Early in my career, long before I spent my hours extolling the virtues of quality, the company I was working for was having issues with a web application. As I walked by the team of engineers working to find a resolution, I remember empathizing with them but also thinking that the quality issues weren’t my problem. After all, I had a job, and quality wasn’t part of it.
A lot has changed in the time since, and not just my attitude toward quality. Businesses, and the workplaces that support them, have become almost entirely digital. Accelerated by (but, importantly, not initiated by) the COVID-19 pandemic, web and mobile applications are now often the only pathways through which businesses can provide products and services to their customers.
Despite the shift, many organizations are still structured such that such a dedicated QA team shoulders most of the responsibility for quality. More importantly, and arguably more problematically, most workers still think of quality as I once did — as someone else’s problem. And that’s, well, a problem.
The digital economy demands that quality be woven into the culture of an organization and that only happens when everyone takes ownership.
With that in mind, let’s take a department-by-department look at why quality is indeed everyone’s problem, and what different teams can do about it.
We’ll start at the top because, as always, it starts at the top. There’s no group in any company with more riding on quality — and more ability to impact it — than C-level executives. You don’t need me to regurgitate the volumes of research showing the connection between user experience and revenue growth. Better experiences lead to better business outcomes. For C-level execs, quality isn’t just your problem, it’s your business. Now, no one expects a CEO or CFO to start examining code or application flow, but when leaders speak up and make it clear that nothing is more important to them than quality, people take notice.
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Look, I get it, you became a developer because you want to code, not because you want to deal with testing and QA. You want to innovate, you want to build great technology, and you don’t have time for anything that gets in the way. The problem is, nothing gets in the way of productivity more than having to stop what you’re doing to fix broken code. For developers, quality and productivity are inextricably linked. Assume more responsibility for code quality, and let your testing and QA team know how they can support you in doing so. Initiate more types of testing earlier in the pipeline and you’ll spend less of your time waiting for QA and more of your time innovating.
Let’s ignore for a second the intrinsic value of a job well done and a product well built. Product teams are ultimately judged on usage. In the digital economy, nothing drives usage (up or down) more than user experience. Features and functions bring new users to the table, but experiences are what keeps them coming back. So make quality (and security, for that matter) part of your product design. It’s no longer enough to prescribe features and functionality while leaving quality and security for others to worry about. Break down the traditional silos and work directly with everyone in the organization to understand what a great experience looks like for your customer, and be purposeful about building it into your product design.
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Service and Support
As a customer service or support professional, is your time best spent helping customers uncover new use cases, explore new features, and get the absolute most out of their investment in your product and service (in turn driving the renewals against which many customer success teams are compensated)? Or is it best spent servicing help-desk tickets and putting out the fires created when your customers are treated to a poor experience? I’m going to take a wild guess here and say the former.
If you work in support or service, quality is the difference between a great day and a frustrating one. Make it your mission to serve as the voice of the customer. Go out of your way to understand the kind of experience they desire, and then work even harder to ensure that feedback is heard loud and clear by everyone in your organization, not just engineers and product managers.
Marketing (and Sales and HR and Everyone Else)
Nothing renders brand messaging less effective or inspires prospects to walk away from a deal or renewal faster than an experience gone bad. Good luck trying to close a prospect who just had a poor experience with your trial download. Good luck trying to build a brand amid a sea of scathing customer reviews. Whether you think so or not, if you’re in sales, marketing, HR (good luck trying to hire an engineer who just got done reading about how clunky your software is), or literally any other function, quality is absolutely your problem.
No one jumps in uninvited and sullies a great user experience quite like us marketers. In the digital era, we need to think first and foremost about how marketing initiatives will or won’t impact the experience of their targets. Relevant messages are worthless if they contribute to a poor user experience. How our marketing impacts user experience is now every bit as important as how well the message resonates. Plan your campaigns accordingly.
Quality Isn’t a Job, It’s THE Job
The days of quality being someone’s job — and thus, someone else’s problem — are over. Quality isn’t part of the digital business. It is the digital business, and everyone plays a role. Now is the time to take ownership of yours.