What is Quality?

Quality – What Is It?

Quality is one of those words that everybody understands, and many have a challenging time explaining what it is. Let’s solve the issue with a good example and then end the post with my definition.

Imagine you are going to buy a house. You picture in your head how the house should look, how many rooms, the kitchen, view from the windows, the city and many more details. In basic you are picturing the house you want in your head.

Now that you know the specifications of the house you are also thinking about the price. What should such a house cost? In what price range should it be? It should be affordable for you.

Lastly, when do you need it? Do you need it soon? Or can you wait for months and make it a long search?

Quality - Triple ConstraintWhat we just did was define the triple constraint which consists of three variables:

  1. Scope: your visual image of the house
  2. Cost: the price range of the house
  3. Time: when do you need it?

Quality delivers the minimum expectations on these three variables.

  1. Scope: minimum an apartment with four rooms in Amsterdam
  2. Cost: max 450.000 euros
  3. Time: within 6 months

This means that if one variable changes, another must change as well:

  • An extra room in the house (scope) => prize will increase (cost) and/or it takes longer to find or build (schedule)
  • You need the house within the month (time) => you must adjust the minimum requirements of the house (scope) and/or pay more for a house that fulfills those requirements (cost).
  • You want a lower mortgage for the house (cost) => that means no garage (scope) and/or searching longer (time)

For our example it means that if we deliver an apartment with four rooms in Amsterdam for 450.000 euros in 6 months, we will deliver quality for our customer.

High & Low Quality

But of course, we want to deliver high quality. We can do this by over delivering on the minimum requirements that were set of the triple constraint. The same apartment for 400.000 euro or in 3 months, etc.

Unfortunately, we sometimes deliver low quality. This happened because we went under the minimum requirements that were set. The house only has three rooms or cost 500.000 euros, etc.

Business Quality

We now only talked about customer quality and haven’t talked yet about our own quality. Many times, this is forgotten by yourself and in businesses.

If you can only deliver minimum requirements of that new IT solution (quality) by sending ten extra engineers this week to make sure it is still finished before end of month, you might get customer quality but the extra cost of sending those engineers make it low quality for your business.

You can’t only look at customer quality and forget other stakeholders involved in this. There are many expectations, by multiple stakeholder and they all need to be managed.

Go deep into scope

Cost and schedule are often the easiest to understand. The danger lies in scope. People always think that they clearly tell their requirements, but this is never the case. It’s so important to go deep into scope and to keep asking questions.

When you think you are complete and have a nice functional requirements list of what needs to be delivered, the customer suddenly also has technical requirements like the fact that he want his house being built in a ‘green’ way or that the kitchen is of a certain brand.

For many people it’s not just receiving that 450.000 euro four room Amsterdam apartment in 6 months. It’s also that they want to have a weekly call from you to hear if you have an update. That you know that they also want to hear about the same kind of apartments in other cities. That they prefer communication over email instead of you calling them.

The details can go deep. It’s your job to find out what is expected from all people involved, your stakeholders.

The definition that I use over the years on quality then becomes:

“Quality is delivering the minimum expectations of all stakeholders.”



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What is Quality?