“[They] lost their quality leadership to new, aggressive competition. The most obvious consequence was lost of market share (…) [due to] quality features that were perceived as better meeting customer needs [and] they did not fail in service as often.”
“Loss of market share is not the only reason behind [it] (…) a second major force has been the phenomenon of life behind the quality dikes. We have learned that living in a technological society puts us at the mercy of the continuing operation of the goods and services that make a society possible (…) without such quality we have failure of all sorts (…) at the least these failures involve annoyances and minor costs. At their worst they are terrifying.”
“A third major force has been the gathering awareness by companies that they have been enduring excessive costs due to chronic quality-related wastes (…) about a third of what we do consists of redoing work previously done (…) lacking expertise in the quality disciplines, they are amateurs in the best sense of that word.”
J.M. Juran’s assessment on Quality issues in the 1960s-70s.
What follows are some of the insights driving the work that I’m doing on reviewing, leveraging and updating QbD (Quality by Design) in the context of today’s fast growing and all-encompassing digitalization.
I am dusting off my research from 2010 on the 3Q Model. Back then I was a senior manager at Alcatel-Lucent’s Solutions & Technology Introduction Department. My current role is Senior Studio Director at Nokia Software’s Solutions Engineering. Note that the scope is End-to-End Solutions. These are holistic system-wide (cross-sectional and longitudinal) undertakings intersecting different domains to deliver the higher value of the whole. I have discussed QbD for Digital Transformation projects at the Design Thinking 2018 event and at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) conference on CQR (Communications Quality and Reliability) back in April and May of this year. Interestingly enough, both events were held in Austin, Texas.
QbD was first coined by Juran, a renown pioneer of quality practices, whose work on that specific topic started in the mid 80s. He linked Quality to customer satisfaction and reliability as the two dimensions to focus on:
“Features” were defined as “quality characteristics,” which meant properties intended to satisfy specific customer needs. That would also include “promptness of delivery,” “ease of maintenance,” and “courtesy of service” to name some examples. “The better the features, the higher the quality in the eyes of customers.”
As far as reliability and, therefore, replicability and consistent performance, “freedom from deficiencies” conveyed the fact that “the fewer the deficiencies the better the quality in the eyes of customers.” A “deficiency” is a failure that triggers dissatisfaction, which calls for incurring higher costs to redo prior work.
“Fitness for use” was mentioned as an attempt to capture the above two together. The so-called Juran Trilogy entails Quality Planning, Quality Control, and Quality Improvement.
More than three decades have passed since Juran started to work on “New Steps for Planning Quality into Goods and Services.” Let’s decompose QbD’s acronym at face value and distill its essence.
As a designer, my belief & practice system focuses on “serial innovation” consistently delivering superior value. This is achieved by means of purposeful and elegant solutions equipped with capability models and optimal functionality leading to Quality Experiences.
Customer Delight, rather than just satisfaction, being the sought after outcome. This applies to both small and large undertakings, and as A. Kay, a pioneer in graphical user interfaces, best put it, “simple things should be simple, complex should be possible.”
Following that train of thought, “Designing Quality into Solutions” should become center stage to: (a) collaborative and iterative ideation, (b) agile development, (c) continuous delivery and (d) the dynamic diffusion of (e) new and mass-customizable digital services for consumer and enterprise markets, as well as no-for-profit. Overall, QoB is key to Operational Excellence.
In a world where “Continuous Improvement” leads to incremental and breakthrough innovations, Quality’s critical KPI, Key Performance Indicator, can be expressed in terms of measurable advances in QoUX, the Quality of the Users’ Experiences. These are lagging (outcome) metrics that are far from static because they evolve within and over lifecycles. Therefore, reliability is not just applied to production operations, but also to the solution’s consistent performance and serviceability over time and under changing scenarios and events.
Given Quality’s unequivocal narrative around the “experiential” paradigm and, therefore, human-centric-optics, QbD’s best work should optimize for user “delight,” which is defined as superior “satisfaction,” rather than just aiming for requirements compliance.
It is very tempting to rally around core competencies within comfort zones that exist, and then settling on just aiming for “customer satisfaction” around “must-meet” baseline requirements. Though, that might not suffice given the necessity to innovate and better compete by leveraging unique sources of sustainable differentiation.
Let’s now state the obvious: “designing” Quality Experiences into digital solutions is best addressed by means of Human-Centered methodologies that optimize for (f) users’ “acceptance criteria” and (g) the kind of “adoption levels” that foster user base growth.
The opposite approach would risk the adverse effects (and hidden costs) that can be incurred when technical myopia leads the way. A. Cooper’s “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” captures that very well. His book is referenced below.
Just for the record, the year is 2018 and we are gearing for a pervasive digital world dominated by software defined systems. The 4th Industrial Revolution’s floodgates are set wide-open.
Low and high tech perform best when playing a supporting role. Technology enables “Services” which justify it, otherwise the so-called Chasm and Valley of Death wait around the corner. It pays to emphasize that “Services” are defined by “Use Cases.” So, it shouldn’t take much effort to see that “Use(case)ability” (“usability” being the proper term) is a CSF, Critical Success Factor. “Fitness for use” in other words.
Let’s take that further and couple “usability” with designing for usefulness,” “utility,” “consumability & serviceablity” as well as “affectivity” because perception and human affects orient satisfaction and dissatisfaction levels.
QbD cannot be put to work without adequately addressing Human Dynamics, which entails psychological (e.g. cognitive models, information architecture) physiological (e.g. device form factor, workstation ergonomics) and social dimensions (e.g. network effects increasing value for users.) That happens to be the SoW (Scope of Work) of HFE’s (Human Factors Engineering) interdisciplinary teams in Design Studios… and the topic of my next post on QbD’s Intellectual Capital.
A few more thoughts…
In spite of one’s day-to-day work and/or belief system being either closer to or removed from the kinds of jobs and tasks that make tech human, it makes sense to engage in meaningful outcome oriented and goal driven practices by applying HCD, Human-Centered-Design. The purpose is delivering quality and achieving customer acceptance and delight, given that customers are human beings. That is the reason why Design Thinking has outgrown the field of industry design and is applied to a wide variety of domains and disciplines nowadays.
Tech’s roller-coaster industry is packed with well intended technologies that fail. We all know that this is a fiercely competitive environment in constant change. Though, it is also true that, in many of those cases, UX, User Experience, professionals were not engaged at any part of the process, or were purposely involved at the back-end, or were called to come to the rescue in the eleventh hour. That leaves no room for Design to make a difference. Superficial changes just amount to bells-and-whistles and shiny-objects to disguise the underlying quality issues that are likely to re-surface at some point.
QbD’s top objective should be excelling at effectively & efficiently addressing our customers’ acceptance and adoption criteria. That remains true even in the context of full automation. Humans still get promoted and demoted (or fired) based on those system’s performance. D. Newman’s recent article on Forbes magazine rightly states that “you cannot run your business without people (…) you cannot operate technology without people (…) research have shown that people are a critical component for digital transformation.”
Today’s best practice calls for “reverse engineering” solutions by working from that human-centered understanding around Human Machine Systems (HMS.) That is substantially different from only relying on a far riskier “if you build it, they will come” model and its costlier brute-force mindset.
When dealing with challenging, intractable and complex projects, overlooking that fact typically results in exponential project risk and plenty of the, otherwise, avoidable zig-zagging course corrections ahead (e.g. opportunity costs in financial analysis and hidden and latency costs in systems engineering.)
Agile’s iterative development and ability to pivot shouldn’t be a refuge for either subpar or no design effort, but a vehicle to best implement QbD and augment development capacity while minimizing technical debt. This is why this revision of QbD for today’s tech industry calls for Design Sprints to lead the way.
Last but not least, before dismissing this QbD revision as a philanthropic and humanistic only endeavor, I suggest deep thinking around its (1) business criticality and (2) contribution to risk mitigation.
J. de Francisco
Bell Labs, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff
Nokia Software, Senior Studio Director @ Solutions Engineering
A. Cooper. The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, Sams Publishing, 2004.
D. Newman. 3 Reasons People are Critical for Digital Transformation Success. Forbes, June 2018.
J. de Francisco. IEEE ETR 2018, Emerging Technologies Reliablity Roundtable – Human Factors Session (2). Innovarista: Innovation at Work, July 2018 innovarista.org
J. de Francisco. IEEE ETR 2018, Emerging Technologies – Human Factors Session. Innovarista: Innovation at Work. May 2018 innovarista.org
J.M. Juran. Juran on Quality by Design: the New Steps for Planning Quality into Goods and Services, The Free Press, 1992.
“We celebrated HFE’s 70th Anniversary at Bell Labs, the home of the creative technologists who pioneered this inter-disciplinary field. We are also encouraging our community’s renewed efforts to shape innovations that enable the human possibilities of technology in today’s connected world.”
“This year’s agenda featured guest speakers from AT&T and Verizon, practitioners in diverse industries from NASA, IBM, Information Builders and Lab Z, experts from MIT and IIT, as well as Bell Labs and Nokia flagship and award winning innovations. This event is organized by Nokia’s Technology Leadership Council in partnership with Bell Labs.”
The above file delivers the event’s agenda and topic abstracts. First, there is a need for thanking everyone involved: speakers, participants, volunteers and sponsors, as well as Nokia’s IT and Real Estate staff. Our conference involved 20 fast paced sessions over two days. 300+ of us participated in this conference from multiple worldwide locations as well as online. Approximately 150 people registered with NokiaEDU, Nokia’s training platform.
I am happy to share that feedback received during and after the event was very positive and encouraging beyond expectations, some of it was incredibly passionate. If you are a peer at Nokia, note that you now have access to HFE17’s communications, conversations and files and the recordings.
Moreover, we are now working on jumpstarting a company-wide community of interest centered on Human Factors and are also gearing for HFE18, which will feature the John E. Karlin Recognition Award. John pioneered HFE at Bell Labs in 1947. He passed away four years ago and his contributions paved the way for user centered innovations.
Nokia’s legendary journey has already passed the 150 year mark and, interestingly enough, more than 95% of us did not carry a Nokia badge four years ago. There are more than 100,000 of us embarked in this endeavor and we all collectively represent 160 nationalities working in more than 100 countries.
Our customers are the world’s communications service providers, governments, enterprises and consumers. We deploy the industry’s most comprehensive set of products, services, as well as licensing opportunities with a patent portfolio featuring in excess of 30,000 inventions.
But, most importantly, our innovations and collective know-how make a decisive difference when we “shape technologies that truly transform the human experience” as technical prowess alone does not suffice. HFE17 was sponsored by Bell Labs and supported by our Technology Leadership Council, a grassroots organization formed by volunteers whose goal is to help foster a culture of innovation that honors Nokia’s renewed commitment to “enabling the human possibilities of technology.”
Humanizing technology is the core belief of those of us working in Human Factors Engineering, whether the job focuses on UX, User Experience, or CX, Customer Experience, dataviz and graphical interfaces or natural language interaction, services or operations, software or hardware, HCI, Human Computer Interaction, or HITL, Human in the Loop Computing, with AI, Artificial Intelligence.
HFE2017’s main objective was to get our community connected so that everyone’s good efforts become as meaningful and impactful as they can be.
I would also like to take this chance to highlight Betsy Cowell’s leadership. I had the pleasure to co-chair this event with her. Betsy’s discipline became instrumental given the scope of the effort and unexpected challenges.
Some of you might recall our first attempt to get HFE off the ground last year. Back then, we encountered technical and scheduling shortcomings when being asked to switch to a new webcasting system yet to be deployed. So, we ended up postponing.
Betsy managed to re-energize this undertaking with the turn of the year. She engaged a small army of volunteers who became key to HFE17’s success. Some just wouldn’t give up even when facing technical and organizational intricacies in the eleventh hour. TLC makes a difference by taking down silos and fostering a culture of collaboration across the company.
“The 21st century human factors organization touches so much more than the usability or ergonomics of a product, playing an integral role as the human-centered umbrella connecting the many facets of product and experience design. How is the human factors function creating a fertile environment for the human experience leveraging design thinking and other methodologies?”
Speaking session on April 25. Focus on Human Factors Engineering: Advancing the Human Factors Manifesto through Design Thinking, Agile and Lean. Design Thinking 2017.
In what way do you believe Design Thinking has made the biggest impact in your human factors work at Nokia?
Your question makes me think of a recent conversation with my daughter who is in junior high. She walked me through a school project asking her to pin point and discuss outstanding differences between her day-to-day life and her grandparent’s experiences when they were her same age.
She talked to my parents and diligently outlined a long list of things that we happen to take for granted today: some fairly simple, some quite sophisticated and far reaching… all innovations on their own right at a given point of time. So, I couldn’t help sharing with her samples of work pioneered by Nokia back in 1947 when Bell Labs set up the first Human Factors Engineering department in the American industry.
I must confess that I also conveyed to her the kind of pride that comes from embracing Human Factors as a discipline and belonging to an organization that has made a difference for the past 70 years. I let her know that we measure HFE’s project results based on outcomes that have a positive impact in either our lifestyles and work practices and that I account for both goals set by design and also unexpected effects that surface over time.
We are talking about user friendly systems optimized for ease of use, effortless operability and, first and foremost, for any of us to better interact with each other in context whether we happen to be present in physical, virtual or hybrid environments. We all leverage devices, tools and process at our disposal… which we sometimes modify and adapt or just create new ones. Note that all of this also means fostering our diversity, cultural values and collective well-being.
Nokia’s vision zeroes in on the human possibilities of a broadly connected world, jointly with a path forward that is sustainable and continuously optimized. This entails a firm belief on the value of humanizing a new wave of emerging technologies and the notion of transparent infrastructure that become pervasive and ubiquitous everywhere: 5G, cloud systems and the Internet of Things being some examples.
Human Factors’ multi-disciplinary approach is driven by putting people first and understanding and shaping technology as the means to an end (instead of just expecting users to conform to capricious implementations that show disregard for elegant sophistication and ease of consumability and overall use. Therefore, Design Thinking’s dynamic research approach equips our team with what I call “rigorous plasticity” – this being my flavor of a methodology driving (a) a user centered mindset and (b) a workstyle densely packed with the type of serial ingenuity that makes HFE a source of innovation and differentiation.
Design Thinking is clearly applicable in solving complex problems and catalyzing creative thinking. How do you feel Design Thinking has transformed the overarching human factors engineering organization?
At Nokia’s Lean Ops Program we apply Design Thinking to projects characterized by large scale end-to-end systems integration. We work with leading edge technologies to address network operations in the telecommunications sector, which happen to be among the most complex, distributed and multi-layered systems across industries.
We are conscious of the fact that the source problem statement and point of view that we start a project with might not necessarily be the ones that best solve and deliver breakthrough innovations at the back end.
In essence, multidisciplinary “co-creation” and “early induced pivoting” in the research and ideation processes make Design Thinking’s iterative and adaptive flow a solution driven engine. My experience is that it also creates what’s known as a backlog of “real options” in innovation management, while augmenting development capacity and overall solution quality.
How have you gone about blending design thinking, agile transformation and lean start-up methodologies in your human factors organization? There are certain similarities to each mindset, but how do you resolve discrepancies?
This can be best addressed by means of an example: our team doesn’t focus on Lean Startup’s Minimum Viable Products (MVP) as such since we place the emphasis on the greater value that comes from addressing the whole, this being a conventional Lean principle. Our language embraces the early generation of Minimum Viable Solutions (MVS) instead and in sync with Design Thinking’s holistic approach to an optimum user experience through the solution’s shelf life.
This mindset shift is not just about semantics. Note that it accounts for the sheer size, scale and scope of the end -to-end systems we work with in the Lean Ops program. Moreover, it factors solution lifecycle’s requirements because consumability is expected to evolve over time.
Let’s keep in mind that the high-tech sector is characterized by a rapid succession of technologies and alternative approaches often abound. Add to that the fact that the telecommunications industry is capital intensive and competitiveness relies on sizeable investments in long term projects… and in fast changing markets. Therefore, Design Thinking is of assistance with work on future proofing solutions as we work with end goals in mind, including repurposing and recycling at the solution’s end of viable life.
What value do you believe IQPC’s Design Thinking 2017 will deliver to experienced practitioners like yourself?
I’d like to first thank IQPC for engaging me as a member of the event’s Advisory Board early on, and for the invitation to discuss some of the work that we do at Nokia Applications & Analytics Group in the area of Human Factors at our Cloud Innovation Center.
Design Thinking 2017 has been structured to enable formal and ad-hoc opportunities for any of us to exchange insights, practices and experiences in an open, approachable and engaging forum. This reflects the pluri-disciplinary and diverse nature of the work that we all do, which sets Design Thinking practitioners apart from conventional silos and rigid frameworks.
Design Thinking is a soft methodology that explicitly calls for consistently going beyond our comfort zone so that ingenuity’s X-Factor comes to the surface and makes a difference project after project. With that in mind, the event’s agenda and speaker roster transpires the courage that it takes to approach each single project as a new endeavor worth diving into, and to do so in the midst of ambiguity, uncertainty and changing conditions while counting on Design Thinking as a serial innovation practice.
First published by the International Productivity and Quality Center, IPQC.