Does “Quality” really equal “Value”?

I’ve got a question… I’ve always liked the definition of quality to be “value to someone who matters”, but I’ve hit a problem with the way this feels when I say it.

When we read out loud: “Quality equals Value to someone who matters”, then it shows that we are really saying that quality IS value, with the caveat of it being relative to someone who matters.

But when you actually think about it, is quality value? Is it actually equal to value? Does “high quality” = “extremely valuable”?

The more I think about it, the more I feel that quality isn’t actually equal to value, but that it directly relates to value. You see, quality can and does definitely affect value. And value (what the “someone who matters” actually values) is definitely what we strive to aim for when we are focusing on what constitutes to being quality – as in, we take on board what the customers/users/stakeholders/anyone who matters wants, needs and values from the product that we are building them, and we focus on those things while we are building and testing the product so that they value in turn value the product.

But on the other hand, is it possible to build a quality product that isn’t valued? Or a high quality product that might be valued initially, but that the value deteriorates until it’s not valued anymore? It would still be a high quality product though, right? No code would have changed for the quality of the product to deteriorate…

I would say that this is possible. Lets take an example of a mobile app. Lets say you design, build and test a mobile app for a client. And you take on board everything that your clients and stakeholders value and build a great, high quality app. What if some users then come along and give the app a very low rating? Or what if one of your clients competitors release a newer app that has a cool new feature that your app doesn’t have? Your client’s value of the app might drop, but that doesn’t make the app of low quality, does it?

Or does it really mean that the quality of the software can change without any code in the product actually changing? Purely due to circumstances and perceptions around the whole idea of how the software is valued…

What do you think? What’s your opinion?

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8 thoughts on “Does “Quality” really equal “Value”?

  1. There are several definitions for the word “quality”.

    Taken from Merriam-Webster:

    Quality:

    : how good or bad something is
    : a characteristic or feature that someone or something has : something that can be noticed as a part of a person or thing
    : a high level of value or excellence

    For example, “Hardness” is one of the “qualities” of a diamond. Saying a “Quality product” means that the product as a whole is considered as encompassing quality. But that quality is composed of different qualities within the product which make it so.

    For example, a product’s code may be of high quality, but the speed in which the product performs is another quality. Both of these qualities provide value for /someone/ who matters. Speed may matter to the end user, while code-quality may matter to the maintainer of the code.

    Quality is a broad term, but I think that when stripped down to refer exact “qualities”, then they are equal to value (to someone who matters), which in the end, add up to the quality of the whole (thus the value of the whole).

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    1. Thanks for the comment Roni!
      I agree with your comment. My question relates to people changing their values… does that diminish the overall quality of the product? Even after the product has been built for some time?

      So if we strive to meet the needs of our stakeholders, and we build them their software to meet those needs, what happens if their needs/values change, what does that mean? That the quality of the software you have just produced is now degraded?

      This is the question that I am trying to understand. I think I failed to explain this in my post slightly :S

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      1. Time can change perceptions, and therefore the value of something. I don’t think that the quality of the product is now degraded as much as being irrelevant. Think of a pair of high quality shoes that you bought 10 years ago. You never used them. They still fit. However, they are now out of fashion. Their value has gone down even though they did not change. The world in which they exist did.

        I don’t think that “degraded” is the right word to use in this case. But, yes, an object’s value can go down as time goes by, simply due to external changes and people’s perceptions. It’s just a part of change happening.

        I don’t think you can talk about quality and testing without considering the fact that “things change” (including values).

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      2. Yes, that’s what I’m trying to get at.
        (Although I think buying shoes that you never wear might be a waste of money for something that might not have actually been truly valued in the first place. 🙂 )

        If we were looking at software, it could be more tricky though. It could be the case where a company pays for their web-app to be built for them and a week (or any time frame) after receiving the web app and putting it to use with their staff, they notice that there is different software out there that offers more features…
        It might not mean that the software that they paid for is irrelevant though, as they paid a lot of money for it and they might not be able to afford to spend more money buying the newer product. It does mean that they wont value it as much though.

        But I agree that the products value to the customer /after/ it has gone live doesn’t actually affect the quality of the product. Hence why quality cant directly equal value.

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  2. Have you ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? A whole book about one mans pursuit of what quality means and how trying to define and think about it drove him insane..So be careful about thinking about this too much 😉

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  3. I’d suggest that you take a general systems approach on this.

    Neither quality nor value (“what someone will do (or pay) to have their requirements met”, according to Jerry Weinberg) are intrinsic to a product or service; they are relative to some person and some context. People and contexts both change over time, even when products don’t (and products may change over time as well). Do not confuse value with price.

    “Quality is value to some person” is a special case of the more general Relative Rule, which I coined a few years ago. You can read about that here: http://www.developsense.com/blog/2010/09/done-the-relative-rule-and-the-unsettling-rule/.

    Note that quality and value are both subject to the Unsettling Rule, too.

    —Michael B.

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    1. James Bach also has an interesting post which touches on this: http://www.satisfice.com/blog/archives/251

      I believe that it is possible for quality to degrade over time without any code, or even users, changing. Think about a website that was built in the late 90s, at the time it was amazing and hopefully offered lots of value. Now we have greater expectations and the web has more possibilities so the same website offers less quality to the same people.

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