Should you measure defects?

Measuring defects qualityRegularly I get questions if you can measure defects and if you should measure them. The short answer is: You can measure them, and it can have value to do so, but only if you take action. Quality matters, and defects can provide you with valuable information about the quality of your product, but measuring alone doesn’t improve quality. You need to dive deeper to have a good understanding and then act upon that.

This is a new post in the series What Drives Quality. This series and the book What Drives Quality help you to prevent problems from happening by building an understanding what drives quality. It enables you to take action before problems actually occur!

Measuring to take action

Sometimes people measure defects because they are easy to measure. But not everything that can be counted, counts. As with any measurement, there must be a reason why you measure it. For instance, measuring can make sense if you want to steer and improve quality of your product, to managing quality in an economical way.

Measuring defects should only be done if it serves a purpose, like:

  • Analyzing those defects (for instance using Root Cause Analysis) that provide information where to improve your process and then take action prevent similar defects in the future.
  • Knowing what the quality of the product to be delivered will be and take action if that quality will be insufficient earlier at lower costs.
  • Improving collaboration between designer and testers by having them discuss defects and agree upon the measures that they will take to improve quality.
  • Helping your stakeholders to balance between quality and functionality. Help them to decide when to invest in testing, in reviews, and in defect prevention.
  • Manage your technical debt to reduce software maintenance and assure that you are able to deliver new functionality and value to your customers.

Can you measure quality with Agile teams?

Yes you can measure and steer quality in agile teams. When you are using agile, I’ve found it to be effective to discuss quality risks already in the planning game. At that time, the product owner and the team can discuss the process that they will use, which practices they think are most effective, and what the expected quality of the product will be.

Estimates and metrics of defects can help you to discuss expectations, and get early warning signals. I have always urged people to change their estimate when they have reasons for it. Don’t use estimates as commitment, use them to build understanding and to facilitate good discussions between those involved in quality!

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Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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