Now that we have an idea who is involved in the quality relationship, it’s time to ask exactly what this relationship is.
As mentioned before, the quality relationship is between a user and a product. What determines the status of this relationship? How can it be judged good or bad? I believe these attributes of the user and the product largely determine the status of the relationship:
- Product properties
Goals can be objective, subjective, or somewhere in between. Objective goals are like those towards the bottom of Maslo’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” Others are totally subjective, as “In matters of taste there can be no disputes.” There also exists a huge middle ground of semi-objective goals implicated by a particular cultural system. This system is a set of structures for solving existential problems while affording opportunity for play, science, and arts. These “Secondary Existential Goals” are necessary to function within a cultural system, which system satisfies the primary existential goals. One of the most common secondary goals in any cultural system is to acquire money. Another common secondary goal where I live is to be able to travel very quickly.
Products are solutions for goals. For a mass-produced product to be successful, I assume the goals it’s designed for must be shared by a large number of people. If true, this simple fact reveals that a product’s quality is not just its relationship with any one individual. Quality is in this context is founded on the relationship between goals and specific product properties which assist or detract from those goals.
Objective lines can be drawn between product properties and the satisfaction of those goals, abstracted from any specific user. These connections are objective manifestations of quality. As such, they are identifiable. If those connections are identifiable, they can be identified in some amount or to some degree. If they can be identified to some degree, that degree can be higher or lower. If so, it is measurable. Doug Hubbard calls this the “Clarification Chain” in his book, “How to Measure Anything.”
The objective aspects of quality as defined above do not paint the whole picture. Using a product to fulfill a goal can elicit feelings anywhere on the emotional spectrum for a variety of unpredictable reasons. These feelings lend a certain subjectivity to all goals, and render a comprehensive objective assessment of quality impossible. Thankfully people share enough of a common human experience to make educated guesses on how a product will make their users feel, although this isn’t always the case.
I believe this understanding of the quality relationship means it is possible for rough, fallible, ordinal measurement of quality through analysis of the relationship between product properties and goals. In fact, I believe I use this measurement constantly as a software tester. I hope my attempt in this article to make this tacit measurement more explicit is useful. In fact, in my next post I hope to showcase a measurement system I’ve designed based on this understanding of the quality relationship to help assess product quality.