July 2008

Or how to define quality? What is quality, anyway? Well, people know it when they see it.

Written by John Guaspari

This is a short book of 96 pages and very easy to read, I finished it in half an hour.

It has one very important lesson in it as well: listen to your customers! They might not have all your technical language, but they can for sure tell you whether the product they bought from you indeed meets their expectations for that product (and needs and wants, although you might have to observe them while using your product too).
The solution is not to work harder and do better, or to have more inspectors. Neither is it to prevent mistakes from happening while producing something. The important part is to deliver what your customers need, not necessarily what they want. Always make sure that what you promise them is there.

The other important insight is that management has to give you the opportunity to implement the lessons and comments gotten from the customer. Management needs to lead the business towards QUALITY. If design doesn’t know what implementation is doing, how can there be coherence? What is the use of being able to define exactly what is which if at the end you cannot sell your product? Winning a battle, but losing the war is never what a business wants.

I read this book because I was on a quest to find out more about perceived video quality. Considering that there is no coherent definition there either, I turned to a bigger construct. And although this book didn’t give me a definition, it gave some extra directions to consider, such as marketing and consumer behaviour research. It can be hard to keep an overview of where all the knowledge is, or has gone. The best books can give you new food for thought, asking more questions, while leaving you feel wonderfully focused at the same time. Maybe the term “flow experience” would be quite right for this feeling.


Or why is usability and user experience so important for softwere developers and engineers, and how do you convince them it’s so bloody important?

The inmates are running the asylum, by Alan Cooper

This reads like a business-book, which is what it aims at. It does give a good feeling for what’s important when you develop software for people that aren’t you, especially when it comes to working through specifications (no matter who the specs are given by). Features of your software are not what is important, rather that users are able to reach their goal. So one should work goal-oriented and put in features that help users reach their goal, not put in features just because somebody thinks it’s interesting (think pointy-haired boss).

Engineering methods don’t work to solve engineering problems, because you’re blind to your own problems. A different method will probably work better. Also, it’s difficult to do both back-end and front-end design so separate both but they still have to work together. There is a conflict of interest between what the programmer wants, and what the user wants. So you don’t let a programmer referee whether a program is doing what the user wants (unless it’s something she designed for herself to use, obviously).

Bribery can work to find out what programmers are doing, but you shouldn’t have to resolve to it. On the other hand, maybe you can train some sense into them that way. Or present it together with a rational, defensible reason. In terms an engineer can understand.

Bottom line: you can listen to your users, but it’s even better to observe them. If you only listen, you’ll end up trying to sell them a 12-headed dragon.

Last year, I made the resolution to start blogging. But, what was the theme to be? My focus? Personal, research-related? Anonymous or semi-anonymous? I don’t always like to make decisions, so instead of deciding I wrote some blog-posts and saved them up. I’d post them whenever the time is right, or when I’d have enough material. That only gave me more questions though: when would the time be right, and when would I have enough material? Today I finally had enough of my shilly-shallying about, and sat down to actually write something.