The Cost of Poor Quality

Mike Huang Headshot
Written by Mike Huang
on May 27, 2015

Do more

In this day and age, we’re often asked to get more done with less and to get products to market on time — no matter the cost. After all, if the product hasn’t shipped you can’t sell it, right?

But in the squeeze between the three pillars of project management — Time, Cost (resources to develop and produce the product), and Scope (features), there is a fourth element critical to every product:



Quality permeates every product in every industry. Would you ride a prototype elevator that wasn’t tested? Would you take a medication from a manufacturer that is known to have issues with contamination? How likely would you be to return to your favorite online retailer if their web site crashed or froze repeatedly? How about being the first person to get into a car that received a skull-and-crossbones icon on government crash test ratings?

Yet, in today’s world, many of us are asked to sacrifice quality in order to ensure that all the features are delivered on time and in budget.

It’s easy for leaders to look at a project and say that “we need X feature or we’ll lose market share,” or “It has to be done by X date to beat the competition.” But where does quality fall in the spectrum of project priorities?

Everyone expects the product to work. It’s a very slippery slope when the core features are falling into place, defects are rising during testing, and the release date is rapidly approaching. There is always mounting pressure to ship the product the closer the release date gets.

But quality is one of the most subjective elements to a project. Certainly we have standards — maximum percentages or hard numbers for Severity 1 or 2 issues, but those can be waived like a speed limit on a country road if a leader wants to ship a product badly enough.

Resist the temptation to fall prey to this fallacy of letting quality slide. Here’s why:


Payback is circular

Securing development resources can be challenging. By shipping a bug-ridden product, customer complaints will force the development team to either pull resources from the next project or stop working on it completely in order to rectify the issues in the field. This immediately impacts the project schedule for that next project. Most development teams would rather invest in building the product right the first time than to have to go back and fix it.

Cheaper to fix earlier

A defect is an order of magnitude more costly to fix for every phase through the product cycle it progresses. For example, if an issue with the design of an automotive floor mat is identified in the requirements gathering stage, the fix would cost only a few dollars — essentially nothing. Even in the design phase, the cost could be a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand dollars. But should that same flaw make its way through development and manufacturing into the hands of millions of vehicles — if the flaw was serious enough — a recall could cost millions of dollars in replacement costs and logistics to handle replacements, not even considering any negative impact to the brand upon the consumer.

Team morale

Speaking of going back and fixing a broken product, there are few things that decimate the morale of a team than to tell them that the product they produced was so bad they have to stop working on their next project until they get the last one fixed.

Brand reputation

Brands become tarnished by putting out inferior products whether by virtue of design, craftsmanship, or reliability. Poor quality products make it more difficult for marketing to position products at a higher price point (increasing profitability). Likewise, this also coincidentally impacts an organization’s ability to recruit and keep good talent as well.

Customer satisfaction & loyalty

“Features gain customers, poor quality loses them.” Customers always have a choice. When there are other products in the marketplace, poor quality will drive customers to competitors. Some areas such as online retail are particularly fickle. This is demonstrated by the fact that Amazon has invested billions into infrastructure and security to ensure that customers have a reliable, seamless experience on their web presence. In fact, their infrastructure is SO good, that they also sell their infrastructure services to others in a whole spectrum of industries.

Internal customers matter

Even in the case of a captive audience, such as internal customers, poor product quality can reduce productivity, create frustration (resulting in poor morale and higher turnover), as well as increase friction and animosity between groups.

Companies build their brands off of quality products. Businesses such as Apple, Porsche, Nordstrom, Coca-Cola, Amazon, FedEx have staked their business reputation on delivering quality experiences to their customers.

Why wouldn’t you?


Image courtesy of Unsplash.