March 11, 2008

"SHUT 'ER DOWN" Customer Experiences

Community
In the early 80’s I was a marketing director for a small oil field service company located in Abilene, Texas.  It was electrifying to be on location when a wildcatter hit oil.  If investors happened to be on-site during the discovery they would literally break out the champagne bottles.  If the driller hit water and the well started pumping mud the show was over.  The only thing that can be done at that point is to plug the well, tear down the drilling rig, and move to the next location.  It seems fitting that during that early 80’s oil boom the developers at Texas Instruments would borrow oil field jargon to describe one of their error messages:

“SHUT ’ER DOWN, CLANCY, SHE’S PUMPING MUD”

Of course when a phrase of that nature is associated with code instead of oil the reaction – and results, can be devastating.  High-risk is a given when it comes to oil exploration.  In fact, only about 40% of wells recently drilled find commercial hydrocarbons.  When it comes to software though, customers expect the applications they buy to work 100 percent of the time.  Software defects can cause serious business consequences that have the power to ruin a company’s reputation, and possibly "shut ’er down" forever. Zero defects sounds unachievable, particularly during a time when products are so complex.  After all, aren’t software bugs just part of the feature set?  In truth, research shows that given the choice of higher cost, longer delivery time or poorer quality, customers will choose to protect quality.  That means development and QA organizations need to think like customers, and put aggressive quality programs in place to remain true to their customer-focused objectives.  A sustainable competitive advantage emerges when quality-centric business practices are put into place.  A focused discipline on service, quality, and reliability has proven to be a timeless strategy that both engages the customer, and builds loyalty.