherently both technical and political. Successful software development requires effective collaboration between all interested stakeholders throughout an organization during software development projects that impact their interests. But, in order to be effective, stakeholders must share a common understanding of the problem(s) they are trying to solve or resolve. Without adequate representation, without early and frequent consideration, some stakeholder concerns will not be discovered and weighed, and any solution that results consequently will be inherently incomplete.

Several kinds of stakeholders serve as official information sources, especially for software solution requirements. These stakeholders can be grouped according to their collaborative roles, including corporate boards and officers (governors), those who manage business activities (requestors), those who perform business activities (expectors), and the solution developers. Each group of stakeholders bears responsibility for providing specific kinds of information to the solution development process or for actually implementing a solution.

A corporate board governs a business, establishes business direction, defines business policies, and articulates the values, mission, and vision of a business. Corporate officers implement the directives established by the board. Department managers oversee business activities and determine whether and how to improve those activities. These decisions often include the introduction and improvement (extension and integration) of technical solutions, including custom (or customized) software solutions. Stakeholders directly involved with technical solutions (installers, operators, users, auditors, maintainers) expect these solutions to support and improve the business processes they are required to fulfill. Software developers provide effort estimates and build software components to implement technical solutions, including custom(ized) software applications.

Given their distinct roles and viewpoints, these different stakeholder groups will naturally tend to have different perspectives on (even the same) quality concerns. Thus, they may find different metrics useful when measuring a given phenomenon in the world, or a given quality concern. When properly regarded and accounted, these differences in viewpoint and metrics can enrich solution development substantially.

Proper framing of quality concerns has a dramatic impact on their evaluation. Abstractions expressed as nouns often hide more concrete concepts that are better expressed as adjectives. Quality concerns can be expressed as abstractions using nouns, or they can be instantiated and made concrete using descriptive adjectives. This subtle linguistic shift can have a dramatic impact on the consideration and formulation of quality objectives. However, the value of shifting quality expressions in this way may not be obvious or may be easily overlooked.

Considerations and discussions regarding quality are often abstract. Some common mission themes include loyalty, honesty, integrity, diversity, innovation, leadership, growth, etc. However, the targets of these themes are often obscure, which in turn obscures the intended ends. So, while quality abstractions may be useful in framing and prioritization discussions, they diminish the impact and clarity of mission and vision statements. Focusing on ends makes mission and vision statements much more powerful.

Consequences

Given the foregoing consideration, it's evident that ends are best expressed as effects that make qualitative (valuable) changes in the world. So, ends are best expressed using adjectives that describe the intended effects, i.e., the state (of being) to be achieved. Descriptive adjectives indicate such states of being. So, descriptive adjectives are generally more useful for formulating ends statements, e.g., compare: hazmat storage building safety vs. safe hazmat storage buildings. Making this simple linguistic shift can have a profound impact on how we conceive of and discuss business quality concerns. This shift can be especially helpful in the discussion and formulation of ends statements and business objectives.

Ends are best expressed with descriptive adjectives.

Consider the specific business quality concern and the related definitions captured on a sample policy card below. Depot safety has specific measurable physical criteria, constraints on the storage of hazardous chemicals that must be met to remain in compliance with EPA regulations. This representative sample captures the policy details needed to understand and measure the state of storage buildings in a hazmat storage facility.

Safe (and Unsafe) Storage Buildings

safety regulatory compliance
unsafe storage building = a building stores hazard type 1 and hazard type 2
safe storage building = a building stores hazard type 3 and hazard type 1
= a building stores hazard type 3 and hazard type 2