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Sixty Percent Quality

Sixty Percent Quality

Every week I am where IT problems occur: sharing my experience with development teams around the world and helping them make better use of the PHP platform. On average, I spend over 100 days of the year in hotel rooms and close to 15 days on airplanes or trains. When you spend so much time on the proverbial road you need to care about quality: the quality of a hotel influences your quality of sleep which in turn affects the quality of work you deliver to your customer.

What is a geek to do when he wonders about hotels? He refers to h2g2, the guide to life, the universe, and everything, where you can read:

All hotels provide facilities enabling guests to spend as little time conscious as possible while stuck in the hotel; more common options include the television and the bar. Cryogenic suspension seems like the logical next step.

Hopefully the Cryogenic suspension will guarantee a good sleep but unfortunately we are not there yet. In the meantime we have to exercise caution and utilize appropriate criteria when choosing a hotel.

Objective versus Subjective Quality

Organizations such as DEHOGA (German Hotel and Restaurant Association), HOTREC (Hotels, Restaurants & Cafés in Europe), or WHR (World Hotel Rating) use stars (from one to five stars; six and seven stars also exist but are special) to objectively classify hotels. One would assume that this would help in finding a hotel that satisfies one's quality requirements. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I recently stayed at a hotel that was classified with three out of five stars. It was less than stellar: my room was in a dungeon and someone travelling with me had a cockroach in their room.

Three out of five stars sounds like "60% of top quality" (five stars). So how could this happen? The stars are actually awarded for features such as a table and a chair in a room, fax machine at the front desk, telephone in the room, or 24h front desk service. They do not actually tell you anything about quality aspects such as cleanliness or quiet, for instance, of the hotel.

So standardized classification is not a feasible tool to choose a hotel. In the time of Web 2.0 and booking websites, maybe customer ratings of hotels can help? One of my worst hotel experiences ever occurred at a hotel that I searched and booked online. I searched based on location (close to my customer) and based on ratings by people who also booked a room at the hotel through the same booking website. The hotel had a very high rating (average of 9 out of 10 points with a couple of hundred ratings).

What I did not know, because I just looked at the raw numbers and not into the comments that go along with the points, was that this particular hotel was the favorite hotel for party-goers in that city. Late in the night (when the nightclub next door closed) people continued the party in their rooms and made such a noise that I did not get a single night with good sleep that week.

I have none other to blame for this than myself: I made a decision based on a metric without researching how and what it measures exactly. The lesson I learned that week is to not just look at ratings made by customers but also read their comments to understand why they rated the way they did.

Quality is subjective and lies in the eye of the beholder. This is true for the management of a hotel as it is for the development of software. The problem with software quality is that the stakeholders involved in a software project have different perspectives on quality.

External versus Internal Quality

Customers and managers put their focus on quality aspects that are tangible for them. These aspects of external quality include functionality, usability, reactivity, security, and availability. If the application "does what it is supposed to do" and is "fast enough", most customers and managers are satisfied.

Developers are concerned about the internal quality of the application and focus on readable code that is easy to understand, adapt, and extend. Many aspects of internal quality can be objectively measured using software metrics that make it possible to see trends and detect undesirable developments as early as possible and to prevent that the implementation of change requests will become more and more difficult and thus expensive over time.

Neither the management of a hotel nor the management of a software project can afford to save on quality as reductions in quality do not provide a gain in other dimensions such as cost (hotel and software) and scope or speed (software) in the long run. For a short period of time you may go into Technical Debt and sacrifice quality for speed, for instance. This is okay and sometimes required to meet a deadline. But when such a debt is not liquidated in a timely fashion the interest will grow and eventually suffocate the project. The same holds true for hotels, by the way: a hotel that offers sub-standard quality will eventually attract no guests anymore and will go out of business.