“Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising.” — Milton Hershey

Everyone in the NASA mission control live feed was in varying states of despair. I vividly remember watching this with the same feeling of worry myself. One of the Mars probes had failed to respond after the estimated landing time. Every engineer wanted to cling to hope, but they already knew. In less than an hour, they would call the mission a failure.

Among the people in the room were the engineers who designed the systems, wrote software for systems, tested the systems. They sat there, knowing that their efforts had failed. In this case, the retrospective analysis determined that their efforts failed mainly because part of the system was doing imperial measurements (feet and miles) while other parts were doing calculations in metric. The spacecraft they had created burned up in the thin Mars atmosphere.

As a young engineer, I used to experience fear for many of the high-tech releases we did. Even though we tested the products very thoroughly over weeks, and sometimes months, this fear persisted. The testing found many defects and seeing those defects gave us confidence, however misguided. But in the end, no matter how long we tested, the customers had problems with our systems.

Sometimes the defects the users hit were so severe they could not even use the system.

Over those early years, I learned that the more defects we found in product tests, the more likely it was the customers would also find problems. After I received proper training in quality principles, I became very aware that the purpose of testing a system should not be to find defects. The purpose of testing is actually to prove that the system development process is working. The more problems testing finds, the more critical it is to work on the development process.

Now that I, and in turn many of my clients, have mastered this understanding, we are able to create a high-quality development process. When we provide even complex systems to test, we are confident they will work well.  When testing proves that very few to no defects exist, we know that our customers will be delighted when we ship the product.

And the customers are delighted. Most customers find no problems. Instead of complaints, we enjoy hearing the requests for new features.

It is a fantastic feeling to hit the button to release the product knowing it will work, knowing it will delight.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

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