Software Quality Professional From the Editor - September 1999 - ASQ

Software Quality Professional From the Editor - September 1999


“When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things.”

We all recognize the problems of immaturity, and we all value the maturation process. It isn’t positive to describe someone or something as childish or immature. It causes one to say “Grow up” or “Act your age.”

Interestingly, this image is widespread in organizational terms, too. We speak of mature industries or of immature processes. We want our companies and societies to grow up, to reach the fullness of adulthood.

“Troublesome teens hold up Lockheed” was a recent Financial Times headline. With the subhead, “Aircraft giant hits ‘awkward phase,’” the article spoke of a number of development programs that had “not reached the maturity of full-scale production.” A Lockheed Martin executive was quoted as characterizing these projects as “teenagers” because, in the words of the reporters, they demand money and have problems.

In his 1979 classic Quality is Free,Philip Crosby introduced what he called the quality management maturity grid. He described a five-stage progression beginning with “uncertainty” – the confused and uncommitted stage – and passing through “awakening,” “enlightenment,” and “wisdom,” and finally becoming fully realized in the stage of “certainty.”

Crosby saw the grid as a means of projecting a commonly accepted view of an organization’s status, as well as a source of direction for what needs to be done next. He characterized the maturation as it was manifest in several categories, including management understanding and attitude, quality organization status, and problem-handling techniques.

My favorite aspect of the maturity grid is the progressive understanding of reality as reflected in understanding the true cost of quality.

Picture two lines converging as an organization moves through the different maturity stages: one line is the reported cost of quality and the other is the actual cost of quality. The reported figure begins off-scale (in uncertainty it is unknown) and quickly moves from perhaps 3 percent to 8 percent of sales as awakening turns into enlightenment. Hence the paradox of a seeming worsening of quality during this phase of maturation: It is not that quality is worsening but rather that one’s awareness is more closely approximating reality.

In reality, the actual cost of quality, perhaps starting well above 20 percent of sales, is dramatically decreasing across the maturity stages and finally reaches the low single-digits: an order-of-magnitude improvement. At the same time, greater maturity is bringing a more realistic understanding of the actual cost of quality. In the end, the reported and actual figures coincide. Certainty has been achieved.

The Software Engineering Institute’s Software Capability Maturity Model is based directly on Crosby’s five-stage model. Its appeal can been seen in the array of maturity models that have appeared in the software quality field since then. (See the lead article in this issue.)

What is the psychological appeal of such a framework? ISO 9001 registration is a binary state: you either have it or you don’t. There are few if any natural milestones along the way, and once achieved, the best you can do is simply retain it. A gap analysis is of limited value as a prescription for improvement, with the goal being to reach a single final state.

In contrast, a maturity model provides a roadmap and realistic intermediate milestones. I have seen press releases from companies that proudly announced their reaching level 2. The levels can typically be reached in two-to-three-year increments, and few reach the very top.

I would also assert that greater maturity – whether in an individual, organization, or profession – brings an awareness of events beyond the immediate experience of the maturing entity. For instance, this issue of SQPalso features a pair of presentations on a proposal being considered by a group few of us had heard of a short while ago, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The more mature we become, the more concern we have for the larger issues that shape our personal and professional environment. Public-policy issues are certainly in that category.

Why should we be concerned? A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journalprojected that the largest category of year-2000 expenditures by insurance companies would be their legal costs. Fully one-third (possibly $5 billion to $10 billion) of expenses might involve “insurers battling their own customers in court over what’s covered under a policy.” Surely quality professionals could make a contribution to the technical issues involved in this and similar controversies.

What’s on the public-policy horizon? Congress and federal regulators have been struggling with year-2000 liability limitations, encryption export controls, application and possible adaptation of antitrust rules, and consumer privacy issues, while states and localities are working through the intricacies of taxing on-line transactions and opening cable access to the Internet. Both our profession and our social structures will certainly need to respond by maturing.

Let’s all work on growing up.


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