Who Owns Quality?

November 13, 2013

Agile, Leadership, Project Management

Who owns quality for your product? Whenever I ask that question, I am often met with one or more of the following reactions:

So, maybe the better question is: Who defines quality? The answers are marginally better. I’m usually met with:

  • A blank stare
  • “Quality Assurance!”
  • (fill in the leadership position)
  • “The customer?” or “The customer, but…”

Ultimately, it is always the customer who defines quality, whether the customer knows it or not. It is the customer who decides whether to buy the product/service, which can often be a credit to the marketing department. Marketing aside, in our über-connected world, it is still the customer who decides whether the product/service experience is positive – and shares it with other potential customers.

In our teams, though, we rarely have direct access to our customers. Even if we are consumers ourselves, as creators our point-of-view is often biased and does not represent the “normal” experience. So, how do we adequately represent our customer within our teams and define the quality for our products. This can be handled in one or more of the following ways:

Product Owner/Manager(s)

Depending on how large the product is, one or more people may have the position of understanding what are your customers’ wants/needs and representing those to the team. This role should be spending time with customers, gathering feedback, looking at customer data and using the product/service so they understand what the customer experiences. However, be wary of people in this role who are completely driven by personal preference, since they will only represent one part of the market.

Quality Assurance

A good Quality Assurance team (and a good Quality Control team) will be a team of super-users. They use your product/service, and that of your competitors, a lot. They are a great source of input and feedback. They are also there to keep the team honest. Just be careful that they don’t become too process-oriented and lose sight of the product.

Creative/Technical Leaders

Your creative/technical leaders need to be able to represent your customers’ wants/needs when providing direction to the team. Similar to Product Owner/Manager(s), be wary of those who are mainly representing their own ego.

So, going back to the original question: who owns quality? Who is responsible for ensuring the product/service meets customer expectation? If one or more of the above roles are responsible for defining quality, it is the responsibility of the team to meet or exceed those expectations. If possible, the team should use your product/service, as well as that of your competitors. The team should also provide input and feedback on the experience, in addition to ensuring their work is as defect-free as needed.

In short, everyone owns quality. The people responsible for defining quality and the people responsible for delivering it should be exposed to as much customer information as possible. Even better – they should be exposed to the customer and be customers themselves. Only then will they be able to create something that will delight customers, who will buy – and recommend – more.

Who defines quality on your team? How do you define quality ownership on your team? How do you ensure you create a quality product or service?

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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7 Comments on “Who Owns Quality?”

  1. PM Hut Says:

    Hi Liza,

    Collective ownership of quality on a project means that no one will own quality. In my opinion, quality must be owned by just one person/entity, and that person must be the project manager.


    • Liza Wood Says:

      Hmmm… In my experience, making the project manager own quality has resulted in the team not taking ownership for their part. (Same goes for making QA/QC solely responsible for quality.) The focus of the article was to show that everyone has to own quality and do their part. The PM does have a critical part: clearly communicating the quality target(s), aligning everyone to the target(s) and, like every other aspect of a project, make sure everyone does their part and everything comes together to meet the target(s). In my mind, for the PM to succeed, everyone has to own their part.


  2. threelionheads.wordpress.com Says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Really nice article.
    And if you want to earn even more blank stares, ask “How do you define quality” 😉


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