Quality Measures and the Help Desk

Selecting Quality Measures

An abstract idea remains abstract until it is successfully quantified. Defining quality and understanding its role is always subject to interpretation, resulting in the need to measure the effect of quality practices. The approach may appear superficial, but review the results:

A manager brings the department together for a pep talk. Workers are told they must "work smarter" to meet the pressures of competition. In the next quarter productivity increases over 30%.

What happened? No one was told to speed the assembly process or to eliminate a manufacturing step. It appears that the improvement is purely the result of an increased desire to succeed. The immediate problem is to measure the effect of the pep talk, or to at least package it and use it again.

In other circumstances a survey is sent to the customers of a failing software company. One of the survey questions asks the open-ended question, "What's wrong?" The not unexpected answer is "... and the program needs more quality."

The next day the support staff is gathered to hear the survey results and to hear the CEO ask everyone to "work smarter." In the next quarter, nothing has changed.

It would be simplistic to suggest that one manager had more charisma than the other, even though it may be true. What makes one plea for quality work while the other fails miserably? It certainly might be the strong presence of the speaker, a particular emphasis, or simply a serendipitous effect due to a timely presentation or possibly because the cafeteria is serving better food.

Measuring the subjective elements of the approach offers insights about what works and what does not, but it is still a horrendous task to dissect the staff meeting and to quantify the pieces. Any work in this direction will almost certainly fail to define the experience well enough to create a guaranteed reproducible effect.

Implementing Quality Practices

The concentration, therefore, shifts to analyzing the results and introducing empirical methods to evaluate quality measures and practices. One practice that has demonstrated significant results is Evaluating Customer Response to products and service. In this context, the customer response is referred to as the CQA or Customer Quality Appraisal. Measuring the CQA provides direction for product enhancement and other development efforts. In addition, service levels may also be quantified through the evaluation of support call content and frequency.

Customer Response and Quality Measures

Listening to customers provides information about performance and insights to the real world acceptance of software. Survey techniques reveal considerable information about the performance and acceptance of products, but may not be timely enough to identify trends and to catch the immediate serious problems. The most propitious information will probably come from the support center where there is continual close customer contact.

As customer calls are recorded and categorized, reports are generated that identify specific problem areas, but may fail to identify quality issues. One solution to this problem is to utilize the support center to record the quality issues raised by customers along with other reported software or hardware problems.

The quality issues would include items such as unclear instructions in the documentation, poor performance on certain platforms, a lack of context sensitive help, missing certain desirable data fields, difficulty in maneuvering through the software, useless error messages, unnecessary steps, etc. The frequency of calls that deal with quality issues is another measure to be computed. These all become the components of the Customer Quality Appraisal.


The selection of appropriate statistical measures to identify the amount of quality or the factors that lead to quality is demanding. CQA measures place us on a path for finding cause and effect relationships which should make future applications of quality concepts more efficient. The logical location for accumulating information about the success of quality initiatives is the Help Desk. Quality Assurance Managers should contact the support center and work together to gather the best information to manage and improve quality programs.