quality engineering software testing

Emergent Quality

If you work in software development, like I do, you most likely work within a complex system. You also, most likely, work on a complex system. Not sure? Try answering these questions:

  1. Is it hard to model your system in all its complexity?
  2. Is it hard to work out root causes to identified problems?
  3. Is it hard to predict how long work will take? 

If yes to any of these, the chances are, you’re working on a complex system. 

Complex systems display emergent behaviour. An emergent system’s behaviour is created as a result of interactions of its parts. 

Marriage is an example of a complex system built on two independent complex systems contractually agreeing to become one system. Two persons coming together to form a new system creates a new set of emergent behaviours unique to either individual.  Who knew? 

Bringing this back to quality. Why is it so hard to understand, define and measure quality? If we consider that even our greatest intellectuals don’t agree on a definition of quality, then perhaps we don’t need to feel so bad about knowing what it is. 

My hypothesis is that quality is an emergent behaviour. It relies on a whole set of independent systems coming together to create this emergent property. We can never truly know what quality is. It’s constantly changing and morphing into different things. For sure, we can provide examples, but know quality itself? I’m not convinced. 

And perhaps we don’t need to know.  Perhaps instead we focus on creating a space where quality naturally emerges. 

To do that it needs a collective framework where people, processes, pipelines product and provisions (tools} working cohesively to create a space where quality emerges in a way we want it to. We manipulate quality by manipulating the parts that can impact final product quality. 

One example of manipulating a part might be psychological safety in a team. Research within Google has identified psychological safety can have a major impact on team effectiveness.  Experience of working with teams has shown me that how a team operates can have an important impact on the emergent quality of a product. There’s more to say on this, but this *is* meant to be a short blog post. 

Emergent Quality v3 charrett

In summary, we should not forget the consumer in this equation. The consumer has the final say on what quality is (see Peter Drucker quote below).

Understanding our consumer starts with better listening. Understanding our own bias that prevents us from listening properly. Consumer’s needs change as their desires and demands change. What worked yesterday, doesn’t necessarily work today.  Let’s create an environment that foster’s understanding and willingness to walk with our consumers, and work in a coherent way that works to achieve that. 

Quality is indeed value to some person at some point in time ….

  1. Peter Drucker: “Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for.”[14]

By Anne-Marie Charrett

Anne-Marie Charrett is an internationally recognized expert in software testing and quality engineering.
She keynotes at international conferences on the topic of Quality, Coaching, and Leadership.
Ex-Head of Engineering at Tyro Payments where she transitioned testers to a quality coaching model
Consultant on Quality Engineering, developer of the quality operating model. Invented and rolled out a consulting model for quality engineering.
Consulting across FinTech, Media, Government, Insurance, Banking & Telco Sectors
Creator and Lecturer of Enterprise Software Testing course at UTS Australia. Co-developed a coaching model aiming to transfer testing skill and know-how using the Socratic method.
B.Eng (Hons) Electronic Engineering (I really am a quality engineer!)
Based in Sydney, Australia works – internationally.

2 replies on “Emergent Quality”

Another thought-provoking piece, really enjoyed reading it. Think our ideas are very much aligned, one of the quality exercises I’ve been devising about “Cost of Quality” essentially is geared towards allowing teams to visualise their current total cost of quality(Cost of good quality + cost of poor quality) and with this figure in place it gives them a mechanism to poke the complex adaptive system(their team & product) and see what changes those pokes have on the overall cost of quality. Really love the Drucker quote too never seen that before 🙂

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