“It is what it is”, a sentence available in quite all languages.
It took time for me to understand its real meaning and what to do about it, especially in software quality.
In its French version, “il faut faire avec”, I was interpreting it like something to accept anyway, passively, and usually not accepting it.
When I went to Portugal, I heard “É assim”, linking it back to hard times that had to be endured.
When I started to change my perspective to confront ourselves to reality, as it is, to react better, I gave all its value.
In software quality, access to the real perception of the quality of our product is key to start improving it.
Else, we will work on imaginary priorities, probably solely defined in PowerPoint far from the true issues.
The quality of a newly launched mobile application
Let’s take the example of a B2C mobile application.
Launched in 6 months, including 3 months of delay from the initial planning, the team can finally “rest” with lower priority features of the backlog.
Their measure of the product quality is theirs: the roadmap has progressed, and some lower priority tickets are pending.
The performance is quite good in regards to the mobile industry and gaining new users regularly.
After some weeks, the marketing director enters the daily stand-up completely furious, sharing their smartphone about very bad reviews on social media.
The feedback is concerning the last mobile application with a very degraded experience, where users already switched to competitors.
Looking at their beautiful graphs of performance and users sign-up, the team did not even see it coming.
A shared perception to initiate structural changes
Many teams are sharing struggles to get investments in quality.
The perception of the product quality is initially quite different between the actors.
For some, quality is a requirement in their “unknown” area, whereas others are frustrated with the actual product quality.
Trying to convince the team with powerpoints and specific meetings, alone, with your own convictions, can be very consuming and vain.
People need first to understand from their inner self: “why changing?”.
Every member of your team needs to integrate “Why changing?”Antoine Craske
The confrontation must brings a reaction
The more direct, cold, and emotional the inputs, the more likely people are to adhere and consider changing.
Don’t you remember changing when confronted with a cold reality?
Companies will change only when confronted with a cold truth, else remains in their comfort zone
You must get the team where the reality is, that is, where your customer and users are using your product, and of competitors.
Getting external people in your market can also help if you feel that you need to in your context.
Your value will be in giving context, meaning, and structure to the inputs.
How to measure “How it is”?
Here’s one practice of Spotify.
They are in fact at the right place and with a constant reminder to the team, for both positive and negative feedback.
In his book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries is also referring to talking as early as possible to possible prospects to perform early experiments and change to the product.
We need to differentiate the discovery phase, and the quality optimization phase, as having different objectives.
Data are key in your confrontation, as this will be your base for a measure of improvements.
It is a direct way to see “how it is” without procrastination.
Whatever the inputs, you need to transform them into actionable KPIs, ideally OKR, that you will use in your next iterations.
Some questions can help here, taking into account various human biases :
- Can you measure the cost of non-quality?
- Do you have existing and recent customer facts?
- Can you identify trends, possible alarming forecasts?
- Can you measure your current technical debt and cost to pay back?
- What is your performance in regards to benchmark competitors?
As key guidelines, your data need to be factual, auditable, and emphasized for your audience’s priorities.
We must act out of our comfort zone, early
There is a tendency for humans to remain in their comfort zone.
Resistance is a natural mechanism.
Our need for survival is strong there. We keep effort for a potential fight or strong winter that could come.
Procrastination has also its roots in this theme, even if visualization, training, and discipline can let us overcome it.
What’s the point with software quality?
Delaying our confrontation to reality delays the change, only increasing its cost and complexity to deal with it later on.
We need to create the habit to face reality as it is.
Making a habit of seeing and tackling problems early is a valuable skill.
We need to change our thoughts.
“It will go well” and “If it works today, it will work tomorrow” must be put aside if we want to improve our products.
“Things change”, you should be constantly evolving
Humans are rarely satisfied, and so your customers will be.
In parallel, the market you are acting in is a living ecosystem with new actors, ideas, and innovations.
This is why your product needs to continuously evolve over time to provide new experiences and services.
Quality must also evolve with the product to remain relevant, reinforcing the need to have a continuous approach to quality.
Quality must evolve with the product, reinforcing the need to have a continuous approach to quality.Antoine Craske
There is rarely a one-shot implementation that in 3 months will bring quality to your product.
Continuous feedback loops are key for system improvement.
We have four choices to evolve our product quality
Our product quality solutions such as organization, platform and tools need to evolve.
As for architectural debt and applications management, we are usually faced with those four possibilities :
- Hold: do nothing specific for now.
- Invest: accelerate and develop
- Migrate: move out to a renewed solution
- Decommission: get rid of
We can in fact decide to do nothing, in some cases it could avoid unnecessary investments.
Investing and migrating depends on the contexts.
In both cases, continuous improvement will be of high value to avoid tunnel-effect projects with late feedback loops.
But we can also remove an existing one.
We usually fear to remove things, that could be the number one reason for accumulating debt and complexity (e.g. Think about some house garages).Antoine Craske
Those decisions must be supported by data, measurement, and experimentation.
Remember the Spotify wall for capturing the customer feedback.
You can use it plus agile mechanisms such as retrospective, daily stand-up, and existing instances.
“It is what it is”, is not accepting things as they are
I personally did not like the sentence understood as a final state.
It would be like nothing could be changed, but I believe that anything can be improved.
But understanding its origin makes more sense afterward.
“Deal with it. It is what it is an expression used to characterize a frustrating or challenging situation that a person believes cannot be changed and must just be accepted.” https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/it-is-what-it-is/.
In fact, we should deal with the situation, even if it is difficult, hard, and painful.
“It is what it is”, but priorities and timing remains key
Nuancing it, we can have in mind “You can be anything, but not everything”.
The main point is that priorities are key.
We need to decide our fights based on the reality we are facing.
“Play or Pass” is one of the practices mentioned In the book “The Software Architect Elevator”.
It makes sense to direct our effort, actions, and influence where we can.
Like in debt management, sometimes it is sage to wait carefully for a better opportunity.
Confront yourself to your true product experience
For your quality to evolve, you must confront the reality of your product experience.
The “You” is about you, your team, your organization, up to your CEO.
Your customers in their overall context of choices and needs are the true source.
Address the initial fears of the out of comfort zone but practicing small steps: look at the reviews, see how you could get direct customer feedback.
You need to be able to measure with data, ideally in an automated and continuous way.
Remember that it will be constant work – not a one-off effort – where “things change” and you need to adapt your priorities, including decommissioning some parts.
We can influence more than we think.
Sometimes it can be best to wait, but never accept something you want to fight for.
Your quality is what it is, but up to you to improve it.