You can’t hire away your quality issues

I work with a lot of companies that have more work than they can handle.  Actually, almost every company is in this boat.  But some companies handle this scenario very poorly.  When there is too much work to do, they work harder to get it all done.  As a result, they are often desperate to hire new people to take on the work load.  In the mean time, it seems that quality suffers everywhere as a result.  People are assigned more work than they can handle and that becomes an excuse for why everything’s broken.  Eventually you might get into a situation where it seems like you’re spending more time fixing problems than working on new features.

Hiring more people is not going to fix the problem because the problem is the company culture.  If your team sacrifices quality when they are asked to do more than they can handle, then your culture is telling them that quality isn’t important.  You’ve already lost.  If you hire more people, the only thing it will change is that you have more people in the exact same situation.

You need to fix your culture first.  You’re probably rewarding people for producing things fast that don’t even work.  The result is deliverables that you have to revisit frequently because they keep breaking down.  This is a complete waste of everyone’s time.  Imagine how much money you’d save if someone took more time to build the product right the first time and it almost never broke down.  You’d be in a position where you’re always moving forward.  This should become the kind of culture you strive to have at your company.

Most people working for you want this too, but it takes a lot of courage to stand up and do the right thing.  The right thing is to sacrifice features and functionality instead of quality.  Nobody wants to be the person that brings this up.  It makes people look bad when they say they can’t deliver what is being asked.  That’s why the downward spiral continues and that’s why you need to instill the idea that:

  • A late product with a lot of features is better than a broken product
  • A product with less features that ships on time is better than a broken product

Usually the latter is what a company should encourage, because this way you’re still delivering something by the deadline and you get faster feedback.  But the point is, a broken product should be considered worthless.

I said above that you need to fix your culture first and I think a lot of people are unwilling to accept that.  They’ll attempt put off their culture fix until later or attempt to fix it in parallel as they hire.  Here’s why that’s dangerous:

People that produce poor quality work hire others who produce poor quality work.  Managers look at new employees as “resources” and they just need someone who has enough of a brain to do the work.  They don’t necessarily care if the new hire is amazing at what they do because their perspective is, “the more people, the better”.  They’re desperate to hire anyone.  It’s kind of like the saying, “Don’t go to the grocery store hungry”.  You’re just going to buy a bunch of junk food that’s not good for you.

The peers of the prospective employee probably don’t want to hear that they need to change the way they’re doing things because it’s not working.  They’re thinking “we already tried to tell them that” and/or “it is what it is”.  They are looking for someone they could stand to be with in the trenches.  A person who’s willing to work 16 hour days on a never ending death march.

This is going to be transparent to any prospective employee and if the new hire is any good, it will scare them off.  People who know how to produce good quality work don’t want to have to deal with the people who don’t.  They can already be hired at a company with a good culture.

So, fix your culture first.  It will be difficult, but it will be worth it.  If you improve quality so you’re not constantly backtracking to fix issues, you may even realize that you don’t need to hire new people after all.  That will give you more time to add all those features you originally wanted, only this time they’ll actually work.

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4 thoughts on “You can’t hire away your quality issues

  1. Accurate and articulate post and thanks so much for publishing this. This would’ve come handy earlier today when I ended up in an endless discussion related to investing in effort rather than quick bandages. Hopefully you don’t mind me re-iterating a few of your insights to my peers and bosses in the future (with credits of course).

    • Daniel Kaplan says:

      Hi Bas,

      Not at all, it would be an honor. I’m glad you got something out of this. Thanks a lot for your comment and any future comments you have.

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