Talk About Quality

Tom Harris

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How Quality Really Works

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As good as the misconceptions surrounding Toyota make it sound, the truth is even better.

Stewart Anderson in Quality Digest’s Quality Insider 20-Oct-2009

Thanks to Stewart Anderson, both for bringing us the real story about how Toyota, famed for focus on quality, actually goes about doing it. Put aside for a moment what you know about ISO, QMS, metrics etc and read the carefully crafted wisdom of experience. How quality really works at Toyota. And yes, you really can apply these ideas elsewhere, even in software development.

All quotes are from the linked article by Stewart Anderson.

Toyota’s basic pattern for improving a process is based on a simple three-part model:

  1. Understanding the current condition.
  2. Developing and defining a target condition.
  3. Understanding and tackling problems which need to be overcome to move from the current condition to the target condition.

This model has learning at its heart [to identify] actions to solve problems in the current condition.

The primary responsibility [of the team leader] is to monitor the process, ensure that standard work is being followed, and coach and mentor the work team in improving the process. Team leaders receive special training in process improvement and problem solving ….

To read the full article click here.

Related reading: Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management (my review here).

Full disclosure: My Toyota is over 15 years old and still running fine. My last car was also a Toyota.


Written by Tom Harris

October 24, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Quality Improvement

Tagged with

Making Software Better

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Everyone wants better software. And for decades, everyone has put forth ideas on how to make it happen.

Sometimes a good way to sharpen thinking on a subject is to take a brief time-out and consider a parallel field.

I can’t help but choose a field where the state of the art, and the state of the practice, are also sufficient to have changed our lives, but still fall far short on safety and security.

Consider driving.

Process vs. Practice

The road is the process. Roads are important. I wouldn’t drive without them. But nobody would claim that driving is happening without cars.

Driving cars is the practice.

Further, cars still don’t drive themselves. People drive cars.


Process training is studying the traffic laws and signs booklet and taking the written test.

Practice training is going out with a driving instructor and driving with his/her guidance.


Examinations: Ok for the process. Insufficient and misleading for the practice.

Passing the driving test neither makes people better drivers nor proves that they are sufficiently good drivers.

Insufficient: All it manages to show is that under certain heroic conditions, the driver can perform — one time — passably well.

Misleading: Gives everyone the idea that passing the driving test is the “clean bill of health” for all future driving by that driver.


Peer Review

Driving on the same roads with other drivers does not improve any given driver’s skills, nor the average skill. Generally it reduces the average towards the lowest value.

Pair Programming

Sharing the driving with a friend on a trip does not improve either driver’s skills either. At best, prevents accidents, by sharing the driving hours or buying the friend coffee.

Trends in Driving Performance Improvement

(Try to categorize as process or practice improvement. Or as exit-testing, exams, or coaching. Or proactive, preventive, or corrective.)

– Restricting youth driving to daylight hours
– Raising the driving age
– Raising the drinking age
– Requiring youth to take 28 or more driving lessons
– Lowering the maximum speed limit
– Speed cameras
– Higher fines
– Improving the roads
– Improving the cars (ABS, airbags, rearview mirrors on both sides, upper rear stop light)
– Requiring all new immigrants to take a refresher course
– Requiring all new immigrants to take 1 or 2 lessons and a driving test
– Requiring youth to drive with parents (or is that requiring the parent to drive with youth?) for the first N months (where trend is increasing N)
– Advertising campaigns promoting that it’s desirable to give the car keys to someone else and take a taxi home if s/he drank too much
– Other trends I didn’t think of …

Which are best? Why?


Back to software development. Seeking better software, better ways to develop software. And ever-improving developers too.

Software Improvement

What are the analogous improvement ideas? Which would be most effective? Why?

Written by Tom Harris

June 5, 2006 at 11:37 am

Posted in Quality Improvement

Tagged with

Good is Better than Quality

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Many have either written about the power of meanings (e.g. Orwell’s “newspeak”) or manipulated them (e.g. Lenin having called his then-minority party “Bolsheviks” — the majority). Since this blog is about quality, I guess I have to say something about “quality”. There too, greater minds than I have gone. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is famous and a good read.

But looking anew at current usage in various fields, one thing stands out: almost nobody uses the chief dictionary definitions — character, feature, essential attribute. Yes, the popular meaning is there too. Merriam-Webster lists “superiority in kind” as definition 2b for “quality” with an example, “merchandise of quality“. Of course, M-W is right in listing it, because a good dictionary is comprehensive.

Well! There’s the word I would use instead right there! “Good”.

When people start talking about “quality products” any shared vision between the speaker and the listener begins to get fuzzy. What is “quality”? Less variation? Fit for use? Zero defects? Meets requirements? Satisfies the customer? Suddenly, anything goes.

An attempt at fixing things is saying, “No, no, let’s say what we really mean: good quality.” (As if anyone would have a long discussion about “bad quality”.)

It’s so much simpler, though, to just drop “quality” and say “good” when we mean good.

In every field, people know good when they see it. Nobody argues about it. It certainly doesn’t get to people claiming that “good” is “bad”. “Good” is good.

That’s why good is better than quality.

Written by Tom Harris

May 11, 2006 at 12:26 am