If you ask an enterprise customer what matters more, which of these would you guess is most important to them?
- Shiny New Functionality
- Streamlined Usability
- World Class Product Quality
As you might have guessed from the title, the answers come out in reverse order, with quality dominating the rankings. Given that this data is not new and has not changed considerably over the last decade, why is it then that most software development organizations tend to prioritize these areas of focus in the exact opposite order?
This was especially true before the emergence of Agile, where long timelines and perpetual scope-creep caused organizations to shrink the time for testing to extinction, but the problem still exists today in a different form. Current day development organizations rigorously plan, staff, and hack to deliver new product in compressed timelines while their attention on quality becomes a ‘necessary evil’ of the overall deliverable.
So, why is it that customer demand and organizational focus seem to be so misaligned?
Part of the complexity of this issue originates from organizational business priority. Though an existing customer base will regularly prioritize usability and product quality far higher than the bells and whistles of product functionality, this is not true of prospective clients. Though certainly usability and quality can be barriers for entry, the overall impact of these items tend to be muted for prospective clients due to their lack of exposure to the product. In truth, during this point of the process, much of what the client knows about the usability and quality of the product is assumed in contrast to what current clients of the application have experienced, and, most often, only through the rose colored glass of a sales demonstration.
This (potentially) skewed client perception tends to drive new clients to focus on the gaps that exist between their current solution and what is being offered within the packaged functionality of a potential purchase. Developing to the delta between these solutions can both drive the closure of individual deals and help target new market segments, affording some explanation as to why organizations would place such a heavy emphasis on new product development.
There are however problems inherent to the question itself. Can these facets of software delivery truly be separated? Is new functionality worthwhile to an organization if its quality isn’t consistent? Is a quality product worthwhile to a customer if it hasn’t been streamlined to ensure efficiency in client workflows?
Where these properties cannot truly be observed discretely in the offering of an enterprise solution, the focus and value that product and engineering organizations place on these areas is certainly separate and quantifiable. This delta often represents an organizational struggle.
Though agile methods have led to better coordination between product, development, and quality teams, overall, the approach to quality remains the same, taking a back seat to the development of new product functionality. As this approach contrasts the opinion of the customer in their consumption of final user experience, I believe that a lesson can be taken from the data.
Put simply, the delivery of Enterprise Quality is the delivery of product value and any reduced attention to it ignores the primary concern of an organization’s client base and undermines the usability of the overall enterprise solution.
If you quantify your delta, you can begin to bridge the gap between quality and new functionality. It is a lesson that I expect many enterprise customers would appreciate, and one that’s application has been a long time coming.