Six Pillars of Product Quality

Six Pillars of Product Quality

The following is a chapter from my upcoming book “The Quality Lever”, due to be published in August 2023.

Defining a level of quality is not up to us.  Only the audience, end user or customer can ultimately decide if and how a product reaches a particular level of quality.  However, as makers, our job is to continuously talk to customers and learn about their needs.

As makers, we must engage with customers by understanding their problems and collecting feedback on solutions as products evolve.  As part of this engagement, it’s critical to understand how well the solution must work across quality dimensions.

White Star Line made very specific quality decisions in operating the Titanic voyage, prioritizing certain quality dimensions over others. White Star Line prioritized quality of the experience, making its aesthetic a higher priority than safety (hence removing safety boats in lieu of a better view for its first class passengers).  

The same can be said for all products, services and experiences.  If we think about the products that we use everyday, quality can be broken down into granular dimensions.  

With a pair of sneakers, is the end user more interested in comfort, durability or performance?  The answer you get back from a retiree out for an afternoon walk might differ from that of a professional basketball player set to play in their 60th game of the season.  However, in either case, a maker probably doesn’t need to provide intuitive instructions with the product.

For tax software, what matters most to the customer?  Data security will likely be high on the list.  The customer might also enjoy an intuitive interface to navigate complex tax code.  Lastly, accuracy in numbers is an extremely important quality measure.  But does it need to be a lightning fast app?  Probably not if the customer uses it only a few times a year at most.  

What about a visit to a museum?  An intuitive experience is helpful so that the exhibits feel manageable and logically organized.  Security?  Helpful, but perhaps not a pressing concern.  Accuracy is almost surely critical as one would expect to learn something through their experience.  

For most products, especially software or technology products, these are the five pillars of quality we often make decisions around:  

Stable.  A software application will work as intended and be accessible to the user. The underlying technology will support the product so that the audience’s experience mirrors their expectations.  Sales teams for mature, enterprise-grade products will promise 99.99% availability of the product, leaving a bit of wiggle room for unexpected interruptions.  This expectation will serve as a benchmark for others in this space.  Startup products or products in pre-launch beta might have more flexibility to underperform.  

  • Performant.  Performance could mean speed– or the ability to scale to more customers using it for different purposes.  As an analogy, there are several paid options for traveling across New York City.  You could ride a double-decker tour bus, a horse-drawn buggy, a rented scooter or the subway.  Your performance expectations would vary greatly for each transit option. 
  • Intuitive.  The app will be “usable”– enabling the user to navigate the product without having to invest much brain power.  The user may remark to her/himself that the usability of the app is impressive, although this is seldom required.  It will only be usable, of course, to the extent it needs to be.
  • Efficient.  In other words, the product must be usable in a way that solves the user’s problem and saves them time, money or frustration.  To that end, the product must have the tools and capabilities that allow the user to accomplish the specific task that they paid the app to accomplish.  Most importantly, it must accomplish the task better than substitute solutions can.
  • Accurate.  For a weather app or a stock trading app, this pillar is probably the most critical.  If data is key to the primary output of your product, then that data must be accurate before all else.  For other product types, this category still matters.  Most business apps will provide reporting to the user, if only to validate that the outcome they’ve employed the app for is in fact being achieved.  
  • Safe.  The software tool must provide proper security to keep the user (and the user’s data) safe.  If you’re an online word game that doesn’t require a log in, then security essentially means your code won’t carry with it any bugs that could cripple your users.  If you’re an enterprise healthcare app, data privacy means more, and you’ll be beholden to compliance regulations.  

Which quality levers are your customers expecting you to pull?

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