How I think about quality

Quality is the absence of problems

“The absence of problems” is the best definition I can come up with for quality.

The most practical way to measure quality is to have as many experts as possible look at the thing. If 100 experts can’t find a problem, the thing is probably perfect.

Quality is a spectrum up to “perfection”

Perfection is impossible. The agreed-upon best-designed software in the industry has noticeable problems. But the closer you can get, the better.

The closer you try to get to perfection, the harder it is. This is the same “diminishing returns” effect you’ll see anywhere quality is involved.

Quality relies on the organisation

Leadership and culture both define and allow quality. Even if they don’t believe they do. Even if they haven’t thought about it. Their actions and beliefs will either enable or limit quality.

Quality is a result of ability and appetite. Does the organisation have people who can produce high quality (ability)? And does the organisation allow quality to be achieved (appetite)?

~100% of the time I’ve seen an organisation make high quality software, it is because the leaders wanted it. If the leaders don’t want quality, it will be much harder.

But don’t forget that whatever you work on, there is an amount of quality you personally can achieve. Even in the most rigid design-system-controlled interface, there are still higher quality and lower quality choices you can make.

An organisation can set objective measures of quality (e.g. bugs reported). Hopefully those objective measures don’t blind the organisation to the subjective measures (e.g. “does an expert think this is high quality?”).

Quality gets harder with scale

The larger the organisation or software, the harder quality is. High quality is impossible past a certain point of scale. Some organisations are incapable of making high quality software.

Importantly, this is a natural result of scale. It’s not a complaint or a problem to be solved. It cannot be solved. It’s a trade-off, like almost everything else in software.

Quality is not necessary, but ideal

I wish every organisation cared about quality. It’s clear that many of them don’t, and don’t need to. Many commercially successful organisations don’t prioritise quality.

But quality is ideal. Everyone wants to live in a higher-quality world. It feels good to create quality. Things last longer if they’re higher quality. And over the long term, commercial success is harder if people realise your brand doesn’t represent quality.