The 10x quality rule

If you’ve shipped a product, created software or designed a business process, you’ll likely have experienced the 10x quality rule. I’m not aware of any scientific proof, but I’ve seen the empirical evidence hundreds of times.

Catch errors early or be prepared for the consequences.

The rule says that the cost of fixing a problem increases by 10x for each step in the process that the problem goes undetected or overlooked. It applies in so many circumstances:

  • A sales system that does not validate customer information at the pre-order stage causes a log jam in the call centre during customer service two years later when the data proves to be incorrect.

  • An apparently small bug left behind by a developer causes a million PCs to crash within a month of shipping.

  • 5 million cars are recalled because of faulty airbags.

My favourite testing horror story happened a few years ago. A product was shipped with a known defect. Known insofar as the product team was aware of it’s existence, but I can only hope they weren’t aware of the potential for damage. The outcome wasn’t good—product recalls, endless software patches to undo the damage, customers waving bye bye, and significant loss of face.

I don’t say “favourite” because I enjoy watching this kind of thing. But these are the lessons that make us smarter. I’ve told the story many times to clarify why testing early and testing often is so important. I like to think this has helped many businesses avoid the same fate.

It’s funny how quality assurance requires regulations—ISO, CMMI, UL, CE, CSA, the list goes on—to enforce testing, while innovation appears to be open season. The urge to create comes naturally, while the urge to test does not. ( Turns out that testing provides a dopamine rush, but that’s another story.)

And here's the flip side of the 10x rule—invest in appropriate quality and you'll get a 10, 100, or 1000x return on your investment. Where else can you do that?

If you commit to creating a solution, are you not also a committing to solving your customer’s problem completely and without error?

Test the 10x rule for yourself

Go speak with your customer service team and ask them for their top 3 headaches. Then walk over to the product group and ask them what it would take to fix the problems (including testing).

Now institute a weekly review of the top 3 customer issues by your management/ executive team. It takes just ten minutes and you’ll be surprised by how rewarding an exercise this is. There’s no better way to walk in your customers shoes.

Send me your list and we can talk about other easy solutions.

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