Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quality and Perception

Well it's a new start for me. I have a new job with Xobni as their Quality Jedi, and it's a nice change. The startup life has been something I've been talking about for a while, and the time for action presented itself in the form of a ripe opportunity.

I've been thinking a lot more about product quality lately, in the general sense. This is probably because product quality will be much more on my shoulders than before, as I'm working with a relatively new product that has already been launched (in the form of a beta). I've been thinking about how one can attribute the status of "high quality" to any product, and I've realized that the only person who can bestow that status is the consumer.

Ultimately, no matter how much a product is tested and sent through the wringers of QA, the consumer is the one who decides whether your product is of high quality. It is the perception of quality that makes something of high quality. Everyone I know who has owned a BMW has moaned a little about how often it has to be taken into the shop for repairs. And yet BMW retains the status that their cars are of high quality, due to the fact that they are "german-engineered".

The perception of quality is powerful, and can directly contribute to product success. The first product put out by Xobni is called "Insight", and is a plug-in for Outlook that gives you a "people-centric" view of email. Email is data that is important to the consumer (vitally important to some), and anything that builds on top of that data must provide value while not corrupting or interfering with the basic tasks (emailing) in any way.

That is the quality challenge with this product, as I see it from a high-level. What is more important than verifying the product functionality is working as expected, is making sure that the consumers current tasks and environments aren't disturbed by the product.

That being said, now the question is, how can we affect the perception of quality to the user? This is a question I'll have to ponder more. The value we're building into Outlook will allow them to accomplish their tasks faster, and more efficiently. I think this increase in efficiency is the key to the quality perception for our product: the users are getting more done by using our product, without having their current email environment disturbed. This may sound quite basic and obvious, but I think it's good to reinforce these base points as to why we're building what we're building.

Interesting times are ahead.