Quality Doesn’t Matter (until it does)

When you dictate the scope, resources, and date, your team has no choice but to deliver sub-par quality.

Steve Johnson
3 min readAug 1


Have you heard the metaphor of the three-legged stool? Quality sits on the legs of scope, resources, and time. If you reduce any of these, you have a wobbly seat. There are four aspects of any project: scope, resources, time, and quality. They’re all connected.

  • Scope is the work to be done
  • Resources are typically the people and funding to do the work
  • Time is the window of delivery
  • Quality is a measure of the results — often measured in terms of defects but more critical to customer success and customer satisfaction.

If you require a certain feature set and have a limited number of resources — that is, both scope and resources are “fixed” — then the variables are time and quality. Either your team will do a good job and deliver it whenever it’s done, or they’ll deliver it on the specified date with questionable quality.

The most common failure in managing products is the attempt to demand more of the team than is possible. We dictate the scope and date — and the team knows the scope and date are impossible given their available resources — so they have no choice but to deliver sub-par quality. For example, there’s a big swim meet at the neighborhood pool this weekend, and I don’t want people parking in my yard. I have limited money, and only myself and my neighbor to do the work. Time and resources are fixed. Therefore, scope and quality are the variables. What can I accomplish in this short time frame? Obviously, I cannot build a brick-and-mortar fence — that would take weeks. However, my neighbor and I can put up some traffic cones with yellow tape and perhaps some “No Parking” signs made with cardboard and markers — this solves the problem with adequate quality for the time constraint.

An example I used recently to explain agile to a novice is mowing the yard. My wife asked me to mow the yard because her mother is coming to visit. (Crud!) “When will she be here?” I asked. “In two hours.” (Double-crud). I cannot mow the entire yard in two hours. However, I can mow the FRONT yard. After all, she won’t see the…



Steve Johnson

author, speaker, consultant, guitar player. Removing chaos from product management since 1996. Learn how at www.productgrowthleaders.com