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PHOTO: John Henderson

In the old days of software, back when we received free CDs in the mail, quality was less of a concern. If software companies weren’t testing quality at an efficient level, they had the luxury to test customers’ patience instead. It was all still so novel — having an error wasn’t a deal-breaker. Bug in the system? Please let us know. By the way, isn’t this stuff so cool?

It’s a different story today. There’s so much software that the first thing someone does is actively look for a reason to delete your app. If there’s even three seconds of inactivity, that’s the name of that tune. Customer loyalty won’t give you extra time, either. Because what is brand, if it’s not a guarantee of safe passage? You either perform immediately or you’re in the trash.

All engineers and designers are keen on having people use their products, and the way to do that is to find ways to deliver on customer excitement. And the way to deliver customer excitement is in the way we create and deliver the products — and quality is the key.

Ingrain Quality Into the Culture

Some treat quality as a burden. Maybe it is in a way, but that sentiment won’t get you far in today’s marketplace. It’s not just about QA — the security, performance, and stability of your software need to come from every direction of the team working on it. Change may be all around us in this industry, but the need for quality is one thing that won’t.

Leading companies already know that, though. What they’re concerned about is how to add the right speed to the mix. Sure, some apps release hourly. But not everyone needs that. You release when you and your customers need to release. That way you can do it at the rate that will actually delight your specific customers.

For example, if you’re a supplier of healthcare services, releasing could easily be every six months. Speed isn’t a priority because putting your subscribers’ and providers’ "data and experience" at security risk is out of the question. If you slow the cycle and build in robust quality and security checks, you gain the loyalty and confidence that delights your customers. 

On the other hand, if you’re ESPN, six months isn’t an option. It can’t be less than weekly since new sport seasons start, new events occur and you’re required to provide new ways for your viewers to interact.

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Know Your Customer

It’s easy to say, “keep the customer first,” but that’s also like saying you know you should “buy low and sell high.” Everyone knows it, but knowing and doing are two different things. They’re both easier said than done. Keeping your customer in mind at all times takes active work. What makes them stay with you? What will make them leave? How has their experience been?

All of these factors are paramount to having them stay your customer, and acquiring new ones. If you get lost in the weeds and lose sight of that — which is easy to do — you’re wasting a lot of time.

Related Article: How Customer Expectations Are Driving Product Thinking in Some Surprising Places

The Idea Behind 'Shift Left'

It starts internally. If you understand the needs of the team, you’ll have a better idea of where to invest your time and resources. When you invest in the people, whether it’s skills or supporting their passion, you empower them to be the change agents your company needs.

Plus, it informs you about who in the company needs to have tools and why. A great source is open source communities and technology — as long as you recognize that “open source” isn’t the same as “free,” per se. It’s transparent, dev controlled and vendor agnostic, which are all things that allow you to move quickly and drive best practices into your group. The key is it involves both a philosophy and a tool.

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Inform Your Product Roadmap

So, if you wrap the mentality of quality at speed into the fabric of the business, you’re already ahead of the game. Now analytics comes in. Make sure you instrument your products so that you can inform on your product roadmap, product strategy, and customer experience.

Then with technology, optimize your dev cycle by working feedback into it. Think of behavior-driven development (BDD) — it’s a philosophy in and of itself.

This is how we get back to determining what your customers want, but with authority. With these processes in place, you’re in a better position to adopt and roll out tech often.

Again, not hourly, but as much as your customers need. And at the end of the day, you won’t be praying for the days of mail-order CDs.