The Secret To Quality Is Twofold — A Simple Tool For Your Next Retro

How does it feel to sit in that reclamation meeting? Trying to explain project delays to the customer?

As a software tester, I’ve had a priceless opportunity to observe these customer roastings several time. And I can tell you that it is not fun for any participant. Nobody wants to be in those meetings.

During my 15 years of journeys as a testing guru and an entrepreneur I’ve noticed that there are two core types of criteria that affect success. Most people get these two mixed up, and then problems become inevitable.

Before we dig deeper into the secret, think about a pyramid. To make the structure work it needs a solid base and then the bottom layers need to be of exceptional quality to support the rest of the building.

The base half of my pyramid is the Objective Criteria and the top half is the Subjective criteria. Let me explain.

#1 The Objective Criteria

Things cannot be in dispute. Only our views of things can.

If you were to look at a steaming cup of coffee with your friend, you would both see it from different angles. Nevertheless, the cup and the drink remain the same.

Objective criteria are like that cup of coffee. They are binary. Yes or no. 1 or 0.

The measurement of objective criteria is also unambiguous. Take the concept of time, for example. If the deadline was Tuesday and your team delivered on Thursday, you were late. No point arguing about it. It failed.

The same principle applies to money. If your boss invested one hundred thousand on a project and you lost twice, something went wrong. No point arguing about it. It failed.

Often, you can do a similar thought experiment on the things that your client most needs. Like the very core feature of your product.

Here’s the deal with objective criteria. Regardless of your opinions, it is easy to see if you succeeded or not. It’s a binary choice.

#2 Subjective Criteria

Here’s the deal with subjective criteria. Because everyone has their opinions, feelings and preferences, it is hard to decide if you succeeded or not.

Quality is always a point of view!

To to draw a conclusion about subjective criteria you need to come together to agree whether you have succeeded or not.

Subjective criteria may also be constantly changing depending on the time of day or circumstances that you may even be unaware of.

So what do I mean by this?

Let’s take an example of two colleagues. One arrives to work totally tired and seemingly suffering from a flu or a hangover. The other one just returned from a yoga retreat. Well rested and balanced, she is returning to work with infectious optimism.

Putting these two coleagues side by side. Would they react differently to possible obstacles? Are their patience, problem solving skills or decision taking ability on the same page? How about their focus: problems or solutions?

Software projects where the end customer are sustainably delighted have realized this important dichotomy between objective and subjective criteria.

Subjective criteria are prone to outside influences. Due to this, it’s critical to first deliver on the objective criteria reliably.

Just think about it. If you deliver your results late or beyond the budget, then your client’s judgement around subjective criteria is already negatively biased. It’s a wobbly foundation to build on.

The Tool

So here are four steps that I’ve used in several scrum retros and lessons learned sessions for software projects. The discoveries are always exceptional as the answers can diverge greatly between participants.

Step 1: Draw a vertical line on your paper. Title the left hand side with capital O (objective) and the right hand side with capital S (subjective). Make a list on both sides. What are the things our team is currently delivering that fall into the category. On your list you can have the attributes of HOW it should be delivered too.

Step 2: Now looking at the list of objective criteria. Pick the three most important ones and circle them. Then label them with a priority number. Then see what your colleagues have.

Step 3: Looking at the three most important objective criteria, what actions could you take today that would contribute to completing them.

Step 4: Take the first step right now or schedule it in your calendar.

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P.P.S. Are you a professional committed to excellence? The FREE ”What Makes Software Awesome” E-Book I wrote might be for you. Read more about it here:

Today the world doesn’t need your fear or your worry. Now, more than ever, it needs the best version of you!