Matching Innovation and Quality

Yesterday at work we (the CEO, the CTO and me that is) met with a potential new business partner. They met our CEO on a trade fair and started talks about potential synergies. The meeting was a preliminary “getting-to-know-each-other” while checking out the technical and targeting-related issues (hence, my presence). We received loads of super interesting input on possibilities and opportunities, but when we asked about any kind of documentation… well, of course there is no documentation yet.

Of course.

And it dawned on me that those tech people seem to have something in common. They hate documentation. Or rather, they hate documenting things. Just search in google for lack of documentation and you get 30,300,000 results. And many of those seem to be about tech/software/technology issues. Interesting.

Then I had today my final examination for a Master in Quality Management. The examination focussed heavily on ISO 9001 and the required documentation in order to get certified based on this norm. During the exam I was asked to draw a plan for a hypothetical company that wants to implement a combined system of Quality and Environmental Management. While I went through the requirements for the sake of the examination, I thought about the meeting yesterday… impossible. Where would I ever get all the documentation from? Work place descriptions? Or worse, recording changes done to designs?

See, the company is constantly working on 3-5 new projects. Not all of these projects will make it to the market, but 1-2 will eventually grow into full-fledged services (like our cashback site for Spain and France Deenero). If the idea goes through my department at some point in time (because our targeting technology is part of it), then there will be a first draft of the idea. The rest grows organically. And I suppose that is in part a big advantage of our work place. Ideas can just develop, programmers can try new things, products are developed in new ways that weren’t planned for. And then one day the product is ready. A new product manager comes on board. And the documentation is almost non-existent.

So I wonder whether there is a golden path between innovation and ensuring quality and consistency of what is developed. Somehow it must be possible to avoid the painstaking documentation that comes after the product is ready. When the drive and the high point of having developed something cool and new wears off, there is often not enough motivation left to actually put it down in writing. Leaving it for later, and later, there comes a point when nobody really remember how exactly everything was done and which are the details of the code. Good luck to the product manager who will have to ask the right questions if s/he doesn’t want to miss something crucial. And that usually without having been part of the development process.

Don’t understand me wrong. I am absolutely thrilled about participating in so many new and edgy projects. But I am also sometimes a little worried about loosing something by not valuing the importance of remembering things we have done. Not as meticulous as ISO 9001 requires (records for each change in design), but at least the broader lines of development. I guess this topic will still stay with me for a while.

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