Like you, I’ve sat through all of those motivational talks. Quality is Job 1. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Nothing less than your best.
And I get it. I strive for quality. I try to do my best all the time.
But a funny thing is happening: the definition of quality is changing. Some people are very uncomfortable with that, but that makes it no less true. I wrote about this change a while ago, in a piece called Redefining Perfection.
What’s causing the change?
Partly it’s the influence of agile, which started in software development and will inevitably spread to other disciplines. In agile, quality is defined by what meets the customer’s expectations — by user stories. That means quality isn’t defined (if it ever really was) by what we think we know about good writing and good design. Put another way: if your user guide keeps customers from having to call Tech Support, it doesn’t matter if it’s printed in 6-point type on the back of a brown paper bag. It’s a good user guide.
Then there’s the reality that everything we publish can be revised and republished in an instant. When I started in technical communication, I ceremoniously handed a stack of proof sheets to the printer and waited for the book to come back. Once the books rolled off the printing press, everything — from the most brilliantly written setup procedure to the most embarrassing typo — was immutable. Not any more. So why wait until it’s perfect? Why not get content into the customers’ hands quickly? If later I find a typo, or if the part number for a thingumabob changes, I can make the update with a simple click.
No more pressure to meet lofty standards of editorial quality, design, and what have you. No more pressure to get everything right the first time. Not perfect, but still good.
What do you think? Am I onto something? Or am I all wet? (If I’m all wet, don’t worry. I can fix it in the next revision.)
Originally published on the SDI blog, 24 June 2013.