How to Approach Quality in Product Management

Sep 23, 2021

5 Min Read

Quality is a benchmark, not a tradeoff.

Builder’s arithmetic, the creator’s formula, and the master’s dogma. Do you want to solve a kitchen sink issue? Either a lot of time or a lot of talent will be required. Do you want to finish this project by the end of the month? Reduce the number of features or increase the amount of firepower. Of course, this is a bit hyperbolic. Adding people or complexity imposes a cost, and not every time is productive in the same way. However, the objective is not to exaggerate that this triangle is rather widely understood.

The concept of quality, on the other hand, is not generally understood. This misunderstanding could be attributable to the reality that quality has different meanings to different people. Quality is about changing people’s lives for the better. Quality is keeping millions of people happy. There are hundreds of ways to talk about it and dozens of ways to measure it. For the interests of this piece, we are using the term “quality” to refer to how well something—a product, a film, a toy, or a book—was put together. Whatever that is, you get the impression that somewhere out there in the huge and unfathomable world, someone sat down and built something with her hands and her whole heart so that the result wears its maker’s love as a joyful child wears happiness. You can see that she felt strongly about what she was doing, probably more than anyone expected her to care—even though you may never know or meet her. You get all the impression that she would have created whatever she did for herself and no one else. This is because no detail was overlooked, and no part of her composition was thrown to the winds.

This is to pertain when they speak about a wonderful movie, a story that expresses something they feel but couldn’t describe so passionately themselves, or a piece of absolutely amazing technology. The product has a quality that is best defined as high quality.

It’s tempting to conflate quality with the other three pillars of the builder’s triangle. In the end, if you request someone to create a registration page in three days, their proposal will be significantly superior to what they could provide in an hour. Conversely, if five people bounce ideas off one other like pinballs in a machine, the finished result will almost certainly be better than anything a single person could come up with. And don’t forget about scope—the coolest, smartest ideas aren’t always the most difficult to implement. (Would you like a live blur for your background? That nonsense isn’t given away for free. (For the time being, at least for the moment.) In general, the greater time, talent, and scope can be exchanged for higher quality.

Unfortunately, the equivalent is not accurate.

You could ask any number of designers to create a signup page in 10 minutes, but you are willing to wager that most of them would only do it if they were forced to if you held a pistol to their heads. Even if they were incredibly talented designers who could work in Photoshop with one hand tied behind their back while blindfolded.

Even if you advised them that it didn’t make sense if the registration page was nice because there is a real, authentic proof that 99.99 percent of users suffer from “registration-blindness.” It didn’t matter what the page looked like as long as you had one, so kindly give the engineer a mock to establish so you can move this thing, and for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about the quality; you just need to get this out immediately.

It simply does not operate that way.

Why? Because there must be a minimum acceptable standard to produce high-quality work. And high-quality creators can’t afford to scrimp on quality. They are unable to do so. It wouldn’t be true to their character. It didn’t matter if their peers, bosses, and the rest of the world told them that this bar wasn’t important and that the best decision was to sacrifice a little quality for speed, time, money, or anything. It makes no difference. If it meant not shipping something that was below his bar, that person would rather stay up late, wake up early, or not sleep for two days straight, or not do the thing at all. To behave is to betray individual values, to lose personal integrity, and to feel a profound and abiding disappointment in oneself. You don’t know many excellent designers who would prefer to work somewhere where they are constantly expected to produce work that falls short of their expectations.

This is why comparing time or innovative features to the standard minimum quality bar is a losing battle. Would you rather build feature X or fix that marginal alignment issue with Y? Are you not in agreement that you should solve the P1 crashes before moving on to P3 polish responsibilities? Or, a personal favorite is: “Do you truly consider that flickering bug that only 1% of the users notice as a launch blocker?”

You would certainly like to implement feature X. Yes, You agree that crashes take precedence over polishing jobs. However, to be the party pooper who puts their fist down and proclaims, “I think that flickering bug that only 1% of customers perceive should prevent our release,” takes tremendous obstinacy and a certain amount of irrationality. Consider what would happen if you worked out every day and you were offered a series of questions such as, “Would you choose to go to a party or work out?” “Would you rather work out or have dinner with your family?” “Would you rather work out or watch movies?” Imagine that, compared to the other important activities in your life, you would not choose to work out. Yet, when you see your friends who manage to maintain a daily workout practice, you notice that they take it as a given, a part of their daily routine, and something unchangeable no matter what.

It is impossible to argue one’s way into creating anything that exhibits the highest level of craftsmanship. It occurs as a result of love and the environment in which that love was formed. Jiro didn’t become a three-Michelin-star sushi chef so that a movie could be made about him. Steve Jobs didn’t set near-impossible standards because he thought the market demanded them. Because he was pressed for time, the great American novel was not written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is not to suggest that quality must be your highest priority or required for success. This is not the point of the story, though.

However, if you argue about quality or hold it in high respect, keep in mind that quality only exists at the highest levels since it cannot exist otherwise. In any other way, the outcome would be horrible.

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