An Exec’s Guide To Achieving Mission-critical Software Delivery

Nowadays, every business is a software business. Your enterprise needs to prioritise software delivery, be that deploying off-the-shelf solutions, commissioning bespoke software development, or a mixture of both.

Digital transformation: The term has been bandied about since it was coined more than a decade ago. I think we can all agree, though, that the “use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises” really gained momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic set in.

As we remember all too well, the entire world went digital within a matter of weeks, and companies raced to fulfil the soaring consumer demand for digital products and services. In fact, according to McKinsey, global businesses accelerated the adoption of digital offerings by an average rate of seven years — in a matter of just seven months. Some companies describe how they had to enable tens of thousands of home workers in just a few days!

The same McKinsey report shows that most business leaders see society’s digital shift as permanent. JPMorgan Chase’s CEO certainly thinks the increased use of digital apps and services is here to stay. He recently announced a 26% increase to Chase’s technology budget, focusing the $12 billion investment on further growing Chase’s portfolio of digital apps and services.

Providing innovative technologies is just half the job, though. There’s a lurking problem for business leaders: They can’t afford to let the delivery and integration of software into their businesses suffer delays and poor quality.

Just one schedule slippage in a key system can cause a cascade of problems. And when one of these slippages delays the deployment or upgrade of a key app or service, companies risk disrupted revenue streams, disgruntled customers, interrupted supply chains, lost productivity and frustrated staff.

Maintaining flow of software into the business is imperative to business continuity, but ensuring a steady, reliable flow is difficult. As businesses digitally transform and move their key processes to the cloud, and consumers utilise more digital innovations, their software estate grows in scale, complexity and fragility.

Consequently, maintaining the necessary software quality and delivery schedules must be a primary business objective. While leaders traditionally farmed out these responsibilities solely to their IT departments, technology has become so critical to business success that quality and delivery schedules can no longer hide in the opaque IT silo. It must – and has – become a culture and leadership issue.

Here are five steps executives can take to start embracing software quality, predictable schedules and steady flow:

Elevate Quality To Priority #1

When considering an enterprise’s numerous priorities, executives should take stock of the critical importance of quality. Does the company employ a virtual or hybrid workforce? Does the company interact or transact with customers online? Is revenue generated from online transactions? The questions can continue based on your industry, but chances are that most modern enterprises would agree they rely on a suite of software apps and software-based services for desired business outcomes.

Given the critical nature of digital apps and services — and their ability to provide a seamless experience for customers — executives should consider creating a culture of quality as a key performance indicator. Practically speaking, executives can and should treat quality numbers similarly to sales figures or other revered business metrics. One senior leader should be held accountable to the quality metrics and deemed responsible for relentlessly scrutinising and reporting on these figures alongside the business’s other KPIs.

If executives really want to underscore the importance of quality, they can walk the talk for their workforces. Business leaders can make quality a compensation-affecting business objective, like profit or sales targets. And they can tie these quality metrics back to the bottom line.

Focus On The People

In the era of “every business is a software business,” enterprises can no longer tuck away tech talent out of sight, removed from customer interaction. In fact, they should do the exact opposite, moving software folks to the front line and making them part of the business’s core value proposition. Actively marketing a company’s tech and nerd credentials will drive confidence in the brand’s digital presence. And enhance employer branding at the same time.

Naturally, redeploying the software folks goes both ways. Executives must also show genuine trust and respect for these key people. Even without extensive technical knowledge, business leaders can provide the kind of environment, and culture, that makes teams’ lives easier by reducing the cognitive load imposed by traditional management approaches. And they can give them the freedom to use modern paradigms like DevOps and CI/CD pipelines. Software teams with respect, resources and support will have a foot up on delivering innovations and protecting the quality of their deliveries.

Treat Unceasing Innovation As Standard

As most executives know, today’s world of digital business demands continuous innovation as a minimum requirement for keeping pace with competitors. This unceasing innovation requires executives to drop risk-averse postures and embrace reinvention and the concomitant continuous change.

Of course, amidst digital innovation, reinvention and even failure, quality remains a top priority. Executives need a business culture that allows their organisation to experiment, and sometimes falter, with the least amount of negative impact. After all, stagnation is no longer an attractive option.

Open The Chequebook and Invest!

If an enterprise relies on various digital apps and services for business performance, executives should guarantee the entire software delivery pipeline is exemplary.

While only the lucky few have an extra $12 billion on hand to invest in software delivery and the associated spend, executives should advocate for a big piece of the pie to go toward technology investment. And technology investment shouldn’t stop at commissioning delivery projects. Forward-thinking enterprises invest in next-generation delivery methods like Quintessence, alongside talent, training and time to innovate.

Make Technical Know-how A Leadership Must-Have

Executives should ask themselves a simple question: does anyone on the most senior team have “SDLC” or software delivery experience in their past or even present core competencies? While leadership teams are usually stacked with impressive qualifications — CPAs, MBAs and JDs — few include software people with practical SDLC experience. But given the importance of technology, executives should surround themselves with true technology practitioners.

A chief digital officer (CDO) can become a business leader’s quality czar. With a depth of SDLC experience, this role can help executives understand and benchmark their companies’ digital performance and balance digital transformation efforts with operations management.

Following these steps sends a clear message both internally and externally: innovating is no longer enough — changing the culture to remove the shackles of outmoded assumptions and beliefs is also necessary. If executives want to maximize their digital investments and thrive in a digital-first world, they must embrace quality and the culture that enables it.

– Bob

Spilt Milk And Defect Prevention

“It’s no use crying over spilt milk” they say. Which to me sounds like an acceptance that things will go wrong, and there’s no point trying to prevent such things.

I beg to differ.

The Milky Porridge

Spoon – face up

Let’s take my breakfast as an example. Most days I choose a bowl of hot porridge. I like to add a little cold milk on top of the porridge, to cool it down and add a little creaminess. To keep the milk separate from the porridge I habitually pour the milk onto a spoon. And inevitably, 90% of the time the milk splashes onto the countertop.

After eons spent wiping up the splashed milk every day, finally the penny dropped and I saw this anew – as a simple defect prevention challenge. 

Once seen in this light, a simple flip of the spoon, pouring the milk onto the back of the spoon, et voila! No more splashes. No more wiping up. 

Spoon – face down

Defect prevented. W5

– Bob

Managers Are PONC

Number 4 in Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality is “The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance (PONC), NOT indices.”

By which he meant, that the price of non-conformance to requirements tells us how often and the degree to which our organisation achieves quality. 

Le’s unwrap that a bit further.

In Absolute number 1, he says “The definition of quality is conformance to requirements, NOT ‘goodness’”.

So when we’re delivering stuff to our immediate customers that fails to conform to their requirements, that is not contributing to their success, we are failing to provide quality goods or services. 

We can measure this failure in terms of the price of non-conformance. That is, the costs involved in reworking, retesting, correcting, substituting, fixing-up or otherwise remediating the things we deliver so they do conform to our customers requirements.

In short, any cost that would not have been expended if quality had been perfect contributes to the price of non-conformance.

Managers Are PONC

If we look at the typical work of managers, almost all of what they do on a daily basis is all those fire-fighting remediations mentioned above. Indeed, in most organisations, this is the raison d’être of the manager’s role (minuscule other reasons include prevention of problems, and growth of the organisation and its revenues, profits).

Therefore it’s but a small jump to see that managers are one of the major contributors to their organisation’s price of non-conformance. In other words their costs (salaries, etc). are almost entirely consequent on their fire-fighting role.If fire-fighting was unnecessary, so would be the managers, and their costs.

– Bob

Further Reading

Unknown (2013). Manager Thought: Price of Non Conformance (PONC). [online] Manager Thought. Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022].

Merbler, K. (2021) The Entrepreneur Who Created A Business Camelot: Philip B. Crosby. Dominionhouse Publishing & Design, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Customer Success

The idea of “customer success” is widely understood in the halls of business, if not widely acted upon. “Customer success” is an outcome, sought for its contribution to a business’ own success. This sought outcome carries with it the belief that if a business’ customers can be helped to greater success, greater profits, market share, margins, revenues, customer loyalty, retention, reduced churn, etc. will accrue.

Put another way, businesses focussed on “customer success” believe it’s a means, maybe even THE means, to increase their own success.

In this way, we can see that:

  • It’s a belief.
  • It’s a belief widely understood, even though not widely held or practiced.
  • It’s a means – or strategy – to an end (the end in mind being success to the business doing the helping), not an end in itself.
  • Other means a.k.a. strategies to business success may appear more compelling.
  • Given my previous post “The Fifth Absolute of Quality” which describes “customer success” as being THE purpose of quality, those businesses which reject “customer success” as the means to their own success will likely also reject quality initiatives and programmes.
  • “Customer success” is not synonymous with “customer satisfaction” (far from it).
  • What customers need for their increased success is a subset of their total needs (other needs may exist unrelated to the “success” of that customer organisation, in particular the needs of the Core Group, and other Folks That Matter™️ within those customer organisations).

To sum up, “customer success” is widely understood, although less widely practiced.

The Organisational Psychotherapy Analogue

I posit that the idea of “Attending to Folks’ Needs” – the declared purpose of Organisational Psychotherapy – is analogous to the idea of “customer success”.

Businesses embracing the idea of “Attending to folks’ needs” believe that doing so is a means to increase their own success.

The difference comes from few indeed seeing the connection between attending to folks’ needs and the success of their business.

Some observations on the idea that “Attending to folks’ needs” will enhance the success of the attending business or organisation:

  • It’s a belief.
  • It’s an uncommon belief, held by only a few.
  • The mechanisms by which attending to folks’ needs deliver business success are understood by few.
  • It’s a means – or strategy – to an end (the end in mind being business success for the business attending to folks’ needs), not an end in itself.
  • Few have encountered the idea of attending to folks’ needs, fewer have considered it as a means for the success of their business, and fewer yet have adopted it.
  • Other means a.k.a. strategies for its own success may appear more compelling for the business.

To sum up, “Attending to folks’ needs” is not widely known nor understood as an idea, so not widely seen as a viable means to business success, and so not often embraced or practiced.

– Bob


More eagle-eyed and sharp-witted readers may have noticed that this post contains two, apparently different means to business success:

  1. Focus on the success of the business’ customers.
  2. Focus on the needs of all the Folks That Matter.

Actually, I see this a a false dichotomy; as 1) is a subset of 2):


The Fifth Absolute of Quality

In the heyday of Phil Crosby and his “Camelot” (Philip Crosby Associates – PCA), there were four absolutes of quality. I’ve posted before about these, as well as reframing them in the Antimatter Principle vocabulary. 

In recent times, PCA have come up with the Fifth Absolute of Quality. Grounded in the writings of Phil Crosby, but not an absolute he himself listed, the Fifth Absolute of Quality describes the purpose of quality, and reads:

The purpose of quality is customer success, NOT customer satisfaction.

“We took a hard look at the original Absolutes because we realized that a company could live by them and still fail… Building an organization that knows how to focus on customer success and make it a repeatable, continuous process is the next decade’s primary challenge.”

~ Wayne Kost

The Antimatter Principle Frame

As with my previous post reframing Crosby’s original Four Absolutes of Quality, I’ve taken the liberty to reframe this Fifth Absolute similarly. It reads:

The purpose of quality is ensuring we meet everyone’s needs, NOT giving people what they want.

– Bob

Further Reading (2004). Customer Success, Not Satisfaction, Is Key. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2022].

Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality Reframed

I recently posted a quickie repeating Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality.

I accept that many folks find his choice of vocabulary less than clear. So, here’s a reframing of his four absolutes, reframed in the Antimatter Principle vocabulary (a reframing which you may or may not find more helpful).

  1. The definition of quality is meeting everyone’s needs, NOT “goodness”.
  2. The behaviour that causes quality to happen is paying attention to folks’ needs, NOT inspection.
  3. The performance standard for quality is “all needs met, for all the Folks that Matter™️”, NOT “that’s good enough”.
  4. The measurement of quality is the cost of focus, NOT indices.

– Bob

Quintessence: The Foreword

The fine foreword kindly penned by Kevin Weiss, and excerpted from my new book “Quintessence“:

Most organisations don’t understand this basic fact: our product is the result of our culture, not the other way around. We persist in hiring industry veterans, adopting common best practices, and managing by objectives, believing this is the path to create unique, innovative, and world-class products.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This book outlines a different approach. Putting people at the center of our work not only improves today’s performance but creates the foundation for ongoing innovation and renewal. It restores communication, respect, and enthusiasm between customers, suppliers, and employees. It eliminates waste and the need for firefighting.

As you read these pages, some ideas will seem impossible. “We could never do that here”, you’ll think to yourself — and you’ll be right! Using our current thinking and beliefs, we would be unable to adopt some of these ideas. Within our currently-structured way of doing business, attempts at wholesale change would be blocked.

However, refocusing the organisation from product to culture requires wholesale changes. Those changes begin in ourselves.

So don’t dismiss the craziest ideas, as they may ultimately prove most valuable. Instead think deeply, searching through our current practices to identify how we compensate. Then consider all of the costs imposed on our people, suppliers, and customers as a result.

That is the real challenge to readers of this book — to consider these ideas as a wholly different way of working, rather than an à la carte menu of possibilities. If you can do that, you may have what it takes to be a leader in your company’s transformation.

And if you do, jump at the chance! It will likely be the most rewarding time of your career.

Kevin Weiss
Philip Crosby Associates
December 2021

– Bob

Fun Times at Familiar

I’m minded to write something positive for a change (!) so I thought I might share how much fun a quintessential development organisation can be to work with. (I say work with, because we had almost no power structures, no managers, no bosses, and everyone was a colleague, a fellow.)

Familiar was a software house and consultancy, based near Reading UK (some forty miles west of London), which I started and led circa 1996-2000.

The years at Familiar was, for many of us, enormous fun. We were doing great things for our clients, bonding as a group, and learning loads about how to become a Quintessential organisation. The social side was just as much fun as the business side. Indistinguishable, really. We placed a lot of emphasis on the social aspects of the organisation:

  • Company-funded weekends away in plush country hotels – for the folks in the company along with their significant others.
  • Regular dIning out as a group, on the company’s expenses. 
  • Collaborative sessions (sprint planning and the like) in each others’ homes.
  • Other group social events (e.g. exhibitions).
  • An office configured for socialising – and learning – as much as for work (lounge, sofas, library, books, kitchen, etc.).

This was all made possible by the success we had commercially – a virtuous circle where fun led to great work for clients led to high margins led to funds for more fun… 

It was the kind of win-win-win (clients, us, suppliers) that quintessential organisations regard as normal.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

– Bob

No Adaptation Required

I’ve seen many folks suggest we adapt Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality to the software context. The arguments proffered smack of ignorance of what software development is about, or ignorance of Crosby’s work.

Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality

  1. Quality is defined as conformance to requirements.
  2. The system for causing quality is prevention, not appraisal.
  3. The performance standard must be Zero Defects.
  4. The measurement of quality is the Price of Non-conformance, not indices.

Well, maybe it’s not the profferers’ ignorance so much as their being blinded by their existing assumptions and beliefs.

In my latest book, Quintessence – An Acme for Highly Effective Software Development Organisations, I propose Four Absolutes of Quintessence:

  1. The definition of quintessence is meeting all needs of all the Folks That Matter™️.
  2. The system for moving towards quintessence is people choosing to change their collective assumptions and beliefs.
  3. The performance standard for quintessential organisations is zero needs of all the Folks That Matter going unmet, every time.
  4. The measurement of quintessence is the consequences of not meeting folks’ needs, sometime referred to as the cost of ineffectiveness, a.k.a. the Cost of Focus.

Whereas the above list – the Four Absolutes of Quintessence – differs from Crosby’s list, the former is about organisational effectiveness, the latter about quality. When talking about the quality of software, no adaptation from Crosby’s original list is required.

– Bob

How Come Hardly Anything Ever Gets Better?

“Since everyone was in favor of improvement and opportunities abound, there should be an epidemic of things getting better. That begged the question; why is hardly anything getting better?”

~ Philip Crosby

Who is Responsible for Quality Improvement?

Philip Crosby came up with 3 basic reasons:

  1. The highest paid and most talented people in a company do not work on improvement. They produce strategy books, planning manuals, marketing reports, five year plans etc that are shown like merit badges but are not used or implemented. Everyone is working hard on things that make little difference.
  2. People who understand a subject do not get help in determining a policy for improvement. Nationally known consumer advocate groups have no experience in quality management. Most business media experts talk about quality and yet their experience is limited. Getting a common definition of “quality” would be difficult and it has been overlaid with emotion.
  3. Management and labor do not understand each other. There are very few members of management that have ever actually done the work they supervise. Motivation of the workers is the most popular theme for quality improvementprograms. Yet it is management that needs to realize they are the cause of the problems by the way they manage. Union management falls into the same boat as company executives.

Excerpted from an article about Philip Crosby (and based on his article of the same name).

– Bob

Phil’s 4 Absolutes are the building blocks or the foundation of any true quality improvement process that hopes to have a sustained improvement effort. These absolutes are very easy to understand and communicate compared to complex mathematical terms, and creating examples that relate to any industry—Service, Process, or Manufacturing—can be very easy. These 4 Absolutes are as follows:

1. The definition of quality is conformance to requirements, NOT “goodness”

This is a simple but specific way to define quality for everyone. It puts the onus on management to take the process of setting requirements seriously.

After setting requirements, management must insist they be met every time—not just most of the time! Phil’s point was that management had made employee and customer requirements negotiable, causing both employees and customers to wonder what they are working toward or buying. If, as an employer, you want employees to do “it” right the first time you have to tell them what “it” (the requirements) is. Some examples of requirements in service or manufacturing might be: a. Outfit a hotel room with one bar of soap and a bed made with clean sheets. b. Drill a hole 1 inch in diameter, plus or minus 1 ten thousandth of an inch. c. Land the airliner within the markings on the runway, plus or minus some variable. d. Build an automobile that will stop in about 80 feet, plus or minus some variable, when traveling at 40 miles per hour. e. Sell grocery items

2. The system that causes quality to happen is prevention, NOT inspection

Again, this is a simple but effective way to ensure that doing it right the first time happens every time. Usually, everyone understands the importance of prevention in their business and personal lives. In business, the primary method for ensuring quality used to be through inspection, which was not cost effective and allowed defective services and products to slip through to customers. Some personal and professional examples of prevention might be as follows: a. Get vaccinated to prevent getting the flu. b. Exercise to keep healthy and prevent many diseases. c. Attend school or training to qualify for a job. d. Conduct engineering design reviews to ensure that a part or an assembly can be successfully manufactured. e. Perform maintenance on aircraft to prevent failure.

3. The performance standard for quality is Zero Defects (ZD or ZeeDee), NOT “that’s close enough”

This simple standard encourages everyone to do it right the first time (DIRTFT)—or to change the requirements to what we and our customer can agree upon. Phil used the ZD standard to communicate the importance of requirements (even small ones) and to eliminate the idea that some number of errors is normal and acceptable. This does not mean perfection, because remember—most requirements have a tolerance of plus or minus the center of the requirement. ZD encourages a mindset of defect prevention instead of acceptable quality levels. Some examples of the performance standard of quality might be as follows:

a. When a pilot lands an airliner within all the requirements, he or she has achieved a ZD landing. Requirements include, among other things, having the correct flap settings and hitting the plus or minus spot on the marked runway, etc.

b. When a lawyer prepares for a case by reading enough data to develop and understand the needed strategy to defend his or her client, and then presents a winning defense, that is a ZD performance.

c. When an orthopedic surgeon torques the screws during a back fusion, and the variance can be no more than 12.2 plus or minus 5.0 kgf x cm, achieving that range is a ZD surgical process.

d. When police use radar guns that are correctly calibrated to plus or minus one mile per hour if the reader is stationary and plus or minus two miles per hour if the reader is moving, you get ZD performances.

e. When a machinist drills a hole for a component piece that might be 10 cm plus .015 cm and minus 0.0 cm, that means the piece can be larger by 10.015 cm, but not smaller. A ZD hole will be within that range.

4. The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance (PONC), NOT indices

This measure looks for the cost of failure—when something is done incorrectly and does not meet the requirements. Typically, failure costs about 25 percent of your sales numbers! (PONC can also impact your personal life when you fail to comply with day-to-day requirements.) Most failure costs (PONC) are caused when management does not set achievable requirements and does not insist that all employees take requirements seriously. Some PONC examples might be as follows:

a. When an engine blows because you have failed to change the oil or perform other basic maintenance to insure smooth operation and high performance.

b. When a component must be reworked to the design requirements because the machinist has made an error.

c. When a hotel room is unclean, and the customer cancels his or her stay as a result.

d. When money is paid as the result of a lawsuit for noncompliance to an agreed-upon contract

e. When a builder or remodeler must redo work that does not meet the buyer’s requirements.

Excerpted from:

Merbler, K. (2021) The Entrepreneur Who Created A Business Camelot: Philip B. Crosby. Dominionhouse Publishing & Design, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Further Reading

The Fifth Absolute of Quality

Deming: “Cease Dependence on Inspection”

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jun 29, 2009]

Deming’s view on inspections, which I share: “Cease Dependence on Inspection”.
(Caveat: He way talking about manufacturing and factory lines. Collaborative knowledge work, such as product design or software development, is a different context which will require some re-interpretation and repurposing of the fundamental concepts underpinning his words).

I also recognise that many folks may feel so uneasy in some extreme situations – for example, where life and limb are at risk – that they may still choose to require inspections (via statistical sampling, or even 100% inspection).

Aside: I’d suggest that such unease generally comes from a lack of trust in the effectiveness of the process(es) involved.

Amplify’d from

From Deming’s 14 management points: “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.” Out of the Crisis, 1982.
Prior to Deming’s ideas being adopted inspection was often used to select out the bad products. Companies would make products then sift through the resulting output removing those that were defective. If they could re-work them to be sold they would do so. Otherwise they would scrap the defective output.
Obviously this is a costly way to do business. It is much better to work on improving your processes so the output is all acceptable. Deming used to colorfully describe the old practice as “you burn the toast, I’ll scrape.”
Deming believed in improving the process, and doing so using process measures to guide improvement efforts.

In the New Economics, page 179, Deming states:

Conformance to specifications may be achieved in several ways:

  1. By careful inspection, sorting the bad from the good. Dependence on inspection is hazardous and costly.
  2. By work on the production process to shrink variation about the nominal value.

Obviously, option two is the preferred method. He also recognized that there are extreme situations where 100% inspection may be required (where safety may be jeopardized for example).


– Bob

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