March 2, 2008

Are You Plutoing Quality in a Down Economy?

Pluto got bumped from the line-up.  According to a committee of scientists the small solar-system body failed to meet planet-standards, so they downgraded the former planet to an asteroid.  Plutoed; chosen as the 2006 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, it means to demote or devalue someone or something – to be unceremoniously relegated to a lower position. In a down economy it might be tempting to pluto your quality improvement initiatives.  When economic indicators are pointing towards a rough landing the “cost of quality” may seem out of orbit.  Anyways, perhaps your customers really won’t notice if quality is dialed down a notch or two.  In fact, generally speaking satisfaction with a company’s products and services is built by repeated customer experiences. So, unless the experiences are below or above expectations, it takes a while for an attitude shift to take place.  Like Pluto’s orbit around the sun – you’d have plenty of time to recover satisfaction, and shift any negative loyalty inertia that might develop - right?  Don’t count on it; because the “cost of poor quality” can strike at the speed of light.  How?  Thanks to user-generated reviews the business solar-system is much smaller now.  Research shows that your customers are increasingly learning about your brand from individuals outside of your control.  And to that point a recent article in marketing news stated that 76% of people who are shopping check out user-generated reviews and that 16% of those reviews were negative. Bottom line; keep your quality initiatives in place or you’ll be taking yourself out of alignment with your customers’ needs and expectations - because your customers care about quality.  Your customers care about software quality because your code is often critical to their business.  Your software not only impacts their customer’s experiences, but also puts their brand reputation on the line.  Whether you’re writing code or responsible for QA; your good name is also on the line.  So, don’t pluto quality.