At AppDirect, our company values—humility, positive mental attitude, intensity, ownership, and true north—provide an important touchstone to help ensure that we’re doing what’s right for our team, our partners, and the business as a whole.
After reading an article about several critical aspects of quality, Barry Preppernau, our Director of Quality Engineering, was inspired to connect our values to these pillars and explore the impact they have on our company and product.
We hope you enjoy his insights and the view into AppDirect that they provide.
5 Pillars of Quality and AppDirect’s Values
In a rare authorial move, I’m going to ask you, the reader, to first read this excellent, short article posted by Satyendra Kumar Sarna on May 23, 2013.
Even though Mr. Sarna is a metallurgist and associated with the steel industry, his insightful article is totally applicable here at AppDirect. If you search the web you can find several articles discussing various tenets of quality. I find Mr. Sarna’s article to be a particularly useful framework with which to benchmark the overall quality consciousness of an organization.
I’m now going to make a modest attempt to tie together AppDirect’s core values with these five pillars of quality. For those who might not be aware, AppDirect’s values are: humility, positive mental attitude, intensity, ownership, and true north.
The overall message of this article is that we have an incredibly solid foundation on which to build a quality conscious organization. And conversely, incorporating these pillars into the ethos of AppDirect further enhances and supports our core values.
Pillar 1 - Customer Focus
There is a reason this is the first pillar mentioned. Customer focus is the primary pillar of a quality organization. Without focus on the customer, we wouldn’t have even gotten out of the starting gate. The other pillars are important, but none as critical as having a laser-like focus on the customer. This is also possibly the easiest pillar to associate with every one of our values.
Clearly, to have true focus on the customer—which I’ll point out means not focusing on ourselves or shareholders—we must show humility. We must be willing to humbly ask our customers for feedback. The definition of quality that I prefer the most is “The extent that a product or feature meets or exceeds the needs and wants of our customers, as perceived by the customer.” I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, I wish I did. But it is a definition that I have been using for years. How can we possibly know whether or not we are perceived as a quality organization, unless we ask our customers and are willing to listen to the feedback and act on it with humility?
From an ownership point of view, we own the vision and direction of our product. We own the quality of that product. We must step up to that ownership visibly for the customer, in order for them to trust us. This is not a case of “the customer is always right” (a cliché that I do not hold with), but more “the customer is always heard.” We must seek customer feedback, but we own what we do with that feedback. If our customers ask for something that is not in keeping with our vision, we must be willing to be transparent with our customers and tell them “no.” It is always best to set appropriate expectations with our customers, even if it isn’t what they want to hear.
From ownership I want to move directly to true north, because I think it’s a natural corollary to ownership. I apply the concept of true north to customer focus as meaning always doing what is right for our customers, even if they don’t know themselves what that is. We have a great responsibility to our customers to be at the top of our industry. After all, the whole reason they come to us to provide them with a cloud service commerce solutions is that we’re the experts and they expect us to continue to be the experts. So truly owning customer focus means executing against our true north value, and always moving the product and company in the direction of true north to the benefit of our customers.
Positive Mental Attitude:
Ok, this is an easy one. PMA and customer focus means that we always have to engage our customers with a smile on our face and a positive, can-do attitude. Even at those times when they’re asking for something unrealistic. The point here is that if we allow ourselves to slip on this, even just internally, any negative mental attitude will be perceptible to the customers, albeit subtly. This will do nothing but undermine their trust in us.
To me this means two things: First to always be willing to do whatever it takes to make our customers successful; and second, to always have the intensity to keep customer focus first and foremost. This is about not taking shortcuts that could be potentially harmful to our customers. This is about holding the quality bar high for our customers. Every customer I’ve spoken with has said that they would prefer to wait for a release instead of getting a buggy one.
Pillar 2 - Total Involvement
I’m going switch gears a little bit here. For customer focus I called out each value separately and how I see each of them being relevant. From here on, I’m going to just hit on key points, as I see them relating to the pillar in question.
Total involvement means that this is a top-down effort in the organization and involves every individual regardless of title. We must all strive to be the best at what we do, to take ownership of, and to have pride in, our work and efforts. Even in situations where we fail, to still have pride in how we made the attempt and the humility to accept guidance on how to improve next time.
Everything that we do that is visible to our customers contributes to or detracts from their perception of us. Not only the product, but any documentation or materials they get from us, anything they see about us, even down to how they are greeted when they come to visit us. We are all involved in molding the customer’s perceptions of us. And it all must be sincere and real. This is not a house of cards we’re building here. To be a truly great and enduring company, everyone in the organization must intensely strive for quality, every day. Every day, asking am I doing the right thing for our customers? This is the real definition of true north for everyone at the company.
Pillar 3 - Measurement
Measurement to me is all about true north and our data-driven culture. It is about how we know that we are executing on our quality goals. It’s about having quality goals in the first place. Some of the things we measure should cause us to be humble, but we have to take ownership of that and do something to improve it.
I think of measurement as a flashlight. If you’re in a totally dark room, you have no idea what’s there or which way you can or should move. Without measurement, we as a company would be in a dark room. We must be willing to shine that flashlight into even the darkest corners. What we uncover with our flashlight might be good, and we should recognize and reward those things, or it might be bad and we should decide if it is something we need to do something about. In 2015 AppDirect will be doing a number of things to improve our measurement capabilities.
PMA as it relates to measurement is about responsibility; it’s about keeping a positive attitude even when we uncover something that is less than desirable. It’s also about not seeking blame. Measurement at this company will NEVER be used against an individual or team!
Pillar 4 - Systematic Support
As Mr. Sarna says in his article, systematic support is making sure that we have the appropriate systems in place to support our quality efforts. Believe it or not, I think the core value this most relates to is humility. Yes, humility! It takes humility on our part to recognize that there might be better, faster, higher quality ways of doing things. It takes humility on the part of our leadership team to listen to everyone in the organization when they have ideas for improving our processes. In fact, it takes humility on the part of the leadership team to actively seek out that feedback.
Ownership is another obvious value that relates to systematic support. We own our systems and processes and it is up to us to ensure that these are always the most efficient and effective. We cannot allow our processes or tools to be an excuse for not producing the highest quality product possible.
Pillar 5 - Continuous Improvement
Now we come to the culmination of the values/pillars paradigm. Just as I said that we wouldn’t have gotten out of the starting gate without customer focus, without continuous improvement we won’t be able to stay in the race. Continuous improvement so clearly relates to all of our core values I almost feel like it’s stating the obvious.
Humility is required, because we can never be so arrogant as to believe that we can’t get better at what we do and how we do it. PMA is required to persevere even when the task to improve seems impossible. Intensity I think is embodied in one of my favorite sayings “unacceptable answers are unacceptable.” If we must improve in an area, then it takes intensity to effect that improvement even if you can’t imagine (for the moment) how that is going to happen. Ownership is clearly owning the fact that we must strive for improvement. And finally true north is ensuring that as we do make changes to our processes and procedures, that we’re doing it in the right way, for the right reason, and with our customer focus as our guiding light.
I believe that the intersection of our core values and these five pillars of quality are the framework we can use to truly create a recognized quality organization. One that like Rolex, Toyota, and Bang & Olufsen, is seen as an exemplar within our industry as a company for which quality is a part of our brand.
Barry Preppernau is Director of Quality Engineering at AppDirect.