The quality quandary

I often find discussions about quality to be hypothetical, and in fact unless you define your specific context the word itself is nebulous, vague, or simply meaningless philosophical psycho-babble. For a while now, I previously posted my opposition to the simplistic notion that quality is value to some person. Sure, most thesaurus' equate the two words as synonyms, and the context-driven posse constantly regurgitate Weinberg's  quote about "quality is value to some person." Yes, that is one perspective of quality, but only one.

In the past I have taught that quality is not value in the context as one of the goals of software testing. My definition of value is the purpose or usefulness of a product in satisfying a customer's needs or wants. My definition of quality was based on tangible aspects of the attributes or capabilities of a product from an engineering perspective. Our definition of software testing as any task designed to evaluate or assess the attributes and capabilities of a software project in relation to implicit or explicit guidelines in order to provide information to the management team (the people who make the business decisions). Those evaluations result in measurements we call quality measurements or criteria (the "essential or distinctive characteristics, properties, or attributes" that are critical for the success of our project) and that is part of the information we present to the decision makers to help them make more informed business decisions. Remember, Weinberg also stated "Thinking about measurability from the beginning is an essential part of creating a well-formed effort."

The other day I met with members of one of our research teams and they were talking about quality in terms of tenet and non-tenet quality; and I clarified that basically they were essentially talking about the customer perceptions of quality versus the engineering aspects of quality. Surely, from a holistic point the observation and reliable measurements of both perspectives of quality are important for the success of any organization. Customers usually buy/download software because it helps them satisfy some need or want. The decision of which software product to buy made be based on personal bias, or perhaps the herding instinct, or it may be more rational based on the comparison of features (measureable attributes and capabilities). Once the customer begins to use the software they form their own opinions based on expectations and/or previous experiences that provides the company with information regarding customer satisfaction.

So, the next time someone starts talking about quality stop them and ask them if they are talking about the engineering aspects of quality, or the customer perceptions of quality. They are closely related, but different perspectives of the same topic.